Local Railway History
This section does not claim to be a comprehensive history of the railways in the SCRS area. Instead it briefly outlines the basic development, rise, and in some cases decline, of main and branch lines. Further recommended reading is listed at the end, and much more information can be gleaned elsewhere on the internet. One source of information, often neglected these days, is your local library and the SCRS encourages you to use this valuable resource while it is still available.
The origins of the main line railways in our area lie in the perceived need to quickly reinforce the Channel coast and naval forces at Portsmouth in case of a threatened French invasion in the years following the Napoleonic Wars. The first proposal was for a canal, to be engineered by Charles Rennie, but with the success of Stockton & Darlington Railway, the railway mania following the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1830, and the difficulty in overcoming the engineering challenges posed by the projected canal route, this was dropped in favour of a railway. Curiously perhaps, the first railway to be authorised (in 1834) was the London & Southampton. At this time Southampton was much smaller than Portsmouth, but clearly the bankers and financiers with an interest in the town and who backed the project knew a profitable enterprise when they saw one, the clue to this being the name originally proposed – the Southampton, London, and Branch Railway and Dock Company. The railway would run from Nine Elms near the current New Covent Garden Market to a site near the docks on Canute Road with the “branch” diverging in the Basingstoke area (or Alton for the alternative route for the main line), running via Hungerford and on to Bristol. In the event the promoters of the Great Western Railway objected to the proposed incursion into “their” territory, and this and the dock development proposals were dropped. Even as the railway was being built, using the less challenging but also less populous route via Basingstoke opening throughout in May 1840, thoughts were turning to extensions, the first being a branch from Bishopstoke to Gosport (for Portsmouth), opening in 1841. The successful promotion of this line was, apparently, dependant on a change of company name to London & South Western Railway, the citizens of Portsmouth wanting nothing to do with an enterprise with “Southampton” in its title!
2.EXTENTSIONS AND INCURSIONS
Further extensions soon followed, and our “local” rail network continued to expand throughout the Victorian period and beyond. Although many of the lines were promoted to tap new sources of traffic, a good number were built with the intention of preventing rival concerns from poaching existing business, and equally to poach business from those same rivals. Thus many lines served a dubious economic purpose, merely duplicating routes served by other companies, which situation persisted in many cases until well after Nationalisation. The principal extensions or new lines were opened as follows. Closure dates, where relevant, refer to regular passenger services. Routes still open only for freight traffic are noted as such.
- 1845 : Woking to Guildford – L&SWR. Route still open.
- 1847 : Bishopstoke to Salisbury (Milford) via Romsey – L&SWR. Route still open.
- 1847 : Southampton to Dorchester via Ringwood, Wimborne and Wareham – Southampton & Dorchester Railway. Route partially closed, between Brockenhurst and Hamworthy Junction, in stages in the mid-1960s.
- 1847 : Worthing to Portsmouth – London, Brighton & South Coast Railway. Route still open.
- 1848 : Fareham to Portcreek Junction (Portsmouth) – L&SWR. Route still open.
- 1848 : Reading to Basingstoke – Great Western Rly. Route still open.
- 1849 : Guildford to Reading – South Eastern Rly. Route still open.
- 1854 : Brookwood to Brookwood Cemetary – London Necropolis Co. Route closed in 1941, due to bomb damage at the dedicated London terminus adjacent to Waterloo Station.
- 1854 : Guildford to Alton (in stages) – L&SWR. Route partially closed (Tongham Loop) in 1937.
- 1854 : Basingstoke to Andover – L&SWR. Route still open.
- 1854 : Westbury to Yeovil (Pen Mill) – by the broad-gauge Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth Railway. Route still open.
- 1857 : Yeovil (Pen Mill) to Weymouth – WS&WR. Route still open.
- 1857 : Maiden Newton to Bridport – Bridport Rly. Route closed in 1975.
- 1858 : Brockenhurst to Lymington Town (extended to Lymington Pier 1881) – Lymington Railway. Route still open.
- 1859 : Guildford to Havant – L&SWR. Route still open.
- 1859 : Andover and Salisbury (Milford) to Salisbury (Fisherton) – L&SWR. Route still open.
- 1860 : Salisbury to Yeovil (Hendford) (in stages) – Salisbury & Yeovil Rly. Route mostly still open.
- 1860 : Wimborne to Blandford Forum – Dorset Central Railway. Route closed in 1966.
- 1860 : Yeovil Jn to Axminster (and Honiton, etc.) – L&SWR. Route still open.
- 1862 : Ringwood to Bournemouth East – Ringwood, Christchurch & Bournemouth Rly. Route partially closed (RingwoodChristchurch) in 1935.
- 1863 : Blandford Forum to Templecombe – Somerset & Dorset Joint Rly. Route closed in 1966.
- 1863 : Botley to Bishops Waltham – Bishops Waltham Rly. Route closed in 1932.
- 1865 : Redbridge to Andover – Andover & Redbridge Rly. Route closed in 1964.
- 1865 : Weymouth to Portland – Weymouth & Portland Railway. Route closed in 1952.
- 1865 : Alton to Winchester – Mid-Hants Railway. Route closed in 1973 and partially re-opened in stages from 1977.
- 1865 : Gosport to Stokes Bay – Stokes Bay Railway & Pier Co. Route closed in 1915.
- 1866 : Alderbury Junction to West Moors – Salisbury & Dorset Junction Railway. Route closed in 1964.
- 1866 : St.Denys to Netley – Southampton & Netley Rly. Route still open.
- 1867 : Havant to Hayling Island – Hayling Railway. Route closed in 1963.
- 1870 : Brookwood to Aldershot – L&SWR. Route still open.
- 1874 : Bournemouth West to Broadstone – L&SWR. Route partially closed in 1966.
- 1875 : Axminster to Lyme Regis – Axminster & Lyme Regis Light Railway. Route closed in 1965.
- 1882 : Andover to Ludgershall (and Grafton, Marlborough, etc.) – Swindon, Marlborough & Andover Rly. Route closed 1961. Retained for freight traffic (to Ludgershall only).
- 1884 : Bridport to West Bay – Bridport Rly. Route closed 1930.
- 1885 : Wareham to Swanage – Swanage Railway. Route closed in 1972 and partially re-opened in stages from 1982.
- 1885 : Hurstbourne to Fullerton – L&SWR. Route closed 1931.
- 1885 : Winchester to Newbury – Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Rly. Route closed 1960.
- 1885 : Fratton to East Southsea – Southsea Railway. Route closed 1914.
- 1885 : Upwey to Abbotsbury – Abbotsbury Railway. Route closed 1952.
- 1886 : Brockenhurst to Christchurch – L&SWR. Route still open.
- 1889 : Netley to Fareham – L&SWR. Route still open.
- 1894 : Fort Brockhurst to Lee-on-the-Solent – Lee-on-Solent Railway. Route closed 1931.
- 1901 : Ludgershall to Tidworth – Midland & South Western Jn Rly. Route closed 1955.
- 1901 : Basingstoke to Alton – Basingstoke & Alton Light Rly. Route closed 1932.
- 1902 : Portland to Easton – GW & L&SWR Joint. Route closed 1952.
- 1903 : Alton to Fareham – Meon Valley Rly. Route closed 1955.
- 1905 : Bentley to Bordon – Bordon Light Rly. Route closed 1957.
- 1906 : Grateley to Bulford Camp – Amesbury & Military Camp Light Rly. Route closed 1952.
- 1925 : Totton to Fawley – Southern Railway. Route closed 1966, retained for freight traffic.
3.ISLE OF WIGHT
It is an oft-repeated joke that the island is 20 years (or more) behind the mainland, and in railway terms this has often been true, with the first railway from Cowes to Newport not opening until 1862. As on the mainland, the network expanded steadily throughout the Victorian era with the final extension, to Ventnor West, being completed in 1900, by which time there were 55½ route miles. Railways on the Isle of Wight were never the most prosperous of undertakings, mainly because of the sparse traffic opportunities away from the main tourist centres, but also because of the isolation from their mainland counterparts. Nevertheless, those companies felt that prospects were sufficient to justify permanent rail links to the island with tunnels being promoted by the L&SWR to link up with the Freshwater, Yarmouth & Newport Railway between a point north of Lymington and just north of Freshwater, and by the Midland & South Western Junction Railway from Lepe near Calshot to West Cowes. The latter scheme also involved a branch line from Totton, which was later to be realised by the Southern when the Fawley branch was completed. Neither of these schemes came to fruition, and the Island had to be content with ferry links from Lymington, Southampton, Portsmouth and, for a time, Stokes Bay. The continued isolation meant that the rail infrastructure, operations and rolling stock was, and remains, slightly unorthodox. Thus the staple motive power, the ex.LSWR Adams “O2” tanks, remained in use long after their “sell-by” date, until the end of steam, and were in turn replaced by superannuated London Underground stock.
4.DOCKS AND MARINE
The London & Southampton thought better of developing the docks alongside its railway enterprise, and left this to the Southampton Docks Company which opened the first part of what became the Eastern Docks in 1843. Although expansion continued it was not until 1892 when the L&SWR, with its greater financial resources, took over, that rapid development occurred. This culminated in the opening, by the Southern Railway, of the New or Western Docks in 1934 using land reclaimed along the north-eastern bank of the River Test. This expansion transformed the Port of Southampton into the third-largest in the country, handling nationally significant volumes of goods and passenger traffic, and undoubtedly contributed to the prosperity of the L&SWR and its successors. Now owned by Associated British Ports, the Port of Southampton continues its association with railways with significant numbers of intermodal trains serving two rail terminals in the Western Docks, and up to four daily trainloads of cars for export using the Eastern Docks. Occasional charter passenger trains run in connection with cruise ships, Southampton being the premier UK port for this type of shipping activity. The L&SWR started operating cross-channel passenger steamers at an early date, to both France and the Channel Islands, with most passengers arriving by train. With the increasing commercial pressure for ro-ro operation these classic railway steamer services ceased in 1964. A further development in 1966 was the inauguration by British Rail Hovercraft Ltd., later known as Seaspeed, of a service to Cowes from a terminal near the Woolston Floating Bridge. After 10 years the company was privatised, and the service ceased in 1980.
From the outset, our local railways performed a key role in serving the Naval dockyard at Portsmouth and the Army camps around Aldershot, and on Salisbury Plain and the Dorset heathland. Efficient transportation of huge numbers of men, and volumes of materials and equipment was needed to serve these sites for both regular and “exercise” traffic in peacetime. Volumes were sufficient to justify the construction of dedicated military railways, including those to Tidworth, Bulford Camp and elsewhere, as well as the network of lines in Portsmouth Dockyard, and extensive use of station goods yards. In both World Wars the railways made significant contributions to the war effort, so much so that after each conflict they were effectively worn out and had to be “resuscitated” through political inter-vention. Numerous temporary and more permanent rail-served military installations were opened for all three branches of the services, including armaments factories and stores, victualling depots, fuel dumps, forestry sites, military hospitals, vehicle depots, demobilisation camps and specialist training facilities – the list is endless! Many enjoyed a transient existence and all trace of some of them has now vanished, but some lasted well beyond the conflicts which they were intended to serve. The locomotive and carriage works at Eastleigh also undertook war work, producing landing craft and tank components amongst other things.
6.ORGANISATION, CONSOLIDATION AND CURRENT OPERATIONS
Most of our railways were promoted by local interests, but often construction and subsequent operation was beyond the financial capacity of the original companies. Sooner or later they amalgamated to form, or were taken over, willingly or otherwise, by larger corporations, the principal one in our area being the London & South Western Railway. Following the First World War many such companies lacked the capital to reinvest in their worn out infrastructure, with the result that the Government instigated the 1923 “Grouping” of the railway companies into the “Big Four”, our area being covered by the Southern Railway with a few incursions by lines of the Great Western Railway. The Second World War had a similar effect, but this time the railways were Nationalised in 1948. In many cases it was “business as usual”, but it soon became apparent that times had changed and the railways were facing increasingly effective competition. Accordingly, the Modernisation Plan of 1955 envisaged wholesale main line electrification, with steam being replaced elsewhere by diesel power over a number of years. Many of the decisions taken at this time were ill-advised or rushed, and railway finances and performance didn’t improve as envisaged, leading to the Beeching Report of 1963. This called for a drastic reduction in the size of the national network, although thanks to prudent management through the 1930s and later, many loss-making stations or lines had already closed. Following closely on the Beeching Report, modernisation of the Bournemouth line was announced, with electrification using the 750 volt d.c. third-rail system. Completion in 1967 saw the end of steam on the Southern. The West of England main line was also considered for this treatment, but Regional politics saw this scheme founder when the lines west of Salisbury were transferred to Western Region control. The Portsmouth Direct had been electrified in 1935, joining up routes from Alton and along the coast from Brighton, which had been so treated earlier.