Bishops Waltham branch

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Bishops Waltham branch
Overview
Type Heavy rail
Status Closed
Locale Hampshire
South East England
Stations 3
Operation
Opening 1863
Closed 1962
Operator(s) London and South Western Railway
Technical
Line length 3.8 miles
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Bishops Waltham branch
Bishops Waltham
Calcot Lane Bridge
Blind Lane / Durley Mill crossing
Durley Halt
Wangfield Lane Bridge
Botley Station
Eastleigh to Fareham line

The Bishops Waltham branch was a railway line in Hampshire, England. It ran from Botley on the Eastleigh-Fareham line to Bishops Waltham. The line was opened by the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) on 1 June 1863, closed to passengers on 31 December 1932 and finally closed to freight in 1962. A small part of the line is still in use at the Botley end to serve an aggregate depot.

The line followed the course of the River Hamble for most of its route, and was simply built with single track and a few under-bridges. There was a small station halfway to Bishop's Waltham called Durley Halt that opened in 1910, but traffic was always light.

Several other railways were proposed in the area in the 19th and early 20th centuries but these proposals came to nothing.

History[edit]

Bishops Waltham, Botley and Bursledon Railway[edit]

The branch had its origins in a much grander plan put forward in the early 1860s. A group of businessmen in the Southampton area proposed a railway running across eastern Hampshire into Southampton. They were led by Arthur Helps, a prominent national figure (he had recently been made Clerk of the Privy Council) and writer. He owned an estate near Bishops Waltham and had financed the creation of the town's Coke & Gas Company and a brickworks. The aim of the Bishops Waltham, Botley & Bursledon Railway (BW,B&BR) was to link the proposed Petersfield & Midhurst Railway to the main line into Southampton which was owned by the London and South Western Railway (LSWR). The LSWR was a large and established company having built the South Western Main Line between London and Southampton in the 1830s. The promoters of the Bishops Waltham Railway, like many similar small railway undertakings, hoped to arrange for the LSWR to operate the line once it was built in return for a share of the takings.

Bishops Waltham Railway Company[edit]

The LSWR objected to the proposed BW,B&BR as a potential competitor to its own line and refused to an agreement. However the LSWR was equally wary that its main rival, the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) would secure the rights to operate the line itself and thus be able to run its services right into the heart of LSWR territory. The LSWR and the BW,B&BR reached an agreement that the smaller company would reduce its plans to a simple branch between Botley and Bishops Waltham. The LSWR would operate the line at a favourable rate and would consider an extension to Petersfield in the future. The BW,B&BR changed its name to the Bishops Waltham Railway Company (BWR) and an Act of Parliament secured in 1862.

Opening to Bishops Waltham[edit]

Enough money had already been raised for the construction of the railway's earthworks and track and these were completed quickly, with the first train reaching Bishops Waltham in June 1863. However the BWR was forced to take out further loans and a mortgage to fund the construction of a passenger station and a goods yard at Bishops Waltham, which were not completed until March 1865 at a cost of £8,000. The branch earnt its owners only minimal profits in the first few years once the small company's interest payments and the LSWR's operating costs had been paid.

Bishops Waltham and Petersfield Railway[edit]

The BWR tried to fix an agreement with the LSWR to extend the line further in search of extra traffic and a second company, the Bishops Waltham & Petersfield Railway (BW&PR), again led by Arthur Helps, was formed to try to secure investment for the project. This unfortunately coincided with a minor banking crisis and a recession in the British economy which saw investment in new railway projects dry up. It also further reduced traffic over the Bishops Waltham branch line which was dealt a fatal blow in April 1867 when the Bishops Waltham Clay Company, the local brickworks and one of the railway's main customers, went into liquidation and ceased production.

Sale to the LSWR[edit]

The LSWR itself was making a profit from its operations over the line since it had none of the debts incurred in the line's construction yet took a proportion of all income from the branch. It continued to run trains along the line and simply billed the BWR for its outstanding payments. The BWR existed in a state of limbo for many years. By 1870 the company's annual meeting was disbanded because no shareholders were present. Following the death of Sir Arthur Helps in 1875 the company's Board of Directors informally disbanded. When in 1881 it was arranged to sell the remains of the BWR outright to the LSWR the process was held up because the company was in chancery with no directors, treasurer or secretary to act on its behalf. The sale was eventually conducted by the BWR's chief creditor and the LSWR took over the operation at a cost of £20,000.

Proposed Alton and Petersfield line[edit]

In the 1860s the LSWR proposed a railway line between Alton and Petersfield, This railway would have had a junction near Warnford that crossed the Meon Valley and then ran to Bishop's Waltham, thus connecting to Botley and the Eastleigh to Fareham Line. This would have required major works of civil engineering including a large bridge or viaduct, and would have put Bishop's Waltham on a major railway in the region. The plans never progressed.

Proposed locomotive and carriage works[edit]

During the 1880s, when the LSWR was looking for a site for its main locomotive and carriage works, a group of Bishop's Waltham businessmen offered a proposal to site the works at Bishop's Waltham. The LSWR did conduct a detailed study of the proposal, but the site of Eastleigh was chosen instead, being on the main line. Eastleigh grew from a village smaller than Bishop's Waltham to a large industrial town centred around the works.

Traffic[edit]

Whilst the line was usually only lightly used, with modest passenger numbers and low levels of freight, the line usually saw a period of frenetic, heavy use in the summer months during the strawberry harvest. Southern Hampshire (including the area around Bishop's Waltham, Botley, Fareham and Titchfield) was the UK's main strawberry growing region and during the harvest there was a near-continuous stream of special trains from the region to the London markets. Botley station had numerous sidings to accommodate the special trains the LSWR put on for the harvest, and the Bishop's Waltham line was key to shipping produce from the Meon Valley and the surrounding region to the main line.

Use of railmotors[edit]

The Bishop's Waltham branch was one of the few lines in the region to be worked by railmotors. These were popular for light rural lines around the turn of the century, and consisted of a small 0-4-0 type locomotive rigid-coupled to a single carriage. This provided a low-cost and simple vehicle. However, railmotors lacked the power to pull any other carriages, and so were unable to cope with sudden high passenger numbers, such as occurred on market days or public holidays, and so were replaced by light standard tank engines.

Proposed Droxford line[edit]

In 1901, during the construction of the LSWR's Meon Valley Railway, yet another group of local investors formed a company to build a line northwards from Bishops Waltham to the new station at Droxford. The line would be built under the Light Railways Act 1896 to keep down costs. The LSWR objected to the plans, citing the disruption a branch line would cause to its own operations at Droxford station. The Board of Trade was also sceptical that the line would remain within the terms of the Light Railways Act since it would require major earthworks, a tunnel and a large bridge or viaduct to cross the River Meon. The scheme failed to obtain an Act of Parliament and was abandoned.

Closure[edit]

Passenger traffic had dwindled so far that services ceased in 1932, but freight trains ran until 1962.

The line today[edit]

Some track still exists as a long siding, at the southernmost (Botley) end of the line. This is used by Foster Yeoman who operate an aggregate railhead depot and coated roadstone plant at Botley station. Most of the trackbed is still evident, but often very overgrown.

Preservation[edit]

A scheme existed in 1964 to open a passenger carrying narrow gauge railway along some or all of the line, but this scheme came to nothing.[1]

The Hamble Valley Railway Society is a small group that plans to construct a narrow gauge railway along the full extent of the original route from Bishops Waltham to Botley.

Images of the line today[edit]

Wangfield Lane Bridge[edit]

Durley Halt[edit]

Blind Lane Crossing[edit]

Calcot Lane Bridge[edit]

Approaching Bishop's Waltham[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Hampshire Light Railway Company formed". The Railway Magazine (p. 530). June 1964. 

External links[edit]