Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway

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Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway
Type Heavy rail
Status Disused
Termini Didcot
Winchester (Chesil)
Stations 17
Opening 1882
Closed Passengers 1962
Goods 1964
Operator(s) Great Western Railway
Western Region of British Railways
Line length 46 miles
No. of tracks Single and double track
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge

The Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway (DN&SR) was a cross-country railway running north-south between Didcot, Newbury and Southampton although it actually reached the latter by running over the London and South Western Railway tracks from Shawford Junction, south of Winchester. At Newbury, it had junctions with the Berks and Hants branch of the Great Western Railway (GWR) east and west of the town, running over Great Western tracks for the short distance in between and sharing the Great Western station. The line was finally completed and opened on 1 October 1891[1] and was formally absorbed into the GWR under the Railways Act in 1923.


Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway
Cherwell Valley Line
Great Western
Didcot Parkway
Main Line
Upton and Blewbury
Hampstead Norris
Pinewood Halt
Reading to
Taunton line
Waterloo - Exeter Line
Whitchurch LSWR station
Whitchurch (DN&S)
Barton Stacey
Sutton Scotney
South Western Main Line
Worthy Down
Winchester Junction-
Kings Worthy Junction
former Watercress Line
King's Worthy
South Western
Main Line
Winchester (Chesil)
Hockley Viaduct
Romsey Line
Southampton Airport
Eastleigh to Fareham Line
St Denys
West Coastway Line
South Western
Main Line
Southampton Terminus
To Southampton Docks

The DN&SR was authorised in 1873 and became part of a series of 'railway wars' in the south of England between the Great Western Railway and the London and South Western Railway (LSWR).


Manchester & Southampton Railway

The idea for a railway running the length of Hampshire stemmed from a proposal for the Manchester & Southampton Railway during the Railway Mania of the 1840s. It failed to gain parliamentary approval, largely because of opposition from the Great Western Railway.[2]

Oxford, Southampton, Gosport & Portsmouth Railway

This was a competitor to the Manchester & Southampton Railway and was generally known as "Bethell's Line" after John Bethell, solicitor, who was the principal spokesman for the promoters. It failed to gain parliamentary approval in May 1846.[3]

Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Junction Railway

The earlier plans never progressed, but the idea of a railway linking the industrial areas of the Midlands was revived in the 1870s, when the growth of the railway network meant that main lines reached Southampton via Oxford, Reading and Basingstoke. This was an indirect and complex route, and in 1873 a formal Bill was sought for the construction of the Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Junction Railway.

Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Railway.

Originally, the proposal called for a junction with the South Western Main Line at Micheldever, but the LSWR rejected this, and so the company sought its own, independent track to Southampton. At this stage, the 'Junction' part of the name was dropped. The planned railway would run across largely empty country between Newbury and Winchester before running down the eastern side of the Itchen Valley, closely paralleling the LSWR's main line on the western side, and joining the South Western Main Line at St Denys Station for the short final run into Southampton Terminus. The DN&S was proposed as a short cut to the coast, saving six miles compared to the existing route through Reading.

Operation by the GWR

Although planned as an independent concern, the DN&SR Company soon realised that it lacked the resources to build and operate a railway from scratch. The Great Western Railway agreed to work the new line, providing locomotives (and their crews) and rolling stock. This was greatly to the GWR's advantage, as it allowed it free access to the increasingly important port of Southampton, and provided a fast route into the heart of its main rival's territory. Recent LSWR expansion in Devon and Cornwall (the LSWR's tracks reached Padstow at their most westerly point) and the construction of the Somerset and Dorset Railway (a joint LSWR/Midland Railway venture) made the GWR eager to expand its own lines in the south.


The first section of line was built between Didcot and Newbury and opened on 12 April 1882.[4] The company's next priority was the construction of a terminus and track at St. James Park Southampton (today the area cleared is very visible). However, the company's operating and construction costs increased heavily and income from the short stretch of line already open was low. Work on the route into Southampton stopped in November 1883 and the company concentrated on reaching Winchester. This was achieved in 1885, with a new station being built in the Cheesehill (now Chesil) area of the city, reached by a cut and cover tunnel under the St. Giles district. The station was on the outskirts of Winchester, on a cramped site right next to St. Giles' Hill.

The LSWR Link[edit]

A 1913 Railway Clearing House map showing (right) railways in the vicinity of Winchester

Despite this large section of new line, the railway's revenue remained low and costs continued to rise. In June 1885 the company estimated that it required £100,000 to complete the line into Southampton, and Winchester and Southampton Councils invested £15,000 and £70,000 respectively. However, the money was rapidly spent on the existing line's upkeep.

The DN&SR's main problem was that without an independent line to Southampton, it could not attract the key heavy goods and express passenger traffic that it anticipated. However, without the income this traffic would provide, it could not finance the final section of line. The GWR, although running the line, was reluctant to assist for fear of angering the LSWR, and the LSWR similarly kept its distance (despite their rivalry, the two companies, through necessity, operated many joint services over each other's rails, which either company could disrupt if it felt the other threatened it by investing in the DN&SR).

Part of Hockley Viaduct in 2005

This situation continued for a short while, until the LSWR, fearing that the GWR might eventually finance the completion of the railway, offered a compromise. It would construct a short connecting line from the DN&SR's Winchester station to its own main line and allow DN&SR trains, run by the GWR, to run along the line to Southampton. In return, the DN&SR was not to seek an independent route. Parts of land in Southampton itself already purchased by the DN&SR (including a part built viaduct) for the final link were then subsequently sold off.

This line, running over the Hockley viaduct, was completed in 1891, and services from Didcot to Southampton began shortly after. The DN&SR joined the LSWR line just north of Shawford station.


The LSWR also insisted on only using its own locomotives on the section between Winchester and Southampton. Trains arriving at Chesil from the north had to stop whilst the GWR engine was uncoupled and an LSWR one attached (with the reverse happening on north-bound services). This delay almost totally negated the fact that the line was one of the shortest routes from the Midlands to the south coast.

The line did have its uses – it allowed a direct route from the South Wales Coalfield (accessed by GWR main-lines) to the Southampton Docks, but passenger traffic remained low. The railway lost its separate identity in 1923 when it was fully amalgamated into the Great Western Railway.

When trains from the north-west of England started services to Southampton in the 1920s, it was hoped the DN&SR would provide the crucial north-south link, but most trains were routed via Reading with faster lines and greater capacity. During the 1930s the line was downgraded, with the removal of most passing loops and signal boxes that weren't in stations. Station staff numbers were also reduced. At the same time, the section of line around St. Catherine's Hill, north of the Hockley viaduct was moved west by around 55 feet to allow the construction of the Winchester Bypass section of the A33 road (now itself removed).

During the Second World War the line was a crucial transport link as southern England saw huge movements of troops and military supplies, with intensive use in the run-up to D-Day. This saw the rapid re-construction of the passing loops and infrastructure removed only a few years previously- all of which were re-instated within days by intensive engineering works. The line was closed to passengers from August 1942 to March 1943 to enable it to carry the extra freight and military trains. However, after 1945 the line returned to its lightly used state.

An additional halt, at Barton Stacey (between Whitchurch and Sutton Scotney), was built in the early 1940s for military purposes, but was demolished after the war.


The traffic carried by the DN&SR largely consisted of heavy through goods trains with an average of eleven trains per day even in the 1960s when passengers service were being reduced.[5] However, the income from the line was largely supplied by the passenger traffic from a number of small villages along the line with some through services from Southampton to Oxford, plus some revenue from light freight such as the transport of horses, farm produce, iron foundryware and coal.

From the mid-1950s the competition from road transport was seriously eating into the line's profits. In an attempt to offer some economy, diesel multiple units (DMUs) were introduced and became a common sight on the northern section,[citation needed] especially the Pressed Steel Class 121 'Bubble Cars', but the large losses that the line was still making made it an obvious target for closure. Passenger services to stations south of Newbury ended after the last train on 5 March 1960.[6] Passenger services to stations north of Newbury then ended on 10 September 1962 although the last passenger train on the line was a re-routed Pines Express in May 1964.[5]

Engineering works[edit]

The railway presented some massive engineering challenges as it negotiated the Berkshire and Hampshire Downs. The cuttings at Upton and Tothill together involved the excavation of around a million tons of chalk and soil and the Hockley Railway Viaduct is a notable feature as being the longest railway viaduct in Hampshire, and as having a solid concrete core.[7]

Grounded SR freight wagons on a road-under bridge near the River Test viaduct.

There was also a tunnel at Winchester leading to the Chesil Street terminus. The engineering drawings for the tunnel put its length at 439 yards. Navvies and railway workers were paid 'tunnel allowance' (a wage bonus) for working in tunnels 440 yards or more in length. After protests from the workforce, the tunnel was re-measured. The tunnel was constructed on a curve, and the outside edge of the tunnel was found to be 441 yards in length, thus allowing the extra money to be paid to workers.

The line made railway history in that it was the first to employ a steam navvy (a steam-powered mechanical digger) in its construction.[8]


After the Second World War, the DN&SR returned to being a rural backwater line.[9] At the railway nationalisation in 1948, the line, as part of the former GWR, became part of the Western Region of British Railways.[10] On 2 April 1950, the line south of Enborne Junction was transferred to the Southern Region,[10] thus putting it under the same direct management as the South Western Main Line. It was deemed unnecessary to have two lines that so closely paralleled each other, and plans were made for the line's eventual closure.

The disused line between Compton and Blewbury over 40 years after closure

Passenger numbers on the DN&SR slowly declined throughout the 1950s, although goods traffic remained healthy - especially chemical and oil traffic to and from Fawley Oil Refinery.

For passengers[edit]

Like many rural railways (including the LSWR's own 'second main-line' in the region, the Meon Valley Railway) it was finally deemed politically to be uneconomical to operate and was closed to passengers in the early 1960s: the bulk of the southern part of the line, between Newbury and Winchester, closed after the last train on 5 March 1960[6] the section between Winchester and Shawford, which had been kept open for a summer Saturday service, was closed on 11 September 1961;[11] whilst the northern section, between Didcot and Newbury survived until 10 September 1962,[12] the last train having run on 8 September.[13] The Beeching Report, which was published in March 1963, listed the line between Didcot and Newbury as one of those which were to be closed, noting that not only was closure under consideration before the formulation of the report, but that it had already been implemented.[14] The six intermediate stations on this section were also listed, with similar notes.[15]

For goods[edit]

Goods trains remained, but the goods facilities at the intermediate stations were gradually closed between 1962 and 1966,[16] leaving only the through goods services. The line was closed completely south of Newbury in 1965[citation needed] and north of Newbury on 19 October 1967.[17] Parts of the railway's course and earthworks are now used by the A34 road between Newbury and Winchester. The road generally closely follows the railway's former course. In villages formerly served by the railway, such as Sutton Scotney, the remains of bridges and earthworks are still standing, and indeed much of the northern section between Didcot and Newbury is still entirely extant.

Re-opening campaign[edit]

A group called Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Railway Revival is campaigning for the re-opening of the line.[18]

Picture gallery[edit]


  1. ^ The Star, 6 October 1891, p.2
  2. ^ Sands 1971, p. 3
  3. ^ Sands 1971, p. 4
  4. ^ Speller, John. Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Railway
  5. ^ a b Karau, P., Parsons, M. and Robertson, K. (1984) An illustrated history of the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway, Wild Swan Publications, ISBN 0-906867-04-5
  6. ^ a b Newbury Weekly News, 10 March 1960
  7. ^ "History". Hockleyviaduct.hampshire.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  8. ^ Sands 1971, p. 8
  9. ^ Sands 1971, p. 41
  10. ^ a b Sands 1971, p. 42
  11. ^ Daniels & Dench 1963, p. 26
  12. ^ Daniels & Dench 1963, p. 12
  13. ^ Matthews 2006, p. 73
  14. ^ Beeching 1963, p. 129
  15. ^ Beeching 1963, pp. 131–133
  16. ^ Sands 1971, p. 49
  17. ^ Matthews 2006, p. 74
  18. ^ "Didcot Newbury & Southampton Railway". Didcotnewburyandsouthamptonrailway.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Butt, R.V.J. (1995) The Directory of Railway Stations, Patrick Stephens Ltd, ISBN 1-85260-508-1
  • Ellis, H. (1959) British Railway History: an outline from the accession of William IV to the nationalization of railways, Volume 2: 1877-1947, George Allen & Unwin.
  • Karau, P., Parsons, M. and Robertson, K. (1984) An illustrated history of the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway, Wild Swan Publications, ISBN 0-906867-04-5
  • Robertson, K. (1988) Hampshire Railways Remembered, Newbury : Countryside Books, ISBN 0-905392-93-0
  • Robertson, K (1988) The Railways of Winchester, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-906579-71-6

External links[edit]