Amesbury and Military Camp Light Railway

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Amesbury and Military Camp Light Railway
The Sling
Bulford Camp
Bulford
Amesbury
Newton Tony
Grateley
West of England Main Line

The Amesbury and Military Camp Light Railway (also known as the Bulford Camp Branch) was constructed under a light railway order dated 24 September 1898. It was opened for military traffic from Amesbury to the (East facing) Newton Tony Junction (on the London and South Western Railway main line from Andover to Salisbury) on 1 October 1901. A West facing junction (Amesbury junction) opened on 2 June 1902. At Amesbury junction the branch burrowed under the main line.

Previous Proposals[edit]

Although the line did not open until the early 1900s, various other proposals had been put forward, but none had succeeded in being built. Before the Bulford Camp Branch opened, all nearby railway routes had skirted the Salisbury Plain, but none led through it.[1]

Bristol and London & South Western Junction Railway This was a proposal by the London and South Western Railway, designed, essentially, to poach traffic from the Great Western Railway. A Bill was deposited in Parliament in November of 1882. It was for a line to branch away from the LSWR between Salisbury and Basingstoke at a point around two miles west of Grateley railway station. It would cross the plain via Amesbury and Shrewton to Westbury and then on to Bristol via either the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway or the North Somerset Railway. The Great Western Railway was bitterly opposed to this plan and succeeded in defeating it in 1883.[2]

Pewsey and Salisbury Railway Having defeated the scheme of the LSWR, the Great Western Railway then tried to push forward a scheme of its own. They proposed a route from Pewsey railway station on their main line, leading south over the Salisbury Plain and then onward to Southampton. Southampton was regarded to be within LSWR territory, and the encroachment was opposed in much the same way as the B&L&SWJR had been. Although a section between Pewsey and Salisbury was authorised on 16 January 1883, this was never built.[3]

Light Railways No more schemes were proposed until the passing of the Light Railways Act in 1896. The Great Western Railway swiftly saw the advantages of this scheme and proposed a route which was very similar to their failed scheme of 1883. This light railway was to run up the Avon Valley, Bristol to Amesbury from Bemerton via Stratford, Woodford, Dunford and Wilsford. From Amesbury, the line was to run to Pewsey via Durrington, Netheravon, Upavon and Manningford. The line was authorised on 6 August 1898.[4]

In the meantime, the War Office had been purchasing large areas of the Salisbury Plain, and had already commenced negotiations with the LSWR for a light railway (very similar to the 1882 scheme) which would run from Grateley station and over the plain to Newton Tony to Amesbury to a terminus just east of Shrewton, making the line 10 miles and 62 chains long. It was intended to serve both the new military camps and the agricultural community. This line was authorised as the Amesbury & Military Camp Light Railway. Of the two proposals, this scheme won out because the Great Western Railway's proposal involved crossing over four miles of land owned by the War Department, (and because the War Department was siding with the LSWR) forcing that company to abandon the idea.[5]

Construction[edit]

The LSWR awarded the contract for the railway to J. T. Firbank, who was already involved with other work in the area, principally, the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway. He is also believed to have been the contractor who worked on the Charnwood Forest Railway. Despite the fact that the line was officially a light railway, it was built to far more substantial standards, with heavy engineering works required. The way was laid with steel bullhead rails weighing 87lbs (heavier than some ordinary railways) and land had been obtained for double tracks, which was unusual for a light railway. In the event, the track was doubled.[6]

Opening[edit]

The line opened to goods on 26 April 1902. Passenger traffic commenced on 2 June 1902.[7]From the outset, the line was worked by the L&SWR. When the passenger services commenced, the first train to arrive at Amesbury brought the newspapers announcing the end of the South African War.

Operation[edit]

Traffic consisted of 6 passenger trains and 1 goods train per day. The line was extended to Bulford on 1 June 1906 and, at some stage, to Bulford Camp.

World War I extensions[edit]

Further extensions were constructed during the World War I and these consisted of lines from Amesbury to Larkhill Military Camp, and then from the latter to Rollestone Camp where there was also a balloon school. A further extension was added from Rollestone to Fargo (where there was a hospital), this line then dividing with one branch going to Druid's Lodge and one to Stonehenge. Aircraft hangars existed at both these locations. These extensions were operated by the R.O.D (Railway Operating Division) of the Royal Engineers and they remained in use until about 1923.

Closure[edit]

The stations closed in 1952 along with Amesbury junction. The branch as a whole (including Newton Tony junction) ceased goods traffic in 1963. Part of the line is due to be opened as a nature walk sponsored by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds which owns much of the land.[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Harding, Peter. "The Bulford Branch Line". Binfield Printers, 1991, p.4
  2. ^ Harding, Peter. "The Bulford Branch Line". Binfield Printers, 1991, p.4
  3. ^ Harding, Peter. "The Bulford Branch Line". Binfield Printers, 1991, p.4
  4. ^ Harding, Peter. "The Bulford Branch Line". Binfield Printers, 1991, p.4
  5. ^ Harding, Peter. "The Bulford Branch Line". Binfield Printers, 1991, p.5
  6. ^ Harding, Peter. "The Bulford Branch Line". Binfield Printers, 1991, p.5
  7. ^ Harding, Peter. "The Bulford Branch Line". Binfield Printers, 1991, p.5
  8. ^ http://www.newton-toney.org.uk/
  • Railway Magazine Feb 1963 p149 and April 1963 p284 (the latter from L.C.Stewart)