Freshwater, Yarmouth and Newport Railway

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The Freshwater, Yarmouth and Newport Railway was railway line in the Isle of Wight, United Kingdom, connecting the named towns. It was intended to connect the thinly populated west of the island, and it opened in 1889. At Newport it relied on the existing Isle of Wight Central Railway station, but trains entering it had to shunt back from the junction. The IoWCR worked the line.

The line was never commercially successful, and a break with the IoWCR in 1913 obliged the FY&NR hastily to build its own Newport station and acquire locomotives and rolling stock while in receivership.

After the Southern Railway absorbed the FY&NR in 1923 the SR developed holiday traffic, but it was highly seasonal and the heavy losses resulted in closure in 1953.

Concept and construction[edit]

System map of the Freshwater, Yarmouth and Newport Railway

By 1880 the Isle of Wight was well supplied with railways in its eastern and northern areas, connecting Ryde with Newport and Cowes, and Ryde and Newport with Sandown and Ventnor. The more beautiful, but more thinly populated west was untouched. Newport was the industrial centre on the Island, and its geographical position on the River Medina made it a natural connection point. The Cowes and Newport Railway had a junction station there.

In 1868 a Bouldnor, Yarmouth and Freshwater Railway was proposed, but it was not proceeded with.[1] In 1872 a Freshwater, Bouldnor and Newport Railway was promoted; Bouldnor is a hamlet a mile or so east of Yarmouth; this venture was unsuccessful.[2]

A Parliamentary Bill was submitted for a line connecting Freshwater and Newport, and this received the Royal Assent on 26 August 1880,[3][4] authorising the Freshwater, Yarmouth and Isle of Wight Railway. Share capital was £100,00.[1][5] The new company was encouraged by support from the London and South Western Railway, which operated a ferry service from Lymington to Yarmouth. There were many wealthy residents in the area to be served, and some also expressed support for a railway which, they believed, would facilitate their journeys to the mainland.[6]

The line was surveyed between 1883 and 1885, a second Act of 20 August 1883 having authorised a further £42,000 of share capital. Construction started in 1886. The relaxed pace of events indicates a serious failure to generate share subscription.[note 1][1][5]

The line was laid out so as to avoid major engineering works, at the expense of many curves and steep gradients; there was a trestle viaduct 576 feet in length at Hunny Hill, Newport, and a concrete viaduct over the Newtown River. The line was constructed with passing loops at Carisbrooke, Ningwood and Yarmouth. The line was opened for goods traffic on 10 September 1888 and for passengers on 20 July 1889.


An inaugural train was run on 10 August 1888 hauled by an 0-6-0 tank engine that had been used by the contractor constructing the line, and named Freshwater for the occasion. For this demonstration run the locomotive pulled a single mineral wagon fitted with seats. A revenue earning goods train ran from Newport to Freshwater with two wagons of coal on 1 September 1988.[1]

Passenger operation had to be approved by the Board of Trade and Major General Hutchinson visited the line on 2 May 1889 to inspect it. Reservations were expressed about some of the works, and an undertaking was required from the Board as to rectification; after some delay the approval was given, and a ceremonial opening took place on 11 July 1889, followed by a full public operation from 20 July 1889.[6]

The line was worked by the Isle of Wight Central Railway for 53.625% of gross receipts, but the FY&NR remained responsible for maintenance of the infrastructure. The junction with the Cowes and Newport line was on the Cowes side of Newport station, and faced Cowes, so that the FY&NR trains running to Newport had to run round at the point of junction and run back to the station. (The Board had been required to give a formal undertaking that propelling without running round would not be carried out.[1] After many years a dispensation was procured from the Board of Trade permitting propelling for the short distance between the junction and the station.)

End of the working agreement[edit]

Yarmouth station in 1908

From the outset the working agreement between the FY&NR and the IoWCR was contentious, due to the supposed inadequacy of structures and earthworks, for which the IoWCR was unwilling to accept the liability. The IoWCR may have suggested that a third party contractor take that responsibility, for the FY&NR wrote to the IoWCR stating that "the principle of our line being maintained by any other person than the working company is not feasible. We find that there is no such case in the whole railway systems of Great Britain."[7]

Whether the FY&NR did the maintenance by direct labour or by contract, it was inadequate from the outset. There were also several disputes about charges for the use of stations. A further review of the working agreement in 1896 resulted in a 14-year arrangement, by which the IoWCR got 45% of traffic receipts.[1]

In 1910 that agreement expired, and the Isle of Wight Central Railway was once more concerned that renewal of the working agreement committed them to steeply rising expenditure due to life expiry of much of the original FY&NR equipment, and discussions took place over the future working charge. In 1911 an eighteen-month agreement was settled, in which the IoWCR took 75% of receipts, their obligation including most infrastructure maintenance. The FY&NR agreed but was unhappy, and sought advice from Sam Fay[note 2] of the Great Central Railway, who had a residence on the island. Fay recommended that the FY&NR should work its own line, and the FY&NR decided to proceed on that basis, procuring some passenger coaches from the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway, then starting electric passenger services with new stock. The FY&NR gave notice that they would work their line from 1 July 1913, and that they would not use the IoWCR station at Newport (to avoid the toll for its use).

The FY&NR provided its own station, a short distance before the point of junction at Newport. Goods sidings too had to be provided there. White refers to the station as being "a small corrugated iron one" but he meant the booking office; the platform and the accommodation generally was remarkably extensive.[8] The IoWCR had acquired additional passenger coaches under the 1911 agreement, and the FY&NR were obliged under that agreement to buy them on. They had to issue debenture stock to pay for them.[1][9]

Blackburn and Mackett state:

Some accounts of the events leading to the break between the two companies imply that it was the IWCR who took the initiatve by banning the Freshwater Company's trains from Newport station, and even that they forced the FYN to run its own services by refusing to work the line. No evidence could be found to support these views. On the contrary it appears that the FYN were entirely responsible for the break. Naturally there was some opposition from the Central, and Harry Willmott, who owned some FYN stock, tried to organise some of the other shareholders to veto the proposal to build another station at Newport, but was unable to get sufficient votes. It also appears that after the break the IWCR did all they could to facilitate the exchange of passengers, lugagge and parcels between the two stations.[10]

The engine power the FY&NR procured now consisted of two locomotives only, indicating the limited volume of traffic it was running. They were second-hand 0-6-0 tank engines, dating from 1902 and 1876. The 1902 locomotive, no 1, was the youngest to work on the Island and one of only two built in the twentieth century.[9] No 2 was only fitted with the vacuum brake and consequently could only work one set of coaches, which were similarly fitted. No 1 was dual fitted.[11] In addition an open-sided Drewry petrol railcar seating 12 passengers was obtained, working from 1 July 1913.[6][9][12]

These expenditures pushed the FY&NR into insolvency almost immediately, and Sir Sam Fay (as he now was) was appointed by the receivers to manage the line, and in fact he assisted in getting hold of the rolling stock.[6] Allen and MacLeod suggest that Fay's interest was in the possible Solent tunnel.[11] In fact from this time the FY&NR was operated practically as a remote branch of the Great Central Railway.[1]

The arrangement of the station, some considerable walking distance from the IoWCR station, was very inconvenient to through passengers changing trains at Newport. This resulted in complaints to the Railway and Canal Commissioners, who put pressure on the companies to ameliorate the situation, and from 1914 most FY&NR passenger trains resumed using the IoWCR station, although running beyond that point remained discontinued.

A Solent tunnel[edit]

The former Watchingwell station building

In 1900 a proposal was put forward to construct a tunnel under the Solent connecting the FY&NR with the mainland network at Lymington. The idea got as far as an authorising Act of Parliament of 1901, incorporating the South Western & Isle of Wight Junction Railway. Nothing came of the scheme, but it was revived in 1913 as a means of reviving the finances of the FY&NR. However raising the capital for the works was problematical, and the onset of World War I put paid to the idea.[6]

It was suggested again after 1923, but at the time the Southern Railway had invested heavily in piers and ferryboats, and were opposed to the idea; the Local Authorities too considered it unacceptably expensive.[12] In fact in 1932 Dendy Marshall wrote to The Engineer magazine, proposing a tunnel with a revival of the atmospheric system. In a three-mile smooth-walled tunnel; there would be trains of "one carriage fitetd with about half a dozen trasverese fins of india-rubber nearly fitting the tunnel". Powerful fans would propel the vehicle at up to 60 mph.[13]

Grouping of the railways[edit]

After World War I the Government considered the future of the railways of Great Britain, and passed the Railways Act 1921. In a process referred to as the "grouping", this set up four new railway companies which were to take over nearly all the existing companies. The Southern Railway absorbed the Isle of Wight lines from 1 January 1923, except for the FY&NR. The compensation to shareholders was to be negotiated, and although the FY&NR was in receivership, it argued that its prospects were good because of the hoped-for Lymington tunnel connection, and it attempted to obtain a better financial settlement. The negotiation dragged on and it was not until 1 August 1923 that the transfer took place. During the hiatus period, the FY&NR trains had to revert to using the separate station at Newport, with renewed inconvenience to passengers.[6]

The Southern Railway brought new vigour to the railways of the Island, and a new Tourist Express was laid on in the summer months, with limited stops, linking Freshwater with Sandown. This started as the East and West Through Train, a name shown on carriage roofboards in 1932, and it proved a considerable success. In the following year further trains of this type were run, and the previous year's East and West Through Train was extended from Sandown to Ventnor, and named The Tourist in the public timetable. A through fast train from Ryde to Freshwater was also introduced, the first such for twenty years.[11] The crossing loop at Ningwood was lengthened to 400 feet in 1936 to accommodate these services, while the loops at Carisbrooke and Yarmouth were removed.[9]

In the summer of 1939 there were thirteen trains in each direction with extra trains on Saturdays, and eight each way on Sundays. The journey time was about 37 minutes.[6]

The final years[edit]

The traffic on the line had always been highly seasonal, and the thin population in its area meant that the financial situation was precarious. Road transport of passengers and goods became increasingly dominant from the 1930s and further accelerated after World War II, and the losses on the line were unsustainable in the face of the low volume of custom. The line closed on 21 September 1953.[14] The locomotive used on the final journey was Alverstone, built in 1891 and brought to the Island in 1926.


Freshwater, Yarmouth and Newport Railway
Calbourne and Shalfleet
To Cowes
FYNR trains reverse
Site of Newport
FY&NR station
To Ryde
River Medina
To Sandown


The line opened on 20 July 1889 and closed on 21 September 1953.

  • Freshwater;
  • Yarmouth;
  • Ningwood;
  • Calbourne & Shalfleet;
  • Watchingwell; opened 20 July 1889 as a private station for Sir John Stephen Barrington Simeon; publicly advertised in 1923 and 1924;
  • Carisbrooke;
  • Newport (FYN station); opened 14 July 1913; closed 1 August 1923; intermittent use from 1914;
  • Newport; Isle of Wight Central Railway (former Cowes and Newport Railway) station.[9][15]


The first three-mile section of the line from Freshwater followed easy gradients, but then a climb of 1 in 64 followed for a mile, and that was the ruling gradient for six miles to beyond Watchingwell. After the summit a descent of the same gradient followed for 3 miles into Newport.[9]


Number Name Builder Class Type Built Notes
1 Medina Manning Wardle Works 1555 0-6-0ST 1902 Originally Pauling & Elliot "Northolt". Withdrawn 1932.
2 Freshwater Brighton LB&SCR A1 Class 0-6-0T 1876 Originally LB&SCR 646 "Newington" and later L&SWR 734 from May 1903 before purchase by FY&NR in February 1915. It was renumbered W8 in April 1932. In 1949 it was returned to the mainland for work on Hayling Island branches until 1963. In 1979 an agreement with the former owners saw it return to the Isle of Wight for preservation. It is now back in service following a £35,000 boiler replacement; its boiler certification expires in 2019.
A1 Class 'Terrier' locomotive "Freshwater" in Southern Railway livery at the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. This locomotive was originally used on the Freshwater, Yarmouth and Newport Railway.

Current situation[edit]

Former station buildings:

  • Freshwater is now demolished and occupied by a Garden Centre
  • Yarmouth is now a community centre
  • Ningwood and Watchingwell are private houses
  • Calbourne and Carisbrooke have been demolished.

Former locomotives

See also[edit]

Railways on the Isle of Wight


  1. ^ Carter gives the authorised capital including 33% loans in both cases.
  2. ^ Fay was knighted at Immingham on 22 July 1912

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Alan Blackburn and John Mackett, Freshwater, Yarmouth and Newport Railway, Forge Books, Bracknell, second edition 1988, ISBN 0 904662 17 9
  2. ^ Michael Robbins, The Isle of wight (Newport Junction) Railway, in the Railway Magazine, October 1959
  3. ^ Bennett, A. (1994). Southern Holiday Lines in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Cheltenham: Runpast. ISBN 1-870754-31-X. 
  4. ^ Maycock, R.J.; Silsbury, R. (2003). The Freshwater, Yarmouth and Newport Railway. Usk: Oakwood. ISBN 0-85361-601-9. 
  5. ^ a b E F Carter, An Historical Geography of the Railways of the British Isles, Cassell, London, 1959
  6. ^ a b c d e f g K Westcott Jones, The Freshwater, Yarmouth and Isle of Wight Railway, in the Railway Magazine, May and June 1947
  7. ^ Letter from FY&NR to IoWCR prior to July 1889, partly quoted in Blackburn, page 11
  8. ^ H P White, A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: volume 2: Southern England, Phoenix House Limited, London, 1961
  9. ^ a b c d e f Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith, Branch Lines to Newport, Middleton Press, Midhurst, 1985, ISBN 0 906 520 26 6
  10. ^ Blackburn and Mackett, page 16
  11. ^ a b c P C Allen and A B MacLeod, Rails in the Isle of Wight, second edition, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1986, ISBN 9780715387016
  12. ^ a b C F Dendy Marshall, revised by R W Kidner, History of the Southern Railway, Ian Allan Limited, Shepperton, 1963 revised edition 1982, ISBN 0 7110 0059 X
  13. ^ Letter from Dendy Marshall partly quoted in Blackburn, page 13
  14. ^ Paye, Peter (1990). Isle of Wight Railways remembered. Oxford: OPC. ISBN 0-86093-212-5. 
  15. ^ M E Quick, Railway Passenger Stations in England Scotland and Wales—A Chronology, The Railway and Canal Historical Society, 2002