Weeke local History - Railway



Initial Idea

In the 1820s England had only recently defeated Napoleon and our relationship with France was still unsettled. There was thus a military reason to consider a ship canal from London to the South Coast. There would be commercial advantages as well as the military benefits of implementing such a link. The idea had been proposed by John Rennie, a leading civil engineer at the time. A costing came up with the massive cost of £7 million pounds, a very considerable sum in the 1820s. This made the project totally uneconomic. It did , however, started thoughts about other ways of establishing such a link (URL18).

An inspired decision was made in 1831 to consider a railway link from Southampton to London. This was only a year after the first railway line had been opened, the Liverpool and Manchester railway. Aspirations of business men in Southampton lead to them consider the formation of the Southampton, London and Branch Railway and Dock Company to build and run a railway. This was still very early in the ‘railway mania’ that was to lead to the rapid development of a national network of railway companies. It was seen that this venture would be very much linked to the recently built docks at Southampton. The railway would provide a transport link to support goods and passengers to and from London avoiding the long and potentially perilous sea journey from the Thames around the coast and through the English Channel (Baker, 1987 p7).


Francis Giles was recruited as the Engineer in Charge in 1831. Giles had been a pupil of John Rennie and been involved with many canal developments from 1810 to 1830. After his involvement with the Southampton and London Railway Francis went on to the Southampton docks development and then the Reading, Guilford and Reigate Railway. On starting work on the Southampton and London Railway he undertook a survey of the route (Simmons & Biddle, 1997 p 176).

There were two possible routes. The first was to head south from London to Guilford, an established town then onto Farnham, Alresford and Winchester and then to Southampton. The other route was to head further to the west to Kingston, then Woking to Winchester and then to Southampton. The Directors had an eye to the future development of the railway network to the West and South West and so decided on the more westerly route through Woking. In some ways this was not the obvious route since the stations built were in very minor locations, except for Winchester. In contrast Guilford, Farnham and Alresford were all established towns. The Directors view of future expansion was to bring them into direct conflict with Great Western Railway which as well as its line to the west from Paddington also had eyes on developments to the south west (URL19).

This first survey by Francis Giles resulted in the planned route going through the centre of Winchester. The line was planned to cross the Worthy Road, the modern City Road along the line of Staples Gardens and then would cross the High Street and exited the City. The Directors were very careful to ensure they had support from the landowners who were affected by the planned route. This often was quoted in their advertising. In Winchester they appeared to have support of the landowners. The route would only affect cheap housing that was located mainly in Staples Gardens and was rented and so only a few landowners would need to be approached. However, early in 1832 the Paving Commission in Winchester met and there minutes indicate horror at the proposed line. They considered it would result in far too much disruption and noise for Winchester residents. They proposed a route further to the west outside the West Gate. This is the route that was finally decided by the railway company. It can be assumed that as the Paving Commission effectively represented the Winchester town council the railway company were keen to keep them on side. The actual landowners affected by the final route were primarily the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral and Winchester College both of which appeared to be ambivalent towards the railway. Perhaps they felt that the railway was not going to be successful and the enterprise would not last (Allen, 1999 p114).


The final cost estimate by Francis Giles was £1 million and he thought it would take three years to build. There was fierce opposition in Parliament but the railway was finally incorporated in July 1834. By then Francis Giles had completed two further surveys in 1833 and early 1834. In both of these surveys the name of the proposed railway had been changed to London and Southampton Railway. This was a logical change as other railways were being proposed from London to various places but always London was the first terminus named in the company names. The final survey fixed the line so well that very few further changes were introduced after Parliament had agreed the go-ahead. There were no significant changes to the Winchester sections (Baker, 1987 p8).

The company was funded by mainly by businessmen in Southampton and investors from Manchester. Southampton residents provided 30% of the initial capital and Manchester based investors 25% whereas Winchester residents provided only 5% of the initial funds (Allen, 1999 p121). This was not so surprising since investors in Manchester had already seen the financial gains being generated by the Liverpool and Manchester railway that opened in September 1830. The Directors of the company did not perhaps have a great deal of confidence in the new railway line. They thought that five locomotives would serve all their needs, two for passenger traffic and three for goods (Baker, 1987 p7).


Giles started work using an unusual technique in that instead of employing large contractors he chose to use a number of smaller contractors working on many sections of the line. Progress was slow and the directors became frustrated by the lack of real progress. This was exploited by the critics of the railway and they called it ‘the parsons and prawn line’. They thought the line would never be viable and the only users would be the ‘parsons’ of Winchester and ‘prawns’ being transported from Southampton to London (Allen, 1999 p116). Francis Giles had already received criticism from the directors of Newcastle and Carlisle and had been edged out of office there in 1833. The problem was that he took on too many engagements at the same time.

At the end of 1846 the directors of the L.S.R invited Joseph Locke to review the work of Francis Giles. Giles eventually was dismissed and Joseph Locke took over the implementation of the railway. Locke had been articled to George Stephenson and then worked on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway with him. He then sorted out problems on that railway and then worked on the Grand Junction Railway before working on the L.S.R. replacing Francis Giles. The section that was very much the work of Locke was the Basingstoke to Winchester part of the line (Simmons & Biddle, 1997 p 176).

Locke changed the contracting so that fewer large contractors were used. For the Basingstoke to Winchester section which had not been started Locke employed Thomas Brassey., who was probably the greatest railway contractor of his age. He had worked with Locke on the Grand Junction railway and then undertook the Basingstoke to Winchester section for Locke.

An interesting aspect of the Hampshire building of the L.S.R was that the use of ‘foreign’ navvies to build the railway was avoided. Navvies were often Irish immigrant labour and would often create problems for the communities they were temporarily residing in. In Hampshire there appears to have been enough labour available to provide most of the resources for the railway building (Allen, 1999 p116). In honour of Thomas Brassey and his contribution to the railway Brassey road in Weeke was named after him.

Winchester Implementation

Work in Winchester had started in 1835 with the cutting by the Barracks leading out of the town towards Southampton. Work progressed on the Winchester Southampton section which was completed to a temporary terminus at Northam in June 1839. By 1838 there was still no final layout for the Winchester to Basingstoke section in and around the Winchester station area.

A slight realignment of the modern Andover Road was required to carry the road over the railway. The layout of the modern Lower Stockbridge road was fixed when the bridge over the road was defined. The road had been an extension of the narrow Swan Lane that joined the Weeke Road (the modern Stockbridge Road). This was widened and the bridge built over the road. The station had an approach road provided that ran down to the junction with the Andover road and Sussex Street. The L.S.R. wanted the Stockbridge road running to West Gate to simply have a footpath to the Romsey Road but eventually a road was provided. The bridge from the Stockbridge road to Upper High street did not receive permission until September 1838 when both of the other bridges close to the station had already been completed (Allen, 1999 p119).

Other changes to the road layout occurred when the new Corn Exchange was built in 1838. It seems highly likely that the final location of the Corn Exchange in Jewry Street was influenced by the positioning of the railway. As it was being completed there was a need for access to the station from the new Corn Exchange. The only access was that part of the Swan Lane on the city side. This was a narrow lane and would have been difficult to widen. Instead a new road was cut approximately along the line of the old city wall. This probably saw the final clearing of the remains of the city wall in this part of the city. The new road was called City Road and development started along its section from Jewry street towards the new station. The architect for the Corn Exchange Owen Browne Carter probably went on to design the Market Hotel in Jewry Street which was later to be converted into the Theatre Royal (Allen, 1999 p119). It can be seen that this small area of Weeke parish under went a major change with the coming of the railway line. The modern layout was set by the railway changes and is largely the same today.


The railway was opened in a series of stages. The first stage was from Nine Elms, the initial terminus at the London end to Woking. Nine Elms was thought of as only a temporary terminus since the directors wanted to get the line right into the centre of the city of London. Eventually a Royal Commission stopped all the disparate railway lines from driving their lines right into the centre of London. If this had been allowed a large area of land in the city would have been used to simply house all the termini.

The first section opened in May 1838 consisted of Nine Elms (the London terminus), Wandsworth (now Clapham Junction), Wimbledon, Kingston (now Surbiton), Ditton Marsh (now Esher), Walton, Weybridge and Woking Common. There were five trains in each direction during the week and four on Sundays. The original fares were first class five shillings and second class three shillings and sixpence. In the first week there were 1,000 customers. In the second week 5,000 customers arrived for the trip in one morning eager to reach the Derby which could be accessed from the Kingston- Ewell road. This resulted in a ten fold increase of receipts between the first week and the second week (Baker, 1987 p10). This showed the line would be a financial success.

The second section was opened in September 1838 from Woking to Shapley Heath, Winchfield with the single intermediate station at Farnborough. In June 1839 the twelve miles between Southampton and Winchester were opened as well as the seven and three quarters miles between Shapley Heath and Basingstoke. There were no intermediate stations on these two sections. This left the final section, between Basingstoke and Winchester, built by Thomas Brassey which was opened in May 1840. This had the single intermediate station at Micheldever (Baker, 1987 p8).


The directors were planning extensions to their railway even before the main line was completely opened. May be the very successful opening of the first section confounded their critics and gave the board the confidence to progress in expanding the network. At the board meeting in June 1839 it was agreed to change the name of the company to London and South Western Railway. This was partly to reflect the far wider aspirations of the directors to expand the line to the west and south west. The main reason, however, for the name change was they were planning a link to Portsmouth. The company had received (June 1839) Parliamentary approval to build a branch line from Bishopstoke (Eastleigh) to Gosport. The proud citizens of a venerable port like Portsmouth would not put up with a branch line from a railway called London and Southampton (Baker, 1987 p13). This rivalry between the two cities continues to this day.


A new nine arch bridge over the Thames was opened in 1817. It had been designed by John Rennie and linked the south bank at Lambeth to the north bank by the Strand. This was only two years after the battle at Waterloo and so it was natural to call the new bridge after this famous victory.

In 1844 the L.S.W.R was given Parliamentary approval to extend their line from Nine Elms to a location close to the Waterloo Bridge. This was not thought by the directors to be the final extension of the London terminus. They had plans to extend the line to London Bridge but the Royal Commission finally ended this plan. They had to wait until 1898 and the opening of the Waterloo and City underground link to provide their passengers with the ability to reach directly into the city of London.

The directors of L.S.W.R approached the Duke of Wellington to seek his approval to name their new station Waterloo Bridge. The Duke when he was Prime Minister in 1830 had stated at the opening of the first railway line the Liverpool and Manchester, ‘I see no reason to suppose that these machines will ever force themselves into general use’. Presumably even he had changed his mind when he agreed to the use of the name Waterloo Bridge for the new station. The name was changed to simply ‘Waterloo’ by common usage and officially in 1886. For a while it had also been called ‘York Road’ (Baker, 1987 p23).

The 13/4 miles from Nine Elms to Waterloo was estimated to cost a huge £800,000. The line had to be very curvaceous because Vauxhall Gardens, Lambeth Gas Works and Lambeth Palace would not agree to the railway passing through their properties. The line branched off before reaching Nine Elms and a new station created called Vauxhall. The old Nine Elms station became a goods depot. Waterloo station itself was built on a derelict pleasure garden. The original cost estimate was exceeded and finally the extension cost £11/4 million to complete. Between Nine Elms and Waterloo there were 290 arches of brick to carry the railway line. These were made waterproof so they could be rented out to allow a small amount of the outlay to be recouped. The Waterloo station opened in July 1848. This was considered to be a temporary building before further development into the centre of London. The buildings were undistinguished in the extreme, temporary shacks which were replaced by something more permanent in 1853 and these buildings had to be expanded several times to meet the needs over ever expanding demand (Baker, 1987 p23).

Extension of the Line

The 153/4 mile long Bishopstoke (Eastleigh) to Gosport line was opened in November 1841 and after an early tunnel collapse finally opened for good early in 1842. This was not a direct link to Portsmouth since passengers had to take a water trip from Gosport to Portsmouth. In October 1846 a link from Fareham connected the L.S.W.R to the London Brighton and South Coast (L.B.S.C) line so completing the link to Portsmouth. This did not last long and the L.S.R opened a branch from Woking to Guildford in May 1845 which was extended to Godalming in 1849. A speculative extension was built by Thomas Brassey to Havant in 1853, which joined up with the L.B.S.C. There was considerable haggling between L.S.R and L.B.S.C before the situation was resolved in 1859 providing the L.S.R the lion share of the new direct link from London to Portsmouth.

Extending the line to the west brought L.S.R into direct conflict with the Great Western Railway (G.W.R). By 1844 G.W.R had reached Exeter via Bristol. Charles Castleman, a solicitor of Wimborne Minster put forward a proposal for a line from Southampton to Dorchester. This new linec would be via Brockenhurst, Ringwood, Wimbourne, Poole and Wareham. This did not include Weymouth, for which its town folk were very displeased. Castleman’s railway would need to link up with the either L.S.W.R or the G.W.R, which was developing a line from Bristol via Frome to Salisbury. The problem was the G.W.R used a broad gauge rail line which was not compatible with the narrower gauge used by L.S.W.R. Unfortunately L.S.W.R wanted to extend its Salisbury line (a branch from Basingstoke) to the west. This resulted in L.S.W.R taking little interest in Castleman’s railway but G.W.R was more responsive. It was only a late intervention by the Duke of Wellington, which led to a turn around so that the new railway would link to the L.S.R line. The Castleman’s railway obtained parliamentary approval in July 1845. It was logical that the new line should include all settlements of any size between Southampton and Dorchester. This resulted in many diversions of the line and the line being called ‘Castleman’s Corkscrew’. At the time this did not include Bournemouth. In the 1840s Bournemouth simply did not exist, its population in 1841 was 200 (Baker, 1987 p21).

The Castleman line was opened in stages, the first section was from Ringwood to Dorchester, but since this was a remote stand alone section it did not carry traffic until Lyndhurst was connected in May 1847. By June 1847 a link was almost complete with a train running from Blechynden on the outskirts of Southampton to Dorchester. The final tunnel had caused problems and it was October 1846 before the full link was in place. Subsequently cut-offs were built to shorten the distance travel on Castleman’s railway and links to a growing Bournemouth and the final link to Weymouth established. This was in conjunction with G.W.R. The last section supported both the narrow and broad gauge track and was completed in 1857.


Carriers who carried goods and passengers had developed complex networks across the country as the turnpike networks grew. Winchester had a number of carriers including William Burnett during the 1820s. The carriers had routes to London, Southampton and many towns within Hampshire and neighbouring counties. The coming of the railway created a complex interaction with the carriers. As the different sections of the London to Southampton railway were opened the carriers meet the needs for the gaps where sections had not been completed. When the railway line did connect up from London to Southampton the carriers rapidly closed their services to London and Southampton from Winchester. However, this reduction was balanced with continuing need for services to the towns remote from the railway line. This can be seen by the fact that the Winchester to Stockbridge trust had similar revenues in the 1830s, 40s and 1850 (Allen, 1999 p134).


The coming of the railway was to have a significant effect on Winchester and the parish of Weeke. Winchester had been an important local town before the railway and its importance was reinforced by the arrival of the railway. Weeke saw the village centre near the church of St Matthews decline in importance and the growth of the area around the new railway. It would be over 100 years before the original village centre would develop with the post World War II estates.

Subsequent History

The line from Waterloo to Weymouth had been completed in 1857. Subsequent developments included the Brookwood cemetery connection, the Eastleigh Works and many further stations on the line. These however did not change the basic layout of the line.

In 1929 the London and South Western Railway was absorbed into the Southern Railways. This was an attempt to provide a more efficient railway by combining and cooperation. With the nationalisation of the railways, at the start of 1948 the line became part of the Southern region of British Rail. With the privatisation in 1993, the passenger operating Company managing traffic on the old London and South Western is called the South West Trains and has been run by Stagecoach since privatisation.

Release 1.0 last update 02/09/08

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