A History of the Railways
around Basingstoke

by Christopher J Tolley


While I was preparing the first printed edition of this history - long before I had any inkling of publishing it on the Internet, there were parts of some of the printed pages which looked blank, and which I decided to fill with snippets of information about the local railways. Although they aren't needed for the same reason on the Internet, it's a shame not to use them, so here they are.


Slipping forecast

  • One perennial topic of conversation on trains is the weather. The weather can pose serious problems for railway operators. Wet leaves on the line might sound like a silly excuse, but in fact, they can cause a train to slip and slide when the brakes are applied, leading to serious damage to wheels and track.
  • These days, with automatic signalling and devices in the driving cabs to remind the driver of the state of the last signal passed, fog does not hamper services as much as it did in the days of semaphore signalling. In the GWR timetable for January to April 1902, the following notice appeared: TRAIN ARRANGEMENTS DURING FOGS. Notice is hereby given that on occasions when FOGGY WEATHER prevails it may be necessary to vary the times of Trains or to suspend the running of certain Trains over sections of the Railways of the Company in order to conduce to safety in working. The Company will do what is practicable for the convenience and comfort of Passengers at such times, but they are not responsible for delays that may unavoidably arise.
  • The wrong sort of snow certainly fell over the Christmas period in 1927. As a result of a blizzard, one train was trapped between Basingstoke and Oakley for a whole day. The Basingstoke to Alton line fared worse, being closed for a week.


Final Journey

  • Before it was bombed during the Second World War, there used to be an unusual small station next to Waterloo, operating services that, for some of the passengers, were definitely not return journeys. The London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company (whose seal encouragingly contained the skull and cross bones device) established a cemetery at Brookwood in the middle of the 19th century. Indeed, it can still be seen from passing trains today. This cemetery was intended to solve the problem of overcrowding in London's cemeteries which had been caused by the rapid population growth.
  • In association with the L&SWR, the Necropolis company ran trains daily to Brookwood (except on days when nobody was to be buried). These trains were segregated by class - even for the coffins - and by religion as well. At Brookwood cemetery, two stations were provided, called North and South. The North station, nearer to the main line, was used for non-conformist burials, whilst Church of England burials were dealt with from the South station.


What's in a name?

  • The names of some railway installations indicate what was there before the railway was. For example, just beyond Clapham Junction station, going towards London, a line from Kensington joins the line from Victoria at Longhedge Junction. This junction was named after the farm on which it was built. It's now rather an effort to imagine a farm so close to the centre of London!
  • Sometimes, the railways have chosen to give a station a different name from the name of the community it serves - and some of these names have taken over from the original location names. One such is Clapham Junction, which stands in Battersea, rather than Clapham, a mile or so away. The immediate area around the station is known to the locals as Clapham Junction.
  • Stations do not necessarily keep the names they were opened with, and it isn't always obvious what the connection is between the old and new names. The area covered by the maps in this history includes several good examples of this: Andover Road became Micheldever, Woolhampton became Midgham, and Wellington College became Crowthorne.
  • The worst case of a station with a changing identity in the area around Basingstoke is the one which was called Blackwater when it was opened in 1849, It was renamed in 1851, 1852, 1897, 1913 and 1923. It is now called - Blackwater!


The Iron Duke and the Iron Road

  • The Duke of Wellington was not exactly a fan of the railways. He was quoted as saying, "I see no reason to suppose that these machines will ever force themselves into general use."
  • The railways, on the other hand, were keen to attract him. The London and South Western Railway from the start kept a special train in readiness for him in case he ventured into Basingstoke from his home at Stratfield Saye, but by 1842, he had not taken advantage of it.
  • When the Berks & Hants line of the Great Western Railway was authorised, a special clause was inserted in the Act so that the Duke could veto any station within five miles of his house. After much negotiation, the railway was allowed to build a station at Mortimer, only three miles or so from Stratfield Saye. The railway did not skimp on its construction, just in case he wanted to use it, and the buildings survive today, seeming rather generously proportioned considering the size of the village they serve.
  • The Duke eventually travelled on the L&SWR in 1843, when he accompanied Queen Victoria. Both distinguished passengers seemed impressed.


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