Meon Valley Railway

The Meon Valley Railway (MVR) was a cross-country railway in Hampshire, England, that ran for 22+14 miles (35.8 km) between Alton and Fareham, closely following the course of the River Meon.[1] At its northern (Alton) end, it joined with the Mid-Hants Railway to Winchester, the Alton Line to Brookwood and the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway. At Fareham it linked with the Eastleigh to Fareham Line, the West Coastway Line and the line to Gosport. The railway was authorised in 1896 and opened in 1903, making it one of the last railways of any size to be built to main-line standards in the United Kingdom. Passenger services were withdrawn after 5 February 1955, and the line was closed completely on 13 August 1968.

Meon Valley Railway
Overview
StatusClosed and dismantled
OwnerLondon and South Western Railway
LocaleHampshire, United Kingdom
TerminiAlton
Fareham
Stations9
Service
Operator(s)London and South Western Railway
History
Opened1 June 1903 (1903-06-01)
Closed5 February 1955 (1955-02-05) (passengers, freight between Farringdon and Droxford)
30 April 1962 (1962-04-30) (freight between Fareham and Droxford)
13 August 1968 (1968-08-13) (freight between Alton and Farringdon)
Technical
Line length22 miles 24 chains (35.89 km)
Number of tracksOne
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Highest elevation519 ft (158 m)
Meon Valley Railway
Alton National Rail Watercress Line
Watercress Line
to Alresford
Butts Junction
Farringdon Halt
Tisted
Privett
Privett Tunnel (
1056 yd
966 m
)
West Meon Tunnel
West Meon Viaduct
over River Meon
West Meon
Droxford
Mislingford Goods Depot
Wickham
Knowle Junction
Knowle Halt
Former loop line
Fareham

BackgroundEdit

 
A large brick over-bridge south of West Meon with arch-underside faced in stone and wide enough for mainline standard double-track

There were several plans for railways in the Meon Valley in the middle and late 19th century. The Meon Valley formed one of the most direct routes from London to Portsmouth, but the original South Western Main Line went via Basingstoke because of a planned connection with another line heading towards Bristol.

The Meon Valley Railway was mentioned in 1895 when a farm at Soberton was advertised for sale.[7] In 1896, a petition was put to the directors of the LSWR asking that a line be provided through the Meon Valley. A line from West Meon to Petersfield was included in the proposal.[8] The necessary Act of Parliament for the construction of the Meon Valley Railway was quickly obtained, with the South Western (Meon Valley) Act receiving Royal Assent on 3 June 1897.[4] The line had to be completed within five years, otherwise the Act would lapse.[9] A contractor was hired to carry out the work: Relf & Son of Plymouth. The LSWR's chief engineer in charge of the works was W.R. Galbraith. Henry Byer was the resident engineer and T. P. Figgis was the line's architect for stations and other non-permanent way structures.[10]

DesignEdit

When planning the construction of the railway, provision was made for upgrading the line to main-line standards, with a ruling gradient of 1-in-100 (1%),[11] and only gentle curves.[citation needed] Stations would be constructed with 600-foot (183 m) long platforms capable of taking 10-coach trains.[12] The earthworks were to be built to take a single track, but all bridges and tunnels were to be built to dual-track standards.[10] If the line proved successful, it would be upgraded to full-length dual track. As constructed, only the stations had dual tracks, so they were the only places trains could pass each other on the line. The design of the MVR also made much use of grade separation to minimise the use of level crossings, which were coming to be seen as both dangerous and undesirable, especially on lines intended for faster services. Instead all public roads that crossed the route of the line were accommodated by road bridges over the railway or vice versa, even where this required extensive earthworks and realignment of roads (such as at Hedge Corner near Privett, and the site of Droxford station). There were still 19 level crossings on the line, but the majority of these were crossing points for footpaths, and the rest were for lightly used farm tracks, connecting tracts of land that had been cut in two by the construction of the railway. The LSWR's promotional material for the line showed the line as a direct London-Gosport route for express services.

 
The trackbed south of Wickham, looking towards Knowle Junction

Due to the conflict between the requirement for gentle gradients and the hilly terrain of the Meon Valley, the line required some impressive engineering works, including two tunnels and a 62-foot (19 m) high viaduct at West Meon. The summit of the line was at Privett, some 519 feet (158 m) above sea level. As was not unusual, due to the constraints of the landscape, a few of the stations were some distance from the settlements they claimed to serve (especially Privett and East Tisted). At the time, several commentators pointed out that these stations were in fact much better placed to serve the large country houses in the area (Basing Park and Rotherfield Park respectively). This point was further emphasised by the naming of the stations. Stations were usually named after the parish they were built in, but the owner of Basing Park insisted the LSWR name the station Privett (instead of the intended name of 'West Tisted') after the much smaller village in the area, next to which his estate was sited.

As befitting a railway built to full standards, the stations were impressive. Designed by T. P. Figgis and with leanings towards the Arts and Crafts movement, the stations were built out of brick in a mock-Tudor style, with Portland Stone mullions and gables. The architecture included stained-glass door windows and tiled interiors. The lavatories were in outbuildings styled like Chinese pagodas. Goods yards were planned for Mislingford (mainly to serve a local pumping station) and Farringdon, and all the stations had goods sidings, an ornate corrugated iron goods shed and hand-operated cranes to allow parcels and goods to be picked up and dropped off as needed.

 
Former East Tisted station, now a private home, in a standardised Tudor style used by MVR
 
The southern entrance of the West Meon tunnel
 
1970 south portal
 
1970 north portal

ConstructionEdit

Construction began in 1898, with the first soil being cut just south-east of Farringdon.[13] The first task was the laying out and excavating the cuttings to provide material for building up the embankments. The embankments, tunnels, rails, stations, bridges and other structures were then built, with the construction teams starting at the Alton end of the line and moving south. Initially the terrain was easy, with only minimal earth-moving required (considering that the majority of work was done by manual labour). The main problem was obtaining a water supply for both the men and the small steam locomotives used for hauling supplies, since the railway was passing along chalk soil. The further south the railway came, the more undulating the terrain became and greater works of civil engineering were required to maintain the strict gradient requirements of the railway.

The line from Alton to Winchester Junction had been opened on 2 October 1865 and taken over by the LSWR in 1876.[14] A wooden bridge had been provided over the Alton-Winchester road at the Butts. With the construction of the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway, and the MVR then being under construction, a double track girder bridge replaced the original wooden bridge in 1900.[15]

After the construction of Privett station, the contractors came to their biggest engineering work – the Privett Tunnel. At 1,058 yards (967 m) in length,[16] the tunnel was curved, so the centre of the tunnel was in total darkness. Steam shovels and horses were used to remove the spoil (the latter were lowered into the works down shafts). The ground the tunnel was being driven through was found to be solid enough but nevertheless the tunnel was lined, partially in brick, partially in concrete render.[citation needed][17] A collapse in the tunnel trapped two navvies, James Owen and George Brown, the latter dying of suffocation.[18] Owen managed to dig himself free with his pocket knife and was rescued after being trapped for over 53 hours.[19] A second man, Richard Allen was killed after being run over by a wagon in the tunnel. These deaths caused some men to leave the works.[20] Enough men left to make the contractors bring in two steam shovels and a traction engine, G. Harris and Son's Burrell 'Endurance', to speed up progress.[citation needed] The tunnel was built by two teams working from opposite ends, and when the two met they were less than an inch from their planned course.[21]

While in similar locations elsewhere viaducts have been constructed, large quantities of chalk spoil from the tunnels favoured an alternative solution[22] between Privett and West Meon: consequently the railway was built on an embankment some 64 feet (20 m) high. This earthwork crossed the A272 road to Petersfield, which was accommodated by a short brick-lined tunnel through the embankment some 167 feet (51 m) long.[16]

A second 600-yard (549 m) tunnel was built on the approach to West Meon, but before the railway could reach the site of West Meon Station, it had to cross the River Meon itself, which at this point ran through a narrow but deep valley. An 8-arch concrete viaduct was planned, but the ground was not as strong as initial tests showed, and very soon after construction the foundations of the viaduct began to subside. A 4-arch iron design was used instead, with large chalk embankments on the approaches over the unstable ground. The viaduct dwarfed the surrounding village, standing over 62 feet (19 m) high. Despite being much lighter than the concrete design, the whole structure weighed over 700 long tons (711 t; 784 short tons) and cost £10,000 to build (£692,000 today). It is rumoured that 2 partially complete arches of the original viaduct are buried within the northern embankment.[weasel words]

 
The West Meon viaduct shortly after construction – only the concrete pedestals for the pillars remain.

West Meon station was the only point on the line where trains could take on water. A deep artesian well was sunk into the hills east of the station and piped to a tank in the station's goods yard to supply a water column on each platform. West Meon was also chosen as the site of the temporary 'village' of wooden huts to provide accommodation for the navvies and their families. A smaller collection of huts had been built at Privett.

Having crossed the Meon Valley, the railway then passed through easier country, gradually descending through means of a series of embankments and cuttings. The chalk soil supported many streams and rivulets, so at several key points the builders provided culverts or narrow bridges to provide drainage.

 
Skewed tunnel allowed the railway on its embankment to cross the River Meon north of Wickham.

South of Droxford, the workers encountered the Reading Beds – an area of clay and gravel that, as part of the larger Fareham Clay Beds, made the area a centre for brickmaking. However, the soil was highly unstable – when wet it was almost liquid, whilst in the summer it was as difficult to work as concrete. Huge amounts of chalk soil excavated from the two tunnels were brought in to stabilise the trackbed and to build embankments, but throughout the life of the railway subsidence was a problem along this stretch. The clay soil also led to standing water and flooding during heavy rain, and a number large grilled drains were provided along the line between Mislingford and Knowle. The problem was so severe in a cutting just north of Wickham that a concrete retaining wall was needed to support the side of the cutting and to prevent flooding the cutting was deepened to allow the construction of foundations of large concrete blocks for trackbed, on top of which were piled bricks to allow drainage before the topsoil and ballast could be laid. To improve the stability of the track itself the section between Wickham and Droxford used concrete sleepers- an early adoption of these on a British railway.

 
Iron bridge carried the railway over the River Meon at Wickham.

The line then passed through the Forest of Bere before heading across the water-meadows at Wickham on an embankment. The embankment crossed the River Meon itself, requiring the river to be taken through a long brick skew tunnel. The embankment also effectively divided the village of Wickham in two, with two new bridges providing the only means of crossing under the railway. This remains the case today. Just south of Wickham, the Meon was crossed again on a steel bridge supported on 6 tubular steel pillars – this was the second biggest bridge on the line after the West Meon Viaduct. The meandering course of the Meon, the constraints of the landscape and the railway's ruling gradient meant that the railway required five under-bridges within half a mile (1 kilometre): three to cross the Meon (including the steel bridge near Wickham station) and the two to cross roads in Wickham.

Finally, the railway gradually dropped to the natural ground level to the south of Wickham, joining the Eastleigh to Fareham Line just north of the Knowle Hatches Viaduct. Trains from the Meon Valley then passed down this line and into a newly built platform at Fareham station.

The construction of the MVR also included the building of a 2-mile (3.2 km) deviation line between Fareham and Knowle Junction to by-pass the Fareham Tunnel, which had suffered serious subsidence problems due to being built through the local clay beds. The tunnel frequently had to be closed for maintenance and shoring-up, so an alternative route was urgently required, especially given the anticipated increase in traffic caused by the new line. The double-track deviation line ran through the north of Fareham and to the west of the village of Funtley, re-joining the main line just south of Knowle Hospital. Construction of this line took place once the Meon Valley Railway was completed, starting in October 1904 and being completed in 1906.

 
Brick and iron bridge crossing Wickham road with extended brick uprights enabling a wider bridge truss to accommodate double track

The total cost of the Meon Valley Railway, including the Fareham deviation line, was £399,500, 2 shillings and 3 pence. This equates to about £27.7 million at today's prices. In all, the navvies (only minimally assisted by mechanical equipment) moved 340,700 cu yd (260,484 m3) of earth in the course of the works.

Early historyEdit

The various delays during construction (such as the need to re-design the West Meon Viaduct and the ongoing problems with stabilising the track through the clay beds) caused the LSWR to delay opening of the MVR by a year. There were further delays in installing the signalling equipment. The line finally opened on 1 June 1903. There were between 8 and 11 services a day, running 4- and 6-coach trains. London-Gosport services were hauled by Adams 'Jubilee' engines. The lighter Alton-Fareham trains were worked by Adams 'Radial' and Adams O2 Class tank engines (a 'Radial' hauled the first public train on the line). Twice a day the line was used by a London–Gosport fast express service, usually hauled by a Drummond T9 'Greyhound'.

As was expected in such an agricultural region, the bulk of traffic came from shipping agricultural produce. On the MVR this included watercress, wheat, fruit (especially strawberries and apples), milk and cattle. The LSWR put on special market-day trains, with both passenger carriages and livestock cars, allowing farmers to accompany their livestock. There were local 'pick-up/set-down' goods services along the line, which called at every station to deliver and pick up any waiting goods. No shunting engines were stationed on the MVR, so the locomotive working the train had to uncouple at each station and marshal wagons into and out of the train as required – standard practice for a rural line. Heavier freight services were often powered by locomotives such as the Drummond 700 Class.

 
West Meon Station shortly after the railway opened in 1903 looking south – the wooden footbridge was removed in the 1920s.

Local residents and businesses had high hopes for the railway. The 'Railway Inn' was built next to Droxford railway station in the hope of accommodating tourists and travellers. A public house was built next to Privett railway station named 'The Privett Bush'. Coal merchants did good business – West Meon station employed no fewer than three different merchants, and one business supplied coal to 2 of the stations.

Many local newspapers were impressed by the line's speed, the scale of its engineering works, the high standards of the stations and other structures and the beauty of the scenery it passed through. Then, as now, the link between the Meon Valley and the famous figures of Gilbert White and Jane Austen was made several times. Some papers wrote articles describing the route and its scenery in great detail, pointing out places of interest along the line, such as the hill fort at Old Winchester Hill.

The Fareham Tunnel deviation line was opened, first as a single line from 2 October 1904 and onto which all 'up' traffic was diverted with the corresponding 'up' line through the tunnel (really tunnels plural) being taken out of use; then from September 1906 the second line was brought into use for all 'down' traffic, enabling the original route through the tunnel to be closed to allow major repairs that ultimately led to the existing tunnel being stripped out and new linings being built. The tunnel had already been subjected to an additional brick lining by the 1870s, causing special working instructions to be issued due to trains being significantly closer to the tunnel wall, and each other. With the tunnel alterations completed the track was relaid as a single bi-directional line, thus the eliminating the limited clearance problem, and reopened on 2 June 1907. Knowle Junction ceased to be a true junction as the original connection between the MVR and the Eastleigh to Fareham Line was removed, although it would appear that the signal box was still required as a block post on the new, diverted main line. The MVR now had a totally separate but parallel single-track line across Knowle Hatches Viaduct (which was widened to triple-track width) and through the tunnel to Fareham East signal box, where double track was regained on the approach to Fareham Station, although a third bi-directional line was laid on the 'down' side to bring MV passenger traffic into a bay platform on the eastern side of the station. Should the need have ever arisen to double the MVR it must be assumed that most, if not all traffic would have needed to use the deviation line. Fareham Station may even have needed to be expanded to cope with the extra traffic.

As part of these works in 1907 a halt was built at Knowle Hospital to serve both it and the village of Funtley[2]. This small station - little more than a platform and a shelter - became one of the first rural stations in Hampshire to be lit by electricity, since it took its power from the hospital's generators. Given the track layout as configured at the time, the halt was served only Meon Valley trains only but, following the reinstatement of Knowle Junction in 1921 (see below), certain trains on both routes used the stop.

The expected London through-traffic never materialised, and after only a few years the London to Gosport services were cut back. Similarly, the tourist traffic to Stokes Bay also failed to grow, with steamers preferring the more established ports at Portsmouth and Southampton. Even during the First World War, traffic was light compared to other lines, despite the line partly being built for military traffic. In fact, in 1915 the regular London traffic was suspended totally, and the services were never reinstated. From then on the MVR only handled regular traffic between Fareham and Alton. The only major troop movements were from local regiments. Droxford station had a brief moment in the public eye when Admiral Doveton Sturdee arrived at the station on his way to his nearby home after his victory in the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914.

Occasionally special trains from other parts of the network used the line, and the MVR did see infrequent use as a 'spare' mainline during periods of high traffic such as the summer holiday season or Christmas.

The most obvious signs of the railway not developing as expected were the series of changes made to the signalling arrangements in 1921. Privett signal box was effectively closed and the line was changed from being worked as a single-track main line to operating as a single-track branch line, with longer signal blocks and fewer passing loops (the 'down' platform at Privett was closed, the second line through the station now being only used for shunting). At the southern end the rail connections at Knowle Junction were relaid. This allowed trains from Fareham heading to Eastleigh to use both the original and the deviation lines but the layout of the junctions meant that MVR trains could still only use the original single-track route. The LSWR's concerns about holding up express traffic no longer applied as such trains were not regular users of the MVR anymore.

Southern RailwayEdit

The LSWR was merged into the Southern Railway in 1923. By then services had been reduced even further. There were now six or eight services a day, mainly formed of two- or three-coach trains hauled by Drummond M7 tank engines, with T9s remaining for faster services. Goods services remained vital to the line, with a twice-daily service – one trip south-bound and one north-bound. Wagons and trucks would be shunted into the train at the three goods yards by the locomotive.

Winter of 1927 brought storms and heavy snowfall to the Meon Valley region. A special Waterloo–Gosport train running down the line at 5:40am on 27 December became stuck in a huge snowdrift near Tisted. Workmen took nearly a day to free the train and clear the line.

Since the railway opened, there had been calls for a station at Farringdon, just south of Alton. A goods yard for loading agricultural produce was already sited there, and in 1930 a short wooden platform of one coach-length was built to serve the village. Requests for a similar platform and yard at Meonstoke were not acted on, although the planners of the line had allowed for the future construction of a yard at that location. A single section of rail, dug vertically into the ground, marked the possible site for such a yard until after the railway closed- it was finally removed in the 1960s.

In 1931 a further down-grading of the MVR took place when the track at Butts Junction (the approach to Alton station) was re-laid. The signal box was removed and the MVR's direct connection with the Alton Line to London was removed, meaning that MVR trains now ran direct to a bay platform at Alton station. It also meant that trains could not run direct from the Alton Line to the Meon Valley as they had been able to – if this was required trains had to shunt from one line to the other. This change spelt the end of the MVR as an integrated part of the railway network – it was now simply handling stopping local traffic with none of the fast inter-city express traffic that the line was built to handle and that used the line in its early days.

The Alton Line was converted to electric operation in 1937. It was decided that it was not viable to electrify the MVR, and with that decision went any realistic hope of the line being upgraded to the dual-track standards to which it was built (indeed, the railway would remain single-line for its whole existence).

This period saw changes to the stock used on the MVR. The M7 tank engines remained the main type used, but goods services on the line was now being worked by types deemed redundant for main-line passenger working, such as a small number of Drummond L12s, which had been the LSWR's cutting-edge express locomotives when the line was built. T9s also began to be used for freight services and shunting. Some newly built types were used during the summer for heavy agricultural trains or tourist services to the coast, such as the Maunsell U-Class.

By the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, rural lines such as the MVR were all coming under threat from rural bus services, and even goods services were being threatened by local lorry services. The bulk of passenger services were now being run by M7 tank engines with a 2-car 'push-pull' train (carriage sets where the locomotive can be controlled from the rearmost carriage, negating the need to turn the train). These trains looked decidedly lost against the long platforms designed to take up to 11-car expresses. The huge platforms were, in fact, deemed so unnecessary that at West Meon new access slopes were cut halfway along and a walkway constructed across the tracks – the remaining half of each platform was effectively abandoned and allowed to grass over.

WartimeEdit

During the Second World War the line was yet again used lightly compared to other railways in the region (such as the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway). The only real change was an increase in goods traffic supplying the naval dockyard at Portsmouth. This saw new locomotive types running over the line, such as Drummond 700s and the distinctive Bulleid Q1s. Standard passenger services had a box van added to cope with the near-constant stream of parcels and luggage to and from Portsmouth. A few troop trains used the line late at night. In 1941 a special military freight train, hauled by a Drummond 700, was stabled for the night at Tisted, with the crew receiving instructions to stay with the engine and be ready to depart instantly in an emergency. Although unknown to both the locomotive crew and station staff, the train was carrying 48 mines.

Despite this relatively light military traffic, the Meon Valley Railway did come under attack during the war. A Junkers Ju 88 dropped bombs at Droxford station during 1940. These missed the station building and tracks but destroyed two railway worker's cottages. The aircraft then dropped further bombs at Soberton, but these also missed the railway. The bomber then turned around and headed up the line to the West Meon Tunnel, and a single bomb was dropped at the northern portal. A direct hit was not achieved, but a short section of line, including several sleepers, was destroyed and a crater was left in the ballast. All trains were quickly halted and the line was repaired in a few days.

 
A terrace of cottages near Wickham, built for railway workers

Despite what was, on the whole, a fairly quiet wartime career the MVR had a brief spell of intensive use during the build-up to D-Day when huge numbers of men and equipment had to be moved to the south of England, kept in readiness and finally transported to ports. Large numbers of Tanks were moved by rail to Mislingford goods yard where they were dispersed to numerous concrete hard-standings built in local lanes and fields for temporary storage. Mislingford was also the site of a temporary wooden platform to serve the large number of Canadian troops who were encamped in the Forest of Bere.

The MVR had one crucial role to play in the D-Day operations. On 2 June 1944, Winston Churchill, the Prime Ministers of Canada and South Africa, William Lyon Mackenzie King and Jan Smuts, and other Allied leaders arrived in a special train at Droxford Station (the train was actually part of the Royal Train from the London, Midland & Scottish Railway) for a crucial meeting at the nearby HQ of U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower the Supreme Allied Commander at Southwick House. The station possessed the longest siding in southern England (outside the railway works at Eastleigh) and was close to a deep cutting. If threatened by an air raid, the train could be pushed into the relative safety of the cutting. During this meeting, final decisions regarding the planning of Operation Overlord were made. A photograph of several of the 'World Leaders' (including Eisenhower) was used to spuriously claim that the meeting had taken place at Droxford itself. The picture has since been identified as Ascot railway station.[23]

In 1944, around the time of the Allied leaders' meeting at Droxford, a proposal was made for the USATC to build a branch from Droxford to Southwick House. The success of the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944 meant that this plan was never carried out.

Post-War and British RailwaysEdit

The Southern Railway was nationalised into British Railways in 1948. No immediate changes were made, with the standard 2-car 'push-pull' sets running around five services a day. However, the rise of private car ownership and a major shift of local goods traffic from rail to road saw the MVR become increasingly uneconomical to operate. Services were gradually run down. This led to even lower passenger numbers as the service became less and less frequent, and more people switched to using cars or buses.

During the early 1950s, British Railways drew up its 'Modernisation Plan'. This mainly concerned itself with the planned withdrawal of steam locomotives and the electrification of its main trunk routes. However, the plan also listed several lines that could be closed either because they were redundant in a nationalised, competition-free network or because they were unsustainable to operate. The Meon Valley Railway fell into both these categories.

Closure to passengersEdit

 
The site of West Meon station today - the long platforms and brick under-bridge over the station are still intact and visible

After the last timetabled service on Saturday 5 February 1955 the Meon Valley Railway closed to passenger traffic. As is often the case, passenger numbers rocketed in the final weeks of operation, as people took a final ride on the railway. The closure was long before the 'Beeching Axe' of the 1960s, where many well-used but uneconomic railways were closed. There is little doubt that in 1955 the Meon Valley was unsustainable as a passenger railway.

On the following day, Sunday, a special train called 'The Hampshireman', organised by a rail enthusiasts' group, ran along the full length of the line – the last train to do so. It was hauled by two T9s 'double-heading'.

From Monday 7 February 1955 goods services were to continue with a once-a-day service from Fareham to Droxford only, and a similar service from the northern end only from Alton to Farringdon.[24]

Severance of the routeEdit

The first of the new goods workings on the southern end of the line passed without comment; the next day was different: on Tuesday 8 February 1955[25] the train ventured beyond Droxford to West Meon, presumably to collect the last wagon(s) from the yard there, possibly to collect some reusable items from the station itself.[26] On Saturday 12 February 1955[25] the train crew became even more adventurous and travelled over West Meon viaduct, through both tunnels, and past Privett station to East Tisted, again presumably for the same reason as Tuesday's escapade. There appeared to be no official sanction for these two excursions and soon afterwards stop blocks were erected just north of Droxford and south of Farringdon. However this was not the last time the rules would be bent.

On 26 March 1955 the stop block at Farringdon was dismantled and a special train visited both Privett and East Tisted stations to recover, amongst other things, two concrete permanent way huts. Following this special working's retreat, the stop block was re-erected.[25]

These demi-official traffic movements had not escaped the attention of BR management, especially considering that all signal boxes north of Droxford had been closed, which suggests that someone had to have authorised the 'one-engine-in-steam' movements without the necessary Special Traffic Notices having been published in advance. It would appear that someone in actual authority decided to put a stop to this: at some point in 1955, the southernmost turnout at West Meon was deliberately damaged, not just dismantled, the toe of the pointwork with its interlocking appearing to have been lifted up, bent out of shape and dropped back onto the formation at an angle,[25] well and truly scuppering any movements from the south and preventing any incursions from the north from being able to run round its train before heading back. Thus the Meon Valley Railway ceased to be a continuous route, not just officially, but in actuality.

Closure to freightEdit

By 1956 dismantling of the disused section of line had begun in earnest and this included the demolition of West Meon Viaduct. The huge iron bridge had a high scrap value and thus was one of the first structures to be taken down. It is fair to assume that if it had been built from concrete as originally planned it would probably still be standing. During the viaduct's demolition, it was found to be suffering from corrosion in several places which would have needed extensive and costly repairs in the near future if the railway were to remain open. This was seen as a further justification of the closure by some at BR.

 
One of the concrete pedestals that supported the West Meon Viaduct, now overgrown

The pressure on British Railways to cut costs was relentless throughout the 1960s and the southern section to Droxford was closed to all traffic on Sunday 30 April 1962. The last BR-scheduled passenger service on any part of the MVR had been the 'Solent Limited' railtour on 30 April 1961, a year to the day before closure of the southern section. A goods service to Farringdon was maintained until 5 August 1968,[27][25][24] when the final part of Meon Valley Railway was closed to all traffic.

Post-closureEdit

After the 1962 closure of the southern portion of the line, a Mr. Charles Ashby purchased Droxford station and the right to run trains over the railway. He used it for testing a design of railbus that he had developed called the Sadler Rail Coach or 'Pacerailer'. Like the similarly named British Rail 'Pacer' of later years, this was essentially a bus-style vehicle. Unlike the later BR types, the Sadler Rail Coach used road-vehicle style pneumatic tyres on its drive wheels and flanged steel wheels at each end to guide it along the track. As well as the MVR itself, a special steep-gradient section of track was built for testing at Droxford. A company called Sadler Vectrail Ltd was established in 1966 to re-open the Ryde to Cowes railway on the Isle of Wight using Sadler Rail Coaches and the prototype vehicle appeared briefly at an Island Industries Fair but the scheme was unsuccessful.

Ashby also purchased an LBSCR 'Terrier' tank engine no. 32646 for £750, which he brought to Droxford in 1964, but in May 1966 this was sold to Brickwoods, the Portsmouth-based brewer, for display outside a public house on Hayling Island and it was moved, by road, for this purpose on 16 May 1966.[25]

The northern section of line to Farringdon was not lifted immediately after closure and it was used one last time in September 1968,[27] for the filming of a television advertisement for Cadbury's Milk Tray in which a stunt man is seen jumping from Woodside Lane bridge onto the roof of a moving train of BR Mk1 passenger stock pulled by a class 20 diesel-electric locomotive.[28] The track was lifted between November 1969 and May 1970[27] after which the formation near Butts Junction was obliterated by road improvements to the A31, although the northernmost extremity of the Meon Valley line may yet see trains again as the Mid-Hants Railway Company has long-term plans to build a stock shed immediately west of the former Butts Junction on the MVR formation.[29]

The two tunnels at West Meon and Privett were sold to private users. West Meon Tunnel was used by a scrapdealer for breaking up ex-military vehicles and aircraft until the 1980s, whilst Privett Tunnel was used, at one point, for growing mushrooms.

 
Droxford station 2016

The southern portion of the line also became home to the Southern Locomotive Preservation Company Limited (SLP) which came to an agreement with Mr Ashby to store some of their stock at Droxford. To this end, they moved several locomotives, including 'USA' tank engine no. 30064, as well as rolling stock, to Droxford. 30064 arrived at Knowle Junction, from the scrap sidings at Salisbury, on 7 January 1968. However, a fire at the site, and the fact that BR planned to sever the connection with the Eastleigh to Fareham line, meant that tentative plans for a preserved railway came to nothing.

After the closure of Knowle Junction in 1970 (see below) the southern section of the line was cut back at far as bridge 12 which carried (and still carries) the A32 road over the line north of Wickham. Ashby therefore had use of the line between Mislingford goods sidings, just a few hundred yards north of bridge 12, and Droxford station and this is evidenced by Ordnance Survey quarter-inch map 17 (South East England) dated 1972. With the mainline connection gone, Mr Ashby used two small Ruston-Hornsby diesel shunters and two ex-BR carriages to operate private-charter trains for a short time. The last remaining section between Mislingford and Droxford was lifted in 1975, the last standard gauge vehicle to run on any part the Meon Valley Railway being an Austin Mini-based railcar owned by Charles Ashby.

The Deviation LineEdit

The double track deviation line lived a largely unremarkable existence, having no stations or sidings and having one underbridge (at Highlands Road) and one overbridge (at Funtley Road). It was also crossed by a public footbridge in the vicinity of what is now the M27 motorway. Having been opened on 2 October 1904 as a single line it was immediately pressed into service for all northbound traffic between Fareham and Knowle Junction, the tunnel line then being singled. In September 1906 the second line of rails was brought into use and, in order to close Fareham Tunnel (really Tunnels) to facilitate stabilising the formation, all traffic used the deviation line until 2 June 1907. After these works were completed Fareham Tunnel reopened for Meon Valley traffic only, there being no physical connection with the Fareham–Botley line at Knowle until 24 June 1921.

The deviation line's southbound gradient of 1 in 100 was steeper than the tunnel's 1 in 132 and some southbound trains were diverted to the latter route via the connection laid in at Knowle Junction, using the single line otherwise reserved for the exclusive use of Meon Valley trains. The deviation line suffered the same problems first encountered by the Bishopstoke (Eastleigh) – Gosport line's engineers a century earlier and one large landslip in 1962 caused the up (northbound) line to be taken out of use altogether, the down (southbound) line being slewed at both ends to make the now single deviation line for the exclusive use of northbound traffic only. By return, southbound traffic used the tunnel line exclusively although the crossover at Knowle Junction remained extant, as did the now disused Meon Valley branch. Knowle Junction signal box had to be retained, not so much to guard the points, but because the tunnel line was still signalled for bi-directional running: a single line tablet had, therefore, to be issued to each southbound train and it can only be assumed that an accumulation of tablets at Fareham East signal box meant that someone was dispatched on a fairly regular basis to return the surfeit to Knowle box.

The first nail in the coffin of this wasteful signalling practice was hammered when the Meon Valley points were taken out of use at the end of January 1970. As mentioned above, the SLP was given enough notice and they arranged for their entire stock to be brought off of the Meon Valley line, some of it being stored out of site in Fareham goods yard until it was towed in one movement to the Longmoor Military Railway at Liss on 30 May 1970 by Crompton class '33' D6543 (later 33025).

Knowle signal box continued to issue single line tablets until it closed on 6 May 1973. This date coincided with the closure of the remaining track on the deviation line and the entire original route via Fareham tunnel was realigned and singled as far as Botley. Although tablets are no longer issued (and Botley signal box closed in the 1980s) the line is still single between Fareham and Botley, possibly due to there being insufficient traffic to warrant its re-doubling, but probably due to there no longer being sufficient clearance through the relined tunnels for two-way traffic. The 1841 route continues to cause problems for Network Rail, thanks to the clay upon which it was built.

The deviation line south of Highlands Road was sold for housing but the route north has been turned into the 'Deviation Line' trail and can be walked or cycled all the way to Mayles Lane. This was not first mooted when the line closed and the existence of a subway under the M27 only came about due to the legal requirement to accommodate the aforementioned pre-existing footpaths in the vicinity. This also explains why the subway only measures 2 metres by 2 metres in cross section and is subsequently barely fit for use by cyclists as well as walkers (with dogs), and horse riders have to dismount and lead their steeds by the reins. A meeting of all three types of users simultaneously must be an interesting experience.

TrailEdit

Meon Valley Railway Line (trail)
Length17.5 km (10.9 mi)
LocationHampshire, England
TrailheadsWest Meon
51°00′43″N 1°05′17″W / 51.012°N 1.088°W / 51.012; -1.088
Wickham
50°53′56″N 1°11′17″W / 50.899°N 1.188°W / 50.899; -1.188
UseWalking, cycling, horse riding
Hiking details
SeasonAll year
 
Map of the Meon Valley Railway Line

The section between Knowle Junction and the West Meon Viaduct is now an 11-mile (17.7 km) bridleway (rail trail), the Meon Valley Trail.[30] On this section, all bridges, embankments and cuttings are intact and serviceable, except for two minor bridges north of Droxford which were removed in the 1960s to allow farm traffic to use the lanes they crossed. Along this part of the line, there are still occasional remains of trackside huts, signal posts and telegraph lines. At Mislingford Goods Yard, sleepers are still in the ground, a concrete loading gauge remains in place and the cast iron base of the loading crane still stands next to the remains of a what appears to be a wagon.

The trail is now open again following extensive vegetation clearance and resurfacing.[31] It is a level route with picturesque views over the nearby towns, villages and countryside.

The section from West Meon south to the Eastleigh to Fareham line is open to walkers, cyclists and horse riders and uses existing public bridleways and some newly created permissive bridleways.

There are free car parks at West Meon (off Station Road) and at Wickham (also off Station Road). There are also pay car parks in West Walk (part of the Forest of Bere).

The northern section emerges from the cutting south of West Meon onto an embankment which gives views of Old Winchester Hill to the east and Beacon Hill to the west. A few former bridges on the route have been dismantled, necessitating descent to cross minor roads. There is access at several points along the route including Meonstoke which has a pub and shop. The current temporary South Downs Way route crosses the trail to the east of Exton with an access point. The Monarch's Way crosses the trail east of Warnford by a high bridge, but the trail can be joined by a path which descends the side of the cutting north of the bridge. The route from West Meon to Wickham is 14.5 km (9 mi); the further 3 kilometre section south-west of Wickham is a dead end, terminating at a fence in the vicinity of the erstwhile Knowle Junction.

Various circular routes are possible, for example using the trail from West Meon to Meonstoke, taking the South Downs Way via Corhampton and Beacon Hill, and Monarch's way to Warnford, returning by local footpaths.

The A32 main road follows a similar route to the trail.

Other sectionsEdit

 
The old loading gauge at the former Mislingford goods yard
 
Site of a brick under-bridge near Farringdon - the bridge was dug-out of the railway embankment in the 1970s and the site used for agriculture

The only remains of the West Meon Viaduct are the two huge embankments approaching either end, the abutments and the concrete pedestals that formed the foundations for the cast iron pillars.

West Meon Tunnel is currently used to store caravans and other building supplies together with a large amount of Cold War era scrap left behind from the aircraft storage and breaking during the 1980s, whilst part of Privett Tunnel is used as a storage site by a local builders merchant. Both tunnels are home to large colonies of bats, and are thus protected from disturbance and are regularly surveyed.

North of the tunnels, the line is less well-preserved. The majority of the bridges have been removed, and on the section closed in 1955, much of the earthworks have been levelled and turned back into agricultural land. A cutting directly north of the West Meon Tunnel has been completely filled in, returning it to the natural ground level. This has had the effect of burying a brick over-bridge carrying a lane, which is now visible only as two walls flanking the road seemingly in the middle of a field.

Between Farringdon and Chawton most of the trackbed survives and is used as a public footpath.

At the very northern end approaching Alton, there is little obvious evidence of the line's existence on the ground. The A31 Alton bypass cuts through the course of the line and a large roundabout occupies its route west of Chawton. The Mid-Hants Railway has reinstated track on the formation of the Meon Valley line between Alton and Butts Junction, partly as a running line and partly as a siding.

Three of the stations have survived (Droxford, East Tisted and Privett), and are used as private houses. Wickham and West Meon stations stood empty for many years and were eventually demolished in the 1970s, although at West Meon the long platforms are still very much in evidence, despite being overgrown, as is the site of the station buildings and the goods yard. There is almost no evidence of Wickham station, although one platform and the remains of some cattle pens remain in the undergrowth.

At Droxford station, a plaque commemorates the crucial meeting of the Allied leaders in 1944.

The MVR closely followed the A32 road between Gosport and Alton, and the line crossed the road frequently. Today the road still crosses over and under many of the former bridges of the line. At Hedge Corner, north of Privett, the road was re-routed during the building of the railway to take a chicane-like course under a bridge that carried the railway across the road at a diagonal angle. When the bridge and its embankments were levelled, the road was straightened. The two loops of the chicane now form redundant lay-bys. Small terraces of cottages built for railway workers still stand near Wickham, West Meon and Privett.

The A272 road still passes through the tunnel under the embankment near West Meon, and the tunnel is a prominent local landmark.

During March 2014, the former railway line was cleared of all trees and shrubs as the former track bed is to be turned into an express cycle way and bridleway between Wickham and West Meon as part of a £5 million investment in a network of core cycling routes in and around the South Downs National Park.[32][33][34]

Possibility of re-openingEdit

The Act of Parliament that authorised the Meon Valley Railway had a 'perpetual service' clause imposing a legally binding requirement on the owner of the railway to run services to West Meon – this was a condition imposed on the L&SWR by the owners of the Warnford Park estate in return for the sale of much of the estate's land to provide a route for the railway. Such a clause would make the closure of the MVR illegal, through the withdrawal of trains to West Meon. Clauses like these were often put in Railway Acts in the 19th century. Such a clause was invoked to delay the closure of the Bluebell Railway in West Sussex. However, since there was no protest at the time of the line's closure, any such clause exists today only as a technicality, as with similar cases of now-closed railways.

It is probable that it would see significantly more use today if it were open than it did in its final years, due to the greater population of all the villages and towns that it served, especially the greater volume of traffic between Fareham and Alton (as heavy traffic on the A32 and A31 roads show).

It is, however, unlikely that the whole length of the former line could be re-used. The northern end of the line has been completely levelled, and the majority of the bridges have been demolished. Also, parts of the former track-bed have been built on at Farringdon and East Tisted. The surviving stations are now private homes.

From an engineering point of view, it would be relatively simple to reinstate the line from Fareham as far as West Meon, and if the viaduct were rebuilt, as far as Privett. However, such a line, that did not connect to Alton, would be highly unlikely to be viable as a mainline route, and could only function effectively as a small commuter line or heritage railway.

Narrow gauge re-opening attemptEdit

A local society were exploring the possibility of constructing a 2 ft (610 mm) or 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) narrow gauge railway from West Meon to Wickham and perhaps as far as Knowle.[35] However the website has not been updated for sometime and no further news has been seen or heard of.

Standard gauge re-opening attemptEdit

A group called the Meon Valley Railway Preservation Society, which was not associated with the narrow gauge group that formed in January 2013, was planning on reopening the line as a standard gauge railway from Knowle to West Meon. Its plan was to reopen the line in sections, the first phase being Knowle to Soberton Heath, then the second phase would see them lay track to Droxford by 2025 and then West Meon shortly after that. However, there were no plans to extend to Alton due to the missing viaduct and structures having been built on the track bed. It was to be a shared double track formation with the current footpath/bridleway, as it would have been a single line, like it was back in the days pre-1968.[36] The Meon Valley Railway Preservation Society disbanded at the start of June 2013.

Another group called the Meon Valley Railway Heritage Society, later changing to the Meon Valley Railway Restoration Society,[37] which formed in June 2013 were looking at reopening it as a standard gauge heritage line with similar plans as the previous group. Planning to start at Mislingford Goods yard with a new station, working northwards towards Droxford with a station just south of the former Droxford station and a halt at Soberton was also planned.[38] The group did not rule out going to Alton, but were focused on the line from Knowle to West Meon. The group disbanded in December 2013[39] due to "commitment issues" from within the group.[40]

Mainline re-opening proposalEdit

An independent report published by Walter Menteth Architects in April 2016 has suggested that the Meon Valley Railway should be investigated for reopening as a dual mainline adding an additional service from the Solent region to London, with a chord at Knowle to allow north and south bound trains on the Eastleigh to Fareham line to use the Meon Valley line to reach Alton and London Waterloo.[41]

Campaign for Better Transport reportEdit

In January 2019, Campaign for Better Transport released a report identifying the line was listed as Priority 2 for reopening. Priority 2 is for those lines which require further development or a change in circumstances (such as housing developments).[42]

In popular cultureEdit

The poem Autumn Journal by Louis MacNeice, published in 1938, includes a description of a pre-First World War journey from Hampshire to London on a cross-country train via the Meon Valley. West Meon and Tisted are mentioned as two of the stations that the poet passes through on his journey.

Shortly after the final closure of the MVR in 1968, the section of line between Alton and Farringdon was used for the filming of the first of the long-running 'Milk Tray Man' series of adverts for Cadbury Milk Tray. The eponymous 'action man' character jumps onto the roof of a moving train that consisted of a British Railways diesel locomotive and two carriages.

GalleryEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ The Alton to Petersfield railway would have run through Alton, Anstey, Holybourn, East Worldham, West Worldham, Great Worldham, Little Worldham, Chawton, Hartley, Hartley Maudit, Farringdon, Farrington, Selborne, Selbourne, Newton Vallance, Newton, Empshot, Priors Dean, Hawkley, Greatham, Greetham, Liss, Steep, Sheet, Sheep, Buriton and Petersfield.
    The Petersfield and Havant railway would have run through Petersfield, Buriton, Sheet, Steep, Weston, Nursted, Clanfield, Chalton, Charlton, Catherington, Idsworth, Blendworth, Finchdean, Wellsworth, the Forest of Bere, Rowland's Castle, East Leigh, West Leigh, Middle Leigh, Warblington, West Havant and Havant.
    The Petersfield and Fareham railway would have run through Petersfield, Sheet, Buriton, Steep, Froxfield, Langrish, Ramsdean, Oxenbourn, Languish, East Meon, Droyton, Drayton, Riplington, Westbury, West Meon, Warnford, Exton, Corhampton, Meon Stoke, Droxford, Midlington, Soberton, Bishop's Waltham, Waltham Chase, Hambledon, Saint Clairs, Holywell, the Forest of Bere, Wickham, Titchfield, Botley and Fareham.[3]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Holland 2014, p. 60.
  2. ^ "Proposed new railway accommodation between Alton and Petersfield". Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc. (2706). Portsmouth. 16 August 1851. p. 8.
  3. ^ a b "Alton and Petersfield Railway and extensions from Petersfield to Havant and Petersfield to Fareham". Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc. (2719). Portsmouth. 15 November 1851. p. 2.
  4. ^ a b c Stone 1983, p. 4.
  5. ^ Griffith 1982, p. 3.
  6. ^ Griffith 1982, p. 7.
  7. ^ "Auctions". Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc. (5952). Portsmouth. 5 October 1895. p. 1.
  8. ^ "The Meon Valley. Proposed new railway". Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc. (5961). Portsmouth. 11 July 1896. p. 3.
  9. ^ "A local railway bill". Hampshire Advertiser (5281). Southampton. 20 January 1897. p. 1.
  10. ^ a b Stone 1983, p. 6.
  11. ^ Stone 1983, p. 14.
  12. ^ Stone 1983, p. 25.
  13. ^ "The Railway Magazine". Vol. 12. 1903. p. 499. Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  14. ^ Dendy Marshall & Kidner 1963, p. 109.
  15. ^ Griffith 1982, p. 6.
  16. ^ a b Stone 1983, p. 16.
  17. ^ Board of Trade inspection by Major J W Pringle, Royal Engineers, 1903
  18. ^ Stone 1983, pp. 18-19.
  19. ^ Stone 1983, p. 19.
  20. ^ Stone 1983, p. 21.
  21. ^ Stone 1983, p. 20.
  22. ^ Course, Edwin (1974). The Railways of Southern England: Secondary and Branch Lines. Editor' possession: Batsford. p. 131. ISBN 0-7134-2835-X.
  23. ^ "Disused Stations: Droxford".
  24. ^ a b White, H. P. (1969). A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain Volume 2 – Southern England. David St John Thomas. p. 124. ISBN 0-946537-77-1.
  25. ^ a b c d e f Robertson, Kevin (2013). The Meon valley Railway Part 3: Closure and Beyond. Noodle Books. ISBN 978-1-906419-96-7.
  26. ^ Author and West Meon resident Ray Stone photographed a steel open wagon with, written in chalk on one end, the words "The last truck at West Meon Station". The photograph is undated so it cannot be confirmed if it was before or after 6 February 1955.
  27. ^ a b c Stone 1983, p. 108.
  28. ^ 1969 Cadbury's Milk Tray television advertisement on YouTube uploaded by 'advertarchive'.
  29. ^ "Flying Scotsman to reopen Butts Junction Bridge at Alton". Steam Railway. 501: 15. 10 January 2020.
  30. ^ Accessible countryside
  31. ^ Hampshire County Council: Meon Valley Trail
  32. ^ "Hampshire County Council: Meon Valley Trail". Retrieved 19 July 2016.
  33. ^ "Brighton cyclists first to benefit from south downs cycle fund". August 2014. Retrieved 19 July 2016.
  34. ^ "£300,000 upgrade for Meon Valley bike trail". March 2014. Retrieved 19 July 2016.
  35. ^ "Meon Valley Railway Preservation Society". Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  36. ^ "Meon Valley Railway Preservation Society". Archived from the original on 30 June 2013.
  37. ^ "Meon Valley Railway Restoration Society". Archived from the original on 19 March 2014. Retrieved 8 January 2014.
  38. ^ "Meon Valley Railway Restoration Society: Proposed Route". Archived from the original on 2 October 2013. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
  39. ^ "Meon Valley Railway Restoration Society". Archived from the original on 19 March 2014.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  40. ^ "Friends of Alton Station: Meon Valley Railway". Retrieved 19 July 2016.
  41. ^ "Portsmouth the Island City 1: Mainline Rail Connectivity a Proposal for Change" (PDF). April 2016. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 August 2016. Retrieved 19 July 2016.
  42. ^ [1] p.42

Sources and further readingEdit

  • Course, E (1976) The Railways of Southern England. Vol: III
  • Dendy Marshall, C. F.; Kidner, R. W. (1963). History of the Southern Railway. Volume 1. London: Ian Allan. |volume= has extra text (help)
  • Griffith, Edward (1982). The Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway. Kingfisher Railway Productions.
  • Holland, Julian (2014) [2013]. Exploring Britain's Lost Railways. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-007-94172-8.
  • Moore, P (1988) The Industrial Heritage of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Chichester : Phillimore
  • Robertson, K. (1988) Hampshire Railways Remembered, Newbury : Countryside Books, ISBN 0-905392-93-0
  • Tillman, D (2003) The Meon Valley Railway Revisited, KRB Publications, ISBN 0-9542035-4-2
  • Stone, R. A. (1983). The Meon Valley Railway. Southampton: Kingfisher Publishing. ISBN 0-946184-04-6.
  • Vaughan, J (2004) Branches & Byways- Sussex and Hampshire, Ian Allan Publishing, ISBN 978-0-86093-585-8
  • 'After the Battle' 1995 D-Day, Then and Now Volume 1 ISBN 0-900913-84-3
  • Baker-Johnson, B (2014) A D-Day Mystery : To Droxford or not to Droxford?

External linksEdit