|London & South Western
The Longparish Branch
This page provides a brief history of the Longparish Branch of the London & South Western Railway (L&SWR), which ran from Hurstbourne to Fullerton in the county of Hampshire, England. This railway branch was opened as a double-track line in 1885, reduced to a single-track line in 1913, lost its passenger service in 1931, and was closed to goods traffic in 1956. This page has been based on material kindly supplied by Ian Sheldon. See the Companies Index for details of other pages in RailWest on L&SWR subjects.
By the 1870s the various shipping lines were building more steam-powered vessels and the port of Southampton, with no local coal supplies, was at a serious disadvantage. The only rail connections with the South Wales coal fields were very long, as a result of the problem caused by much of the Great Western Railway (GWR) being built only to the broad gauge (7' 0¼"). When the GWR laid a mixed-gauge line from Oxford to Basingstoke, it offered an important North-South link, but coal still needed to travel via Hereford, Worcester, Oxford, Reading and Basingstoke. In 1872, the GWR line from Swindon to Gloucester and South Wales was converted to standard gauge (4' 8½"), reducing the distance for coal traffic, but still leaving scope for further short cuts.
The GWR sensed another opportunity to reach Southampton and backed the independent Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Junction Railway. In 1873 this company (having dropped the "Junction" from its name) gained approval for a line from Didcot on the GWR, south through Newbury, passing under the Andover line of the London & South Western Railway (L&SWR) at Whitchurch, to join the L&SWR's Southampton line near Micheldever. (very similar to the much earlier proposed Oxford, Southampton, Gosport & Portsmouth Railway). The plans included a connection at Whitchurch to the L&SWR line. Work began quickly on Didcot to Newbury section, which opened in April 1882, but the lines backers were unable to reach agreement with either the L&SWR or the GWR about the line south to Southampton. The DN&SR had powerful local support, and Southamptons citizens also gave encouragement, offering land close to the sea shore if they would build an extension to the port. The L&SWR were reluctant to accept a junction with the Southampton route, which could not easily handle the additional traffic, but were even more strongly opposed to an independent line to Southampton.
In response therefore the L&SWR offered to build a 7-mile long line, grandly called the "Northern and Southern Junction Railway", from Hurstbourne - just west of Whitchurch on the Basingstoke to Andover line - south-westwards to Fullerton on the Andover to Redbridge line, which they would upgrade to double-track and re-align. They would also build a new central station in Southampton, close to the intended DN&SR site, with a line to a new pier, and grant the DN&SR running powers throughout from Whitchurch. Although Parliament approved the DN&SR plans, the L&SWR were allowed to build the Fullerton-Hurstbourne line, and work quickly started presumably in an attempt to convince the DN&SR. The line was built double-track throughout, in anticipation of traffic from the Didcot-Newbury-Whitchurch route, and opened on 1-June-1885.
In the event the DN&SR never built a connection at Whitchurch (even though some work actually began on the link), their line finally crossing the L&SWR Andover route to a connection with the Winchester Southampton line at Shawford, south of Winchester. Thus the Hurstbourne - Fullerton line never received the intended volume of traffic and was under threat right from the beginning. In 1906, the L&SWR gained authorisation for a curve from their Andover-Redbridge route, just north of Redbridge, to join their Bournemouth line. This would have provided a useful direct route to Bournemouth, bypassing Eastleigh and Southampton, but in the event it was never built.
At Whitchurch a new outer (northern) face was added to the Up platform (making it into an island platform) to accommodate the expected traffic. A crossover was provided at the west end of the station so that departing branch trains could take the Down main line westwards. A siding already existed at Hurstbourne, 2 miles west of Whitchurch, to serve a grain store at Hurstbourne Park, and a new Hurstbourne station was built there and opened on 1-Dec-1882. This had wooden platforms on both the up and down sides of the main line, each with a small wooden shelter. A loading dock and small goods shed were also added later.
The branch left the main Basingstoke Andover line at Hurstbourne Junction, about ½ mile west of Hurstbourne station just after the viaduct crossing the Bourne rivulet, and ran along the side of the valley of the River Test to Longparish. Although only a relatively short distance, extensive earthworks were required along this section, with several under- and over-bridges and deep cuttings. The station at Longparish (originally Long-Parish) was actually 1½ miles from the village, on the south side of what is now the A303 London Exeter road. Platforms were built on both up and down sides, with an impressive station building on the south (down) side. Sidings and a headshunt were built on the up side, and a 15-lever signal box was located at the east end of the station on the down side.
The line continued for another 2 miles to Wherwell, where a station was built very close to the village. Again a large station building was built on the down platform, a 15-lever signal box at the south end of the down platform, and several sidings on the up side. The line ran through the station on a 40-chain curve, with reverse curves at each end.
From Wherwell, the line continued to Fullerton Junction, where it joined the Andover-Redbridge line. The original station, Fullerton Bridge, was opened with the Redbridge line in 1865, but it was replaced by a new one further south, nearer the River Test, in 1871 and additional platforms were added subsequently for the opening of the line to Hurstbourne. The expanded station was quite substantial, with an island platform and station building in the V of the junction, in addition to platforms on the outside of the two double track routes. The signal box was south of the station, just to the west of the actual junction.
Although passenger traffic was always light, the line was popular with anglers who visited to fish the River Test, one of the finest trout rivers in the country. The line somehow acquired the nickname of the "Nile Valley Railway" - obviously the Victorians had a particularly vivid imagination! It is said that Queen Victoria preferred to use this route on the way to and from Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, because it did not involve passing through any tunnels. By 1913 the L&SWR realised that the line would never generate enough traffic to repay their investment, and the whole branch was singled on 13-July-1913. The signal-boxes at Longparish and Wherwell were replaced by ground frames and the branch was worked as a single block section by Tyers No 6 Electric Train Tablet instruments.
In 1914, James Taylor Ltd set up a sawmill near Longparish station, taking timber from the Harewood Forest through which the line ran. In 1915, a wood distillation factory was built next to the sawmill by Kynock Ltd, and in 1916 a new siding was added to serve this factory, whose output of charcoal, wood alcohol and wood oil was mostly transported by rail. More than 100 people were employed and a special daily workmens train ran from Whitchurch. Production ceased in 1919. In the early 1920s, Longparish was handling 30 wagons a day for Taylors sawmill, while two coal merchants operated from the yard. Both Longparish and Wherwell handled a lot of agricultural produce, especially hay for the army, and straw for strawberry beds.
In July 1931 the passenger service was completely withdrawn, but the goods service continued. In May 1934 the line between Hurstbourne Junction and Longparish was lifted completely, the remaining section being worked as a goods siding from Fullerton on the "One Engine in Steam" principle.
During the Second World War, an ammunition storage depot was built near Longparish, and the line handled a considerable amount of military traffic. The sidings at Longparish were re-laid in the opposite direction, and extended to serve the RAF stores. After the war these munitions stores were not finally cleared until the early 1950s, and the military authorities convinced the new British Railways to keep the truncated branch open. The last goods service ran on 28-May-1956, but the track was used subsequently to store condemned vans and wagons. It was finally taken out of use in April 1960, although a short section at Fullerton clung on until 1-June-1964.
Without the connection to the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway, passenger traffic on the line was very light, and the Whitchurch-Fullerton shuttle service was handled mainly by smaller L&SWR locomotives. In 1906 two Drummond H13 railcars, Nos. 11 and 12, were allocated from new to Andover shed for use on the line to Fullerton, where at first they proved very popular. As a result, one journey each day was extended to Basingstoke, the up service operating from Andover Town via Fullerton, Longparish and Whitchurch to Basingstoke, with the return service direct over the mainline to Andover Junction, with a reversal to Andover Town station. At night, the railcars were used to take signalmen, permanent way crews, staff coal and water to outlying signal boxes and track works. H13 No. 9 also saw occasional use on the line. Although the railcars were cheap to operate and popular, they were tricky to keep clean, and their maintenance was more difficult and required the whole car to be taken out of use. The novelty also wore off for passengers, and by 1909 No. 12 had been moved to the Portland branch and No 11 was operating the Southampton Royal Pier tramway.
Also tried on the line were the diminutive Drummonds C14 class 2-2-0Ts, with Nos 739 and 742 allocated to the service from new at the end of 1906. A photograph of No 742 at Whitchurch exists, although the claimed date of the photograph varies between 1906 and 1909. Although these locos were designed for motor-train use, the Hurstbourne-Fullerton route was not operated this way, the locos running with conventional coaching stock. The ability to separate the carriages from the loco eased the problems of cleaning and maintenance, though the locos had very low power and their adhesion was poor. By August 1911 739 had left, but 742 was still working the branch together with O2 No. 224. 742 left at some point before 1916, when it was leased to the Ministry of Munitions.
Various other small locos were then used, usually with two carriages but sometimes only one. In March 1928 a 4-wheeled Drewry petrol railcar was tried as another economy measure, but this was unsuccessful, and in 1930 it was rebuilt at Ashford before working the New Romney branch, later being sold to the Weston, Clevedon & Portishead Light Railway. In the final few years of passenger operation, most traffic was handled by Adams A12 Jubilee locos, often No. 614.
Most of the track bed is still visible, although very overgrown. Where the A303 road crosses the former line, part of the railway embankment has been re-used for a bridge carrying a minor road over the dual carriageway. Longparish and Wherwell stations are in use as private dwellings..At Fullerton there is little trace of the junction station, but the original Fullerton Bridge station building is a private dwelling. The site of Hurstbourne station is occupied by a scrap metal dealer, but the point where the branch left the main line can still be seen from passing trains. At Whitchurch, the platform used by Fullerton trains is still visible, although taken out of use.
© Chris Osment and Ian Sheldon 2003
"Country Railway Routes - Andover to Southampton"
- V Mitchell & K Smith, pub Middleton Press 1990
"The Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway" - TB Sands, pub Oakwood Press
"The Longparish Branch Line" - PA Harding, pub privately 1992
"Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain - Volume 2: Southern England" - HP White, pub David & Charles 1982
"Track Layout Diagrams of the Southern Railway and BR(SR) - Section S3: Salisbury and the Test Valley" - GA Pryer & AV Paul, pub RA Cooke 1981