The Coming of the Railway

Pic F upper valley from Weston Lane .JPG

1. Railway Mania

When William IV succeeded the throne in 1830 depression had hit the country and thousands were homeless and out of work. Terrible storms destroyed crops and the poor were hungry and in rags; tens of thousands were dying of cholera; and everywhere riot, arson and sabotage seemed to threaten the nation with bloody revolution.

The Swing Riots served to underline the plight of the poor, especially those who were dependent upon receiving an allowance from local rates. The increase in the population of England and Wales, which by 1831 was 14 million, an increase of two-thirds since 1801, led to an ever-increasing and eventually unsustainable cost to local parishes with the cost of feeding the poor nationally being estimated at £7 million a year.

In 1832 Lord Grey set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry and two years later he presented a Bill based on its findings which offered parishes a novel and radical solution. Instead of continuing with the existing method of relief, which dated back to Elizabethan times and which cared for the needy on a parish basis by providing family allowances, a system was to be put in place to deal with the poor on a national level. Relief would be provided in workhouses at a huge reduction in expense. Built on modern lines under the control of a government commission, to be called the Poor Law Commission, workhouses would shelter the poor. They would be a choice: a restricted life with food, clothing and medical attention, or stay at home, find some work and enjoy the benefits of freedom. Or else starve. Tory landowners and Whig economists voted together and on 13 August 1834 the Bill was passed with a large majority.

Had the Workhouse System worked in the way it was planned, as a self-operating test of need, providing humane care for local paupers and deterring the idle from being a burden on the rates, it might have proved an enlightened benefit. In the event, the poor were compelled to enter the workhouse and be punished for seeking to eat, and by the imposition of constant economies to cut the cost of relief, substantial savings in the rates benefited only those who had grudgingly paid them.

Workhouses rose throughout the country and the poor were seized like prisoners of war in order to fill them. In 1837, as Queen Victoria came to the throne, the weather was again bad, harvests failed and so did commercial prosperity. More than a million were unemployed and had no choice whatsoever in earning a living. As such they were destined for the workhouse.

During the Swing Riots a verse had been chanted which again came to the fore:

Ye gods above, send down your love,

With swords as sharp as sickles,

To cut the throats of gentlefolks

Who rob the poor of victuals.

In 1845, scandal swept away the Poor Law Commission. This occurred at the Andover Workhouse were the poor had to pound bones into dust to make fertiliser. The bones were fought over by hungry inmates, to be gnawed for any particle of adhering flesh no matter how rotten, and while bones were mainly animal, when a number of graves were disturbed during the building of a new church, human bones were added to the pile. Hunger drove some of the inmates mad and when they died, urchins cried:

Rattle his bones

Over the stones

He's only a pauper

Whom nobody knows.

The Times published 29 dramatic reports on every aspect of the Workhouse System. A Select Committee of the House of Commons reviewed the case and in 1847 the Poor Law Commission did not have its term renewed. However, the System continued into the 20th century and those born before the Second World War might remember being threatened with the Workhouse if they did not do well in their studies at school.

For the labourers in Micheldever during the ten years following the Swing Riots, life must have been a grim struggle. They had to accept whatever wages were offered them or be consigned to the workhouse at Oram's Arbor in Winchester. Between 1830 and 1851 Micheldever's population declined by 50%, from 2,879 to 1,466. The biggest fall was in East Stratton which lost 80% of its population in 20 years, from 1,831 to 387. Whether this huge exodus was forced or voluntary is unrecorded.

An equally major change in the life of the district occurred in 1840, with the arrival of that horse-less carriage known as the railway-engine.

During the Napoleonic Wars an idea had been floated of finding an alternative route between the English Channel and London in order to avoid the narrow, and vulnerable, gauntlet of the Dover Straits. A ship canal from Portsmouth to London was proposed, a route was surveyed and it was estimated that £7,000,000 would be needed to fund the project. The end of the war in 1815 removed the necessity of such an alternative but the idea remained, of developing a new route between London and the English Channel.

On 26 February 1831, with young Henry Cook five weeks in his unmarked grave, Mr. Abel Dotlin, one of two M.P.s for Southampton, held a meeting to raise money to form the Southampton and London Branch Railway and Dock Company. The main line, it was said, was going to be from the capital to the still-undeveloped port of Southampton, with a branch line from Basingstoke to Bath and Bristol. At the time the whole traffic between London and Southampton was carried by eight stage coaches, four wagons per week, and one barge weekly on the Basingstoke Canal, and it is probable that the promoters of the railway intended that the main line would be the one from London to Bristol, which would provide a lucrative return on investment, and were disguising their intentions from the promoters of the Great Western Railway who were after the same potential market. As it happened, the GWR scheme was the one approved and the local company changed its name to the London and Southampton Railway

The new Company having been formed, routes were surveyed and found to be reasonable. The shortest, and most economical route, would have been from London via Guildford and Alton to Southampton. However, there was a great deal of lobbying by the merchants of north Hampshire and the longer route was chosen.

From an engineering point of view, the easiest route passed through the estates of influential landowners, including one at Micheldever owned by the Chairman of the London & Southampton Railway Company, Sir Thomas Baring, M.P. The route preferred by engineers from Basingstoke to Southampton would pass through Dummer and East Stratton, within sound and sight of Stratton Park, where Sir Thomas Baring resided. Obviously further thought had to be given to the route to be followed.

Francis Giles, who had worked on the building of the Basingstoke Canal, was appointed engineer and by 1834 he had formulated new proposals. A pamphlet in that year entitled The Advantages and Profits of the London & Southampton Railway analysed, argued that the principle on which the line was laid down was simply the avoidance of estates, the owners of which would have offered opposition. "The line was therefore carried through a barren and desolate country, where the soil was so valueless, that the landowners were glad to get rid of it at any price."

In this way, the line was projected to pass across the Dever Valley at Micheldever, which posed a major engineering problem. If the railway-line followed existing contours, the gradient out of the valley would be too steep for existing engines. The alternative would have to be an embankment from one side of the valley to the other, effectively forming a wall between the village and its neighbouring hamlets of Weston Colley and Stoke Charity. Local landowners, their power entrenched following the collapse of the Swing Riots, ensured that any objections to the major upheaval to the Dever Valley's beauty and tranquillity were ignored or over-ruled and eventually Act 5 Wm IV, c.88 (1834) was approved by Parliament, authorising £1,000,000 to be raised in 20,000 shares of £50 each, with additional power to borrow £330,00 by loan.

Others to be affected by the new railways were those who made their living from droving: innkeepers, ferrymen, blacksmiths and drovers themselves. In Micheldever, the main drove road for herding cattle and sheep from the West Country to the rich markets of London, Kent and Surrey passed south of Wonston, and is still known as the Alresford Drove. It then became the Lunway where it crossed the Winchester to Basingstoke highway at Lunways where a former inn now stands. From there it travelled north-eastwards to the Woolpack Inn at Totford, and then south of Chilton Candover towards Odiham and beyond. Two miles east of Lunway, a branch of the old drove leads to Abbotstone, Old Alresford and Bighton, and then to Farnham.

Drove ways were from forty to fifty feet wide, often hedged to prevent animals mixing with local herds and from straying into cultivated crops. The routes were way-marked with evergreen trees, such as holly and laurel and, especially in Hampshire, with yew. Scots pines and larch were also used as way-marks along the route to denote stopping places at inns and farms. Leading into the main drove roads were feeder droves, originating in the villages, and generally following an easterly direction in order to join the main drove. There were also local drove ways by which animals reached nearby pastures.

Drovers had to be licensed and were amongst the most respected members of the farming community, being entrusted with documents and money, and were closely linked with early banking. Such was the lucrative business from which so many made their living that there was great opposition to the threat which railways were perceived to be.

Work commenced on the new railway between Southampton and Nine Elms Station in London, and soon ran into difficulties. Contracts for the works were given in small lots at low prices to small businesses. John Francis, writing his History of the English Railwaypublished in 1851, observed that: "It was on low and unsatisfactory estimates that the bill was passed; and while the work was easy, while prices and pay remained depressed, while nothing extraordinary occurred, the work was done; but when any engineering novelty arose, the poor contractor was powerless. The smallest difficulty stayed him, the slightest danger paralysed him. He could not complete his contracts; he lacked resources to pay the penalty; the works were often stopped; the directors as often in despair."

In 1837 a second Act was required to be passed, empowering further capital to be raised. The Company was restructured, its engineer Mr. Giles resigned and a Mr. Locke took his place. He prepared a complete plan showing the exact position of the work to be carried out and the difficulties to be surmounted. His proposal was that the line should be built and opened for operation in four phases: Nine Elms to Woking; Woking to Shapley Heath: Shapley to Basingstoke; Southampton to Winchester. The final stretch, Winchester to Basingstoke was to be completed on 11 May 1840. Even then his plans were optimistic, and the final cost of the line was to be £2,592,000, more than double the original estimate, at a cost of about £33,000 per mile. For the remaining construction of the Basingstoke to Winchester section Locke appointed Thomas Brassey, of whom it was said:


A plain good man, close buttoned to the chin


Broad cloth without, an honest heart within.

At the half-yearly meeting of the Company on 30 August 1838 a shareholder complained against the proposal that trains should run on Sunday. The chairman replied that they did not feel justified in shutting up the road on a Sunday and debarring the public from health, air, exercise and relaxation. He was supported by those shareholders who considered that Sunday travelling would be essential to ensure a return on their investment, but these were only the first shots in a prolonged debate.

Although the Clergy had remained silent during the Swing Riots, and had declined to petition for clemency on behalf of Henry Cook, they now found voice over a matter of greater concern to them: Sunday travel. In June 1839 a letter was sent to the Directors of the London and Southampton Railway in June 1839:

Gentlemen: We, the undersigned, Clergy of Winchester and Southampton, and their vicinities, beg most respectively to invite your serious attention to the following Memorial:-

We are deeply impressed with the conviction that the religious observance of the Lord's Day is not only a duty binding upon us, as Christians, but also that it is eminently conducive to the happiness and welfare of man as a social being; and consequently, that whatever tends to lower its authority, or affords a temptation to its neglect or desecration, must exercise a most prejudicial influence upon the well-being of society.

We perceive, with the most unfeigned regret, that the day of religious rest is continually desecrated by the running of trains upon the railway, under your superintendence, and with your sanction. We feel many strong grounds of objection to this practice, which we cannot but consider as a direct infringement of a divine command. We lament that a large number of men in your employ are practically altogether prevented from enjoying that season of cessation from worldly business which of right belongs to them, and are precluded from attending the worship of God with their fellow Christians. But we have other weighty reasons for entering our solemn protest against such a desecration of that holy day. Being charged with the oversight of parishes which, from their contiguity, are materially affected by the railway, we observe with deep concern that our parishioners are drawn away from attendance upon the services of the church, and our congregations diminished by the absence of many who, until this temptation allured them, were accustomed to attend their respective churches.

We would suggest that the Divine blessing can scarcely be expected to rest upon an enterprise in which the systematic desecration of the Lord's Day is openly sanctioned. We would protest against the practice of which we have complaint to continue. And we humbly trust that the unanimous voice of those who are bound to watch over the moral and spiritual welfare of their parishioners will have the effect of arresting an evil which we feel satisfied will materially interfere with the best interests of the community.”

Their objections were answered on July 17 in a letter from the London and South Western Railway Office, July 17:

Gentlemen: I have the honour to acknowledge your memorial, addressed to the Directors of the Company, wherein you express your strong disapprobation of trains running on Sundays.

You impute to us indifference to the religious condition of our servants, and state we practically prevent their attention to religious duty. You charge us with sanctioning the systematic desecration of the Lord's Day, and thereby exposing ourselves to the displeasure of Heaven, which you suggest are likely to lead to the failure of the enterprise in which we are engaged.

We feel these accusations to be very severe, coming as they do from a large number of dignified clergymen, who may be expected to mingle charity in the expression of their opinions.

We deem your accusations to be unjust, and therefore we respectfully invite you a reconsideration of them; and we trust that, when you have bestowed on the whole subject that full and careful reflection which may be expected from your body, you will then not refuse to retract imputations which you must feel to be unfounded. The Company is, by an Act of Parliament, compelled to run trains on the railroad on Sundays, for the convenience of the Post-office.

We view the railroads as a substitute for the public highways; and therefore we feel that it would not be just towards the public, or within the discreet exercise of our duty, to stop travelling by railroads on Sundays, seeing that the public conveyances cease to afford the accommodation formerly given. It is also manifest that travelling by railroads greatly reduces the annual labour formerly employed on the public roads, and consequently reduces the quantity of human labour required for conducting the employment of horses. It must also be obvious that, if any body of railroad proprietors assumed to themselves the right of stopping the public and cheap means of travelling on the railroads, now that the other public conveyances have been removed, it would subject them to the imputation of obstructing the necessary and reasonable movements of those who cannot provide private carriages for even purposes of necessity. We further submit to you that the whole question of Sunday travelling is one that justly and properly belongs to the legislature to determine, and ought not to depend on the caprice of Railroad Companies.

I have the honour to be, Gentlemen, Your obedient and humble servant,

JOHN EASTHOPE,

Chairman of the London & South Western Railway Company

The above reply induced the Committee appointed for Promoting a Due Observance of the Lord's Day again to address the Directors of the South Western Railway, in September 1839, and the following letter, which was signed by the clergy who concurred in the address of June, was accordingly prepared and forwarded:-

Gentlemen: In acknowledging the honour of your reply to our Memorial, we cannot but express our regret that you should consider our representation unjust and uncharitable. Believing, as we do, that extreme guilt rests with them who willingly offer facilities and temptations for the violation of the Sabbath, we thought, and still think, that we were acting with the truest charity to yourselves and our countrymen at large, is requesting you to discontinue the running of the trains on Sunday.

We beg that you will consider that wheresoever the guilt of offering such facilities and temptations by establishing public conveyances on this line of road may have been in former times, you have freely, voluntarily, and for the sake of gain, undertaken it all, and that the great increase of these facilities, arising from the vastly increased number of carriages, and the frequency of the trains, is entirely of your own creation. We beg to observe that, although the Company is compelled by Act of Parliament to run the Post-office trains on a Sunday, yet that, for the far greater number of the Sunday trains, to which our former remarks principally applied, no such defence can be offered.

The reduction of animal and human labour, said to be caused by the substitution of the railroad for the ordinary highway, appears to us to have little connection with the point before us, and to need far more exact and full calculation before it should be certain.”

While the argument passed back and forth, work continued on the railway line. The contractor for the first 15 miles out of London was, as previously mentioned, Thomas Brassey who afterwards entered into a ten-year contract to keep the 77 miles of line in repair for the sum of £24,000 per annum. When that contract came to an end, the company found it could have been done considerably cheaper. Broad cloth might have, as the verse said, hid an honest heart within, but there was a shrewd mercenary brain above it.

At the half-yearly meeting of the company on 27 February 1839, when the Southampton to Winchester section was nearing completion, concern was expressed at the gap between Basingstoke-Winchester. This was the most difficult section, a distance of 18¾ miles, requiring four tunnels to be dug and a major earthen viaduct to be built across the Dever Valley. As a result of the Dever Valley effectively being dammed, the ancient roadway along the north bank of the river had to be re-routed. It was too expensive to build a road bridge in the exact centre of the viaduct, where the river ran through it, and so a smaller bridge was built at Weston Colley and the road was re-aligned through Northbrook, and another bridge built near Borough Farm. Two of the tunnels, at Popham, were 264 and 287 yards long, and the one at Waller’s Ash was 495 yard in length. Earth and rubble from these tunnels and cuttings were used for the embankment, with sufficient remaining to be railed to Southampton and used for establishing the docks area. Whilst the huge embankment across the Dever Valley was being built by over a thousand Irish navvies, the railway line terminated at Warren Farm where there was a turnpike to Andover, ten miles away. A station was built named Andover Road, although the actual name of the turnpike was Galiker Way. When the railway from Basing-stoke to Andover was eventually opened in 1856 this station was renamed Micheldever Station.

The building itself may have been designed by the noted architect, Sir William Tite. No evidence has been found to confirm who the actual architect was, but another station that he is known to have designed, at Basingstoke, is virtually the same as the one at Micheldever. The two storey building is made of brick and local flints. The ground floor was used for the ticket office and the upper floor provided spacious accommodation for the station master and his family. When the station ceased to be manned the accommodation fell into disuse until finally, in 2002, it was converted into offices by Step Change.

For the convenience of passengers joining or alighting from trains at the new station a hotel was built, the Western Road Hotel, houses were built to house railway workers, and gradually the settlement now known as Micheldever Station came into being.

The embankment, tunnels and cuttings were major undertakings but Mr Brassey promised that work would be completed by 1st May 1840, and that the whole line would be opened on 11th May 1840. It was a close run thing, but on Monday, 18 May 1840 the Hampshire Chroniclecould report:

"On Monday 11 May 1840 thousands of persons from all parts of the country witnessed the celebration of the opening of the entire line of railway from London to Southampton. The Andover Road Station at Warren Farm was the grand focus of attention, the field in front of which was selected by Mr Brassey (one of the principle contractors) as the spot on which he intended to regale all the labourers employed on the line, their wives and families.

“Spacious marquees were erected, gay flags and streamers were flying in all directions; the Station-house was decorated with flowering shrubs and evergreens; and on the flat roof of the colonnade the Hurstborne brass band were placed, which during the day played a variety of lively pieces in a scientific manner. Many of the ladies and gentlemen in the immediate vicinity were present, and appeared heartily to enjoy the festive scene.

“As the trains arrived at the Station they were saluted with salvos of artillery, and hearty cheers of thousands of spectators, male and female, congregated on each side of the road for several hundred yards.

“The train which left Nine Elms with some of the Directors and their friends at eight o'clock in the morning, in consequence of numerous stoppages at the different Stations to take in passengers, did not reach Southampton till about half-past eleven o'clock. On its arrival at the terminus a deputation of the inhabitants waited on the Directors present, to request them to appoint a day on which they would visit the town, and partake of a public entertainment, but, in the absence of the Chairman and principal Directors, no day was named.

“At about half-past one o'clock the up-train arrived at the Winchester Station, when several additional carriages were attached to it for the purpose of accommodating numerous passengers desiring of witnessing the festivities at Warren Farm, where they arrived shortly afterwards.

“In front of the Station house two long rows of tables were laid out, under cover of a spacious tent, on which was spread out elegant cold collations consisting of an abundance of choice.

“THE CHAIRMAN, after feelingly alluding to the unfortunate accident which prevented that gentleman's attendance, proposed William Reed Esq. Secretary of the Company his better health, and speedy return to the discharge of those duties which he performed so usefully and advantageously to the company.

“MR. BRASSEY proposed the health of Mr. Humphrey, the chairman, which was drunk with the utmost cordiality.

“THE CHAIRMAN briefly returned thanks and, before retiring from the chair, drank to "The Ladies" which was received with the usual honours.

“MR. J W DREW succeeded Mr Humphrey as chairman and by his facetiousness and vivacity caused much mirth.

“MR DICKSON (whose health was proposed and received with hearty cheers) said he was extremely obliged to the company for the honour which they had paid him, and would observe that, with such a body of directors, and such a body of contractors, he had experienced no difficulty in executing the task assigned to him.

“The health of the Mayor and Town Council of Winchester was given, and hailed with three times three cheers, as was that of the late Mayor, and suitably acknowledged by Mr. Alderman Godwin and Mr. Parmiter.

“Several other toasts were given, and on the arrival of the down train from London the company reluctantly quitted the hospitable tent, to take their places in the carriages waiting to convey them to their respective destinations.

“Much credit is due to Mr Hayter, of Whitchurch, and Mr Lawrence of Sutton Scotney for the excellent manner in which the entertainment was served.

“The workmen in the neighbourhood of Worthy, with their wives and families, were also plentifully regaled with a good substantial dinner and strong beer, and the day was spent by them in festive enjoyment.

“When the adverse circumstances under which the works were carried on during last winter, in a succession of wet and boisterous weather almost unparalleled, are taken into consideration, the enterprise and perseverance of Mr. Brassey, in completing the junction to Winchester at the appointed time, cannot be sufficiently admired. The line of road from hence to Basingstoke is in most excellent order, and embraces some picturesque scenery of which a hasty glance is caught by the passengers particularly at the lofty embankment near Micheldever from which a beautiful panoramic view of the village is obtained.

“No doubt the Directors of the Railway are anxious to consult public convenience, and if they learn that the times fixed for the departure of the trains be generally found inconvenient they will alter their arrangements. Some persons complain that the mixed train leaves Southampton too early to be reached by persons travelling from a distance, while the next train at 10 o'clock is reserved for first class passengers only. The latter time would be much more convenient, and as all persons cannot afford first class fares, it would be an additional convenience if the Directors would place a few carriages of the second class upon the 10 o'clock train."

As the journey between London and Southampton took only two hours and 36 minutes, many availed themselves of this incredible improvement over the old form of transportation. In the first six months of its operation, the railway carried 118,824 First class passengers, 225,181 Second class and 19,652 Third class passengers, a total of 363,657.

Royalty, too, availed themselves of the new venture. In October 1844 the Emperor of France, Louis Philippe, visited the country on a state visit and villagers turned out to wave as the royal train travelled from Farnborough, which it left at 1.55pm. The Queen and the Prince Consort were travelling to the Isle of Wight while the French Emperor was intending to return to France by ship, sailing from Portsmouth. The weather was so bad that the Emperor had to return to London and cross via Dover. His return through Micheldever was after dark, having left Gosport at 7.45pm and not reaching London until 10.35pm, and there is no report of the villagers turning out to wave him on the unexpected return journey.

However, the new mode of transport did not find unanimous approval. The Duke of Wellington was scathing in his condemnation of the new fad and he could not be persuaded to travel on a train until invited to do so by Queen Victoria, such an invitation being a command. On 28 May 1840 a journalist writing in The Kentish Observer revealed a different opinion to those who cheered the opening of the railway at Micheldever:

"The admirers of railroad are in high glee; several new lines and branches have been opened during the week. The lovers of the convenient and picturesque may now be puffed, and rattled, and squeaked along from Nine Elms to Southampton in about three hours, without the nuisance of seeing anything of the country, or the possibility of hearing themselves speak. It is gratifying to know that coffins and stretchers are always ready at the different stations, and a new regulation is in course of completion, by which every passenger on all the lines, Eastern, Western, Midland, Birmingham, &c, &c, will be supplied with a label to be suspended round his neck, so that when the crash comes, his bones, head &c., may all be carefully collected, and sent home to his expectant relations and friends, according to the address on his ticket."

Although written in a sarcastic vein, it was a premonition of things to come, for in 1840, shortly after the murder of Lord William Russell, the Hampshire Chronicle carried an article headlined: "MELANCHOLY CATASTROPHE"

"Last Sunday a dreadful accident occurred on the London and South Western Railway. The engine of the train which left Nine Elms at ten o'clock in the morning, was, from some cause or other, not ascertained, thrown off the rail, when running through the cutting within 50 or 60 yards of the tunnel at Waller's Ash, about five miles from Winchester, and Armstrong the driver and Chapman, the stoker, were instantaneously killed. One of the passengers, a lady, had the toes of one of her feet crushed, a gentleman was wounded in the leg, and a few others escaped with slight bruises. They were conveyed to Winchester in a wagon belonging to Mr. Pain, of Borough Farm, who promptly rendered every assistance, as did Mr. Dear, of Weston, and others near the spot. Among the passengers in the wagon was the Earl of Dundonald, who fortunately escaped unhurt, though seated in the carriage next to one which was knocked to pieces by the concussion.

“An inquest was held on Monday, by Mr. Todd, at the Cart and Horses Inn, King's Worthy, when the following evidence was given:-

“William Whiting, of Vauxhall-road, guard on the London and South Western Railway said:- I was with the train which came from London yesterday, when the deceased lost their lives - one of them was Richard Armstrong, the engineer, aged 33 years old, and the other was John Chapman, the stoker, aged about 23. We left the station at Nine Elms a few minutes after ten, with an engine called the Mercury, a tender, a luggage wagon, three second class and three first class carriages. There were between 30 and 40 passengers. The deceased was quite sober. Nothing unusual occurred on the road before the accident. We arrived at the place where the accident occurred at about one, being a distance of 56 miles. When we arrived there, I was on my seat on the top of the first-class carriage; when we came to a deep cutting about half a mile on the London side of the Waller's Ash tunnel. I saw the engine suddenly drop, as though she was off the metal. Up to that time I had felt no difference in the motion. We were going at a steady pace of about 20 miles an hour. I was certain she was off the metal the moment I saw her drop; after that she continued her course at a checked pace for about 40 or 50 yards, taking a zigzag course; she then fell on her side, and the tender, luggage waggon, and two nearest carriages, were thrown off the line, and broken to pieces by the concussion. We were travelling on the left or down line. The deceased appeared aware of danger after the engine got off the rail, and appeared to be exerting themselves to remedy it. When the engine fell, I got down, and saw the engineer lying under one of the second-class carriages, apparently quite dead, and his left leg much shattered. The stoker was lying on the embankment on the left, with his head up, as though he had jumped there; he also appeared to be quite dead, and injured on the back of the head. There was a lady in one of the second class carriages hurt in the foot, and one or two other passengers hurt, but not seriously. I cannot account for the engine getting off the rail. Some of the passengers complained that they had felt a shock or two before, but I did not myself.

“Percival Clennel Fenwich, Lieutenant in the 61st Regt. said:- I was a passenger by the railway train yesterday, when the accident happened. We left London at four minutes past ten. I was in the first of the first-class carriages, being about the fifth from the engine. Nothing particular occurred until about one o'clock, when we came to a deep cutting, between the two tunnels. I then for the first time found an unpleasant motion in the carriage, which jolted considerably. I made a remark to my brother officers in the same carriage that I never felt such a motion before; it occurred three or four minutes before the accident occurred; it was certainly before the carriage left the rails, which I felt distinctly afterwards. We conversed about the motion alluded to before the engine got off the rail; after the engine fell, we heard the carriages crushing against each other; the two first wheels of our carriage were pulled off the rail. As soon as they had stopped, we got out and assisted the other passengers. I saw one of the deceased men lying near the engine, and much mutilated; I did not see the other. We were going about 25 miles an hour. I have travelled a great deal by railway. I cannot account for the engine getting off the rail. We were going quite smoothly at the time, and the engineer and stoker appeared to be quite steady. We remarked often on our way down that we were going at a very steady pace. I did not minutely examine the rail afterwards. The jolting I first spoke of was not incessant, but had ceased before we got off the rail.

A second guard on the train, Edward Moriarty, gave similar evidence: “I examined the spot where she went off immediately afterwards, and could discover no cause for it whatever. The rails were all in perfect order, and the ground appeared quite firm under them; it is a straight line there, no bend in the line of road. After the engine got off the rails, she went between 50 and 60 yards towards the left, and in a zigzag way, till she fell on her right side across the rails. The engine was broken by the fall, also the tender, the luggage wagon, and two second-class carriages.”

“Wm. Danby, porter on the railway, gave similar evidence but no cause for the accident could be ascertained and a verdict of Accident Death was recorded.

Fortunately there have been few accidents on the railway line at Micheldever. The next recorded fatality was not until 1914, when a young territorial on guard duty at Waller’s Ash was killed by a passing engine.

* * * * * *

The settlement at the station, which initially has been only a farm and a few cottages, grew comparatively slowly. In addition to the hotel, a terrace of houses – New Road – was built on the other side of the railway to the station. These housed staff who could access the station through a tunnel under the railway lines. In time other houses were added to the settlement: in Andover Road, where the foremost architect of the day, Lutyens, designed a distinctive property; and in Overton Road, where private houses were erected, mainly bungalows. However, eleven years after the official opening of the railway, in 1851, the census for that year does not record a separate settlement at Andover Road and the few people who lived in the station’s vicinity were classified as living in the home parish. For one hundred and forty years, therefore, no housing development took place at Micheldever Station, until Brunel Close was built in the 1980’s.

However, major development of Micheldever Station itself took place during the Second World War. In June 1943 Southern Railway was requested to finance a number of additional works throughout the Eastleigh area “in connection with certain special stores traffics, for which we have been asked by the Military Authorities”. These included a reception road and four sidings at Micheldever, a 460ft long platform and extension at Botley, a down-and-up loop for 70 wagons at Romsey, and six new sidings at Brockenhurst to relieve the pressure on Eastleigh.

The work at Micheldever Station was estimated at £43,938, and was given immediate approval by the Treasury. Seventeen sidings were built at Micheldever Station, where before the war there had been none. The Micheldever Marshalling Yards became home to an Ordnance Emergency Depot, staffed by hundreds of soldiers.

After D-Day, 6th June, Micheldever Station became known as 'the Woolworths depot' thanks to its ability to provide anything that could possible be required by the military, 'from a nut', as Bernard Darwin put it, 'to an engine for a tank'. The depth of the cuttings at Micheldever, still in use, also served to provide security to the neighbourhood in case of any ordnance accidents or bomb damage.

The shunting crews worked around the clock dealing with requisitions for supplies. Along the side of a huge cutting was a shed over 2,000 ft long. Orders for stores received by late afternoon were packaged and left the depot on the a goods train that night, so that in Normandy troops requesting items one day had them delivered the next.

Another essential supply requirement of the invading force was petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL) and there were logistical problems in replying solely on transportation by ship, notably the high demand and the unloading requirements of tankers. The problem was to be solved by the system of submarine pipelines known as PLUTO (generally said to stand for 'Pipeline Under the Ocean' although the Public Record Office labels it as 'Pipeline Underwater Transport of Oil'). Using this method of supply, oil could be pumped directly from the south coast to the far shore, thus incurring none of the risks or capacity problems of using shipping. A flexible pipeline system, laid underwater from rolling drums, was developed from 1942. The Shell-Mex/BP oil storage plant at Hamble was initially selected as the supply base for the project but local aural history claims that PLUTO began at Micheldever Station. Oil was transhipped from convoys arriving at Liverpool, stores in the petroleum storage tanks which still can be seen at Micheldever Station, and was then was pumped through a pipeline that ran alongside the railway track to the coast and across to the Isle of White where it was pumped under the English Channel to the site of the D-Day landings.

After the invasion of Normandy the first PLUTO pipeline was hauled ashore on 25th June and by 3rd July other pipelines had been completed, giving a capacity of 8,000 tons of fuel per day.

However, there is continuing argument over whether PLUTO actually met its potential. An American writer, Jonathan Gawne, comments in a military history website on the Internet - www.militaria.com/SDDerrata.html: “Although picturesque, PLUTO was a colossal failure. To quote “Logistical Support of the Armies”- page 198: “The PLUTO project, calling for underwater pipelines from the Isle of Wright to Cherbourg, was largely a failure. Two flexible 3-inch cables were laid in August, but extreme difficulties were encountered because of leaks and breaks, and no gasoline was ever pumped through them. A third line began delivering gasoline in September at the rate of about 140 tons per day, but the total deliveries were insignificant. In November all lines were reported broken down and inoperative...”

The Ministry of Defence has been unable to confirm or deny that PLUTO runs alongside the railway track, nor does it seem able to supply plans of the Ordnance Depot at Micheldever Station to pinpoint exactly where military supplies were stored.


What is undeniable is the fact that Michel dever Station, with its “Woolworths”, made a significant contribution to the success of the D-Day Invasion and the winning of the Second World War.


* * *

In the years before the Second World War, whilst suburbia was growing around London, Micheldever Station avoided major development.  In many ways, this is unusual. Houses near stations provide easy access for commuters and, for those who work in London but who prefer to live in the countryside, were as popular then as they are now. However, while other places near stations on the London to Southampton line, like Hook and Fleet and Farnborough, saw housing development taking place, Micheldever Station remained virtually untouched. This was primarily because of the opposition of the landowners. The last individual landowner of Micheldever, Lord Rank, did not want his estate to be broken up and when he died in 1974, it was sold in its entirety to Eagle Star.

At the end of that year Lord Rank’s executors lodged eleven separate planning applications to erect more than 700 houses at sites in Micheldever, Wonston and Sutton Scotney, an action described as “a fiddle” by Winchester City Councillor, Mr Harry Aston. The intention was not to actually build houses. Executors wanted the plans to be turned down in order to qualify for special compensation under a 1947 Act of Parliament. In 1947 some £300 million had been put aside to pay compensation for planning applications which were refused. The scheme was done away with in the 1960's but claims for the Micheldever land had been lodged by that time. The present applications were in support of those claims which were for compensation at 1947 valuations.

Eagle Star continued farming the former estate but, in time, Eagle Star was taken over by British American Tobacco Company and profit, not husbandry, became the objective.

Early in the 1990’s a plan was unveiled to exploit Micheldever Station’s potential for development.

Had the scheme been on the scale of Brunel Close there might have been local support for it. Houses which could be afforded by offspring of local residents were, and still are, in short supply. Many local residents would have been happy to see affordable housing built at Micheldever Station if it meant families could continue, as they had done in the past, to remain within the vicinity rather than have to move to Basingstoke or farther afield.

The scheme, when it was unveiled, seemed prompted by greed. It was for nothing less than a new town with the grandiose name of Micheldever Market Town. By the time presentation was completed, a town of 16,000 – bigger than Alton – was being mooted.

The campaign to prevent this new town and the formation of the Dever Society belong to a later segment of the story of Micheldever. But it is perhaps worth noting here the words of E.M. Foster, written in 1934 but which are still pertinent now: “Houses, houses, houses! Houses and bungalows, hotels, restaurants and flats, arterial roads, by-passes, petrol pumps, and pylons – are these going to be England? Are these man’s final triumph? Or is there another England, green and eternal, which will outlast them. …… Look into your hearts and look into the past, and remember that all this beauty is a gift which you can never replace, which no money can buy,which no cleverness can refashion. You can make a town, you can make a desert, you can even make a garden; but you can never, never make the country, because it was made by Time.”

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