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Railway through Micheldever

Railway through Micheldever

Micheldever Station 2011

The London and Southampton Railway was first proposed in 1831 and the bill approved by Parliament in 1834 at a cost of £900,000. The section between Basingstoke and Winchester opened on 11 May 1840 – and was the final part of the London and Southampton Railway to be completed. Prior to its construction, all of the traffic between London and Southampton was carried by eight stage coaches, four wagons per week, and one barge weekly on the Basingstoke Canal!

In fact, the railway should never have passed through the Dever Valley. The shortest and most economical route from London to Southampton was via Guildford and Alton. But following much lobbying by the merchants of North Hampshire against that plan, a longer route was chosen – passing through Dummer and East Stratton. However, the line was eventually built through the Dever Valley on the instruction of the Chairman of the London & Southampton Railway Company, Sir Thomas Baring, M.P. who lived at Stratton Park and had no wish for the line to be within sight nor sound of his residence! Francis Giles, the appointed engineer for the project (who was sacked before the line was opened), commented at the time... "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."

The 18¾ miles of railway between Basingstoke and Winchester was the most difficult section of the whole route to construct. If it had followed the existing contours, the northbound gradients out of the valley would have been too steep for the engines of that time to cope. To maintain an easier grade, four tunnels were built together with an embankment from one side of the valley to the other, effectively forming a wall between Micheldever village and the neighbouring hamlets of Weston Colley and Stoke Charity. Over a thousand Irish navvies built this huge embankment across the Dever Valley and during this time, the railway line terminated at Warren Farm (just opposite the site where Micheldever Station now stands) where there was a turnpike to Andover, some ten miles away.

The railway builders certainly took their planning seriously – it is a beautifully built line – most probably due to the appointment of the most famous engineer of the time Thomas Brassy. It climbs gently from London to Basingstoke then falling continuously for 22 miles at virtually a constant gradient of 1 in 252 all the way from Lichfield tunnel (two miles north of Micheldever) to St Denys, just a mile or so short of Southampton. In steam days this section was a real racing ground - with southbound services regularly tearing through Micheldever at over 85mph. The northbound run was a very different scenario as the engine crews, especially those whose trains had stopped at Winchester, really had their work cut out. There are many stories of heavy trains barely reaching 20mph as they struggled through Micheldever on wet days during the climb towards Basingstoke. Today, the gradient is barely noticeable – the only excitement being the occasional southbound train which is travelling too fast to stop at Micheldever and overshoots the station during the autumn leaf fall season!

I am indebted to Stuart Newton’s 2002 book: “The coming of the Railway” and Peter Clark’s 2020 book “Parsons & Prawns” for assistance and references in the preparation of this article.
Nick Hurrell

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