The Station - (MIC)
Micheldever Station 1910
Micheldever Station is some three miles from Micheldever Village. Known as Andover Road until 1856, the original station building, with flint walls and a hipped roof is believed to have been designed by William Tite (1798-1873). The building remains in use today (and is Grade II listed) but little else of the original station complex exists.
Soon after the opening of the station in 1840, cottages were built on both sides of the railway to house local railway workers. Adjacent to the station a hotel was also built - known as the Western Road Hotel. It still stands today - as The Dove Inn. The settlement grew into the current community of Micheldever Station.
The original four tracks through the station were reduced to just two in the late 1960s, with an island platform now housing just a small modern waiting room. The signal box was demolished when the track layout was rationalised. However, four tracks still remain on the embankment at Weston Colley and are used daily to allow passenger trains to overtake the heavier and slower freight trains. The Weston signalbox was closed in the 1960’
Interestingly, Micheldever has always been the most remote station in Hampshire – the only stopping point on the 18¾ mile stretch between Basingstoke and Winchester.
A major development of Micheldever Station itself took place during the Second World War.
In June 1943, the Southern Railway was asked to assist the war effort. A total of seventeen sidings were built and became home to an Ordnance Emergency Depot, staffed by hundreds of soldiers.
Micheldever Station soon became known as 'the Woolworths depot' thanks to its ability to provide virtually anything that could possibly be required by the military. A shed, over 2,000 ft long was built to house the depot, just north of the station. Orders for stores received by late afternoon were packaged and left the depot by train that night and often reached Normandy the next day.
Another essential supply service was also focused at Micheldever during the war - petroleum, oil and other lubricants. Over 18,000 gallons were stored in the tanks, built in 1939, and covered by the railway cutting close to the storage area mentioned above. It is rumoured that oil was then pumped through a pipeline that ran alongside the railway track to the coast and across to the Isle of Wight. From there it was pumped under the English Channel to the site of the D-Day landings. Known as PLUTO ('Pipeline Under the Ocean'), oil could theoretically be pumped directly from the south coast to the far shore, thus incurring none of the risks or capacity problems of using shipping. It is rumoured that a flexible pipeline system, laid underwater from rolling drums, was developed from 1942.
There is continuing argument over whether PLUTO actually met its potential, or even existed as a viable transportation link. The Ministry of Defence has been unable to confirm or deny that PLUTO actually ran alongside the railway track.
What is undeniable is the fact that Micheldever Station, with its “Woolworths”, made a significant contribution to the success of the D-Day Invasion.
Post World War 2
The sidings to the north of the station found use as storage for condemned rolling stock, whilst the buildings and oil tanks remained in Government ownership until 1981. The oil tanks were sold to Elf Petroleum in 1981 and were provided with two sidings, with oil arriving primarily from Wales and Essex. The facility was closed in 1995, but much of the now derelict structures can still be seen.
Train Services through the years
Although the line has always been an important and busy link to the South Coast, the service provided at Micheldever has always been frugal – Bradshaws 1922 timetable shows just 11 northbound services a day calling here. By the mid 1960’s this had only increased to 12 – and with only 5 of these actually going to London it was simply not possible to commute sensibly to the capital until the line was electrified in 1967 (see below).
Things have improved a little over recent years, but the most recent (pre Covid) timetable still only shows 21 northbound services on weekdays, most going to London, but still sparse considering that around 100 trains actually passed through each way every weekday!
The railway was the last remaining mainline in the country to be worked by steam traction, with the services finally giving way to electrification on 9 July 1967. The transition attracted enthusiasts from all over the country – with the result that the last years of steam are well documented and photographed (Winchester library is a wonderful source of pictorial and written history of that time). The use of steam traction until the late 1960s did little to promote speed and efficiency – with an average journey time from Waterloo to Southampton of around 95 minutes for the 79 mile run. After electrification, journey times were finally reduced to a standard 70 minutes for the hourly expresses. It’s interesting to note that while the service frequency has improved over the last 50 years, the journey times have not, with the fastest Waterloo to Southampton trains taking around 71-74 minutes in 2020 (before the Covid timetable reductions).
Passenger numbers during the 1950s and 60s were low – although surprisingly, the station was never threatened with closure by Dr Beeching. Fortunately, it soldiered on following electrification and one could argue that it was probably saved from complete closure by the threats of the Eagle Star New Town development. More recently, traffic has increased considerably... In 2005, just 58,000 passengers used the station annually. This had risen to 164,000 by 2019 - and the station during the rush hours was a busy place. Car parking spaces were hard to find after 7.30 in the morning…. Who knows if the same level of commuter traffic will return in 2021?
There have been 2 noteworthy incidents on the railway in this area...
The first occurred soon after the opening in 1840 and was reported in the Hampshire Chronicle with the headline
"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”.
Despite extensive investigations, the cause of the accident was never discovered.
Much more recently, in January 1985, a diesel locomotive crashed into the stationary coaches of a passenger train between the two Popham tunnels (just north of the station). The passenger train had struck a minor landslip and was waiting for help with the diesel being sent to provide assistance. It appears that the driver of the diesel was unaware of the exact whereabouts of the passenger train and crashed into it in the darkness. Fortunately, no-one was seriously hurt.
A more detailed report of this accident can be found at: Railway Archive.
As we have seen above, passenger numbers have increased substantially since electrification in 1967 and the station has become very popular with commuting (primarily to London). Around 50% of the 164,000 passenger journeys at Micheldever in 2019 were made by season ticket holders. There are few users outside the rush hours and the station facilities remain sparse. South Western Railway took over the train operator franchise (from South West Trains) in 2017 and sadly, reliability has declined. Delays are commonplace and whilst these cannot all be blamed on the train operator, the passenger perception is not positive.
The few sidings that remain sidings are rarely used and although they have been identified by the local council as suitable for handling rail aggregates and waste, fortunately no realistic proposals for development have been approved.
The need to improve public transport and opportunity for more housing developments at Micheldever Station, plus its proximity to the A303 are likely to have secured the station’s long term survival. Similarly, much of the long distance container traffic to/from Southampton Docks is routed through Micheldever and with the current Government’s decarbonisation plans (and encouragement of rail over road transport for freight), there is a likelihood that rail traffic will increase. Pre-Covid, the line was operating at almost 100% capacity. Perhaps we will see the original four tracks re-instated through the station too…..who knows?
I am indebted to Stuart Newton’s 2002 book: “The coming of the Railway” and Peter Clarke’s 2020 book “Parsons & Prawns” for assistance and references in the preparation of this article.
Weston signal box