OXFORDSHIRE’S relationship with the railways had a chequered beginning, with both Oxford and Abingdon putting up stiff opposition to the very idea of railway connections in the 1830s and 1840s, writes William Crossley.
University dons feared for the effect on the morals of their students of such new-fangled contraptions, while Abingdon twice petitioned Parliament in the late 1830s against any suggestion that the Didcot-Oxford line should run through or even near the town – as a result, it eventually found itself at the end of a branch line opened in 1856.
A new book, Lost Railways of Oxfordshire, written by Terry Moors, traces these early skirmishes and how minds came to be changed and communities across the county began to clamour for their own connections to the fast-growing railway system.
The result was a series of branches sprouting from the main lines, each with their own individual character, often built as local enterprises and only taken over by the Great Western Railway some years later.
They ranged from the cut-price Wantage Tramway, which ran for most of its length alongside what is today the A338, and the now preserved Cholsey & Wallingford line, to the Banbury & Cheltenham Direct Railway, which was used by an eclectic mix of lightly-used local passenger trains, long-distance expresses and heavy freight trains carrying north Oxfordshire’s ironstone across the Cotswolds, via the once busy junction station at Kingham, to the steelworks of South Wales.
The light railways, both narrow and standard gauge, that served the ironstone quarries at Hook Norton and Wroxton, are not forgotten either.
Mr Moors takes us on a line-by-line tour of routes and stations which have vanished, many during the Beeching closures of the 1960s, illustrated with photographs from their heyday – before the car, bus and lorry began to eat into their traffic – their dying days and a number from recent times, showing how few traces remain of once-busy lines.
- For a reduced price special offer on Lost Railways of Oxfordshire, published by Countryside Books of Newbury, normally £11.99, for £9.99 see today's (Monday, December 14) Oxford Mail.