A little bit of history

For several reasons the London to Bristol main line did not go through Oxford, but passed to the South via Didcot and Steventon. Stage coaches regularly travelled between Oxford and Steventon which was at that time its nearest station. A number of schemes were proposed to connect Oxford to the GWR main line but met objections from land owners and the University who were concerned that easy travel by rail would lead students astray.

In the event, Oxford gained two rail links both of which terminated there. The later one from Bletchley to the north-west was engineered by Stephenson for the Buckinghamshire Railway (worked and later owned by the L&NWR) which opened in 1851. That station building was eventually rescued long after closure and has been rebuilt at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre near Aylesbury. The site has been built over by the Saïd Business School and no traces remain except for the old railway swing bridge over Sheepwash Channel just to the north.

In 1842, at the third attempt, approval was finally given to the Oxford Railway Company for a branch line between Didcot and Oxford. Finance was provided by the GWR which absorbed the company by amalgamation enacted by the Great Western Railway Act of 10th May 1844. This line was completed in 1844 being built to the broad gauge of 7' 0¼". It terminated at a station close to what is now the junction of Western Road and Marlborough Road, yards south of the river and close to the city centre which was accessed via a toll bridge. The toll house still stands on the city side of Folly bridge. The railway was diverted and extended to the north in 1850 which meant that trains had to either reverse into or out from the station to Millstream Junction before continuing with their journey. In 1852 a new station was built adjacent to the Buckinghamshire Railway terminus and the original station became a parcels depot until finally closing in 1872. A map dating from about 1860 is on display at the Old Ticket Office and shows Oxford boasting all three stations. Every trace of the original station and line from Millstream Junction has disappeared under later development, but its path can be traced along Marlborough Road and alongside Hinksey Lakes. At one point the company was offered the lease of land for development as railway workshops. The land wasn't very suitable as it was boggy and Swindon benefited instead. The South Oxford Community Centre website covers the coming of the railway to Oxford in detail.

The engineer in charge of the Didcot to Oxford branch was Isambard Kingdom Brunel and many of the bridges and station buildings were designed by him, including Culham. Interestingly, all the original station buildings on the line were of timber construction - with the notable exception of those at Culham. Conversion of the whole Broad Gauge network to Standard Gauge ( 4' 8½") was completed in November 1872.

Culham station opened on 12th June 1844 as ‘Abingdon Road’ station, being renamed ‘Culham’ on 2nd June 1856 on the opening of the branch from Abingdon Junction (later closed and replaced by Radley station) to Abingdon. The name ‘Abingdon Road’ was later re-used for a halt opened in 1908 to serve the village of South Hinksey. The old ticket office is all that remains of the original station buildings. The signal box (itself a replacement for the original one) was closed on 15th February 1961, with the old broad gauge goods shed and waiting room on platform 1 being removed during 1972. The old footbridge was declared unsafe and was removed, but interestingly the original cast iron pillars survived and now support its replacement. Culham is one of the best preserved of Brunel’s characteristic and charmingly designed small country stations, and the only survivor of this particular Tudor Revival design. It was given Grade II* listing by English Heritage on 20th May 1975.

Closing to the public in the mid 1970’s, the building was let out to a number of different tenants. In 2003 it was the subject of extensive renovation by Network Rail and since 2014 has been occupied by Entikera Ltd. who have been proud to open their offices to the public a number of times as part of the national Heritage Open Days scheme. Interested visitors are always welcome however during normal office hours. The ticket office forms part of a group of contemporary structures which include the original brick road bridge, the Railway Inn (built in 1846) and Thame Lane bridge. Across the forecourt Station House, often referred to as the Station Master's house, was not built until 1898. Remnants of the siding which once served the adjacent Royal Naval Air Station (HMS Hornbill), now Culham Science Centre, have almost all vanished. Traces of an estate road which once linked Nuneham House to the station are visible in places, although the old gatehouse marking the entrance to the estate has long disappeared.

In September 1939 Culham became one of the designated reception stations in the GWR London Evacuation Scheme, and went on to receive around 4,000 evacuees.

Model railway enthusiasts might be interested to know that Culham Station (renamed Pendon Parva) and the Railway Inn have been included in the Vale layout at the world famous Pendon Railway Museum a few miles away in Long Wittenham.