Changes at Culham station

Since the Ticket Office was closed to passengers and put up for let in (we think) the late 1970's various tenants have occupied the building, all for different purposes. Also, perhaps most significantly, the refurbishment of the building which was first proposed in 2002 sought to preserve what was left. It is unfortunate that the original Goods shed, shelter on platform 1, and the signal box were not saved from demolition and so were no longer around to be preserved.

Here we will try to document the significant changes that have (or have not) affected the station since it was first opened. As photographs or drawings become available they will either feature here or be included in the 'Station through time' page under the 'IMAGES' menu tab. Anything specifically to do with the electrification project will be covered in the 'Electrification' page under the 'ABOUT' menu tab.

During its life as a working ticket office many alterations were made to the inside to accommodate changing needs. Some of these changes have left visible reminders around the office. Such changes will be highlighted in the 'Tour of the station' page under the 'IMAGES' menu tab.

~~~~~ Future developments ~~~~~

Longer platforms and new car park

Planning approval was obtained during 2016 for Network Rail to extend platforms 1 and 2 towards Oxford so that longer trains could stop at Culham. We were also told that the ultimate plan was that when Network Rail eventually vacated their hard materials store at the end of platform 2 a larger car park would be developed similar to the one at Radley.

Nothing had started on either front as of mid 2017, but we did have had a chat with some contractors who were saying that the new platform extension would comprise prefabricated sections being placed onto supporting piles. One slight concern was that the platform extensions would have to follow the curving track. It doesn't seem that these developments will lead to any improvement in the station facilities which at present comprise of only a glass waiting shelter and customer service point on each platform.

However, a letter dated 10th April 2018 from the Office of Rail and Road to Network Rail Infrastructure Limited regarding 'Enhancements Delivery Plan (EDP) change control: January -March 2018' contains the following paragraph...
W004 Thames Valley platform extensions
You are requesting to defer platform extensions at Culham and Appleford, to integrate the works with overhead line electrification from Didcot to Oxford. You are requesting to revise the regulated milestone for entry into service -infrastructure authorised (Didcot to Oxford) from June 2019 to “CP6”. We approve your requested changes to the EDP. We intend to log the June 2019 regulated milestone as revised.

So who knows when it will actually happen. Interestingly however, the platforms at Radley were extended during the summer of 2018. From Spring 2019 GWR are planning to introduce a small fleet of tri-mode Flex Class 769 multiple units, some for use between Reading and Oxford, again suggesting that electrification to Oxford will not happen in the near future.

Link to Culham Science Centre

One possible development that has come to light, although it is only at the early discussion stage, is for a new footbridge and access pathway to link the station directly to the Culham Science Centre. A growing number of commuters use Culham to travel outward in the morning and a much larger number commute to the Science Centre each day. A direct link to the Centre would hopefully attract yet more.
The document 'Culham Science Centre – Travel Plan' published in April 2016, states that 6.1% of trips to and from the site are currently made by rail. Judging from the numbers of commuters passing the station each morning this is becoming an increasingly popular way to travel.

Housing proposals

During 2016 the Oxford Mail reported on a number of schemes which could greatly affect the immediate area. It would seem that the UK Atomic Energy Authority has plans for the development of 500 new houses on the Culham number 1 site. This housing would be primarily for staff at the Culham Science Centre.
A futuristic ‘science city’ of at least 3,000 homes and related facilities has been also been suggested. This development would stretch from Culham station towards Abingdon and could feature driverless cars to take people to work, as well as ‘intelligent buildings’ linked to each other digitally. South Oxfordshire District council has so far ruled out the proposal over concerns about a lack of existing road infrastructure and because it would mean building on Green Belt land. These concerns have not inhibited proposals for developments elsewhere, so this grand plan may yet proceed in a decade or two. The scheme does have some support as it could help provide funding for a Clifton Hampden bypass, a new Thames Bridge and various rail schemes including the quadrupling of portions of the track between Dicot and Oxford.

Track quadrupling

Even with the increased track occupancy supported by the new ERTMS signalling system, the twin tracks between Didcot and Oxford present a significant bottleneck as there are no passing loops along its entire length. This will become even more of a problem when the capacity of Oxford station is increased with more tracks over an amended rail bridge over Botley Road and the opening up of platform 5. These particular changes will, amongst other work, involve the demolition of the large YHA hostel adjacent to the Botley bridge.
The proposed solution is to quadruple the tracks. This can be achieved along certain stretches, but there are constraints in some places due to other planned developments or availability of land. This is an issue mostly around Culham station and Appleford halt. One solution that has been proposed is to lay a brand new twin track route bypassing these pinch points. This could diverge from the existing line north of Culham and rejoin south of Appleford possibly where the existing North Didcot junction is at present. Slow, or stopping trains would then use the existing route, with faster traffic being diverted along the new one.
None of these changes would affect Culham station physically, but it may see a change in the type of traffic which goes past. Non stopping GWR HSTs and Cross Country sets (or their equivalents) would bypass the station, but slower traffic such as freights and stopping trains would still be seen. This is all a long way off and by no means certain.

As an aside to the above, the line from the bay platforms 1 and 2 in Oxford to Oxford Parkway and beyond has to join the up relief line for a short stretch before diverging towards Oxford Parkway. This bi-directional working understandably causes traffic conflicts which is not good. The East/West line development from Bicester North to Bletchley will serve to increase the problems and so it is planned to improve the track layout and provide a dedicated path so traffic will not have to join or share the main line.

~~~~~ Developments since opening ~~~~~

1844 - Opening of the Oxford branch

The Didcot to Oxford branch opened on June 12th 1844 with Culham, initially called 'Abingdon Road', being for many years the only intermediate station. There was initially also a small station at Appleford, but this closed after only a few years, not being replaced until 1933 when 'Appleford Halt' was opened. This broad gauge line was engineered by Brunel who designed many of the structures associated with it including Thame Lane bridge, the original road bridge on Abingdon Road and of course the station itself. Further up the line another Brunel designed bridge still stands at Appleford.

See also the detailed press report from June 15th 1844 and additional notes on the 'Culham in the news' page under the 'ABOUT' menu tab.

Interestingly, Abingdon had hoped that it would be served by the line. The very first idea was for the Didcot to Oxford branch to leave the main line near Steventon and pass to the east of Abingdon town centre before heading towards Oxford. This was supported by many people who undertook to subscribe to the line. Sadly this proposal never really got very far due to the objections of a Captain Pechells(RN) regarding his lands at Culham. Brunel himself visited Culham in November 1837 to see what could be done, staying at the 'Crown' in Abingdon. The upshot of it all was that the line was rerouted from Didcot with Abingdon to be served by a short branch. Many in Abingdon believed that the GWR had gone against previous understandings and sought to withdraw their support and financial backing whilst lodging objections to the amended route. A speculator had actually built a substantial hotel in Spring Road in Abingdon in readiness for the coming of the railway which would have passed close by. This venture was of course doomed, but the building still stands having been divided into dwellings. Although Abingdon missed out when the Didcot to Oxford branch was built, it did eventually get a rail connection when a short branch was built by the private Abingdon Railway Company in 1856. The eventual line of this branch closely followed that originally proposed almost twenty years previously.
Documents are held in the archives of the Houses of Parliament relating to the Oxford and Great Western Union Railway - with a branch to Abingdon'. The oldest date from as early as 1837 being signed by Brunel himself and show the line to Oxford going through Iffley village close to the river. Other variations involved the final destination in Oxford and the type of junction between the Abingdon branch and the main Oxford branch.

Detail from 1844 plan

Detail from 1844 plan
©Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/PB/3/plan1845/03

1846 - The Railway Hotel is built

Being some distance from the villages of Culham and Clifton Hampden the station at Culham would have been quite isolated with only a few cottages and scattered farms nearby. The hotel building nestles against the embankment of the original road bridge with the access road to the Goods Shed and Platform 1 passing in front. Little is known of the history of the Hotel but it must have been thought worthwhile to build it just two years after the opening of the adjacent station. Could the GWR have had an interest in the hotel? A plan of the line dated November 1844 held in the Parliamentary Archives appears to show the ticket office, down platform building and the goods shed together with what looks like the Railway Hotel immediately adjacent to the road overbridge. Station House, which is believed to have been built in 1898 is of course absent.

The landlords of the hotel have figured several times in the history of the station as might be expected, and the premises have on occasion been used to hold inquests including one on Friday 21st February 1873 for the unfortunate landlord at the time, Arthur Robert Smith, who was found dead after falling down the stairs. Originally opening as the 'Railway Hotel' it has undergone several name changes including a period as 'The Jolly Porter' but has reverted to what seems to be the more popular 'Railway Inn'.

It is pleasing to note that since opening in 1846 it has been in continuous use as a licensed premises, the purpose for which it was originally intended.

1856 - Change of name

Upon the opening of the branch line to Abingdon 'Abingdon Road' station was renamed 'Culham' to save confusion with the interchange station where the branch connected with the main line which was given the name 'Abingdon Junction'. This new station really was in the middle of nowhere with no proper road access. The branch was later extended by just under a mile running alongside the main line to join it at Radley station which opened on 8th September 1873. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Didcot to Oxford branch line, though not of Radley station itself, Radley village held Radley Rail Gala on 12th June 1994.

The only other connection (other than sidings) to the line between Didcot and Oxford was made in 1864 when the Wycombe Railway extended its line from Thame to Kennington Junction just south of Oxford. This completed their line from the junction at Princes Risborough through to Oxford. The GWR took over the Wycombe Railway company in 1867. A portion of this line survives between Kennington Junction and the BMW factory in Cowley being used for regular car transport trains with Chiltern Rail proposing its possible reopening to passengers.

The name 'Abingdon Road' was reused for a halt built to serve the village of South Hinksey. Opening on 1st February 1908, it closed on 22nd March 1915.

1872 - Change of gauge

Starting in 1869 work was started to convert the whole of the Great Western broad gauge track to what they called the 'narrow gauge', but what was in reality the standard gauge of other companies. During the November of 1872 work was completed to convert the line from Didcot to Oxford and the Abingdon branch. The Abingdon branch was closed for a day on 26th November with a rail replacement omnibus service running from Culham.

1874 - Signal box opened

When first built, safe operation of the railway was overseen by Railway Police who monitored safety and controlled traffic on a local basis. Together with Switchmen (or Pointsmen) who operated the points (or switches) they may have been provided with a small box for shelter from the elements, but there was no centralised collection of control equipment in them. Signal boxes as we would now recognise them only started to appear when the fixed block method of controlling the flow of rail traffic was adopted and technology became available to allow for the remote control of signals and telegraphic communication was developed.

The following extract from a report in the Reading Mercury of Saturday 12th June 1915 gives us an insight into these early days and a date when the signal box was first opened at Culham.
'At the G.W.R. Station, Reading, on June 3rd, a pleasant gathering of railway officials took place ..... advantage was taken of the occasion to hand a suitable gift to ex-District Relief Signalman Mr. C. Tarrant who retired from the company’s service last February, after serving 42 years. Mr. Tarrant, joined the G.W.R. Company’s service in February, 1873, at Steventon, as a policeman (as signalmen were at that time termed). From there he went to Culham in July of the same year, thence he was removed to Kirtlington (now called Bletchington), and in November, 1874, he was sent back to Culham to open the new signal-box, which at that time was an undertaking of considerable importance. After being at Culham nearly four years, Mr. Tarrant was removed to Didcot as a district relief switchman. He remained 17 years. He was subsequently removed to Reading district as relief signalman in 1895, which position he held until his retirement.'

1898 - Station House built

It is understood that 'Station House', which is often referred to as the 'Station Master's house' on plans, was built in 1898. Some believe it was designed by Brunel but we have found no evidence to support this theory.

1908/09 - Changes to track layout

The track layout was changed fairly substantially by about 1909. Comparison between the 1897 and 1910 revisions of the 25inch O.S. maps and the 1908 plan show that the cross over between the two main running lines opposite the goods shed was modified with a single slip added to give a new connection to the goods shed from both running lines. The original connection to the goods shed which started outside the ticket office and crossed the other line by means of a diamond crossing was completely removed. With this change of access, the track emerging from the goods shed at the station end was greatly shortened and the connection at the Oxford end of the goods siding was moved along leaving a shorter shunting neck at each end. It is inferred that platform 1 was extended towards Oxford at the same time meeting up with the end of the foreshortened goods shed siding. A large area to the north of the goods shed seems to have been cleared and levelled for the length of the goods loop, possibly to provide coal storage facilities. This area was reduced in size at some point, together with a simplification and shortening of the northern end of the goods loop, as seen on the 1950 plan. On the other side of the station much remained the same with the siding serving the cattle pens apparently untouched.

Footbridge under construction

Footbridge under construction sometime around 1909/10
Unknown photographer ©Great Western Trust

1909/10 - Footbridge installed

We are very grateful to Laurence Waters for making available the original image held in the Great Western Trust archive from which this detail is taken. The full photograph is featured in his book Oxfordshire Railways in Old Photographs - a Second Selection, and is also shown on the 'Station through time' page under the 'IMAGES' menu tab.

This detail is included here as it shows workmen constructing what would be the very first footbridge connecting the two platforms. This helps to date the photograph, as we know the bridge didn't exist in 1908 but it is seen on a photograph from 1919. As noted elsewhere, another clue can be obtained from examining old 25inch to the mile O.S. maps. The bridge is absent from the map revised in 1897 and published in 1899, but clearly shown (along with the relatively new Station House) on the 1910 revision published in 1912. So 1909/10 is an educated guess until we find out different.

Close examination of the photograph reveals that the footbridge has yet to have its stair treads installed, and the canopy roof is clearly a work in progress. Health and safety would not have been a requirement at the time, as evidenced by the workman posing casually on a ladder leant against one of the smoke deflectors. We hope a train was not due soon! One workman is standing and another is kneeling on a temporary planked platform with what appears to be a large paint tin beside him.

1942 - RNAS Hornbill opens

On 1st November, The Royal Navy opened an air station next to Culham station called RNAS Hornbill. This air station is reputed to have been the Navy's most remote facility from the sea. Its siting may have been influenced by the easy rail connection and relatively flat terrain with little local population, or maybe its proximity to the many other neighbouring RAF air bases in Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It was originally an aircraft reciept and dispatch unit and closed on 30th September 1953.

A rail conection was laid into RNAS Hornbill which ran from the siding which served the cattle dock. The connection appears to have been lifted when the air base was closed, and certainly by late 1954.

1946 - Proposed new Parcels Office

Parcels traffic after the war must have been sufficient for consideration to be given to upgrading the parcel facilities at the station. These were dealt with in a seperate pagoda roofed building and it was proposed to replace this with a substantial brick extension on the end of the ticket office. This would have meant that the overall canopy would have been removed completely at that end of the building. A plan dated November 1946 is held in the Network Rail archives which details these changes, together with plans to fully enclose and upgrade the outside gents' toilets. Nothing came of these proposals however.

This plan is useful as it shows the Station Master's Office as occupying the whole of one end of the building without the partition shown on the station plan from the 1950's and which was subsequently removed in 1984. Somewhat confusingly it shows the track layout prior to the changes made in the 1920's, also the waiting shelter on platform 2 has the wrong footprint. It would appear that an old existing drawing may have been used as a starting point with only the proposed changes being added, thus saving a site visit.

1953 - New signal box

For some reason the original signal box which can be seen in the 1904 postcard of the station was demolished and replaced by a new one. The platform may have been extended slightly at the same time to pass in front of the box. Plans for this new box are held in the National Records Office in Kew

The replacement of the signal box may well have coincided with the slight re-arrangement of the track layout as a result of the closure of RNAS Hornbill.

1961 - Signal box closure

The new signal box was closed on 15th February 1961. It is not known when it was demolished, but it probably happened some years later when other buildings at the station were taken down.

1963 - Proposal for Culham Prison

Whilst not directly relating to Culham station there was a proposal which, if it had gone ahead, would have had a marked affect on it and the surrounding area.

The Times newspaper of 2nd May 1963 carried a short article which said that on the previous day the Home Office had informed Oxfordshire County Council that it would like to build a maximum-security prison for 500 men on part of the former Royal Naval Air Station at Culham. This was to occupy 320 acres of the former air station and relace the existing prison in Oxford city centre. Reasons cited for the proposal included the fact that the Oxford prison was not only unsuitable for 'modern methods of penal treatment', but that it occupied a site urgently needed by the council for redevelopment. It also states that efforts to close the existing prison 'had been going on since the end of the last war'.

On 21st September of that same year the Times carried news of the announcement in The London Gazette of a public enquiry which was to be held in Abingdon on October 30th. Various papers are held in the National Records Office at Kew relating to the proposed development. The earliest referenced are 'Bullingdon Rural District, Oxfordshire: proposed prison at Culham Airfield; assessment of application by the Home Office, Inspector's Report and case papers'. Other papers are held as being dated 1970-74 and relate to 'Lockwood (formerly Culham) Prison'.

Plans would appear to have progressed to a fairly advanced stage when South Oxfordshire District Council undertook a project in June 1974 to consider the future of Berinsfield. The report produced identified land which the Home Office had purchased to build 82 homes for Prison Officers who were to be based at the new Lockwood Prison.

The idea of a prison at Culham was not finally abandoned until 1982 as the Guardian newspaper reported in its edition of 4th November in that year - 'PRISON SCHEME THROWN OUT - A scheme for a new prison on green belt land at Culham, Oxfordshire, has been thrown out by the Department of the Environment. The Environment Secretary, Mr Michael Heseltine, said that the Lockwood prison proposals were open to serious planning objections. He said the plan would have a substantial impact on the surrounding landscape, but it might still be possible to find an alternative site within the wider area.' The reference to the development being on green belt land is interesting as it hints that the prison was intended to be placed to the north of the actual airfield site, but still on Ministry land. The UKAEA had taken over the original airfield in 1960.

1965 - End of goods services

Goods services to and from Culham were withdrawn on 19th July 1965.

Before the new bridge

Abingdon road and bridge in 1964
Robert Crickmay ©Oxfordshire History Centre

1967 - New road bridge

By now the narrow road bridge must have been a bottleneck to the increasing volume of traffic using the A415 which is a main artery from Abingdon. Planning approval for the 'Culham Railway Bridge Scheme' was obtained in mid 1967. This involved a section of new carriageway either side of the railway and a new bridge a few metres to the South of the existing one. Much of the old road is still visible in satellite views as a farm track and storage area. That which does remain open forms a service road to the properties on either side of the railway with the original bridge still open for use with a weight restriction.

This photograph attributed to Robert Crickmay shows a quiet Abingdon Road just a few years before the new bridge was built. Looking southwards, the lighter gable end of the Railway Hotel can be seen with the roofs of cottages and the few other buildings nearby just appearing in the distance. The road rises slightly before crossing the railway after the road to Platform 1 and the goods shed diverges to the left. The lone car parked on the verge opposite probably belongs to the photographer.

1970 - A near miss!

An application was lodged on 10th June 1970 for the development of a ready mixed concrete plant on the land immediately behind and to the side of Station House. Approval was granted with a provision for the protection or replacement of trees existing on the site. Such a development would have radically changed the semi rural nature of the area with the building of silos, industrial buildings and hard standings, together with the dust and volume of associated lorry movements. Luckily this development did not go ahead and the area remained much as it was.

1972 - Demolition

Sometime during 1972 the waiting shelter on platform 1 and the goods shed were demolished. It is possible that the signal box was removed at this time too. Apparently British Rail were going to demolish the ticket office also but local objections managed to prevent this happening. As it was, a unique group of original Brunel designed broad gauge buildings had been lost forever.

1975 - Listing

Having been saved from demolition a few years earlier, the ticket office was given Grade II* listing by English Heritage on 20th May 1975.

1977 - Restoration proposal then closure

Possibly as a result of the listing, British Rail submitted an application on 27th January 1977 for the restoration of the ticket office. Approval was given subject to the submission of a schedule of works for approval. This was done in September 1978 and confirmation of approval sent back in the October.

It is not known what was specifically proposed, however there is a drawing held in the Network Rail archives which is dated October 1978 and entitled Culham station improvements. This plan shows quite detailed and extensive alterations including new concrete and tiled floors, the complete removal of the outside toilets (with bricks and stone being retained for re-use), internal toilet facilities and new seating in the waiting room. The valance boards were to be removed, replacement aluminium rain water goods installed and new lighting fitted under the platform canopy. It would seem that quite serious consideration was being given to ensuring the building continued in daily use as a working ticket office. In the event none of this was started and the building was withdrawn from public use. Judging from contemporary photographs work was limited to a general tidying up and a coat of paint perhaps to make it slightly more attractive to any future tenant.

1981 - Book store

January 1981 saw a proposal to use the ticket office for 'the storage, display and sale of old, rare and out of print books'. From the plans submitted it looks as if it was proposed to completely remove the outside gents' toilet and wooden screen and provide a new wooden fence either side of the building with access to the platform 1, which was still in use at the time, and the footbridge via an ungated opening to the left. Internally there were a number of alterations proposed. The old waiting room and ladies' cloakroom were to have a new tiled concrete floor laid. It looks like the old wall dividing the cloakroom was to be removed with a new partition wall installed instead. The partition wall between the waiting room and office was to have several panels removed to open access, presumably to act as access to the retail counter. The original doors from the waiting room to platform 2 and from the parcels office to the forecourt were to be replaced and sealed up. The parcels office was to have a new concrete floor laid and be divided into a lobby and store room by a new partition.

That this seems very similar to the 1978 improvements planned by British Rail detailed above is no coincidence as the self same drawings were used for this planning application.

Despite approval being given in the March these quite substantial alterations did not take place and the building remained intact.

1982 - Architect's office

Quickly following on from the proposed occupation by a booksellers, an application was lodged in March 1982 for the conversion to an architects office. This application specified major alterations, but approval was granted in the May.

The Ladies' cloakroom was to be opened up by the removal of the internal wall and refurbished as an office. The Waiting Room door was to be replaced with two new side hung doors - this is the one thing for which approval was not given, the original door was to be retained and maintained. The door to the platform was to be sealed and the partition between the Waiting room and Office was to have panels removed to open it up. Also missing from the drawings are the two original counters. It seems that these were to be removed to make more floor space, however retaining the panelling which divides the Office from the Waiting Room and the Parcels Office. The Parcels Office was to be divided into a lobby and staff room with the main entrance door sealed shut and the door to the platform retained as an emergency exit. The old Gents' was to be incorperated into the building by opening a doorway in the wall from the staff lobby area and bricking up the old outside entrance. Two toilet cubicles and a shared hand basin were to be installed under a new overall roof. Close examintion of the submitted plans suggest that the wooden flooring was to be taken up and replaced with a tiled solid concrete floor.

This development which would have significantly changed the character of the building did not take place.

1983 - Hobby room

December 1983 saw a proposal from the occupant of Station House to develop the ticket office as a hobby room and for storage. This gained approval in February of 1984 subject to the submission and acceptance of details of a proposed gate. This is one proposal which did come to fruition.

The plan was to remove the derelict wooden screen and defunct gentlemen's toilet, and to install a wrought iron gate across its entrance. Remove 6'6" asbestos board partition in the Station Master's Office. (It is not known when this partition was first erected but it is shown on the 1950's station plan.) The Ladies' Waiting Room appeared to be devoid of any facilities and was to be used for storage.

All the proposed changes were completed and the gate remains in use to date. Whilst the toilet and all water supplies were removed from the Gents', the original urinal stalls remain in situ, although out of commission.

The footbridge after removal

Culham footbridge sometime after removal
Unknown photographer

1990's - Replacement footbridge

Following the wholesale demolition of most of the original buildings at the station the lattice footbridge managed to survive for a quite a few years more, albeit without its roof, at least until the late 1980's/early 1990's. It was hoped that it could be saved, but was eventually declared unsafe and taken down, possibly as part of the changes brought about when the new Platform 2 was built. The cast iron pillars were however left in situ, and with short extensions they now support the replacement bridge. The old bridge was lifted intact and for some years it could be seen lying on land adjacent to platform 1. Its present whereabouts and indeed whether it survived is unknown, although it had been suggested that it was taken to the Didcot Railway Centre. This was not the case however, as they have confirmed that the footbridge at the centre came from Radley station.

1993 - New Platform 2

September saw some changes to the operation of the station as the new Platform 2 was built and the original one closed to the public. The original platform was deemed as being unsafe as the bay window of the ticket office reduced the clearance to the platform edge below minimum standards. In addition, the listed Ticket Office prevented the platform level from being raised to the required height.

2002 - Major refurbishment

In November 2002 agents for Network Rail submitted a proposal for listed building development described as being 'External and internal refurbishment to restore this Grade II* listed building back to its original condition'. This was supported by a detailed specification of work to be carried out dated 21st February 2003 and letter of 4th April. Listed building consent was given on 14th July 2003.

During refurbishment

Culham station being refurbished
Image courtesy of Sir William McAlpine
©Railway Heritage Trust

The specification detailed a comprehensive schedule of work and materials to be used. Some of the work, such as repairs to the stonework, was carried out to a high standard. Unfortunately, other work was not. For example, it has been pointed out by a conservation builder who visited once, that brickwork repairs did not use the correct specification of mortar. It is also suspected that whilst a good deal of work was completed, certain important aspects itemised in the schedule were left untouched.

The phrase 'back to its original condition' is one which can be widely interpreted. Original as in 1844 would be very different to that in which it was brought to. External (but not operational) outside lighting and wiring from the 1970's was left in situ, but other details such as the many advertising boards were not reinstated, so not as last used either. The internal and external colour scheme changed over time, at one time having green walls in the waiting room. The eventual scheme could best be described as being what one might expect an old GWR station to look like.

On the positive side, a lot of work was carried out, such as reslating the roof, which ensured the building would survive for a while longer and make it more attractive to potential tenants. The building was rewired, emergency lighting installed and a hot water boiler, sink and kitchen cupboards installed in the Ladies Cloakroom. No form of heating was provided however and work specified for the fireplace looks not to have been done, but it was left in a useable condition.

This project was largely funded by the good offices of the Railway Heritage Trust who awarded a grant of £40,000 in 2002/03 followed by a further grant in 2003/04 of £35,000. The works were completed in September 2003.

2004 - Award

The Oxford Preservation Trust presented an award for the refurbishment which started in 2003. A small cast commemorative plaque is attached to the outside wall by the main Waiting Room entrance.

2007 - Ironing service

Whilst tenants may have come and gone since 1983, no record of any changes affecting the ticket office itself can be found until early 2007 when an application was made for change of use to 'B1(c) Light Industrial'. It was intended to use the building without modification as an ironing workshop. Approval was granted in the May.

2012 - Bridges listed

Both the old station overbridge and Thame Lane bridge were given grade II listing status on 17th July. These bridges (together with the one at Appleford also listed grade II on 19th February), whilst of different design, are all as originally built when the railway was opened in 1844.

The listing describes the bridges thus: Thame Lane Bridge is an unusual form, being one of a small number of flying segmental arch road bridges designed under Brunel on early GWR lines. Although common nationally, single arch bridges are less common than the larger triple arch bridges on GWR lines. This is one of a small number that survive on the Didcot-Oxford line and of these Appleford Bridge and Culham Bridge are the standard, semi-elliptical form usually favoured by Brunel.

2014 - Entikera Limited

By May 2014 the Old Ticket Office had a new tenant in Entikera Limited. It was obvious that there had been a number of previous occupants who had used the building for a variety of uses from being a workshop, offices and simply for storage. The building was very damp and in need of a really good clean and airing. The floor was covered with hardboard sheeting which had deteriorated badly and gone rotten in several places. With the permission of Network Rail this was removed to reveal the original wooden planked floor and stone hearths. It also revealed a large area where the floor in the Parcels Office had rotted through and been replaced during the 2002 refurbishment. Gaps between the floorboards in the main office were filled with aluminium swarf and there were many blobs of solder on the floor and counter tops, all revealing the variety of work that had taken place there over the years. A good proportion of the drawer knobs were missing and modern latches had been put on cupboard doors. These were left as was, but the missing drawer knobs were replaced with new ones of the same shape. A new drawer was made to replace what may have been the cash drawer which was also missing.

The chimney is regularly swept professionally and a fire is lit each day in cold weather, the sight and smell of smoke drifting down the platform adding to the nostalgic atmosphere. The old gents' usefully serving as a fuel store.

Whilst there is evidence of damage done by previous tenants, great care has been taken to use existing screw holes when putting up blinds etc. The odd nail left in walls here and there being used to hang pictures - no new ones being allowed.

Whilst damp is a challenge with repairs to gutters and downspouts needed and ongoing maintenance being required, the building is now heated and ventilated so further deterioration should at least be slowed down. In 2016 a senior property manager with Network Rail visited. He had decided to take time out of the office and view some of the properties in their portfolio. Not realising the ticket office was occupied he was pleasantly surprised by what he found. Terms of the lease with Network Rail do not allow any work to be done on the building, partly because it is listed and partly as it is very close to a live (and busy) railway line. They therefore assume any such burden but as the visitor sadly commented 'there is no budget for such works'. He did however promise that if money were to be found the building would figure strongly in any bid for funds. Hope springs eternal, and maybe something can be found before the 175th anniversary in 2019

2015 - Bridge improvements

In preparation for the electrification of the line from Didcot, approval was granted during September for bridge modifications to ensure safety clearances be maintained. Both the footbridge and the 'new' road bridge have had parapet extensions and warning signs installed during 2016. Perhaps surprisingly no work has so far been carried out on the old road bridge, possibly the parapets are high enough already. More details on changes relating to the electrification project can be seen on the 'Electrification' page under the ABOUT menu tab.

Developments and alterations to Railway Property do not actually require planning permission from the Local Planning Authority so long as they fall within certain specific criteria. These changes to the bridges, and indeed the platform extensions below are covered by the the Oxford Railway Act 1843.

Section CCXXXVI of the 1843 Act states: And be it enacted, That subject to the Provisions and Restrictions contained in this Act, it shall be lawful for the Company, for the Purpose of constructing the Railway, to execute any of the following Works; (that is to say) They may make or construct in, upon, across, under or over any lands […] within the Lands described in the said Plans or mentioned in the Said Books of Reference or any Correction thereof, such […]bridges […] as they think proper; […] They may from Time to Time alter, repair, or discontinue the before-mentioned Works, or any of them, and substitute others in their Stead; And They may do all other Acts necessary for making, maintaining, altering, repairing and using the Railway.

This bestows upon the railway company and its successors the power to make any developments necessary for the running and management of the railway, including alteration to bridges.

2016 - Platform extension plans

Late December 2015 saw the submission by Network Rail for the following works to be carried out at Culham station.
- Extend northern end of both platforms 1 and 2 by 72m and 93m respectively.
- Carryout ancillary platform work e.g. installation of lighting columns, CCTV, signage, fencing etc.
- Provide ramp and access/emergency walkway route to rear of both platforms.
- Extend width of existing platform 1, carryout re-gauging work to lift height of platform and re-surface.
- Install 400mm wide tactile paving to existing platform 2.

Approval was given to proceed on 15th February 2016, but work remains to be started.

These works will not materially affect the Old Ticket Office or the original Platform 2 upon which it sits. Whilst Platform 1 does, in part, comprise of the original platform it is not listed or protected from modification.

Some members of the 'Orange Army'

2016/17 - Signalling upgrade scheme

The entire line between Didcot and Oxford was closed between 30th July and 15th August in 2016 to facilitate the flood alleviation works at Hinksey. These included raising the track by 40cm, installing new culverts and bridges and the opportunity was taken to amend track layout at the same time. While all this was going on new cables were laid along the length of the line ready for the signalling upgrade project. This did not affect the station at Culham as the cabling was fed under the platforms in existing ducts. It was busy though, with many contractors and vehicles going up and down the line.

Works associated with this project continued on and off during the latter part of 2016 and early 2017. New control cabinets were installed within sight of the station and during April 2017 armies of orange clad Network Rail and Seimens staff started to connect them up. Often quite a number of contractors trooped past the Old Ticket Office window carrying tools and materials to the various work sites along the line. Most were working a bit too far away to photograph, but on some days there were so many that they seemed to be swarming all over the track in the distance. Lookouts were posted nearer the station, and as they passed trains would hoot acknowledgement that they had been seen.

Sometimes one or two would pop into the building to have a look round. Chatting to one group from South Wales revealed that they also volunteered to help out with the signalling on the Gwili Railway in Carmarthenshire - they must enjoy what they do!

All the colour light signals being converted to use modern LED lights, will eventually fall out of regular use when the new Digital Railway signalling system comes into operation. This system (moving block with in cab signalling as opposed to fixed block lineside signals) will increase the capacity of the line.

July 2017 - Signalling changes

The line was closed again between 22nd and 30th July 2017 to facilitate further works nearer Oxford, mainly track upgrades and changes to pointwork between Oxford station and Kennington junction. The line towards Banbury was also closed for works north of Oxford station, but for a shorter duration. The latter did not affect Chiltern Rail services between Oxford and Marylebone which operated with only minor timetable changes. Whilst the Didcot to Oxford line was closed to passenger traffic, it remained in use for the odd works train and also for the car transport trains to and from the BMW Cowley works which continued to pass through Culham each day. The latter were unaffected by the line closure as they go via Kennington junction which is well south of the work site.

New signal posts near Culham station New signal posts near Culham station

The opportunity was used to do some work close to Culham station with a number of lengths of rail being replaced. The most obvious change was the installation of new signalling just south of the station, this being one of a number newly installed along the line. The original Up (towards Didcot) colour light signal was always too far round the curve for drivers to see when leaving Culham and so a 'Driver's reminder appliance' sign had been attached to the fence at the end of Platform 2. A replacement signal was installed (but not commissioned) closer to, and so visible from, the platform. Opposite this on the Down side a new substantial gantry post was erected but with nothing attached to it. By mid September this gantry had sprouted a girder and large signal enclosure which was positioned over the Down line. Looking at it makes one question whether it will foul the overhead cabling when, and if, the line gets electrified.

Rail going mobile crane on Culham station forecourt Hand propelled trolleys being loaded with materials by Platform 1

This impressive piece of kit appeared outside the ticket office the week before the line was closed. We wondered what it was going to be used for, but it soon became apparent when it passed by on the Up line on the Monday morning propelling a trolley carrying a couple of large metal castings. It can be seen in the above photograph together with the new signal and lattice gantry opposite being worked on. We had a grandstand view whenever materials were being loaded onto trolleys by Platform 1 ready to be pushed down the line to the work site.

August 2017 - New lighting

During the middle of August all the platform lights were converted to high output LEDs, each controlled by its own light sensor. Chatting to the contractors, they explained that this was being carried out in readiness for the new Hitachi trains which would shortly start operating on the line. During the summer an unmarked white set had been used for gauging trials along the line from Paddington. Why do these new trains need LED lighting on the platform we asked. The answer was that the doors won't open if lighting levels are not sufficient - all to do with health and safety apparently. That's all well and good until there is a power cut and nobody can get on or off. Some doubts as to the veracity of this statement have been raised as a couple of months later all the lights on the station approach road were also upgraded.

Mid September saw the installation of remote control and monitoring equipment for these new platform lights. Lighting on all stations was gradually being upgraded to this new standard apparently.

August 2017 - New power supply

August saw yet more activity at the station when a trench was dug all the way from the Network Rail site to the pole mounted transformer by the overbridge. This, we were told, was to provide the power supply for signalling control equipment to be housed in a new unit being built beyond the end of Platform 2. There was a bit of anxiety as there were a number of cars parked where the trench was to be dug. No prior notice had been given so it was a bit of a surprise to everyone.
During September and October, following the construction of the new power cabinet and control equipment housing, a new fence and gate to the Network Rail site was installed. Its positioning does not appear to make any allowances for the proposed platform 2 extensions and access ways, suggesting that this may now not take place - or is it simply another case of poor planning.

Early 2018 - Replacement of life expired rails

During the first few months of 2018 Network Rail were busy replacing life expired rail through the station and along other parts of the line between Didcot and Oxford. This took place mainly at night or at weekends and so did not affected train services through Culham. The only real evidence of the work being the extra lengths of rail alongside the track ready to be installed and the old rails waiting to be taken away.

June 2018 - New sleepers

Following on from the rail renewal, the Orange Army again descended on the station with large teams working to replace old concrete sleepers at various places along the line. Here we can see where the old and new rails have been joined beside platform 1, together with a comparison between the old and new sleepers with their different fixings.

July 2018 - Line closure

The line from Didcot to Oxford was closed between Saturday 7th July and Sunday 22nd July (with limited non stopping services between Oxford and Reading/Paddington for the five days from the 16th to 20th) for what now seems to have become an annual blockade for major works to be carried out. Work to install new points (or switches) and track just north of Oxford station meant that the line was effectively closed as far as Banbury with Oxford station itself closed to all trains including Chiltern Rail who ran in and out of Oxford Parkway.

Nothing much went on at Culham itself, but we did notice that the new signals installed during the 2017 blockade were brought into operation. The new signalling along the line is set up for bi-directional working in an effort to increase capacity and flexibility apparently. This explains the signal gantry over the Down line with its display towards the Up direction. Associated with this, new stop marker boards have appeared at the 'wrong' end of the platforms, clearly ready for trains operating in reverse direction.

During the line closure Radley, the next station down towards Oxford, benefited from a start being made on its EMU platform extensions. It seems that Appleford and Culham will have to wait a while longer until their planned platform extensions are built.

September 2018 to January 2019 - Replacement rails

Notice has been given to all lineside neighbours (as Network Rail puts it) that extensive work is to be carried out, mostly during the night time, to 'replace sections of track that have reached the end of their designed life'.