Culham in the news
Besides the press coverage of the comings and goings from the nearby Nuneham House, various events have taken place at or near Culham station which have warranted mention in the Press. Here are a few snippets of articles which we have found, some of which are sadly distressing in nature.
Opening of the Oxford Railway
Saturday 15th June 1844, The Standard of London
A long news article covered the opening of the Didcot to Oxford branch, the highlights of which are included here. It is reported that the journey between Oxford and London which could take up to eight hours by coach was now timetabled as being two hours and twenty minutes by train. The report first covers the official inspection of the line.
'On Monday the government inspector, General Pasley, Mr. Saunders, Mr. Brunel, and some of the directors of the Great Western, with a party of ladies made the first trial run of the new line. The distance from Paddington to Didcot, 53½ miles, was done in the short space of one hour and eight minutes,Mr. Brunel directing the engine. From Didcot to Oxford they travelled more slowly to give the inspector an opportunity of making the necessary survey. On arriving at the Appleford Bridge the centres had not been struck, and caused the steps of the carriages which hit against them to be twisted nearly off... ...The train, however, arrived safely at Oxford about half-past two. Carriages were in waiting, and conveyed the party to the Angel Hotel, where a champagne lunch had been provided.'
The champagne lunch may have swung it as, despite the potentially disastrous incident on Appleford Bridge, the line was passed for public use by the inspector. It is presumed that the bridge in question was that over the Thames which, like the Nuneham Bridge, was initially of timber construction. Together with other hints in the article, it suggests that there was still work to be completed at various places on the line.
The first public train left Oxford at ten minutes to eight on the following Wednesday morning, taking 26 minutes to reach Didcot. As well as labouring the superiority of the broad gauge over that of 'the narrow one used in the north of England', the article continues with a description of the line.
'The rail line between Oxford and the Abingdon-road station, a distance of seven miles, commands a view of country one of the most beautiful that can be imagined. Passing Hinksey, it crosses the road to Abingdon about 1¼ mile from Oxford, under a brick bridge; it passes on a short distance from the Isis, through Kennington, by Sandford, to Nuneham, the seat of the Archbishop of York, where it crosses the water, and shortly arrives at the Abingdon station, a pretty building of brick and stone, situated about three miles from Abingdon. Another mile and we are at Appleford station, a temporary shed. After passing under another brick bridge, then two mile of uninteresting country, and we are at Didcot... ...The temporary wooden station, erected or being erected, is, we imagine, from its scantiness, intended to last only a few days.'
Didcot, which at the time was a small village close to the new junction and station, does not receive very favourable coverage at all. Oxford station is briefly mentioned, almost as an afterthought, at the end of the article. 'We had almost forgotten to mention that the station at Oxford is entirely a wooden one. It is situated in the first field on the right hand side of the road after passing over Folly bridge, and commands a good view of Oxford.'
It is interesting to note that, besides the road over-bridges, Abingdon-road station was the only brick and stone structure on the line. All other buildings (including the two river bridges) being made from wood with some appearing to be very temporary in nature. This may indicate a certain outside influence when it came to the specification of what became Culham station - read more of this in the page describing the links with Nuneham House.
A certain artistic license was often used when naming stations. Abingdon-road (Culham), Wantage-road (Grove) and Oxford-road (Steventon) all indicate the nearest town which they served when first opened, changing name once that town gained its own rail connection. Appleford station was however within a short walk from the old village, but passenger numbers must have been disappointing as it closed in the February of 1849. It was, as was the whole line, originally planned and started by the Oxford Railway which was incorporated on 11th April 1843. Finance was provided by the GWR which absorbed the company by amalgamation enacted by the Great Western Railway Act of 10th May 1844.
There were reported to be nine trains each way per day between London and Oxford with fares of, First Class 15s, Second Class 10s, and Third Class 6s. It is not stated whether these were single or return fares. The latter fare was only available on the luggage train however, this ran in addition to the other nine which were restricted to First and Second Class. The luggage train left London at 4:30 a.m. not arriving in Oxford until 10:30, a full six hours later. It is not reported when the luggage train left Oxford but it would probably be at the same unhelful timings - a very early example of shaping passenger demand.
Fatality at Culham
Friday December 5th 1845, The Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser
This newspaper reports on a very early fatality at Culham, or Abingdon Road as it was then called. Crossing between platforms at that time would have been by means of a foot crossing, with the obvious dangers. The police officer referred to would have been in charge of all aspects of the safe operation of the railway including the control of trains, signal boxes (and signalmen) were not introduced until 1874.
'FATAL ACCIDENT ON THE GREAT WESTERN RAILROAD. - On Monday week a fatal accident occured on the Great Western Railroad, at the Abingdon road station, under the following circumstances:- A young woman, named Fanny Gosling, of Oxford, started by the mail-train at half past ten o'clock, to pay a visit to her mother at Clifton, which is a short distance from Abingdon road station. On arriving at the latter place, instead of proceeding at once to Clifton, she attempted to cross the line for the purpose, it is supposed, of seeing some of her old aquaintances, who lived at the other side of the railroad, at the tavern. While she was standing on the platform, the mail-train passed her; and, no doubt, thinking that the line was clear, she stepped on it, but the moment she had put her foot on the second line of the rail, the fast down train, which she could not have seen previously, came in contact with her, she was knocked down by it and killed instantaneously; her feet were severed from her ankles, and her body otherwise much mutilated. Several persons witnessed the accident, and endeavoured, by calling out, to make her aware of the great danger she was in, but to no purpose, she seemed quite paralysed. The police officer on duty, at a great risk of his life, made an attempt to get hold of her; but before he could do this, the train had knocked her down. The unfortunate occurence was purely accidental.'
Saturday 4th June 1853, Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette,
This paper reports on the special trains operating on the 8th June.
'The opening of the Training School for Parochial Schoolmasters at Culham will take place at 3.45 p.m. The Bishop of the Diocese and a large body of clergy will take part in the proceedings, and Lord Derby and suite, as well as the Vice-Chancellor will be present. The College is near to the Abingdon Road Station on the Great Western Railway. A special train will leave the Station at Oxford at 3 p.m., and a special return train to Oxford will leave the Abingdon Road Station at 5.30 p.m. The 12.40 down train from Paddington will continue out from Didcot to the Abingdon Road Station that day, arriving at the Station at 3 p.m., and the train that leaves Paddington at 2 p.m. will also stop on this occasion at Abingdon Road Station about 3.40 p.m.'
Other papers state that the College is about half an hour's walk from the station. This is a walk that all students were expected to undertake carrying whatever luggage they had brought with them.
Aftermath of a Prize Fight
Wednesday 19th July 1856, The Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette
The paper carries a report that Benjamin Terry and Edward Price, 'two persons well known in the Birmingham area as patrons of the ring' and their supporters first assembled at Didcot, but after forming the ring and before preliminaries were completed the Berkshire Constabulary put the combatants to flight. They proceeded to the border of the County of Berkshire and crossed the River Thames at Clifton Hampden in Oxfordshire, where in a meadow near to the towpath the ring was again formed. The Rev Gibbs and two Parish Constables tried to intervene but had to send to Abingdon for reinforcements. In the meantime the fight took place and was over before they arrived. It appears that only a few rounds were fought with Terry becoming exhausted and Price being declared the winner. A crowd estimated to be 200-300 strong descended on Culham station and caught the train back to Birmingham.
Railway labourer found drowned
Tuesday 24th October 1856, Jackson's Oxford Journal
This paper reports on the inquest which took place the previous Monday into the death of Henry Collett who was found drowned in 'the River Isis' under the Nuneham bridge earlier that same day. He was a labourer working on the timber railway bridge at Nuneham but went missing after leaving work one evening, last being seen heading towards home in Appleford. Despite having been in the water for several days the recovered body was taken to the Railway Hotel where the inquest was then held. It would seem that there was a reasonable workforce at the bridge as the report mentions witnesses who were a time-keeper, a watchman, another labourer and a carpenter.
One interesting historical note is that one witness said that Henry Collett had not taken his great coat with him but '... he had a new slop on.' A slop probably refers to an outer coat or jacket, but at that time there was a widespread practice of recycling or upcycling second hand clothing which were also called slops.
Saturday 30th July 1859, Oxford University and City Herald
'Some days ago at Abingdon about two acres and a half of standing barley,near the Culham station, was discovered to be on fire, and was consumed in short space of time. It is supposed to have ignited from some sparks from the engine of a train on the Great Western Railway, which had passed only two or three minutes before the flames were discovered. The barley was the property of G. Q Harcourt, Esq., M.P., of Nuneham Park.'
Saturday 12 July 1862, Oxford University and City Herald
'SUTTON COURTNEY. - Some few days since a lad, belonging to this village, left a box of clothes, &c., at the Culham station, in charge of the officials, to be taken care of till called for. Three days afterwards, the lad, who was his way from one situation to another, sent for his box, but receiving it found that the cord which had been round it was cut, the lock forced off, and the whole of the contents abstracted. The Railway authorities have not been enabled to discover the thief; but a prayer book, with the boy's name written therein, and taken from coat pocket, has been picked up between Nuneham bridge and Culham station.'
Incapacitated train crew
Saturday 5th December 1863, Bucks Herald
'At the Oxford City Court on Tuesday, before Mr. J. R. Carr and full bench of magistrates, Philip Tuttey, an engine-driver, and Elijah Weatley, fireman in the employ of the Great Western Railway Company, were brought up in custody, charged, on the information of Mr. Wright, the superintendent of the locomotive department between Oxford and Reading, with being drunk while on duty. The evidence showed that early yesterday morning the defendants were in charge of an empty luggage train proceeding from Paddington to Oxford. When they arrived at the Culham station they were detained four hours, in conseqence of a pointsman having neglected his duty and caused two trucks to be thrown off the line. The defendants partook somewhat freely of ale and rum in the interim, and on their arrival at Oxford, at about half-past 5 a.m., Weatley was found lying drunk on the foot-plate of the engine. Tuttey was too much intoxicated to render it prudent for him to be allowed to take further charge of the the train. Tuttey had been in the company's service 15 years, and until this happened his conduct had been irreproachable. Weatley had only acted as a fireman for a fortnight. Both defendants alleged that during the past week they had been so hardly worked as to be only able to obtain 16 hours' repose, which so exhausted them that the drink they had taken produced the effect above alluded to. The defendants were fined 15s., including costs, with the alternative of 14 days imprisonment.'
Saturday 2nd November 1867, Oxford University and City Herald
'ROBBERY AT THE GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY. - Thomas Bailey a carrier, of Warborough, was brought up on remand charged with stealing three sacks from the Culham station of the Great Western Railway.' The accused contended that he had borrowed the sacks with permission and had already made arrangements to have them returned when arrested. He was discharged.
This report is interesting as it refers to a 'police constable on the Great Western Railway' who was going on duty at the station. At that time railway police were responsible for all aspects of safety and operation on the railways. This would have included duties that we would now associate with the railway Police, but also acting as local signal operators directing the safe passage of rail traffic. They may also have been assigned a beat along a stretch of line which they would patrol checking all aspects of safety. With the introduction of signal boxes in the 1870's the roles were split with signalmen becoming responsible for operation aspects of the railway. They were still often given the nickname of 'Bobbies'.
Assault on the station
Saturday 21st December 1867, Oxford University and City Herald
'Charles Wyatt, of Culham, was charged with stealing six Swedish turnips, the property of the Rev. W.V.Harcourt, on the 16th of November. The case was dismissed as the magistrates did not think that the turnips were taken with any felonious intent. There was a second charge against Wyatt for assaulting John Turner (a witness for the prosecution in the above case), at the Culham Station, on the 7th. It appeared that while on the platform on the day in question, Wyatt went up to Turner, and challenged to fight him. Turner stood with his hands in pockets, and said he would not fight. Defendant pulled Turners hands out of his pockets, to make him fight, but he would not. No blows were struck. Fined 10s. and 14s. 6d. costs, or 14 days’ hard labour.'
Saturday 15th August 1868, Oxford Times
'ST PAUL'S SCHOOL. - On Saturday last Mr. Moss took the boys of his upper class, and a number of pupils who have left school, on a trip by rail to Clifton. After partaking of refreshments at the old Ferry House, they started on a ramble through Long Wittenham to Wittenham Clump, and after enjoying the extensive views from the top of that famous hill, returned to Clifton Ferry with hearty appetites to partake of the substantial tea there provided for them, after which a game of cricket was played between the boys at school and those who have left, the former winning in gallant style. Towards evening the whole fell in and marched, preceded by their excellent drum and fife band, through Long Wittenham and Appleford, and back across the fields to Culham Station, where they arrived in time to catch the last down train. On arriving at Oxford ranks were again formed, and the band played lively airs from the station to St. Paul’s Church, where the boys broke off, heartily pleased with their day's enjoyment.'
This excursion appears to have become a regular feature of the school year as such a trip from Oxord to Culham and back by train is reported to have also taken place in 1869 and 1870.
Saturday 15th August 1868, Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette
The paper reports on an inquest held at the Railway Hotel (it seems to have been used regularly for such purposes) into the accidental shooting of a young surgeon, Mr. John Robert Dunn who was assistant to Mr. Byas, surgeon, of Dorchester. It would seem that he was about to leave on summer holiday and whilst waiting for his train he was asked to shoot a cat by the landlord of the hotel. On returning the station staff asked him how he had done it and he gave the gun, a breech loading pistol, first to Henry Blythe the Station Master and then to the porter, William Lynes. It went off in the porter's hand fatally wounding the surgeon who died some hours later. It was reported that several times Dunn said there was no blame to be attached to Lynes. The Jury returned a verdict of Accidental death.
At that time the ticket office would possibly have been open plan with the counters not yet having partitions between the office and the public spaces. After the shooting the porter laid the pistol on the counter about which Mr Byas said 'I have seen the counter in the office, where there is the mark of the ball having struck it before reaching the deceased.'
Saturday 18th September 1869, Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette
This edition carries a report on an accident on the Monday involving Richard Belcher, schoolmaster of Clifton Hampden, who was struck by a train whilst crossing the line on the path from Nuneham Wood. He sustained serious injuries and was found by a ganger, Thomas Shepherd, who was working at Abingdon Junction. Two other men arrived to assist and he was taken to Culham station by trolley and thence to Oxford Infirmary. The line at that point is curved and it is thought that an express and a coal train passed at the same time with the victim being struck by the coal train which he had not seen.
Whilst the report goes on to say that his recovery was progressing favourably the edition of the 25th carried news of an inqust held into his death being held at the Infirmary. The verdict was Accidental death.
Saturday 6th August 1870, Reading Mercury
'MELANCHOLY DEATH - On Sunday last Mr. Franklin, college servant at Jesus College, died suddenly under very melancholy circumstances. He had taken his wife and children into the country, and while waiting at Culham Station for the train to Oxford he left his family on the platform and proceeded to the neighbouring Hotel to obtain some biscuits for the children. On entering the building he suddenly fell forward and died instantly.'
Regauging of Abingdon branch
Saturday 30th November 1872, Reading Mercury
'ABINGDON RAILWAY. - On Tuesday last, this branch line was entirely closed for the purpose of laying the narrow gauge, which will be a boon to, and much appreciated by, the trades-people of the town. Passengers were conveyed to and from Culham Station by omnibus, which ran at intervals during the day, thus reminding travellers of the old coaching days, and the time when Abingdon could not boast of a railway.'
So you see, rail replacement buses are nothing new!
Alleged child murder
Saturday 5th April 1873, Oxford Journal
'Jane Haines was brought up from gaol, charged, on the Coroner's instigation, with the wilful murder of her illegitimate child, at Culham, on the 4th of March.' Previous editions had covered the inquest leading to the charge. However after hearing the evidence, the Magistrates committed the prisoner for trial at the next assizes upon the charge of concealmnent of birth.'
The report continues - 'It will be recollected that the prisoner was a domestic servant in the establishment of the Rev. H. Rice, Rector of Sutton Courtney, and it having been discovered that she was in the family-way, she was desired to leave her situation. Accordingly, she left the Rectory House early in the morning of the 4th of March, with the intention of going to her home at Westcott, near Wantage. The train she intended to travel by started at half-past seven o'clock from Culham Station, but from some cause or other she arrived too late, and had to wait for the next train. She proceeded to the ladies' waiting room; and shortly afterwards, suspicion having been aroused, she was discovered in the closet, under circumstances which led the Station Master (Mr. Bradshaw) to send for the assistance of a woman named Mrs. Rogers, who lived near at hand. On her arrival she ascertained that the prisoner had given birth to a child, which she had deposited in her carpet bag.' Evidence presented suggested that she had in fact cut the child's throat with a pair of scissors, hence the original charge of murder.
The conclusion to this sad episode came at the Oxford Assizes on 11th July when no evidence was offered upon the charge of murder. It was put forward that she had not sought to permanently conceal the birth as she had placed the child's body in an open bag as a convenience. She was aquitted.
Saturday 15th May 1875, Oxford Journal
'Thos. Turner, bricklayer, and Frederick Allen, carpenter, both of Oxford, were charged on remand with stealing, on the 16th of January, a portmanteau, the property of Mr. E. G. Aniphlett, of Brasenose College.'
It would appear that the two defendants relabled a portmanteau whilst on Didcot station. It was originally consigned From Paddington to Oxford, but had been relabled for delivery to Culham station where it was collected by them. It was later found by a shepherd under a hedge. He carried it to Culham station and gave it to a porter who took it to the Station Master.
In evidence, the owner confirmed - 'It was addressed, and labelled From Paddington to Oxford. On reaching Oxford he found that his portmanteau had not arrived there. He saw it again on the following Monday at the Great Western Raltway Station. It was then empty, with the exception of a few books. From the appearance of it, he could see that the lock had been forced, and the label had been changed to From Didcot to Culham. He had not recovered any of the contents up to that time. The pormanteau produced was his property. In addition to his clothes there were a box of cigars and a pair of spurs in the portmantean when he despatched it from Paddington.'
The case was committed for trial at the Borough Sessions with Allen being allowed bail, but Turner being refused in consequence of a previous conviction.
Thursday 21st October 1875, Banbury Guardian
'LANDSLIP ON THE GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY. - Owing to the recent heavy rains, a landslip occurred on the Great Western Railway, between Culham and Radley on Thursday. Four or five waggons of a goods train were thrown off the line, and the tracks were torn up for about a mile. A single line only could be opened, and the traffic was considerably interrupted during the day.'
Line blocked by deep snow drifts
Saturday 22nd January 1881, Oxford Times
This issue carried a report on the chaos brought about by the heavy snow around the country. It records that 'The line was found to be apparently blocked near Culham, on Tuesday evening. The train which started from London at quarter-past two that afternoon, was unable to get through. In this train several members of the family of the Dean of Christ Church were travelling, and as it was impossible to reach them from Oxford, there was considerable uneasiness as to their condition. We understand that news reached Nuneham House that trains were blocked between Radley and Culham, and Mr. K.W.Harcourt, M.P., would have kindly thrown his house open the belated passengers. It need scarcely be said that the welcome offer was unable to be reached. One person, we hear, endeavoured to walk home, but failed in the attempt. Curiously enough, some time elapsed before ths state the line at this point reached Oxford, for three trains were sent out one after the other on Tuesday afternoon all of which met with the same fate. The first to be embedded was the 4.50 p.m. up express which got within yards of Culham station.'
Other papers report that some passengers were trapped all night near Radley and that several hundred men were engaged in clearing the way.
More chaos and blocked lines resulted from a similar great blizzard in 1888 with the Thames valley suffering an arctic 'white out'. Trains were embedded in deep snow drifts both on the main line near Didcot and on the line to Oxford around Culham and Radley.
Killed on crossing
Sunday 21st October 1883, Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper
'KIILLED BY AN EXPRESS TRAIN. - Whilst a labouring man was crossing the Great Western Railway at Culham station, near Abingdon yesterday afternoon, he was knocked down by an express train and killed instantaneously.'
Fall from train
Saturday 14th August 1886, Oxford Journal
'FATALITY THROUGH FALLING FROM A TRAIN ON THE GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY. - A deplorable occurrence happened on the Great Western Railway on Monday evening. Miss Florence Nutting, of Essendene, Leamington, a lady between 26 and 27 years of age, who has recently returned from a visit to her brother in Australia, left home on Monday morning with a friend named Miss Mitchell for the purpose of spending a few hours with her sister, who resides at Kensington, In the evening they booked from Paddington for Leamington by the 4.46 fast train, travelling in a first-class compartment. The circumstances, so far as we have been able to glean, are that shortly before the train reached Culham Station Nutting asked her friend to give her a book from the rack, and it is stated that Miss Nutting got up to take it from her, and leaned against the door of the carriage, which flew open, and she fell into the six-foot way. A gentleman who was looking out of the window two compartments away saw the lady fall, and by means of the cord commnunicated with the guard, and the train was stopped. Before this, however, could be done, the train had gone a considerable distance towards Oxford. The guard and the officials at Culham immediately proceeded to the spot where the lady had fallen, and she was lifted to the embankment, and her injuries attended to as well as was possible. As soon as the train reached Oxford, shortly after six o'clock, the accident was reported to the Station Master (Mr. Davis), who ordered an engine and carriage to be sent to bring the sufferer to Oxford. This was done, and Miss Nutting was conveyed to the Radcliffe Infirmary. It was found that she had sustained very severe injuries to her head and body, besides a broken ankle, and from the first very faint hopes were entertained of her recovery. Her friends were telegraphed for, and speedily came to Oxford. In spite of the most skilful treatment Miss Nutting never recovered consciousness, and succumbed to the injuries at twenty minutes to ten on Wednesday night.'
Saturday 5th March 1887, Oxford Times
'THE CULHAM STATION AFFILIATION CASE. - William Kempson was again summoned to show cause why he should not contribute towards the support of the illegitimate child of a single woman named Alice Wingfield, living at Berrick. Complainant said; I am a single woman, and on the 4th of November last was delivered of female child. William Kempson is the the father. I have never had intimacy with any other man.' Several winesses testified to seeing them together, with one stating - 'I saw them together in improper positions on the bridge one starlit night, between the latter end of February and the middle of March last.'
The Magistrates made an order for the defendant to pay 1s.6d per week. It is believed that young Mr. Kempston was a porter at Culham station at the time.
Thursday 21st June 1888, London Globe
It was reported that 'The Queen, Prince and Princess Henry of Battenberg, Princesses Victoria and Louise of Schleswig-Holstein. and the Royal children, arrived at Windsor shortly after nine o’clock this morning, the journey having been slightly delayed by a goods train which had gone off the line at Culham.'
This collision actually took place near the level crossing at Appleford as the Aberdeen Journal of Saturday the 23rd reported, 'On Thursday a luggage train broke away on the Great Western Railway at Appleford crossing near Oxford, and came into collision with another luggage train, considerable damage being done to rolling stock and both lines being blocked. Breakdown gangs were immediately sent to the scene of the accident, but some time elapsed before traffic could be resumed.'
The delay to this special train may have been made slightly more embarrasing as the report goes on to say 'Her Majesty was accompanied by Mr. Neele, traffic manager of the North Western Railway; Mr. Burlinson, assistant-superintendent and Mr. Spagnoletti, of the Great Western line.'
Saturday 7th September 1889, Jackson's Oxford Journal
A very long report appeared in this paper covering '... an inquiry at the Radcliffe Infirmary into the cicumstances attending a fatality which occured on the Great Western Railway on the previous Wednesday afternoon ...' Alfred Goddard, a 12 year old boy returning to London after a short stay in Oxford, fell from the 3.55 express from Oxford after passing Culham station, not far from where a similar accident occurred three years previously. He was found and taken by goods train to Oxford but later died from his injuries.
The report describes the use of the communication cord to alert the guard and driver. The communication cord would have literally been a cord running along the outside of the carriages through guides and it could only be reached through an open window. The cord would have been attached to a bell in the locomotive and also at the back for the guard. Whilst crude it was better than nothing, early trains had no means of communication between guard and driver at all. It is also interesting to note that a passenger '... pulled the cord two or three times and saw the guard, just as the train was stopping, on the step of a carriage and told him what had happened.' One wonders what the guard was doing there!
The article also included a sad postscript to the story. The boy's parents had asked to be excused from attending the inquiry as '... they were in poor circumstances, and wished to attend their son's funeral, and they did not want to lose two days' earnings.'
Homecoming of son
Saturday 28th September 1889, Oxford Journal
'FESTIVITIES AT BURCOT HOUSE. - Burcot House, the seat of Mr. J. Spencer Balfour M.P., was the scene of pleasureable excitement on Thursday and Friday last, the occasion being the celebration of the coming of age and welcome home of Mr. Balfour's son. On Thursday evening he arrived at Culham Station, after a seven months' tour round the world. A triumphal arch had been erected near the station gate, the young man and his father being met at the station and driven to Burcot; upon arriving thereat the horses were taken off and the carriage drawn by the parishioners, Mr. Balfour being carried into the hall on the shoulders of his friends. Later in the evening the Rev. N. C. S. Poyntz (Vicar) on behalf of the villagers presented Mr. Balfour with a silver cigarette case, suitably inscribed, and a hunting flask, in commemoration of the event. On Friday the village of Burcot was 'en fete', the day being regarded as a half-holiday. Dinner and tea were provided in a large marquee in Mr. Balfour's grounds, and sports and amusements entered into. There was also a grand display of fireworks, and a concert in the Institute, The village was gaily decorated.'
Whilst not directly being linked to Culham station, the Balfour story makes fascinating reading. Briefly, in 1886 Jabez Spencer Balfour bought Burcot House which he altered and enlarged. He then went on to buy up much of the village and surrounding farms, both building and demolishing various properties including the old wharf which at one time marked the nearest place to Oxford which was navigable by commercial craft. After several tries at becoming an M.P. and after a stint representing Tamworth he was elected to represent Burnley in 1889. Burcot House hosted lavish parties and attracted many high ranking visitors. In the meantime, he had been building a property and business empire with (it seems) the takings from a Building Society he had set up. Inevitably the whole thing came crashing down in 1892 amid great scandal and he absconded to Argentina whilst still a sitting Member of Parliament. It is estimated that the total company liabilities would be equivalent to almost half a billion pounds today. Questions were asked in the House and he was eventually brought to trial in 1895 after a somewhat dubious move by Scotland Yard, serving eleven of a fourteen year prison sentence. J.S.Balfour died in 1916 and was survived by his wife and their son James and his family. After the trial Burcot House and all other assets had been sold, it was demolished in 1956.
Flooded line near Kennington
Postcard published in about 1904, unknown publisher
courtesy of Oxford History
In the winter of 1894 the country suffered major floods which were naturally covered by many newspapers. Whilst not directly involving Culham, these two reports cover the major floods which severed the main line just South of Oxford.
Thursday 22nd November 1894, North Devon Journal
This report reads 'During Thursday night the flood waters continued to rise, and the breach which had been made on the Great Western Railway, near Kennington, was further enlarged. It was manifest that the line was in a dangerous state, for upwards of mile. There therefore was no alternative but to await abatement of the flood before anything of a permanent character can be carried out. Arrangements were made for despatching passengers, mails, parcels &c,by road to Radley, Culham, and Littlemore, and vice versa. The London and North Western Company have kindly undertaken to allow the principal express trains to London to proceed on their line. In the outskirts of the city, and even in some portions of the city proper, many hundreds of houses were flooded, and the inmates compelled to live in the bedrooms. The tradesmen delivered goods to them from punts and vehicles, the various articles being drawn to the upper windows by means of basket.'
Saturday 24 November 1894, Reading Mercury
'The flood water at Oxford having subsided several inches on Saturday, it was found possible on Sunday morning to repair the damage caused to over a mile and a quarter of the permanent way of the Great Western Railway, and a large staff of workmen began operations as soon as the water was clear of the line, and the railway was practically restored by noon. During the morning, as on Friday and Saturday, the train service was supplemented by the use of omnibuses and brakes, in which the passengers and their luggage was conveyed a distance of 6 or 8 miles to and from Culham and Littlemore.' At that time there was a direct rail link between Oxford and Princes Risborough via Littlemore, Wheatley and Thame which afforded an alternative route to London until its closure in 1963.
The floods of 1894 were not the first to affect the line at this point. The line was closed due to flooding in November 1875 and initially in November of 1852 when an interesting solution was devised. Trains were propelled to the waters edge, detached from their engine and hauled through the flood water by horses. They were then attached to a waiting engine at the other side to continue their journey.
Following the floods of 1894 openings were made to give flood water a passage under the railway and the trackbed was raised by some 14 inches - as much as the Abingdon Road bridge would allow.
Severe flooding was also reported in 1903 - 'The floods, following continued rain, continue to present a serious problem in many parts of the country. South of Oxford, the peninsular between Radley and Culham is a swamp... ...The country on either side of the Great Western Railway between Didcot and Oxford is waterlogged. From the carriage windows the fields present an unruffled expanse of lake.' These floods could explain the belated publication of the postcard shown. This stretch of track continued to suffer flooding over the years and was the subject of major flood prevention works in 2016 with the line being closed for two weeks whilst the track level was again raised south of Oxford and additional culverts installed.
Stolen window frame
Saturday 8th December 1894, Oxford Journal
'THEFT AT CULHAM. - Charles Wheeler. carpenter, Appleford, Berks, was charged with stealing a window frame at Culham on Nov. 28th, value 2s., the property of John Reynolds'.
Mr Reynolds was the landlord of the Railway Hotel, and had taken delivery of two frames at Culham station. Taking one he had left the other in the goods' shed standing against some timber. The accused was seen to take the frame but threw it down and ran away when challenged by Police Constable Parker who was on duty nearby that evening.
The report concludes - 'Inspector Smith handed in a list of previous convictions against the prisoner, who was now fined 12s and 18s. costs, or 14 days' hard labour.'
Appleford Collision Inquiry
Saturday 10th September 1898, The Morning Post
This newspaper carried a report on the result of an inquiry into an accident which happened on August 14th between Appleford level crossing and Culham. A coal train was approaching on the up line from Oxford when an axle on one of the wagons broke resulting in several being derailed. At that moment the down passenger train from Paddington ran into one of the wagons with the engine and several carriages leaving the rails. The report continues, 'No passenger was injured, but the driver and fireman were hurt by a falling signal post, and the guard was thrown down and shaken.' The hapless enginemen would have had no protection as locomotives at the time were not provided with cabs. The railway was absolved of blame despite the observation that '... but the axle was one that should not have been under a ten-ton waggon.'
Saturday 7th January 1899, Banbury Beacon
'NARROW ESCAPE FROM A RAILWAY CATASTROPHE. — But for timely discovery on Wednesday afternoon week a serious accident in all probability would have occurred on the Great Western Railway. A permanent-way inspector, who was walking along the Oxford branch between Radley and Culham stations, found one of the down metals broken. Information was immediately transmitted to Didcot Junction and elsewhere, and the traffic which was unusually heavy, was worked on the up line. This caused much delay and inconvenience to passengers, many of whom were returning from their Christmas holidays.'
Black bridge in 1897
J.Dredge ©Oxfordshire History Centre
Saturday 26th January 1907, Faringdon Advertiser and Vale of the White Horse Gazette
Whilst not happening at the station itself, we turn to this Faringdon paper for the following report.
'ACCIDENT AT BLACK BRIDGE. - An alarming and fatal accident occurred on Monday afternoon at Nuneham Railway Bridge, which crosses the Thames between Radley and Culham Stations. For nearly twelve months workmen have been engaged in re-building the bridge, for which it was necessary to erect staging overhanging the river, and about 4.45 on Monday some of the staging gave way, and, with two men who were standing on the platform, fell into the river, a third being only saved by clinging to one of the girders. One man, William Williams, was rescued, but unfortunately the other, John Taylor, after swimming some distance, was seen to sink and not rise again, his body being recovered about half-an-hour after the accident. He was a Swansea man, and leaves wife and family. He had only been the job fortnight. The other man was removed to Abingdon Cottage Hospital where it was found he was only suffering from shock and severe bruises. The body of Taylor was removed to Culham Station, and an inquest was held at the Railway Hotel on Wednesday afternoon, before the Deputy Coroner for South Oxon, A. H. Franklin, and a jury of whom Mr Halbrow was foreman. Inspector Hooper was present on behalf of the G.W.R. After a very long enquiry, the jury returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased was accidentally drowned through the breaking of a piece of timber forming part of a staging on which he was at work at the time.'
The bridge originally built for the opening of the branch line from Didcot to Oxford in 1844 was a wooden structure. This was replaced by an iron girder one in 1856 being the bridge which was receiving attention in the above report. This in turn was replaced by a steel twin bow arch bridge in 1929 which is still in use. The shorter Appleford bridge was also replaced at about the same time by a similar single bow arch structure having also had the original wooden structure of 1844 replaced by an iron one in about 1880.
A young Stationmaster at Culham
Thursday 8th December 1910, Banbury Guardian
It is interesting to note an article which covered a prestigious presentation which was held the previous week in the Guild Hall at Winchester. After seventeen years service as stationmaster at Winchester the recipient, Mr. W. P. Knutton, was leaving upon his promotion to Evesham. The report reads 'The Mayor made the presentation, which consisted of a purse of gold and an illuminated address, and referred in appreciative terms to Mr. Knutton's work while holding the appointment, and the regret they all felt at losing him.'
The report continues 'He joined the Great Western Railway in the goods department at Banbury. Two years afterwards was promoted to Devizes, and nine months later was called to the superintendent's office at Reading. Here he remained for three years, and after a useful experience in the running department was advanced to the passenger department at Oxford. At the age of 25 he was appointed stationmaster at Culham, and in 1893 was promoted to Winchester.'
It seems that Mr. Knutton moved around a bit as on Saturday 26 October 1918, the Reading Mercury reported that he had been appointed stationmaster at Oxford, having already been at Salisbury and then Rotherwas, Herefordshire, in charge of a large Military depot.
Retired after 43 years service
Image ©Oxfordshire History Centre
Wednesday 19th May 1915, Oxford Journal Illustrated
This newspaper carried the story and accompanying photograph of Mr Charlie Lewis who retired after a total of 43 years service as a porter with the Great Western Railway, the last 40 of which were at Culham. He and his wife were apparently living in Station House which is across the station forecourt from the ticket office. When they first moved into Station House is not known, but they did seem to live there for many years thereafter.
The issue of this same paper dated 9th April 1924 carried photographs of both Mr and Mrs Lewis when it reported on the occasion of their Golden Wedding anniversary. They were still living together at Culham fifteen years later as reported below by the Reading Mercury in 1939.
Saturday 17th February 1917, Reading Mercury
This newspaper carried a short report that the station staff made a presentation to Mr. G. W. Townsend, who had been stationmaster at Culham for nearly 20 Years, upon his leaving following promotion to Hanwell.
A near miss
Friday 2nd January 1925, Warminster & Westbury journal, and Wilts County Advertiser
'OXFORD EXPRESS RUNS INTO HOUNDS. - Members of the South Oxfordshire Hunt had dramatic escape near Black Bridge, about three-quarters of a mile from Culham Station, on the Great Western Railway, when the Oxford to Paddington express dashed into the pack of hounds, which was crossing the line, killing one of them and injuring another so badly that it had to destroyed. The fox, said on eye-witness, had made for cover across the line, and hounds were in full cry after it. The line leading on to Black Bridge, spanning the Thames, takes a sharp bend, and evidently the pack failed to see or hear the train as it came round the curve. It was miracle, he added, that the whole pack was not destroyed. Happily the horsemen and women were some little distance from the line, and instantly drew rein. The engine driver pulled up as soon as he could, and after satisfying himself that no lives had been lost, resumed his journey.'
Saturday 18th February 1928, Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
The much lamented death of Herbert Asquith, the Earl of Oxford, at his home at the Wharf in nearby Sutton Courtenay received extensive national coverage. Whilst a Westminster Abbey burial was offered, his wishes were for a local one. Only relations and a few close friends were invited to the private funeral which took place at All Saints Parish Church in Sutton Courtenay on Monday the 20th. We turn to the Northern press for this notice which implies at least some were anticipating arrival by train. It read 'For the convenience of those not travelling by motor car, the 9.45am. train from Paddington will be met at Culham station'.
Thursday 8th June 1933, Banbury Advertiser
Whilst not strictly relating to Culham, it is intersting to include this report on the planned new halt at Appleford.
'NEW HALTS. - New halt at Appleford between Didcot and Culham Stations is to be constructed by the G.W.R. It will have two platforms each 200 feet long, with shelters. The halt will serve the villages of Appleford, Little Wittenham, Long Wittenham. and Sutton Courtney, situated in one of the most attractive parts of the Thames, with a combined population of 1,700.'
This new halt was not the first to serve Appleford as a short lived station was provided when the line first opened in 1844. It is not clear from the newspaper report of the line's opening at the top of this page where that original short lived station was in relation to the road bridge, but it is believed to have been sited a few hundred yards closer to Didcot, near Appleford level crossing. The new halt was, and still is, located immediately adjacent to the road bridge being accessed by steps down from the road. This arrangement is particularly hazardous as the narrow road curves near the top of the approach embankment and, lacking a footpath, the steps open directly onto the roadway. Being an unstaffed halt there were no facilities to buy tickets and a sign at the top of the steps leading down to the platforms proclaimed that 'Railway tickets may be obtained at the POST OFFICE'. At that time the Post Office was located on the main road near the bottom of the bridge embankment at the junction with Church Street. Interestingly, this sign was attached to a post formed from a length of re-purposed broad gauge bridge rail. As with Culham, modern travellers must obtain a ticket either on the train or at their destination.
Saturday 8th April 1939, Reading Mercury
'MARRIED 65 YEARS. - Mr. and Mrs. Charles Lewis, of Station House, Culham, completed 65 years of married life on Tuesday. They are both aged 87. Mr. Lewis is one of the oldest living retired G.W.R. men. A native of Faringdon, he is known all over the G.W.R. system. He has lived at Culham for 60 years, before which he was at Appleford, at both places a porter. He retired during the Great War. Until recent years his hobby was pigbreeding.'
Evacuees at Culham station
Photograph from the North Berks Herald
September 1939, North Berks Herald
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. There is an article in the October issue of the staff Great Western Railway Magazine on the evacuation scheme in general but it doesn't go into the details of participating stations.
The order for evacuation was given on 31st August and at 8:30 the next day the first train left Ealing Broadway which was the principal concentration point and railhead for the GWR evacuation scheme. A great deal of planning had been carried out to ensure the availability of trains and to enable these specials to fit in with other rail traffic. It was planned to run 64 trains a day (60 from Ealing Broadway), each having up to 12 coaches and carrying 800 evacuees. Trains were timetabled to leave every 9 minutes between 8:30 and 5:30 on each of four consecutive days. The first two days were principally intended for teachers and school children. In the event 58 trains were reported to have left on the first day carrying a total of 44,032 passengers, diminishing to 28 trains on the fourth day carrying 17,796. Over the four days 163 trains ran in all which carried a total of 112,994 evacuees. Stations as widespread as Maidenhead, Reading, Oxford, St Austell and Penzance were the destinations, together with many others not mentioned in the article.
The local North Berks Herald included this photograph of evacuees arriving at Culham station.
Plane crash blocks line
Wednesday 10th October 1945, Western Daily Press
'CRASH LANDING - The G.W.R. main line between Oxford and Didcot was blocked and traffic delayed for some time, yesterday afternoon, at Culham, where a Fleet Air Arm 'plane made a crash landing. Nobody was injured. The line was cleared later.'
Rail crash at Appleford
Thursday 25th September 1952, Portsmouth Evening News
Collision of 1942
Photograph possibly from the Evening News
'OXFORD LINE CUT - Railway lines between London and Oxford were cut this morning near Didcot by a collision between a light engine and freight train. A locomotive and 25 trucks were derailed, a signal box damaged, and a signalman injured. The drivers escaped injury. The signalman. Mr. Gordon Churchman, had a miraculous escape. Flung bodily from the cabin, with bruises on his face, legs, and arms, he staggered to the cottage of another signalman. Mr. Gordon Butterworth, who was awakened by the crash. After helping Churchman into the house, Butterworth raced along the line to Didcot Station to give the alarm. The fireman of the goods train ran in the opposite direction, and was in time to stop a light engine travelling from travelling from Oxford. Breakdown trains started clearing the track and re-railing the trucks, but normal working was not expected to be resumed until late this afternoon. Meanwhile, trains between London and Oxford and Worcester were being diverted through Princes Risborough. Buses were taking local passengers between Didcot and Culham. The accident occurred soon after 2 a.m. at Appleford, three miles from Didcot, when the light engine, joining the Oxford line at loop Junction was in collision with the goods train travelling from Paddington to Worcester.'
As already reported, this was only one of several rail crashes to happen at or near Appleford. Another collision occurred ten years earlier on November 13th 1942 when an express and a goods train collided at Appleford crossing. It is believed the locomotives involved were 2975 'Lord Palmer' and 4088 'Dartmouth Castle'. Whilst no press reports have been found this photograph of the scene, possibly from the 'Evening News', has come to light.
Proposals for a prison at Culham
Thursday 2nd May 1963, The Times
Something which could have had a major impact upon Culham station and the surrounding area featured in 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 exeptionally unsuitable for modern methods of penal treatment but occupies 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'.
Plans for Culham prison dropped
Thursday 4th November 1982, The Guardian
'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.'
Friday 26th October 1990, The Times
'MAN IS HURT BY HURLED EXTINGUISHER - A nuclear physicist was in hospital last night after being struck by a two-gallon water fire extinguisher hurled from an InterCity train travelling at 75mph. Peter Cripwell, aged 25, was hit by the missile as he stood on the platform at Culham station, Oxfordshire, on Wednesday night. Mr Cripwell, from Cowley, Oxfordshire, has undergone an emergency operation for a fractured skull and serious leg and chest injuries. British Transport Police were last night due to interview passengers on the same Manchester to Paddington service to try to find out who threw the extinguisher.'