A tour of the Old Ticket Office and station
The Old Ticket Office has a long history dating back to 1844. There are many signs of the changes that have been made during its long life and also some unique and original features which survive. This page has been developed to take us on a tour of the building (both inside and out) and the station itself in words and pictures.
~~~~~ Inside the Old Ticket Office ~~~~~
A warm welcome
During cold weather you will find a roaring fire in the Waiting Room. The grate is very old and has been 'modified' over time but it is still there doing its job. The floor was hidden by some old rotting hardboard until 2014 when it was taken up to reveal not only the original planks but also the original stone hearth.
Heating arrangements seem to have varied considerably since the station was first opened. Looking at old photographs there are signs of what look like stove flue pipes sticking out of the roof. It seems probable that there was a stove in the Parcels Office, definitely one in the main office and possibly one in the Ladies' Waiting Room. The latter might have been to provide hot water. All have long gone and no trace remains to suggest where they once were.
A hidden fireplace
One puzzling feature was the fact that there have always been two chimneys, the tall one being for the Waiting Room, but what about the other? The answer was found when a hidden fireplace was discovered in the main office. It was only revealed when the old hardboard was lifted exposing the stone hearth. Close examination of the wall panelling shows where the fireplace was removed and wood panelling was inserted to cover the hole. When the ticket office was first opened it would have been open plan with counters as in a shop. The fireplace must have been closed up when the offices were first divided up by partitions as the door to the Parcels Office cuts across one side of the hearth. Marks on the wall and cut outs in the wall panelling in the Parcels Office do suggest that an alcove may have been formed around the fireplace to keep it within the main office at first. This would not have been very practical however and the marks etc. may be unrelated.
This is the counter from which tickets would have been sold. On the top can be seen several rings and screw holes where the Edmondson ticket punches had been fixed, together with the mark where a fatal shot had ricocheted in 1868. Most of the drawer knobs were missing when Entikera moved in and so have been replaced by new ones of the same shape, but the door latches were an addition by a previous tenant. The single drawer under the counter is new as it too was missing. The counter tops, drawers and cupboards on either side of the main office are all original dating from 1844 when the station first opened.
In the early days the ticket office would have been open plan with no barrier between the staff and passengers, tickets being written by hand. Partitions were erected on top of the counters (you can see where they stick out underneath on the public side) and internal doors installed when printed tickets began to be used. These partitions were later extended to ceiling height. It looks as if at first the ticket window was open with a pointed arch at the top and a matching sliding window to cover it. The thick glass seems to be a later addition with the pointed arch being filled in with a wood panel. The sliding window remains in situ and still works. Two working Edmondson ticket date punches from the collection once again stand on the counter next to the window. Alongside these is a small ticket rack containing souvenir tickets, two ticket clippers, and several other stamps and punches as would have been found in an old ticket office.
Counter 'mod' and Parcels counter
The door between the main office and the Waiting Room is very narrow with an unusual metal door frame. The end of the ticket counter has been cut away to provide clearance for the door to open. As can be seen, the work is somewhat rough and ready showing that poor workmanship is nothing new. A small shelf is attached to the door and what appears to have once been a small hatch. What purpose this may have served is uncertain as there is the main ticket window a few feet away.
The other view shows the second counter which would have served the Parcels Office. A hatch can be seen in the middle presumably through which parcels were received. This hatch has long since been gummed up with paint and there is no prospect of making it work again. This counter is shorter than the ticket counter and so the door into the Parcels Office is a lot wider showing that when the partitions were installed they were simply built round the existing features. The double cupboard doors under the parcels counter are simply made from planks, unlike the other doors. It is probable that an open space first existed under the counter, echoing that under the ticket counter, and that it was later converted into a cupboard by the addition of these doors.
Main office bay window
The bay window in the main office affords a wonderful view up and down the platform. The curve of the line is very apparent when viewed from here and trains pass by only a few feet away. The narrowness of the platform at this point is one of the reasons cited for closing the platform as it is certainly outside modern safety rules.
The window bears evidence of changes over time, most notable perhaps being the security bars. These substantial bars have been installed on all the windows in the building, including those on the doors, and are bolted through the window frame itself. No photograph has been found which shows the office without these bars and it is felt that they were added in the very early part of its life. Other additions include the heavy wooden window shelf, which again is very old but not original, and what looks like some wooden box trunking down one side and across the bottom of the window. Nothing remains that could give a clue as to its intended use.
Remnants of original paint
By and large it looks as if the inside paintwork of the ticket office has never been stripped back when redecorating took place, with many coats of paint building up on each other over time. Sadly this means that some woodwork detail has been lost and the thick layers of paint are prone to cracking and flaking. In certain places the thick layers of paint are all that exist as the woodwork behind has rotted away. There is an upside however as protected beneath the layers is thought to be the original finish.
June 2019 saw a visit by Paul Croft from Lincoln Conservation which is part of the University of Lincoln. They had been commissioned by Network Rail to investigate the paint as, after much lobbying, Network Rail were finally considering some much needed external maintenance. He commented on the use of incorrect materials in earlier renovation work, and was very interested in how the layers of paint showed several different colour schemes, with green being the oldest, and the wood panelling appearing to have been initially stained or varnished. Samples were taken from various places, both inside (for his reference) and out. These photos show the various layers of paint on the wall inside and on the outside door jamb. Black and white photographs from various sources appear to show window and door frames, and the doors themselves, were painted white in the 1970s. It is known from an article by a GWR employee that the station was once painted green - as noted below in 'fake bricks'. The first photograph also shows the original lime plaster below the green paint layer.
Lincoln University kindly forwarded a paint analysis report on the inside for our interest.
~~~~~ Outside the Old Ticket Office ~~~~~
As a starter for our outside tour, here is evidence of idle hands from as much as 140 years ago. There are a number of names and dates that have been engraved into the stonework of the building, some with great care. See if you can spot them if you visit - but please don't add yours.
GWR manhole cover
There are a number of manhole covers dotted around the station, several of them being relatively modern. If you look closely, just to the left of the ticket office you will find this relic from Great Western days. Judging from the typeface this one probably dates from the 1930's and is the only one we have found to be marked GWR. The lettering was moistened with some WD-40 to accentuate it for the photograph.
Our own Postbox
Recessed into the wall next to the main Waiting Room door is a post box. It carries the cipher of King George VI who was King from December 1936 until his death in 1952. The box bears the makers name of W.T.Allen & Co London who were one of only two manufacturers at the time. This particular style of box was only made by them. Once, when a Postman opened the box for a collection we had a good look to see if there was a casting date or something similar inside. Although nothing could be found the date '1943' was marked on the back of the box in red paint, so it must date from then or earlier. Wall inset post boxes were first introduced in 1857 so one would not have been present when the station first opened. It is not known when one was first installed, but there are still regular collections made from this box.
Preservation Trust Award
Attached to the wall above the Postbox is a cast metal plaque commemorating the award made in 2004 by the Oxford Preservation Trust following the refurbishment project by Network Rail.
Signs of wear and tear
The stonework of the Old Ticket Office bears the scars of the everyday wear and tear to which it was subjected during its long life as a station building. Many a parcels trolley must have been dragged round this corner over the years wearing the grooves ever deeper.
One interesting feature of the outside of the building is that the joints between the bricks as built were disguised by being coloured and imitation mortar joints applied over the top. This very precise illusion of brickwork does not rigidly follow the actual mortar courses beneath and from a distance the visual trickery is not apparent. It has been suggested that such work indicates a building of fine quality, and may well have been the result of outside influence as it represents an unnecessary expense. It would not be surprising if influence had been brought to bear as this quote from an article attributed to a foreman painter at Hampton Loade in 1947 suggests 'Finally, there were cases where idiosyncratic finishes were applied to certain stations to please the local landlords or land owners. Culham was finished in a single shade of light green for such reasons'.
At some early time in its life, the outside Gents' facilities were remodelled. Inspection of the original contractor's drawings for the Ticket Office (to be seen under the 'Station through time' page under the 'IMAGES' menu tab) shows a proposed layout very different to that seen today. This drawing may not reflect the true 'as built' situation however. Evidence inside the covered w.c. (now the fuel store) shows that the wall was crudely hacked back at some time and rebuilt a foot or so further along. This new wall simply butts up against the outer wall of the Ticket Office and is not tied into the brick or stonework at all. It is felt that this alteration could have been made to accommodate a new wooden partition and roofed toilet.
~~~~~ Around the station ~~~~~
Gate on station approach
Hidden in the hedge which runs alongside the approach road to the Old Ticket Office and station is this old gate. No old photographs have come to light showing this gate, but at one time it may have formed part of a gateway across the width of the roadway leading down to the station forecourt. There is no corresponding gatepost on the other side of the road which is devoid of features. A more likely explanation is that the gate led to a long garden formed between a wire fence which ran beside the approach road and the boundary fence of RNAS Hornbill. This strip of land was certainly used as such in the past and may have been more extensive before the arrival of the air station.
Unknown photographer, Author's collection
Original station yard gatepost
This heavy duty white gatepost hides in the hedge opposite the ticket office and next to 'Station House', complete with one of its original gate hinge pins. At one time the station yard was separated from the forecourt by a large white wooden double gate but this is all that remains. Just visible behind the gatepost is an old, but very substantial, fence post. Such white gateposts were used on station yard gates around the GWR and one also remains in the station yard at Cholsey. The old photograph shows the other end of the yard gate at Culham in about 1975.
When the original footbridge was removed and replaced by a new one, not all of the original disappeared. The eight cast iron columns which supported the old bridge, four on either side of the line, were retained and incorporated into the new structure. As seen here, extension pieces were added on top to extend the columns to the required height to support the new span over the line.
All bridges have a unique identification number. This may be displayed on a cast plate attached to the structure, or it may be simply painted on. On the kerbing below the footbridge on the platform 1 side is this identification. It is not known when this was painted but it does look old. The original method of bridge numbering was to use the distance from a datum point (in Paddington station for the GWR) and in this instance it is 56 miles and 17 chains. Chains have been used as a linear measurement since 1620. The correct name is the surveyor's chain or Gunter's chain. It was invented by the Revenend Edmund Gunter (1581-1626) who was professor of astronomy at Gresham College in London. One chain measures 22 yards, so there are eighty chains per mile.
Remains of Goods shed
Barely visible amongst the undergrowth just beyond the Oxford end of platform 1 are what is believed to be the remains of the old goods loading platform. Following the demolition of the goods shed the site was mostly cleared and what little remains has been overtaken by vegetation making it difficult to pick out any old features which might have survived.
Old buffer stop
A diligent search at the same end of the platform will reveal, almost totally buried and generally covered by undergrowth, the steelwork of a buffer stop. Whilst the woodwork has been removed or rotted away, the rail built stop appears to be otherwise intact. This would almost certainly have marked the end of the goods shed siding in its final shortened state.
In this view taken from platform 2 we can see the original Northern platform limits. Neither platform has ever been extended Southwards. The distinction between the original platform 1 and its subsequent 1920's extension can be seen almost opposite the ramp at the end of the old plaform 2 upon which sits the Old Ticket Office.
The 'new' platform 2
The original platform 2 remained in use after the Old Ticket Office was closed and Culham became an unstaffed station. It was eventually closed for safety reasons as there was insufficient clearance in front of the ticket office, and the now listed ticket office on it prevented the platform height from being raised to meet new requirements. A new platform was therefore constructed during September 1993 to the north as seen in this photograph taken in early 2017. Just visible to the side of the ticket office at the end of the original platform is a patch of concrete. This was the site of the demolished signal box which was itself a replacement for the original one which was located roughly where the waiting shelter now stands.
Original station overbridge
The brick road overbridge is a listed structure and dates from 1844 when the station was opened. As with the other structures on the line to Oxford it is believed to have been designed by Brunel and has a typical Brunel semi-elliptical arch. Whilst the bridge is still in use, it is narrow with no footpaths and has a weight restriction in operation.
As with the footbridge, the old overbridge has its own number. In this case it is 56-15, or 56 miles and 15 chains from datum.
Broad gauge relics
It is well worth taking time to examine the original road overbridge as it hides a special surprise. Take care though as bicycles and other vehicles do use this route as a service road. When the broad gauge rails were taken up and replaced with newer standard gauge rails not all were taken as scrap. Old rails were re-used as fence posts in many places, and some remain here at Culham if you know where to look. On three of the four corners of the bridge parapet are broad gauge rail fence posts. They may be overgrown and hidden by thick vegetation as in the third photograph, but look hard and they are there. It is quite remarkable that they have survived in place for so long, and the remnants of the wire fence they once supported can still be seen. There must have been more along the bridge embankment at one time, but as far as we know, these are the only survivors.
It is perhaps surprising to learn that broad gauge rail fence posts can still be found, especially alongside abandoned branch lines. The Abingdon branch was closed in 1984 and the track was soon taken up with a good length of the trackbed being developed as a footpath and cycleway. Sharp eyed walkers will spot such fence posts in a number of places along the old railway boundary. They also crop up along what was the old line from Didcot towards Newbury.