Some bits of history


The Didcot to Oxford branch

Plans for the London to Bristol main line did not take it through Oxford, and it passed to the south with stations at Wallingford Road (Moulsford) and Steventon. The Click or tap to reveal our hidden page about the station at Steventonline reached Steventon in June 1840 and stage coaches regularly travelled between there and Oxford as Steventon was at that time its nearest station. Long before this however, a number of schemes were proposed to connect Oxford to the growing railway network, and two in particular were the subject of a meeting held in Oxford in early 1836.

In its issue of 18th March, The Times reported that 'A very numerous and interesting meeting was held yesterday in the Town-hall of Oxford for the purpose of discussing the merits of two projected lines between that city and the metropolis - the one by a branch of 29 miles to Tring, the other by a branch of nine and a half miles, to unite with the Great Western Railway, near Abingdon, at Dudcot.' The meeting was addressed by, amongst others, Mr. Boothby a director of the proposed Tring and Oxford, and Cheltenham Railway, and Brunel as engineer for the Great Western Railway. After the presentations, upon a show of hands, it was unanimously resolved to adopt the Great Western line. The report concludes 'A most influential committee was nominated, and the sanction of the members appointed to act was expressed by letter from those not present, and verbally by the gentlemen who attended the meeting. The Company will now proceed without delay to carry this undertaking into execution. It is entirely a local measure, and is supported by the landowners on the line, many of whom were present at the meeting.'

Despite this apparent agreement the proposal did meet with objections, not least from the University who were concerned that easy travel by rail would lead students astray, and it took a further seven years before construction could begin. During this time a number of slightly different routes were put forward, one terminating to the east of the city centre and going between Iffley village and the river. This early idea was dropped in the face of opposition from the inhabitants of Iffley who feared their wells would be interfered with by the necessary railway cutting.

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

Composite map of the Didcot to Oxfiord branch
Based on maps published by Ordnance Survey Office, circa 1900
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

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

The engineer in charge of the Didcot to Oxford branch was Isambard Kingdom Brunel and many of the bridges and station buildings were designed by him, including Culham. Interestingly, with the notable exception of those at Culham, all the original station buildings on the line (Didcot, Appleford and Oxford) were of timber construction. The contractor for the line was William Chadwick who had tendered £73,600. He had been the contractor responsible for the building of the famous railway bridge at Maidenhead which was opened in July 1839. For a short time Chadwick based himself at Radley Hall after it fell vacant in 1844 following the sudden failure of a school which had leased the building from its owner, Sir George Bowyer, since 1819.

A certain Vice-Admiral (retired) Sir George Richard Brooke-Pechell who owned Zouch Farm (and one other through whose land the railway was to run) objected to the proposed line of the railway, contending that it ran too close to the house and would affect its value. Pechell did not live at the farm, which he promoted as being something grander, but had connections. Retiring from active service in 1830 he was appointed an equerry to Queen Adelaide the following year, and was MP for Brighton from 1835 until his death in 1860. The tenant of Zouch Farm, Jonathan Peel, was first cousin to the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel. Brunel himself visited Culham in November 1837 to see what could be done, staying at the 'Crown' in Abingdon. A compromise was reached and the line ended up being shaped like a banana so as to pass a little farther away to the east rather than on a straighter course to the west of the house as first planned. Zouch Farm is named after a previous owner, Lord de la Zouche. The story of the Bisshopp family and how it claimed the title is quite interesting. Having died without a male heir the estate eventually came to be divided between his two daughters. The younger, Katharine Arabella who was married to Pechell, inherited his lands at Culham and Newington. It is possible that the fuss made about the Culham properties was fuelled by the hope of enhanced compensation as, in 1856, the Culham lands were sold to James Morrell of Headington for almost £73,000, the estate having become indebted to the tune of £40,000, equivalent to about £4million in 2020. Discover more village history and read some personal recollections of life in Culham village on the Click or tap to open a new page and visit the Culham Village websiteCulham Village website.

The Didcot to Oxford branch was converted to standard gauge (4' 8½") in November 1872, with the conversion of the GWR as a whole being completed in May 1892.

Composite map of the Didcot to Oxfiord branch
Based on maps published by Ordnance Survey Office, circa 1900
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland