The Railway Hotel at Culham

The Railway Hotel and its various licensees has had a long and close association with the station at Culham. Before the station buildings were erected there were few if any other buildings in the immediate area. The Railway Hotel, as it was then named, is believed to have been opened in 1846, just two years after the station. It nestles in the embankment of the bridge which had been erected to carry the Abingdon to Dorchester Turnpike, also known as Abingdon Road, over the railway. Little is known about the history of the building, but reference to plans dated November 1844 and held in the Parliamentary Archives shows the turnpike crossing the new bridge, the goods shed and the up and down passenger buildings. Also seen, right up against the bridge is another large building which looks to be labelled 17.

Detail from 1844 plan
© Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/PB/3/plan1845/03
The Book of Reference accompanying the plans notes all land owners and tenants on, or close to, the proposed railway line. In it, are listed:

This suggests that the GWR bought an existing house, possibly to ease the passage of the railway and the building of the bridge, then either sold or leased it to become the Railway Hotel. We would love to hear from any reader who can tell us more.

Map published by Ordnance Survey Office, Southampton in 1883
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The next view of the station area we have found is this six-inch Ordnance Survey map which was surveyed in 1875 but not published until 1883. There have clearly been a few developments over the thirty years that the station, now renamed 'Culham Station', has been open. The estate road leading from Nuneham Park to the main road is shown dotted and has a short branch to the station forecourt. Next to this, and above the capital 'C', there seems to be what could be a house or cottage. This does not appear on the 1844 plan and predates the building of 'Station House' which was not erected until 1898. The hotel has had a large extension and a pair of semi-detached houses have been built opposite. Next to the hotel extension is a long single storey cottage which became known as 'The Bungalow'. In the gap between the two a new flight of steps now leads up to the main road.

The Railway Hotel has seen a few name changes during its life, being at one time 'The Jolly Porter' and more recently 'The Railway Inn', but we prefer to refer to it by its original, and longest serving name. It has, with a short exception of about four years, always remained open as a licensed premises.

Early Licensees

Peter Playfair circa 1850-1861

The first record that we could find of anybody living at the hotel is in the Census of 1851 which records 50 year old Peter Playfair and his wife living in 'Abingdon Road Station Railway Hotel'. He is noted as being Hotel Keeper and there are a male and female House Servant living in. He is still recorded as occupying 'Abingdon Road Hotel' in the Electoral Register of 1860 but had soon after moved to the 'Prince of Wales Hotel' in Didcot (or Dudcote) where he died in October of 1864.

It is not known when he first moved into the hotel, but it is believed he may have previously been a Railway Policeman at Culham and so would have been in the right place at the right time to become its first tenant.

Charles Wyatt 1861-1868

The 1861 Census shows Charles Wyatt as being Victualler living with his wife and son at the 'Railway Hotel' in Culham. He remained licensee until mid 1868.

The Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette of 3rd August 1861 carried the advert RAILWAY HOTEL, CULHAM, (Adjoining the Great Western Station) ...Persons visiting Nuneham and its vicinity should not fail to go to the above Hotel, where every accommodation can be obtained. Beautiful Tea Gardens. Morrell's fine Ale on draught. Spirits of the finest quality. GOOD STABLING. A capital SITTING ROOM and two or three BED ROOMS to LET, with Private Entrance.

Arthur Robert Smith 1868-1873

In its edition on 1st August 1868, the Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette recorded that the licence of the Railway Hotel, Culham, was transferred from Charles Wyatt to A.R.Smith. The 1871 Census shows him as Hotel Keeper living with his wife and sister who was Barmaid at the 'Railway Hotel'.

This new licensee branched out into the coal business as the 1876 edition of 'Harrod's Directory of Oxfordshire' notes in its entry for Culham 'Smith, coal merchant and vict. "Railway Hotel"'. The directory entry is a bit confusing however as he is known to have died in a fall in February 1873 but we think the business may have carried on in his name for a time. One possible clue to support this lies in an announcement found in Jackson's Oxford Journal from Saturday, 27th June 1874 which said Faringdon, Berks. To be LET with immediate possession, - The "Folly House Inn" ... Apply to Mr.T.Smith, on the premises, or at the Railway Hotel, Culham Station. Thomas Smith was a slightly older brother and the announcement implies that he may have moved to Culham, taking over the tenancy of the hotel and other business interests for a couple of years following the death of his brother.

Samuel Josiah Flight circa 1878

Nothing has been found about this tenant of the hotel, other than a couple of press reports in early June of 1878 in the Oxfordshire Weekly News, Oxford Journal and the Oxford Times. Charles Day a labourer from Abingdon had been charged with stealing about 9lbs. of ham valued at 8 shillings from the Railway Hotel, Culham, the previous month. Samuel Josiah Flight is reported as being the landlord of the hotel.

Richard Davis circa 1880-circa 1885

Richard Davis is first seen in the Census for 1881 where he is recorded as living with his wife and family in Culham and being a Hotel Keeper. Whilst his exact address is not given, Kelly's Directory of 1883 lists him as being the landlord of the Railway Hotel.

John Richard Reynolds circa 1885-circa 1938

John Richard Reynolds appears to have been involved in the coal trade at Culham from as early as 1880 combining the role of local coal merchant with that of running the Railway Hotel, being described in Kelly's Directory of 1895 as Railway Hotel and Posting House, Good Accommodation for Excursionists, Morrells genuine ales and coal merchant. The 1903 and 1907 issues note him as being John Richard Reynolds, Railway Hotel & Coal Merchant. In its issue of Friday 20th December 1935, the Berks and Oxon Advertiser carried a short article Fifty Years a Licensee. — Mr.J.R.Reynolds, of the Railway Hotel, Culham, has just celebrated his fiftieth year as a licensee. He claims to be the oldest licensee in Oxfordshire. He was certainly still there in 1937/8 as we have seen an old 'Income Tax & Land Tax' receipt for J.R.Reynolds of the Railway Hotel dated 1937.

Railway Hotel and Café
Courtesy of Pendon Museum

The Railway Hotel in the 1950s

We are grateful for these three photographs of the Railway Hotel which have been made available to us from the archives of the Pendon Museum. They were all taken in about 1957 and give us a glimpse of the hotel in a byegone age and before some more modern alterations.

An interesting point is that on a British Railways plan of the station dating from the 1950s a small building attached to the Railway Hotel is labelled 'Café'. It is hard to visualise sufficient passing trade to justify a café but one must have existed for a reasonable length of time, possibly relying on trade from the air base. The first photograph from the Pendon Museum archive shows the range of buildings which appear on the 1883 OS map. The Railway Hotel is to the left, almost hidden by the footbridge, and the café with possibly the proprietor standing at the doorway on the right. The large building between them is a bit of a puzzle with its substantial tall chimney. This is understood to have been stabling and a hayloft, perhaps with a bakery or laundry next to the hotel. All three of these buildings were later joined together to form one enlarged Railway Hotel. The end of the single storey cottage, known as 'The Bungalow', can just be seen further to the right.

Railway Hotel seen from Platform 2
Courtesy of Pendon Museum

Railway Hotel seen from the road bridge
Courtesy of Pendon Museum

These other two photographs illustrate how the hotel effectively forms part of the bridge embankment which suggests it was there first. The tall chimney and the roof of 'The Bungalow' can be seen in the third image.