HMS Hornbill

In 1942 land next to Culham Station was requisitioned by the Admiralty and the building of a Royal Navy Air Station started. The base was commissioned on 1st November 1944 and closed on 30th September 1953. Its official name was HMS Hornbill (or RNAS Culham) and its connection with Culham Station lies in the fact that a siding was laid to serve the base. This was not connected directly to the main running line, but ran off the cattle dock siding. Reference to signal box diagrams suggests that the rail connection was lifted soon after the base ceased operations.

As the approach to one of the runways directly crossed the main railway line a crash bell and telephone were fitted in the signal box to allow direct communication with the control tower. Only one incident is known which affected the railway when, in the afternoon of Tuesday 9th October 1945, a Fleet Air Arm aircraft made a crash landing blocking the line. Nobody was injured and the line was cleared later that day.

The station at Culham would naturally have been used by personnel travelling to and from the air base, either just visiting or travelling on leave, and our collection holds several examples of special tickets which were issued at that time.

Remains of siding to HMS Hornbill
Remains of siding to HMS Hornbill
Remains of siding to HMS Hornbill Remains of siding to HMS Hornbill

A very short section of track remains embedded in concrete alongside platform 2. Probably it was not worth the effort digging it up at the time. Network Rail are using the land beyond as a hard materials storage area and is therefore closed to public access. One end of the track is terminated by the replacement platform 2 which was built in 1993. The other end enters the Network Rail site for a few yards and abruptly stops with a clump of trees growing on the trackbed.

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 the materials store a larger car park would be developed similar to the one at Radley. This would probably mean that the last remains of the rail connection to RNAS Culham will disappear for good.

Possible remains of wharf in RNAS Hornbill

No traces of track remain within what was the air base but, with a bit of imagination, it is possible to visualise where it would have run. The remains of a loading wharf can be seen in Culham no1 site adjacent to the main line which is of the right orientation and height relative to the track described above, and follows what would be a logical and fairly straight line from it. Without a definitive plan of the old air base this is only educated guesswork. However, a 1950s track layout drawn by BR shows a short single siding running into the base which does look as if it would have run alongside this wharf.

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