The Lambourn Valley Railway
A Brief Analysis
The Lambourn Valley Railway was built some 50 years after the railway
building frenzy of the 1840s and 1850s, which saw the creation of a
significant proportion of the British railway network that still exists
today. So the LVR was late to the party - and it closed - or rather,
faded away - before the railway closure frenzy of the Beeching years in
the mid-1960s. Full service along the length of the line lasted just
over 60 years.
You could say that the LVR in fact avoided any kind of frenzy, and
maybe its sleepy, quiet character proved to be the agent of its
downfall: not enough people used it to keep it going. Despite that, the
LVR was a line with character, and for most of its existence, boasted
good reasons for remaining open for business.
Yet like so many quiet branch lines, it was vulnerable to the growth of
rival bus services. And, after the second world war, it suffered both
from the massive explosion in car ownership and the flight generally of
passengers to individual modes of travel, and the flexibility of
point-to-point journeys for goods enabled by the lorry. While the
steam-powered LVR could not survive the onslaught of the internal
combustion engine, many still argue locally in favour the line's
re-opening, unlikely though that seems given the cost of rebuilding
a modern railway over a now heavily built-over track bed.
Were the track still there, maybe today's efficient diesel or electric
multiple units allied to the huge growth in rail passenger numbers that
we've seen in the 21st century could make a business case for re-opening it - who knows...?
The Lambourn Valley Railway's first official appearance was its
enablement in the Lambourn Valley Railway Act 1883, described at the
time as An Act for making a railway to be called the Lambourn Valley
Railway, and for other purposes, 46 & 47 Vict. c.176 (2nd August
1883). Other Acts followed, enabling the various works to allow the
line to be be constructed and alterations to public utilities to be
The LVR line became operational on 2nd April 1898.
Financed almost entirely by Colonel Archer-Houblon, it ran as an
independent company until 1905 after which time it was owned and
managed by the the Great Western Railway. 1948 saw further change when it became part of British Railways, under whose aegis the LVR stayed until its final closure in 1973.
The line itself was just over 12 miles long and the journey from Newbury to Lambourn took about 40 minutes.
the GWR took full control in 1905, it laid plans to increase the
existing facilities and introduce general line improvements. In 1907, a
new halt was added at Newbury West Fields and the small original
buildings at Lambourn were
replaced by a larger, more modern brick-built structure, using a GWR standard design, on a platform
of regulation height. Subsequently, all stopping places on the line
were provided with standard-height platforms, and all the
buildings acquired a distinctly Great Western Railway character.
power and rolling stock were quite varied for a small branch line.
Locos included custom-built locomotives during the early, independent
years, and under the GWR and BR's auspices, Dean Goods engines, both steam and diesel railmotors, pannier and saddle tank engines, and more. Rolling stock included auto-coaches
(though they were only used as ordinary coaches on the LVR), clerestory
coaches, four and six-wheelers, horse boxes, a variety of goods wagons,
plus of course the ubiquitous coal wagons for the delivery of coal to
households and businesses along the valley, as well as to the
|Along the line
loops were constructed at Welford Park, Great Shefford, East Garston
and Boxford, but the most important intermediate stations on the line
were Welford Park and Great Shefford.
Lambourn Station boasted the most extensive
layout of all. In addition to the station buildings it had a signal
box, loading dock and offices, and in the earlier years, a small engine
shed. By around 1910, large-scale improvements included replacement of
the entire track using second-hand GWR stock. In 1948, nationalisation
saw British Railways taking control of the line.
Lambourn Valley line left Newbury Station from bay-platform 3 and
headed west, parallel with the GWR tracks, for about half a mile. At
this point, the branch line turned north, encountering a 1 in 63
gradient. Just beyond West Fields Halt, the line levelled out to cross
the River Kennet and its tributaries via a long girder bridge. From
here it continued onto Speen, passing through a deep cutting and two
tunnel bridges, one of which took the track under the main London to
Halt was just one-and-three quarter miles from Newbury. The station was
equipped with a level crossing and a small shelter but no sidings. For
the rest of its journey, it followed the north-westerly course of the
River Lambourn. The line resumed its steady climb, passing through
Stockcross and Bagnor Halt until it reached the village of Boxford.
Boxford was approached along an embankment and the station itself
consisted of a siding loop and a small office. From Boxford, the climb
continued in part at 1 in 75 before reaching its halfway point at
Welford Park station sported both up and
down platforms, small offices and waiting rooms, plus a ground frame
and siding. The following stretch of track was fairly straight and
level and brought the line to Great Shefford.
and a quarter miles from Newbury, Great Shefford station was home to a
small goods yard on the south side of the line, and featured a scissors
crossover with a siding from two tracks that backed on to a cattle dock.
The final stage of the the line into Lambourn
contained a whole series of gradients: a climb of 1 in 82 out of
Great Shefford before levelling out through open country to East
Garston, and beyond that, an ascent of 1 in 60 preceded a short descent
of 1 in 200 running into Eastbury Halt. After crossing the main road at
Bockhampton, the line made its final climb on gradients of 1 in 63,
easing to 1 in 100 before entering Lambourn Station.
You can find a 1901 map of the line here - few of the main roads have changed much since then (writing this in 2019).