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The Lambourn Valley Railway
The Independent Years
1898 - 1905

How it all started
The idea of running a railway from Newbury to Lambourn, not least as a way of boosting Lambourn's declining agricultural trade, emerged much earlier than the eventual construction of the Lambourn Valley Railway.

The Newbury and Lambourn Tramway Company was formed in late 1873. A 3ft gauge single track would be laid at the side of the main road, with several short branches within Newbury. It was to be horse-drawn, the vehicle making two round trips daily at first. The cost was estimated at 30,000 and an authorising Act was obtained on 7th August 1875, with one year allowed for construction. A contract for construction was let and a first rail was ceremonially fixed. However, subscribers did not come forward and shares to the value of 4,000 only were taken up. The year expired and the company was wound up.

After one or two attempts to get authorisation for a light railway, an authorising Act was obtained on 2 August 1883. The Lambourn Valley Railway Company was incorporated, capital 100,000. It was to be a single line, heavy not light railway, built using the standard gauge. The estimated cost of infrastructure was 80,530.

The Company then needed to raise capital to start construction, although by January 1885 only 23,365 had been subscribed. After a number of engineers had been hired and left, more time allowed through new Acts and land acquired, all draining away the Company's precious capital. Eventually, the contractor S Pearson & Son of Westminster offered to complete the work for 33,000. A contract was agreed on 30 January 1897.

The LVR also concluded an agreement with the GWR to join the line at Newbury. This involved the GWR building both a bay platform - Platform 3 - with run-around loop on the northern side of the station, and the line out towards Lambourn as far as 1,000 yards west of Newbury Station, which is where the branch line would diverge fom the main line. The GWR charged 6,000 for this work, plus an annual charge of 25 for use of the bay platform and 50 for use of the tracks across the marshy West Fields.

The track itself consisted of spiked, flat-bottomed rail for the whole 12 miles and 32 chains, which became one of the longest single-track lines in the south of England. Operated on the single-engine-in-steam principle, the LVR saved money by deciding that signals were unnecessary, as were any form of communications between stations via telephone.

Engines and rolling stock
The winter of 1897-98 found the LVR facing not only the problem of achieving the completion of general construction work on time, but also the problem of acquiring locomotives and rolling stock. The company successfully negotiated the hire of a loco from the GWR.

It was this arrangement with the Great Western that saw the arrival of No.1384, a 2-4-0 ST built by Sharp, Stewart & Co. in 1876. This locomotive would work the services for the first few months of operations, giving the newly formed LVR company a breathing space until its own power units could be purchased.

The GWR, however, was not in favour of supplying rolling stock and its decision not to do so left the LVR with a major problem. The Chairman of the company, Colonel Archer Houblon, came to the rescue by purchasing four four-wheeled carriages himself and hiring them to the LVR. They were acquired at a cost of 1,300 and each coach carried a plate proclaiming Col. Archer Houblon as the owner. After an agreed number of payments had been realised, they would ultimately become the property of the LVR.
Above left: Each carriage had both 1st and 2nd class compartments and a total seating capacity of 32 persons. Second-class seating was of wooden construction and demanded a fare rate of roughly 1d a mile. The coaches had a central gangway with platforms at both ends. These platforms were fitted with wrought-iron safety railings and allowed the guard to walk the length of the train while it was in motion. The coaches were 26 feet 6 inches in length and were fitted with a vacuum brake.
 
Above right: Former East Garston resident, the late Francis Worrell Kibblewhite Pounds on-board one of the four LVR Carraiges.
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Goods rolling stock amounted to six second-hand GWR wagons acquired at a cost of 91:10s:0d (91.50). A further 12 pre-used wagons were obtained from the Metropolitan Railway Carriage and Wagon Co. for 189. These were all funded by Col. Archer Houblon and subject to the same type of agreement as the four carriages.

Company management
The senior officers for the LVR at this time were Mr. W.H.H M Gipps, General Manager; Mr. J.S. MacIntyre, Engineer; and Mr. H. Holmes, Company Secretary. All three individuals were instrumental in aiding the completion of the railway and would play an important part in its future operations. In addition to the General Managership of the LVR, Mr. Gipps was also the traffic manager for the nearby Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway.
 
The Lambourn Valley Railway opens for business
On 31st March 1898, the Board of Trade inspection of The Lambourn Valley railway took place. Inspecting Officer Col. Yorke declared that, subject to a speed limit of 25 miles an hour and axle loadings not exceeding 8 tons, the opening of the railway was approved. The private opening was set for Saturday 2nd April 1898, with the full public opening the following Monday, 4th April.

And so it was that at 10.30am, the inaugural train consisting of engine 1384 and four LVR carriages stood in the new bay platform at Newbury station. The loco itself was bedecked in evergreens, festooned with flags, and a picture of the Queen was mounted on the front just above the buffers.
The invited dignitaries were duly welcomed by Colonel Archer-Houblon before being ushered to their places on board. A few minutes after 11am the guard called "Take your seats please", and at 11.10am the first official passenger-carrying train departed for Lambourn terminus.

South Berkshire M.P. Mr. G Mount was aboard, his duty being to open the line officially on arrival at the terminus. Both he and Mr Gipps made the journey on the footplate along with the driver and fireman. Just 37 minutes after leaving Newbury, the train arrived in Lambourn welcomed by a celebratory peal of bells from the parish church and music from a local brass band. Two further trips were made that day, each carrying around 80 fare-paying passengers.
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On Monday 4th April, full public services started, with five daily trains, plus an additional trip on Saturday evenings. Over 900 passengers were carried during the first week of scheduled operations. With regard to freight and livestock traffic, the horse-racing industry was first to reap the benefits of the new line: within days of opening, horses were being carried in quantity using boxes hired from the Great Western Railway. 

Although the line was now operational there were still several items that required completion, including a loading stage at Great Shefford, the platform at Stockcross and a small carriage shed, coal stage and siding at Lambourn itself. Early June saw the finalisation of this work, construction was brought to an end and the contractors duly paid off.

Five years on, change was in the air. On 14th July 1903, General Manager Mr. Gipps died after a brief illness and was replaced by Sidney Woodley. Mr. Woodley's appointment was set to start on 5th September 1903. Around this time, the GWR enquired about the possibility of taking over the line. The offer price was 45,000 and was reported at the time to have been greeted with some surprise by the Board of Directors. As the Board was still optimistic about the future of the LVR, the offer was politely declined.

Towards the end of 1903, the service was being operated by one engine in steam. While services continued to run (see an 1899 timetable here), the financial situation was not good and was not improving. Once again, in January 1904, the GWR approached the board with a slightly increased take-over offer of 50,000 for the line and all its fixtures and fittings. Again, on the advice of its Managing Director, J.B Squire, the LVR rejected the deal. The business relationship between the two railway companies remained very amicable, with the GWR suggesting that the smaller company run its services using steam-powered railmotors as opposed to the current set-up. The GWR offered to rent two railmotors to the LVR for the total sum of 420 per year. The idea seemed an attractive one and the LVR decided in favour of the proposed plan.
 

On 3rd May 1904, the Board of Trade again inspected the line, necessary because the axle loading of the railmotors came out at 12 tons and the line had previously been sanctioned only for 8 tons. All was OK, and the railmotors started working the line on 15th May. Locomotives continued to haul the goods services for a further four weeks. Additional economies were made by removing the lad porters from the intermediate stations and allocating ticket collection duties to the guard.

On 15th June, LVR locomotives and rolling stock were withdrawn from service and removed to Swindon to await auction. This event took place in November 1904, and finally, Chairman Col. Archer Houblon could recoup his original capital outlay. The LVR had a new Engineer, Mr. J.N Taylor, succeeding Mr. MacIntyre who had resigned some weeks earlier.

Mr Taylor oversaw the operation of the new railmotors and all worked as planned over the first months. There was still talk of a GWR take-over and on 7th November, an official announcement from GWR confirmed that talks were indeed taking place. This time however, there would be no increase in the previous offer price of 50,000.

In early 1905, it was discovered that the unusually high chalk content in the water supply at Lambourn was having an adverse effect on the power output of the small-boilered rail motors. Their performance had deteriorated to such a degree that they were struggling to haul tail traffic, to the extent that it became necessary to return to loco-hauled services for the last few months of independence. The loco and carriages were again hired from the GWR. The LVR had come full circle and was in a situation that did undoubtedly cause some degree of embarrassment to its Board of Directors.

Modified railmotors returned to the line in May 1905 and worked alongside locomotive power units where necessary.

Amalgamation with the GWR
Back in January 1905, approval had been given by both boards regarding the amalgamation of the two companies and a date set for the official take-over. The LVR line became a GWR line on the first of July 1905, with most of the staff continuing their employment but under the GWR. A final meeting was held by both boards at Paddington on 19th July 1905.

From that day, the independent Lambourn Valley Railway Company was no more. The Great Western Railway Company now had the task of bringing the line up to its own high exacting standards, reported at the time to cost an estimated 75,000.

 
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