The city of Winchester has a very rich history full of changes. As you know we have done a walk-about of Winchester, exploring its development through different centuries. Well, I thought I hadn’t talked about lovely Winchester much for a while and I remembered I spent a few hours at the records office (a few years back) investigating some of the cities properties for a university assignment. To my surprise, here I found that for being such a quaint little town, once we actually had two train stations! This was in the area nowadays occupied by the Chesil Street multi-storey car park. The reason why I would like to share this story with you is because I think it represents the changes that many British cities suffered since the industrial revolution. Moreover, it shows how crucial rail networks were, and how this kept the country going in more than one ways. So, for you only, here I present you Winchester’s forgotten train station.
One of the first evidence that are found about this station is that in Bridge Street there was a place called Railway Coffee Tavern, named after the opening of the station in 1885. The company Didcot and Newbury was then involved in the project of establishing rail connections in the south of England. Winchester was chosen as a stop in their line due to its history. Didcot and Newbury made a deal with another company to proceed with the project, and found a partner in the Great Western Railway. With their support the trains could run to Shawford and link with Southampton. Nonetheless, things did not go particularly well for this little enterprise. There was a strong rivalry between the G.W.R and the South Railway, therefore they had to swap trains and locomotives before arriving the station.
Nevertheless, the line did well, and in fact played a crucial role in the transport of military troops. The book Winchester Voices records the memories of Austin Laverty who remembered seen the men coming from the Boer Wars using the line that stopped in Chesil’s station. During the Great War, the train line experienced higher transit as a larger number of soldiers needed to be dispatched. However, this service stated to fall into decay with the nationalisation of British railways, which impacted negatively the businesses of the G.W.R. Cancellations of daytime services started to become something common until March 1960 when the station closed to the public. Eventually it would be used for minor services, especially in summers to help reducing the congestion of the diesel service of the Southampton line. After its definitive closure in 1968, the order of demolition was declared in 1972.
But what this shows to us about Winchester, the fluctuation of the economy and, in general, what was happening in Hampshire and the country? I believe the Old Chesil Station is a product of the Victorian revival, not only of the country as a whole, but particularly of Winchester as the city had been run down, pretty much since the English Civil War. There was a big growth in population and a period of prosperity. The railway was spreading quickly everywhere; tourism increased, and as Winchester was such an attractive place for tourists due to its history, there was a need for better connection with different places. Even the decadence of the railway is giving valuable information of economic development and competition amongst similar business such as the G.WR and the South Railway. And, almost in a poetic way, I think the decline of this line, and the decrease of train usage in general, links in with the current use of this plot of land: a car park necessary for the current preferred method of transport.
So, I hope you have enjoyed exploring this often forgotten site of Winchester, and that next time you see a car park, you think to yourself: “it’s likely that, underneath that structure there are the forgotten bones of an English king…or perhaps an old railway station”
P.S: If you are desperate to know more about local railways, check some of the works that helped me with my research:
Robertson, K., The Railways of Winchester (1988).
Oppitz, L., Lost Railways of Hampshire (2001).
or check https://davidturnerrailway.wordpress.com/ – David Turner is great, he knows loads about trains, and posts some very interesting things in his blog and twitter account – we know this because we have been reading his stuff since 2010!!