THE FAIRFORD BRANCH LINE

WITNEY (PASSENGER)

All evidence of Witney's passenger station has long since disappeared, the station building being one of the first on the line to be demolished, in January 1969. The site (SP356089) remained derelict for well over a decade before industrial development covered the site. Memories of happier times are evoked by Paul Strong's picture (below) of 0-6-0PTs 7404 & 7412 double-heading the 14:25 Fairford to Oxford service on 11 June 1962, during the last week of passenger services.

Witney station eclipsed all other stations on the line in terms of passenger numbers. For example, in 1923 the station accounted for 40% of ticket sales on the line, and nearly 50% in terms of revenue. Admittedly this was before Cassington Halt and Carterton station had been opened, but even so this shows how important the station was. The town of Witney was by far the largest settlement on the route, and the facilities provided reflected this. The standard East Gloucestershire Railway station building was considerably enlarged in the 1920s by the addition of completely new section on the road side. This was skillfully done, and matched the original EGR building in terms of materials and style almost exactly. Witney was also the only station on the line to have the luxury of a platform canopy.

9653 approaching Witney Station

An interesting view of 57xx 0-6-0PT 9653 approaching Witney on 18 April 1961 with the 12:18 Oxford to Fairford train. In the background another pannier tank can be seen heading a freight train from Witney Goods Station towards Witney Junction. 
Colour Rail

Witney Station in 1956

This fine view, taken in July 1956, shows Witney station looking neat and tidy in its final form, and before the dilapidation that set in towards the end. On the left the water column stands in front of the down platform waiting shelter, with its ornate lamp. On the up platform, the station building and canopy can be clearly seen, along with the signal box, and "pagoda" corrugated iron shed. 
Martin Loader Collection

74xx 0-6-0PT 7445 takes water at Witney on 15 April 1962 with the 12:44 Oxford to Fairford train, unbelievably the first down train of the day! As can be seen in this and the previous picture, the water column was latterly situated midway along the down platform, enabling locomotives to take water prior to getting the right of way to Bampton. Previously the water column had been situated past the down starter signal, requiring locomotives to wait until an up train had entered the station before being able to pull forward to take water. 
Colour Rail

7445 taking water at Witney 15 April 1962

The East Gloucestershire Railway stations differed noticeably from those of the Witney Railway Company. Whereas the latter's station buildings were constructed cheaply of wood, the EGR chose a far more substantial stone structure as their standard design (although Alvescot was inexplicably the same design executed in brick). Witney station building underwent considerable changes during its life, with extensions nearly doubling the size of the original building.

Witney Station in the Edwardian era

An excellent Edwardian view of Witney station, showing the station in its original form. Note the original short canopy, covering only the central part of the frontage, over the main doors. This view clearly shows passengers waiting to board one of the excursions that were popular at the beginning of the twentieth century. An up train is about to leave, but presumably the nine coach formation in the down platform is the excursion, waiting to gain access to the up platform. The date could possibly be 1908, in which case this is either a trip to Plymouth or White City. 
Martin Loader Collection

Witney Station

Witney station viewed from the road bridge in the early 1960s. The amount of parcels traffic handled can be gauged from the fact that virtually all the area under the canopy is occupied with at least four full barrow loads. The posters on the end of the building are extolling the delights of Littlehampton and Norfolk. This view makes an interesting comparison with the Edwardian view above. In addition to the lengthened canopy, note the addition of a skylight in the roof, needed to increase lighting in the building after the construction of the rear extension.
Colour Rail

Crowds gather on the down platform on the last day of passenger services, 16 June 1962. If only the line had been this well patronised normally things might have been very different, then again possibly not given the political climate of the day. When looking at this and the similar view above, it becomes obvious that while the station was only a short walk from the town centre, it was still largely surrounded by fields.
Witney & District Museum

Witney Station on the last day of passenger services

Witney station as seen from the approach road in the early 1960s. This view clearly shows the 40 ft wide extension built in the 1920s to increase parcels accommodation (it was certainly needed judging by the amount of parcels carried even in the 1960s). As well as the usual timetables and posters advertising cheap fares to Oxford, the poster on the extreme left is advertising Sidmouth, possibly for those planning a trip to the world famous folk festival, then in its formative years. 
Colour Rail

Witney Station

Witney Station on 10 March 1956

The signalman walks back to the box with the Brize Norton & Bampton to Witney token on 10 March 1956. This view from the 12:35 Fairford to Oxford train shows a reflection of the signal box and pagoda hut in the coach windows. The platform seat has just been repainted. Note the paint pot near the nameboard, and the remains of a wooden packing case with attached "wet paint" notice used to prevent anybody inadvertently sitting on it. 
Malcolm Henderson Collection

From a similar viewpoint to the above picture, we now see Witney Station shortly after closure. The weeds have already started to gain a foothold, and the windows of the pagoda hut have been boarded up. The severe pruning the tree behind the hut received in the 1950s obviously didn't affect it too much! 
Stanley C. Jenkins

Witney Station after closure

Witney station after closure

Witney station in the mid 1960s (probably 1963 or 1964) after the cessation of passenger services. The rails are rusty, and vegetation has already started to swamp the down platform. One of the nameboards has already been "liberated", and some planks have fallen off the down platform shelter. Otherwise, all the infrastructure is intact. Even the signal box windows have so far escaped the attentions of the vandals. There are signs of life however, as just visible in the background, behind the group of photographers wandering along the platform, a pannier tank can be seen working a freight train along the goods branch. 
Colour Rail

By the summer of 1965 the signal box had lost its roof and the weeds had grown higher, otherwise Witney station remained in limbo. At this time of course, this was a common sight replicated throughout the country, although in marked contrast to today's railway scene, then it was often freight that lingered on after the passenger service was withdrawn, as in the case of Witney. In fact, the local area abounded in lines that continued either partially or wholly as freight lines. The short Abingdon  and Wallingford branches remained opened over their whole length for freight, the former lasting until 1984. A section of the Oxford to Princes Risborough line is still in use as far as Morris Cowley, and further south, the Lambourn Valley line remained open to Welford Park until 1973 for USAF armaments traffic.
Witney & District Museum

Witney station after closure
Witney demolition train

57xx class 0-6-0PT 9773 stands in the up platform at Witney whilst working a demolition train in the mid 1960s. The low winter sun picks out details on the wagons standing in the down platform, the shadows of the platform fencing also showing clearly. The East Gloucestershire Railway was lifted during 1964/5 by Thomas Ward & Co. Ltd, scrap dealers from Sheffield. The track was lifted from the Fairford end of the line, with Lechlade becoming a marshalling centre for trains of scrap. When Lechlade was dismantled, the next station was used, eventually all the track being removed by rail. 
Stanley C. Jenkins

The train pictured above pulls out of the up platform with its brake van. This picture is taken at the eastern end of the loop, and shows another common feature of the branch which can still be seen in numerous places today - a gate allowing access to fields on either side of the line. 
Stanley C. Jenkins

Witney demolition train

Witney station after closure

This early 1970s view shows Witney station after the demolition of the buildings but before Station Lane had been realigned. Note the undisturbed bushes visible through the bridge, on what would shortly become the new road. Over the next decade the remains of the station gradually got less, with the removal of the down platform and all the up platform edging happening shortly after this picture was taken. The gentleman standing on the platform with newspaper and umbrella clearly enjoys a joke!
Witney & District Museum

The site of Witney Station in 1983

The site of Witney Station in 2006

Two views of the Witney station site after demolition. On 9 February 1983, the classic view from the bridge (above) shows that although industrial buildings have already started to encroach, the actual site of the trackbed is still undeveloped. In the distance the site of Witney Junction and the A40 Witney by-pass can be seen. On 5 April 2006 (left), a large mail order company occupies one of the modern units that stand on the former station site. 
Martin Loader 

The water tower at Witney was situated just to the west of the road overbridge. In this early 1960s view, the station can be seen in the background. On the left the end loading dock is already grass covered and obviously little used. The well and pump were situated in the base of the water tank building, which as can be seen stood next to a PW hut. Note the level indicator on the tank. The bridge outlasted all other railway infrastructure on the site by a considerable margin. Latterly by-passed by a new road, it stood for some years in glorious isolation, until demolition came in 1984. 
Colour Rail

Witney water tower

Another view of the water tower, this time looking west, with the grass covered end loading dock in the foreground. The line of willow trees in the background mark the course of Emma's Dyke - a drainage ditch feeding into the River Windrush. Further beyond, and just visible on the original slide are the houses on the Ducklington Road. Station Lane Industrial Estate now occupies these fields. At least the willow trees still survive! 
Colour Rail

Although the station building was demolished soon after closure, the road overbridge survived for many years, although latterly cut off from the road. The remains of the end loading bay also survived and is pictured here on 18 April 1980, along with the steps which gave access to rail level. The realigned Station Lane is behind the fence inn the background. 
Martin Loader

Steps & end loading bay at Witney

A slightly different viewpoint of a train approaching Witney in March 1961. 0-6-0PT 7412 is just passing the point that leads to the end loading bay with the 12:32 Fairford to Oxford service. A quick reference to the water tower picture above shows the photographer's vantage point. Witney's up home signal is visible above the first coach. This is now Station Lane (see below), a very busy road linking up the town's industrial estates. 
Tony Doyle

7412 Witney March 1961

The view westwards from the Witney station bridge in the autumn of 1975 shows the new Station Lane under construction on the course of the East Gloucestershire Railway. The distinctive beech tree in the centre of the picture indicates the position of the point leading to the end loading bay, and the end of the line after the Fairford section was lifted (see the two pictures below). The houses of Burwell Farm can be seen in the distance, and the bowling club on the extreme right. The tarmac surface has just been laid from Emma's Dyke onwards, but the meadows on the left of the road and the playing field on the right in the distance have yet to be built on. The photographer's Vauxhall Viva which is obviously trying to be one of the first cars to use the new road, has probably long since gone to the scrapyard!
Witney & District Museum

A few months later than the previous picture, in the spring of 1976, the new Station Lane has been surfaced. This view clearly shows the truncated embankment, with the bridge just visible near the notice boards. These notice boards herald the arrival of the first of the many industrial estates that were to spring up along the new road over the next few years. 
Witney & District Museum

Last section of rail being lifted on the EGR in 1965

Station Lane, Witney in 2003

The last section of rail on the East Gloucestershire section is pictured being lifted in early 1965 (left), while the same location is shown (above) on 19 March 2003. Witney station was the other side of the bridge visible in the 1965 picture. 
J. Barnby (Stanley C. Jenkins Collection) & Martin Loader

The present day road built along the trackbed is ironically called Station Lane and serves a number of industrial estates. I used to drive along the course of the Fairford line everyday on the way to work! The traffic lights at the junction of Station Lane & Ducklington Lane (SP351088) marks the site of another EGR road overbridge, demolished soon after the railway closed. During 1983 another new road was constructed along the course of the line here, almost up to the point where the 1977 built Witney by-pass crosses the course of the line for the second time (SP346087). 

Witney trackbed 1983

The end of another section of the Fairford branch line trackbed. In 1983 a new road was constructed between Ducklington Lane and Curbridge Road, between the Burwell Farm housing estate and the A40 Witney bypass. This is the scene on 6 May 1983 looking west along the course of the line from near Ducklington Lane. The hedge along the southern boundary has already been ripped out, prior to construction of the road. The dandelion covered field on the left is now a retail park. 
Martin Loader

This view taken from the Witney by-pass on 15 April 1983, shows the course of the Fairford Branch passing in front of Burwell Farm, just a few weeks before the line was cleared to make way for a new road (Thorney Leys). The housing estate which takes its name from the farm can also be seen in the background. The field between the line and the houses has since been built on. In the foreground can be seen a bridge spanning a small stream (SP348087). This was one of a number of bridges on the line that utilized Barlow rail for the decking. 
Martin Loader

Bridge near Burwell Farm

Trackbed near the Ducklington to Curbridge road

After the second crossing of the Witney by-pass, the course of the line is initially open, before a section of impenetrable brambles gives way to another open section just before the Curbridge road (seen here as a muddy track on 5 April 2006). Two bridges spanning small streams (SP342084 & SP341083) are still extant along this section. The bridge on the Curbridge to Ducklington road (SP339083) was one of the early casualties, no doubt the East Gloucestershire's skimpy bridge construction was more pronounced here. 
Martin Loader

the course of the line heads south-west towards After a further mile the line crosses Elm Bank Ditch, pictured here on 11 January 2004. (SP331075). This section of line is on a low embankment, briefly interrupted, as the culvert a little further on (SP329074) has been excavated out, and replaced by a pipe, without being back filled. A large pile of car tyres blocks the course of the line on the approach to the Curbridge to Ducklington road. 
Martin Loader
Elm Bank Ditch bridge
Lew Bridge

The A4095 bridge between Curbridge & Lew (SP326072) is still well maintained, frequent work being required in the last few years. The latest attempt to stop the wing walls distorting has led to the inelegant solution of wire-mesh encased piles of rocks added to both sides of the bridge. This bridge measures 12 ft 8 in (15 ft 3 in on the skew). This view shows the bridge on 2 October 1988 prior to the latest reinforcements, looking towards Brize Norton. 
Martin Loader

For the next 1 miles the line runs through open countryside with only Lew Hill on the left breaking the monotony. mile west of the A4095 bridge is the second of the line's two underbridges (SP319068). Like the South Leigh bridge, this was an accommodation bridge between two fields, passing through the low embankment at this point. At only 4 ft wide it was narrow even for 19th century traffic, and was soon replaced by a gated crossing on the level just to the west. This view from the north side of the line on 14 December 2003 shows the bridge parapet in the background, with the gatepost in the boundary fence on the left and the rubble filled approach to the arch in the centre of the picture.
Martin Loader

Underbridge between Witney and Bampton

Underbridge between Witney and Bampton

A close up view of the underbridge on 14 December 2003 shows that the original bridge was strengthened at some time, but the very top of the original arch can just be seen. Just like the line's other underbridge near South Leigh, the arch of this one is composed of three courses of bricks. A little further along the former bridge over the Norton Ditch (SP313064) has now been replaced by a large diameter concrete pipe.
Martin Loader