The Lambourn Valley Railway
The Great Western Years
1905 - 1948
19th July 1905, the Lambourn Valley Railway ceased to exist, swallowed
up by the mighty Great Western Railway. From then onwards, although it
retained much of its character, it would - pretty much - be just
another GWR branch line. The GWR wasted little time in making its
Overall, new owner GWR spent
£7721 on improvement
works, much of it on platforms, both raising them to a standard height,
and lengthening them. Sidings were lengthened too and alignments
adjusted accordingly. The bulk of the money - £5579 – was spent at
Lambourn station, with the rest distributed to Great Shefford (£2316),
Welford Park (£1382), and Boxford (£431).
In addition to these
the GWR also carried out a general upgrading of facilities, including
the fitting of new station lamp posts and and name boards. A two-way
telephone system was installed, linking all staff-attended stations
with Newbury. During 1908, the GWR decided that facilities at Lambourn
fell short of its requirements, so it decided to completely
reconstruct the terminus, keeping only the goods and locomotive sheds.
Great Shefford, a horse loading platform and extended sidings were the
order of the day. Welford Park became a crossing place with a signal
box an additional platform, and a passing loop. Boxford gained an
extension to its loop siding. The line was equipped with a signalling
system and in June 1908 the electric tablet method of operation was
introduced. For this purpose, the line was divided into two segments:
Newbury to Welford Park, and Welford Park to Lambourn.
The Board of
Trade inspection of the completed works in 1910 reaffirmed both the
25mph speed limit introduced originally back in 1898, and the 8-ton
axle weight. This is somewhat surprising as the Board had cleared
the line for the use of 12-ton axle loading railcars in 1904. Equally
surprising was the fact that the GWR didn't strengthen the underbridges
during the revamp of the line, which would have facilitated increases
in both speed and weight restriction.
1912, approval was granted by the Great Western Railway board for the
introduction of a new Sunday service. It would consist of two passenger
runs each way, hauled by a Lambourn-based locomotive.
service became effective on 5th May and coincided with the new summer
timetable, but was discontinued in October 1914, along with other
service reductions made during the first world war.
racecourse had opened in 1905, and the area was a well-established
centre for training and stud purposes and for bloodstock sales. This
brought a large volume of traffic to the line, in most cases special
trains. The horseboxes were fitted with dual-brake systems for
operating into territory where the Westinghouse air brake was
operating. So in spite of world events and all the associated hardships
of the war years,post-war traffic on the line increased significantly
and by 1923 receipts were practically double those of 1913.
In November 1924, the Great Western Board decided to re-introduce a
Sunday train service, primarily for the collection and conveyance of
milk from the farms along the valley. It would start from Didcot, using
a Didcot-based locomotive and crew, the idea being that it would also
provide for collections on the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton line.
The new service became operational in January 1925.
Western Road Services
transport was by this time starting to affect the railway companies
quite noticeably and in an effort to compete with the private transport
operators, Great Western acquired a large fleet of its own road
Western's very first local bus service was inaugurated on
17th August 1925 and ran from Swindon to Lambourn, travelling via
Stratton Park, Wanborough and Aldbourne. A second Swindon service was
introduced on 26th July 1926, passing through Ashbury, Wanborough and
Coate. This particular route lasted just three years, and was withdrawn
on the 6th July 1929. The GWR started a bus route from Newbury to
Lambourn on 27th May 1926, running on Saturdays and Sundays only. This
venture proved to be unprofitable and in line with Great Western's
unparalleled efficiency, it was withdrawn by the end of the year.
bus services had been run in an effort to discourage small private
operators but the plan was unsuccessful. Midland Red, Bristol Tramways,
The Newbury and District Bus Company and The Thames Valley Traction Co.
were all up for a bite of the cherry. In 1932, Great Western ceased bus
GWR Glory: the
|Back with the
railway and the year is 1926, the year of the General
The Great Western was badly affected, as indeed were all companies.
Even the tiny Lambourn branch line didn't escape, with only one
erratically operated train per day, watched over by a skeleton staff.
The winter of 1926/27 brought with it heavy snowfalls, causing further
chaos to services. A snowplough was transhipped from Reading to work on
both the D.N. & S. and the LVR lines. Unfortunately the plough
itself became a victim of the weather and ended up firmly stuck at
Eastbury for several hours resulting in the complete cancellation of
all train services on the LVR.
these unavoidable setbacks, the years from the early 1920s to the early
1930s were to be the most profitable and successful period the line
would enjoy. During this period both passenger and goods traffic were
at a premium. The GWR altered the timetable of the LVR line to improve
connections with mainline trains at Newbury. Some trains even escaped
from the branch and ran on to other destinatioins beyiond Newbury, with
Oxford and Didcot among the more popular destinations.
The transportation of horses reached its peak in 1927/28 with special
trains running to race meetings all over the country, in addition to
the local traffic already created by the opening of Newbury Racecourse in
back in 1905.
number of trainers owned private boxes leased on a permanent basis, but
overall responsibility for ensuring that enough horse boxes were
available was that of the Clerk at Lambourn. It must have been a job
that required a degree of clairvoyancy, as most trainers would delay
giving the station notice of their box requirments until the very last
minute. Race specials achieved their peak during the years 1920 to 1935
when up to 35 horseboxes in a single day would be hauled into and out
of Lambourn Station.
In March 1929,
were removed and replaced by fixed distant semaphores. In July of that
year,the electric train tablet instruments were replaced by electric
token, affecting the signal boxes at Lambourn, Welford Park and Newbury
Mid-July 1932 saw the introduction of a late
evening passenger service running on Saturdays only. The train left
Newbury at 10.15pm and arrived in Lambourn at 11.00pm. This particular
service was very well patronised in so much as it provided transport
home for people from along the Lambourn Valley, after spending an
enjoyable evening in town. The service was one-way only and the train
would run back empty from Lambourn arriving in Newbury at 11.45pm.
working timetable from 1933. Passengers benefited from six weekday
passenger services a day, and one on Sundays. The weekday schedule
allocated time around midday for goods to be picked up and dropped off.
financial decline of the Lambourn line started in 1934, a continuing
situation that forced the GWR to look for operational economies. The
halts at West Fields, Stockcross & Bagnor and Eastbury were left
unstaffed and, two years later, a decision was made to deploy diesel
railcars on the line in preference to steam-hauled trains.
So 1937 saw the new Diesel Railcar,
(No. 18) enter service. The
introduction and subsequent use of the new diesel in service had a
positive effect on the line by restoring a small profit. However, a few
unforseen operating problems were encountered. The driver needed to
stand up to see the couplings when shunting, which made control of the
foot throttle somewhat difficult. Another early problem was that the
electric token carrier hoop had to be modified, as the original was too
big to fit through the cab window.
car was based in Reading and would travel down in the mornings,
bringing with it newspapers for Newbury and Lambourn. After the day's
operations it would run back light to Reading. This produced a further
reduction in costs by resulting in the closure of the engine shed at
Lambourn. All future workings including the daily goods train would now
also operate out of Reading.
parcel traffic had increased, passenger numbers were adversely affected
by the introduction of a Lambourn valley bus service. In 1938, The
Thames Valley Traction Co. started bus operations between Lambourn and
Newbury, running on Thursdays and Saturdays. Specifically tailored to
coincide with Newbury market days, this new bus service was
instrumental in attracting many regular passengers away from the
railway, leaving it reliant on the other, less profitable days of the
|1945: The War Years
a terminal branch, the Lambourn line escaped the strains of heavy
second world war through traffic, but the war itself did have a impact
on the line in other ways. For instance, unlike the 1914/18 war, many
of the railway staff chose to join the armed forces making the day to
day running of the line somewhat difficult. The GWR overcame this
problem by employing women to replace the Porters, Signalmen and Clerks
that had taken this option.
bases were set up in and around Lambourn anticipating the arrival of
troops from various divisions and countries including the Americans and
the Canadians. Special military trains operated from 1940, bringing in
troops and armaments for the air base at Membury. As the War
progressed, the irregularity of train movements both up and down the
line necessitated the line remaining open 24 hours a day. However, only
Signalmen were required to work out of normal hours, not a difficult
task for them as very few trains ran along the line at night.
the months following the end of the War, goods traffic on the line was
at an all-time low. Race specials had dwindled to the point of
extinction and any goods that were carried would be those required
locally such as coal and agricultural goods. Passenger numbers however,
remained constant, possibly due to the issue of low-cost day return
tickets and the fact that petrol rationing was still in force. In the
run up to nationalisation, the overall condition of the line and its
associated stock, was good. Passenger patronage still held firm and
train services were superior to those of the independent LVR days.