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.
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. Service along the full length of the line lasted just over 60 years. And it's now been over 70 years since it closed - ten years longer than the line's lifespan as a passenger railway.
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. That, and the general assumption that the railway was a mode of transport which belonged to the past; roads were seen as the future - and we know that turned out: congestion, pollution and global warming.
So 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 battery-driven or diesel 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 made accordingly.
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.
When 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 character.
Motive 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 railway itself.
Along the line
Starting at Newbury, the line which was single-track throughout ran parallel to the main line for half a mile, up a steep gradient, and veered off to the north west. Westfields Halt was not one of the original stations but was added in 1907 by the GWR.
The Lambourn Valley line was just over 12 miles long and the journey from Newbury to Lambourn took about 40 minutes. It 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 over 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 Bath road.
Speen 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.
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. Eight 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.
Passing loops were constructed at Welford Park, Great Shefford (originally West 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.
You can find a 1901 map of the line here - few of the main roads have changed much since then (writing this in 2020).