The Watlington and Princes Risborough Railway was an independent English railway company that connected the Oxfordshire towns of Watlington and Chinnor to the main line railway network of the Great Western Railway (GWR) at Princes Risborough. It opened in 1872.
Watlington is a market town and civil parish about 7 miles (11 km) south of Thame in Oxfordshire, near the county's eastern edge and less than 2 miles (3 km) from its border with Buckinghamshire. The parish includes the hamlets of Christmas Common, Greenfield and Howe Hill, all of which are in the Chiltern Hills. The 2011 Census recorded the parish's population as 2,727.
Chinnor is a large village and civil parish in South Oxfordshire about 4 miles (6.4 km) southeast of Thame. The village is a spring line settlement on the Icknield Way below the Chiltern escarpment. Since 1932 the civil parish has included the village of Emmington. The 2011 Census recorded the parish's population as 5,924.
Princes Risborough is a small town in Buckinghamshire, England, about 9 miles south of Aylesbury and 8 miles north west of High Wycombe. Bledlow lies to the west and Monks Risborough to the east. It lies at the foot of the Chiltern Hills, at the north end of a gap or pass through the Chilterns, the south end of which is at West Wycombe. The A4010 road follows this route from West Wycombe through the town and then on to Aylesbury.
The company was always short of money and was obliged to sell the line to the GWR in 1883; investors sustained a considerable loss.
Road vehicle competition led to a decline in usage and upon nationalisation of the railways in 1948 the line was subject to a review of its future; passenger operation ceased in 1957. A large cement works at Chinnor kept the stub of the line in use until 1989, when it closed. A heritage railway group took it over and operates successfully as the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway.
The Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway is a preserved standard gauge heritage railway with its headquarters and main station at Chinnor in South Oxfordshire, England. It runs along the foot of the Chilterns escarpment.
Watlington suffered in the early part of the nineteenth century from poor road communications, at a time when transport and trade were becoming important, and other settlements were flourishing. The road network was very poor:
Watlington is a small town, the streets of which are narrow, and the houses, with a few exceptions, mean and ill-built. The nearest navigable stream is at the distance of 6 miles; a circumstance fatally adverse to the prosperity of the place. Here is no staple manufacture of any consequence... In addition to the remoteness of water-conveyance, the badness of the neighbouring roads, which are perhaps the worst in the county, acts prejudicially on commercial speculation.
According to the 1851 census, the population of Watlington then was 1,884.
As the nineteenth century progressed it became increasingly obvious that good communications were essential for economic and commercial prosperity, and a railway was a key part of that.
The first railway scheme involving Watlington was put forward about 1861, for a line from the Great Western Railway at Cholsey, through Wallingford, Benson, Watlington and Chinnor to Princes Risborough. This scheme was not adopted, but a more moderate proposal followed, only to build from Cholsey to Wallingford, and put to 1863 session of Parliament, but it was withdrawn by its promoters.
The Great Western Railway (GWR) was a British railway company that linked London with the south-west and west of England, the West Midlands, and most of Wales. It was founded in 1833, received its enabling Act of Parliament on 31 August 1835 and ran its first trains in 1838. It was engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who chose a broad gauge of 7 ft —later slightly widened to 7 ft 1⁄4 in —but, from 1854, a series of amalgamations saw it also operate 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in standard-gauge trains; the last broad-gauge services were operated in 1892. The GWR was the only company to keep its identity through the Railways Act 1921, which amalgamated it with the remaining independent railways within its territory, and it was finally merged at the end of 1947 when it was nationalised and became the Western Region of British Railways.
It was resubmitted at the end of 1863 for the next Parliamentary session, now including Cholsey to Wallingford and Watlington. The line, called the Wallingford and Watlington Railway, was authorised on 25 July 1864 with capital of £80,000. Getting the subscriptions to pay for the construction proved to be difficult, partly due to the difficult economic situation of the country at the time, but a contract was let for line from the GWR main line to Wallingford in the Spring of 1865.
The line opened to the public without ceremony on 2 July 1866. Following the opening the Board met to consider the next step of extending the line to Benson (at the time frequently referred to as Bensington), but it was obvious that money could not be raised to carry out any such work. Only £17,575 of the £80,000 capital for the line had ever been paid up, and the financial market was extremely difficult following the collapse of Overend, Gurney and Company. When it became known that a Bill was to be presented to Parliament for a line from Princes Risborough to Watlington, it was clear that the Wallingford and Watlington Railway was not going to build any more of their line.
Overend, Gurney & Company was a London wholesale discount bank, known as "the bankers' bank", which collapsed in 1866 owing about £11 million, equivalent to £1,001 million in 2018.
The rival proposal was announced on 12 May 1868: a railway branch line was to link Watlington with Princes Risborough, on the former Wycombe Railway, now taken over by the Great Western Railway. Princes Risborough was a junction for the main line to Oxford via Thame, and a branch to Aylesbury. Events moved swiftly and the Watlington and Princes Risborough Railway received the Royal Assent on 26 July 1869.
It was to be a 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge line 8 1⁄2 miles (13.7 km) in length, and the authorised capital was £36,000; the estimated cost of construction was £33,889. The prime mover in getting the scheme implemented was the Earl of Macclesfield, whose seat was near Watlington, and the Chairman of the company was Thomas Taylor, an exceedingly wealthy Lancashire cotton manufacturer now living locally. In fact only £8,000 of the Company's capital was subscribed by other individuals.
At this time the Wycombe Railway was a 7 ft 1⁄4 in (2,140 mm) broad gauge single line; the Watlington line would form a junction with it three-quarters of one mile (1.6 km) west of Princes Risborough, and the section from the junction to the station would be made mixed gauge. However the Wycombe Railway was converted to 'narrow' (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in or 1,435 mm) gauge by the time of construction of the Watlington line, so that mixed gauge was unnecessary.
In fact during construction, in March 1872, the GWR decided to run the Watlington line in to Princes Risborough alongside the Thame line, so that there were to be two single lines. When the Watlington Company considered that their railway construction was complete, they arranged for Colonel Rich of the Board of Trade to visit to make an inspection, in order to obtain the necessary approval for opening for passenger traffic. At that time the GWR had not formed the junction at the point of convergence of the Watlington line, nor the second single track. The Watlington line evidently terminated without a junction or station. As well as finding a number of detail matters unsatisfactory, Rich reported
"that the line should be continued from the point 3⁄4 mile (1.2 km) north of Princes Risborough station to the station. At present there is no terminus at the station [actually the end of the Watlington line] to deposit the passengers at." Rich also reminded the directors that an undertaking as to the method of working the single line was required.
On 16 June 1872 the engine shed at Watlington (of course not yet in use) caught fire, causing considerable damage. The local fire engine had just been acquired and dealing with the fire was its first duty.
Apparently not comprehending the objection to the blank end of their line approaching Princes Risborough, the directors arranged for a second visit from Col Rich, and this took place on 11 July 1872. The connecting line at Princes Risborough had still not been made and once again he declined to recommend the line for opening. The company had also indicated the type of engine they expected to use on the line, to be hired in from the GWR. It was a "517" class 0-4-2ST. He considered that this was a heavy class of locomotive considering the very light character of the permanent way, which would, he considered, lead to serious maintenance difficulties. The undertaking regarding the method of working had still not been submitted, and also the GWR had not connected the Princes Risborough section of its own line, so Rich again refused permission to open.
The trackwork was finally completed, but further delay ensued while the directors failed to provide the undertaking of method of working; when they finally did so on 14 August, stating that the train staff and ticket system would be used, the Board of Trade gave its sanction. The line opened on 15 August 1872.
The stations were at Princes Risborough, Chinnor, Aston Rowant and Watlington. The Princes Risborough station was a short wooden platform adjacent to, but separate from the GWR station.
From the outset working expenses exceeded receipts; to the end of 1872 expenditure was £789 and receipts came to £665.The company also included the £3,000 retention money as an asset, whereas it was a liability! £12,000 in debenture loans had been taken to finance the construction.
At a shareholders' meeting on 20 October 1873, the Board announced that "We are sorry to add that ... the expenditure [exceeds] income by a considerable sum." Inevitably there was no dividend. There was an account with the GWR for the toll for using its section of line and the station at Princes Risborough, and for locomotive hire; the account remained unpaid and mounted, and repeated requests for payment by the GWR were ignored. The financial situation was desperate.
It is likely that the GWR presented an ultimatum regarding engine power, for in September 1875 the Watlington company took delivery of a second hand 2-2-2WT locomotive, originally built by Sharp, Stewart and Company in 1857 for the Furness Railway;the price was £900. This was money the Company did not have, and the locomotive and some rolling stock were acquired by a nominally independent company, the Watlington Rolling Stock Company, formed in 1875. The penniless Watlington Railway was its only customer, so it is difficult to see how it could survive. (The locomotive was extremely unsuitable for use on the line quite apart from its poor mechanical condition, and a second engine was later procured.)
At a Shareholders' Meeting on 5 December 1874 it was stated that there had been circulated a "report that the line would probably soon be closed, whereas we are glad to say that those present, who represented nearly nine-tenths of the capital subscribed, agreed unanimously to assist in removing the present supposed difficulties, and in working the line on a more advantageous plan, so as to prevent any embarrassments that may arise."
Taylor was of course the dominant shareholder, and this misleading account must have been for the consumption of creditors.
The train service had consisted of three mixed trains each way daily, but from early 1875 the "advantageous plan" was implemented. An additional early and late train were put on to connect with the first Up London train and the last Down. In addition two round trips on Sundays were added. These trains did not get much support and were withdrawn in the summer.
The way out seemed to be to persuade the Great Western Railway to take the line on, and Thomas Taylor wrote to the GWR Chairman on 24 April 1875, offering to lease the line to the GWR for £600 a year "in liquidation of the amount now owing by our company". Taylor claimed that the line was now "about paying its way" but in fact the year's income was £850 and expenditure £1,405.
At the end of 1875 agreement was reached with the GWR to use their station at Princes Risborough for five years, for a charge of £250.
On 31 December 1881 the agreement for the use of the GWR line and Princes Risborough station expired and it was necessary to negotiate a new agreement. The Watlington Railway again raised the issue of a lease by GWR. It was quite obvious that the little Company was quite unable to pay the historic debt and any negotiation over future terms was futile, so the GWR saw the reality and an arrangement for takeover was agreed, although the process took some time.
At the shareholders’ meeting of the Watlington Company on 16 June 1883 Taylor put the proposal to the meeting, and it emerged that he had failed to carry other shareholders with him in the scheme, although he was by far the majority shareholder. In an unrealistic and acrimonious debate, others criticised the proposal, suggesting that the financial situation might improve, and that debts due to the rolling stock company might be deferred. The GWR offer was £23,000; the line had cost £46,500 to build.
More contentious argument followed, but eventually the sale was agreed and liquidation of the company took place, Taylor himself being appointed liquidator. The rolling stock company was also liquidated as part of the process.The transfer was effective on 31 December 1883 (although practical control had been assumed from 1 June). For reasons of his own, Taylor was obstructive over handing over to the GWR the minute books and books of accounts of the Company to the GWR, and a lengthy and unhelpful correspondence on the matter followed.
The GWR inspected the assets of its new railway and found that the rolling stock was extremely dilapidated; the assessment also considered the track. It was reported on 14 November 1883 that even after the immediate expenditure of £3,750 to get the line in order, a further £7,010 was necessary on track work even to continue to run the light rolling stock on the line; £9,827 would be necessary if it was to be made good enough for ordinary GWR stock.
At this period the train service consisted of three return mixed trains daily, although there were complaints that the first train out and the last train home (9.0 am and 6.30 pm respectively) were inconvenient for business journeys to London.
The Regulation of Railways Act 1889 required the installation of the block telegraph for lines worked by train staff and ticket.With such a limited train service, the company was only operating one train at a time on the line, so it reduced the operating system to one engine in steam to avoid the £355 cost of the block telegraph.
In October 1891 a scheme was put forward by local promoters to build a railway link between Watlington and Wallingford, a revival of the unbuilt section of the Wallingford and Watlington Railway. The capital cost would be £50,000, and with considerable boldness the promoters asked the GWR to guarantee a 3% dividend on that sum. With a heavily loss-making branch on their hands with access to London, it was evident that a line only connecting two small towns would fare badly, and the GWR declined.
In the final years of the nineteenth century, an ambitious scheme was finalised as a result of which the GWR and the Great Central Railway would together build a new main line northward from Princes Risborough as well as improving the former Wycombe Railway line south of that place. This became the Great Western and Great Central Joint Railway, which took over the line between Wycombe and Princes Risborough on 1 August 1899. As well as building northwards, a contract for doubling the Wycombe line and rebuilding Princes Risborough station was awarded to a contractor on 24 July 1902. The joint line was fully opened on 20 November 1905, bringing considerably more passenger trains to Princes Risborough station, which was much enlarged as part of the work. The Aylesbury branch was transferred to the Joint Company, but the Watlington line and the Thame and Oxford line remained wholly with the GWR.
From May 1900 an additional round trip was made on the branch, making four journeys a day. Attention was given by the GWR throughout its system to the need for more frequent local passenger trains, calling at an increased number of stopping places, while reducing operating costs. This led to the widespread implementation of motor trains and auto trains, and station halts with minimal facilities.
Motor trains were introduced from 1 September 1906, and these were superseded by auto-trains.
A local newspaper either drew attention to a railway mistake, or made the mistake itself:
G. W. Railway: The new halting place on the Risborough to Watlington branch was opened on Saturday last, and will be a great convenience... The car is comfortable, commodious, and well lighted. It is a pity, however, that a better name than "Bledlow Ridge" could not have been found for the halt, as it is quite two miles distant from that place... We would suggest, to save confusion, that the halt be renamed "Bledlow Bridge".
The timber-built locomotive shed at Watlington caught fire and was destroyed in September 1906.
Chinnor Lime Works was established in 1908 and started the production of cement from 1919. The manufacture increased over the years and was acquired by Rugby Portland Cement in 1963. Operation ceased in 2000.
A new halt called Wainhill Crossing halt was opened on 1 August 1925.
In the period after 1948 the last train of the day from Princes Risborough connected out of a slip coach at Princes Risborough; the slip coach was slipped from the 7.10 pm Paddington to Birmingham express train.
From 5 to 7 March 1951 passenger services on the line were suspended, and buses run to cover, because a fireman, A V Benham, was granted 12 days leave to get married, and no cover was available; the service resumed running on 8 March when a driver volunteered to fire.
The development of motor buses and lorries coupled with the improvement in the road network in the 1920s and later brought about a serious and continuing decline in the traffic on the line, and following nationalisation of the railways of Great Britain in 1948, a review took place of branch lines which did not justify continued support. On 19 June 1951 local newspapers carried announcements of the intended closure of passenger service.
In fact the process of authorising withdrawal had become politicised and several years passed before the intention was carried into effect; however the passenger service was closed down from 1 July 1957, the last train having run on 29 June.Chinnor, Aston Rowant and Watlington stations remained open for goods and parcels, but the line beyond Chinnor closed completely after the last train on 30 December 1960. The public goods facility at Chinnor closed on 10 October 1966, and only the private siding traffic to the cement works continued after that; the branch was operated as a "long siding". Chinnor lime works had started production in 1908 from 1963 the plant was run by Rugby Portland Cement Co Ltd. It ceased operation at the site in 2000, but the last revenue earning rail journey had taken place on 20 December 1989.
In 1989 When commercial operation on the line ceased, a volunteer group called the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway Association was formed, to preserve the line. They had retained the site and acquired period rolling stock.
In subsequent years it has developed the remaining route section as a heritage railway, operating as the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway. The C&PRR aims to extend the line to as far as Aston Rowant itself.
|Watlington & Princes Risborough Railway|
The line opened on 15 August 1872 and closed to passengers on 1 July 1957.
The construction of the line employed minimal earthworks to keep cost down; after descending at 1 in 107 leaving Princes Risborough the line climbed at gradients up to 1 in 68 to reach Chinnor; the line then continued undulating to Aston Rowant with short up and down gradients, then falling at up to 1 in 78 to the Watlington terminus.
The Cholsey and Wallingford Railway is a 2 1⁄2-mile (4 km) long standard gauge heritage railway in the English county of Oxfordshire. It operates along most of the length of the former Wallingford branch of the Great Western Railway (GWR), from Cholsey station, 12 miles (19 km) north of Reading on the Great Western Main Line, to a station on the outskirts of the nearby town of Wallingford.
Aylesbury railway station is a railway station in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England. It is a major stop on the London–Aylesbury line from London Marylebone via Amersham. It is 38 miles (61 km) from Aylesbury to Marylebone. A branch line from Princes Risborough on the Chiltern Main Line terminates at the station. It was the terminus for London Underground's Metropolitan line until the service was cut back to Amersham in 1961. The station was also known as Aylesbury Town under the management of British Railways from circa 1948 until the 1960s.
Princes Risborough station is a railway station on the Chiltern Main Line that serves the town of Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire, England. It is operated by Chiltern Railways.
The Marlow branch line is a single track railway line in England, between Maidenhead in Berkshire and Bourne End and Marlow in Buckinghamshire. It is 7 miles 10 chains (11.5 km) in length. Passenger services are operated by Great Western Railway using Class 165 and Class 166 diesel trains. The line connects to the Great Western Main Line at Maidenhead station, and uses a section of the former Wycombe Railway line to High Wycombe together with the former Great Marlow Railway.
Watlington railway station in Oxfordshire was the terminus of the Watlington and Princes Risborough Railway and opened in 1872. Watlington station was not in Watlington itself, but in Pyrton about a mile north east from centre of Watlington.
The Wycombe Railway was a British railway between Maidenhead and Oxford that connected with the Great Western Railway at both ends; there was one branch, to Aylesbury.
Aston Rowant railway station was opened in 1872 and was a part of the Watlington and Princes Risborough Railway. Having closed in 1961, there have been proposals to reopen the station not only to the heritage services of the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway, but also National Rail commuter services operated by Chiltern Railways.
The Great Western and Great Central Joint Railway was a railway built and operated jointly by the Great Western Railway (GWR) and Great Central Railway (GCR) between Northolt and Ashendon Junction. It was laid out as a trunk route with gentle curves and gradients and spacious track layouts. The two companies each needed approach railways at both ends of the line to connect their respective systems, and these were built as part of a single project.
Chinnor railway station in Oxfordshire is on the line of the former Watlington and Princes Risborough Railway. The station was reopened by the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway Association in 1994 after a period of disuse.
The railway system of Buckinghamshire has a long and complex history dating back to the 1830s with the opening of sections of today's West Coast Main Line and Great Western Main Line. The development of Buckinghamshire's railway network was largely due to its position nationally as many long distance routes chose to go through Buckinghamshire, especially between Britains two largest cities, London and Birmingham. The county had its own pulling power in addition, as produce such as the Aylesbury Duck could then be easily transported to the capital.
Lewknor Bridge Halt railway station was a halt on the Watlington and Princes Risborough Railway which the Great Western Railway opened in 1906 to serve the Oxfordshire village of Lewknor. The opening of the halt was part of a GWR attempt to encourage more passengers on the line at a time when competition from bus services was drawing away patronage.
Kingston Crossing Halt railway station was a halt on the Watlington and Princes Risborough Railway which the Great Western Railway opened in 1906 to serve the Oxfordshire village of Kingston Blount. The opening of the halt was part of a GWR attempt to encourage more passengers on the line at a time when competition from bus services was drawing away patronage.
Bledlow Bridge Halt railway station was a halt on the Watlington and Princes Risborough Railway which the Great Western Railway opened in 1906 to serve the Buckinghamshire village of Bledlow. The opening of the halt was part of a GWR attempt to encourage more passengers on the line at a time when competition from bus services was drawing away patronage.
Wainhill Crossing Halt was a halt on the Watlington and Princes Risborough Railway which the Great Western Railway opened in 1925 to serve the Oxfordshire hamlet of Wainhill. The opening of the halt was part of a GWR attempt to encourage more passengers on the line at a time when competition from bus services was drawing away patronage.
Bledlow railway station was an intermediate station on the Wycombe Railway which served the Buckinghamshire village of Bledlow from 1862 to 1963. It was one of two stations to serve the village, the other being Bledlow Bridge Halt on the Watlington and Princes Risborough Railway, which was 0.75 miles (1.21 km) to the south and closer to the village. The possibility of reopening the line through Bledlow, which is now part of a long-distance footpath, has been explored by Chiltern Railways, the franchise holder for the Chiltern Main Line which runs through Princes Risborough.
Towersey Halt railway station was an intermediate station on the Wycombe Railway which served the Oxfordshire village of Towersey from 1933 to 1963. The opening of the halt was part of an attempt by the Great Western Railway to encourage more passengers on the line at a time when competition from bus services was drawing away patronage. The possibility of reopening the line through Towersey Halt, which is now part of a long-distance footpath, has been explored by Chiltern Railways, the franchise holder for the Chiltern Main Line which runs through Princes Risborough.
Horspath Halt was an intermediate station on the Wycombe Railway which served the Oxfordshire village of Horspath from 1908 to 1915, and then from 1933 to 1963. The opening of the halt was part of an attempt by the Great Western Railway to encourage more passengers on the line at a time when competition from bus services was drawing away patronage. The possibility of reopening the line through Horspath Halt has been explored by Chiltern Railways, the franchise holder for the Chiltern Main Line which runs through Princes Risborough.
Morris Cowley was an intermediate station on the Wycombe Railway which served the small town of Cowley, just outside Oxford, from 1908 to 1915, and again from 1928 to 1963. The station originally opened as part of an attempt by the Great Western Railway to enable to have more passengers access to the line, at a time when competition from bus services was drawing away patronage. The line through Morris Cowley remains open for the purposes of serving the BMW Mini factory, although the possibility of reinstating passenger services has been explored by Chiltern Railways, the franchise holder for the Chiltern Main Line which runs through Princes Risborough.
The Wallingford railway branch line was a short branch line in Oxfordshire, connecting the market town of Wallingford with the nearby Great Western Railway main line.