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Mid Hants Railway known also as the Watercress Line

Although this name is now synonymous with the Watercress Line steam railway, the story starts in 1830 when the London and Southampton Railway was considering a route through Alton for its main line from London. The need for moderate gradients meant that the line would have required a tunnel three miles in length, whilst at the same time the more northery route through Basingstoke was also considered and ultimately chosen for the main line to Southampton. The route through to Winchester was once again considered when the line from Guildford to Alton was being planned in 1845, but in the end they settled for the terminus in Alton, opening after much delay in 1852.

The railway from Alton to Winchester opened in 1865 under the ownership of the Mid-Hants Railway Company (originally known as the Alton, Alresford and Winchester Railway), with trains run by the LSWR.

The railway passed into the ownership of the London and South Western Railway in 1884. Whilst remaining as a single track line, it had greater success than the branches to Basingstoke and Fareham. The inter-war period included the electrification of the line as far as Alton in 1937, making it a terminus of the electric train service to London. Meanwhile, following the second closure of the Basingstoke & Alton Light Railway in 1936/37, Butts Junction was rationalised. Trains going to Winchester used the right-hand track in both directions, and trains going along the Meon Valley line to Fareham used the left-hand track in both directions. This removed the need for the signal box and points at Butts Junction, effectively making the double track section into two bi-directional single lines which diverged from the platforms at the southern end of Alton station.

In the 1950s the line became known for the weekend express trains that were frequently diverted from the main line to allow for engineering works. Thus, many people of a certain age remember the pre preservation Mid-Hants Railway because they would travel down to Alton especially to photograph the diverted expresses. The much loved 'M7' former LSWR tank engines gave way to the diesel multiple units in 1957 as British Railways attempted to keep down the costs. Then in 1967 British Rail announced that it wanted to close the line, but more than a thousand people objected, leading to public enquiry. Councillors attempted to lobby BR and tried to find funds to keep the line open, but they could not raise BR's required subsidy. So despite all the objections and people's concerns over having to use the bus service as an alternative, the line from Alton to Winchester closed in 1973.

Whilst the councillors were negotiating with BR, an independent group of rail enthusiasts had convened with the initial purpose of saving the entire line as a working railway. They failed to secure the 800,000 asking price made by British Rail, but in the end they managed to raise enough to set up offices in Alresford station and eventually reopen the section of line to Ropley in 1977. The saddest part of the story is that having agreed a loan for the Mid-Hants Railway Ltd (MHR) to buy the land all the way to Alton, but only buy the track to Ropley, British Rail then scrapped the rest of the track from Ropley to Alton. To their credit, the MHR and its charitable arm, the Mid-Hants Railway Preservation Society, forged ahead and managed to relay the track to Alton, opening all the way through in 1985.

See the Watercress Line
for more information. Some of the structures that can be seen on the Watercress Line today were not part of the original railway infrastructure they have been added to make the line serviceable again and to recreate the feel of a fully operational steam railway.

Photos and Video of the Watercress Line today

Autumn Steam Gala 2016 photos

Google images

Watercress Line videos

Alton Station

The first station opened by the London and South Western Railway in 1852 was sited on what is now the station car park. It closed when the present station opened in 1865.

The station is the terminus for two railway lines; the Alton Line which runs to Brookwood and onto London Waterloo and the Mid Hants Watercress Railway, which runs to Alresford. The latter once ran through to Winchester but was closed to passengers in 1973. It reopened as a heritage line in 1985. Two other routes (both now closed) also served the station the Meon Valley line to Fareham and the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway.

Alton Station map early 1900s.

Alton Station 1950s.

Butts Junction

Butts Junction was a railway junction where the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway which closed in 1932, and the Meon Valley Railway diverged from the Mid-Hants line from Alton to Winchester.

Butts Junction map early 1900s.

Butts Junction early 1900s and today.

Medstead and Four Marks Station

Opened in 1868 as Medstead, it changed to its present name in 1937 to Medstead and Four Marks. Closed in 1973 and reopened in 1983 by the preserved Watercress Line. The footbridge (currently on the country end) is from Cowes railway station on the Isle of Wight.

Medstead Station map early 1900s.

Medstead Station 1900.

Medstead Station 1956.

Medstead Station today.

Ropley Station

Opened in 1865 by the Mid-Hants (Alton Lines) Railway (MHR), closed 1973 and reopened in 1977 by the preserved Watercress Line.

The main locomotive shed and workshops for the Mid Hants Railway are just to the east of Ropley station.

A footbridge was added to the western end of the station in 1986. This was recovered from the closed station at North Tawton in Devon in 1983, restored and installed by volunteers.

Ropley Station map early 1900s.

Ropley Station 1900.

Ropley Station and Shed today.

Alresford Station

Opened in 1865 by the Mid-Hants (Alton Lines) Railway (MHR), closed 1973 and reopened in 1977 by the preserved Watercress Line.

The buffet building is the old station building from Lyme Regis in Dorset, which was dismantled and rebuilt there.

Following the closure of the route between Alton and Winchester, the line from Alresford eastwards to Alton has been reopened in preservation, but the section west of Alresford has not. It is unlikely that the line will ever be re-extended towards Winchester, because the M3 motorway and new houses have been built at various points along the former route.

Alresford Station map early 1900s.

Alresford Station 1950s.

Alresford Station today.

Itchen Abbas Station

Opened in 1865 by the Mid Hants Railway and closed in 1973.

The station was originally built with two platforms but, in the 1930s, the up platform was taken out of use and only a single track serving the down platform was used.

At the beginning of the 1980s, the original station was demolished and a new house built on the site, where parts of the platform still stand in its garden.

Itchen Abbas Station map early 1900s.

Itchen Abbas Station 1911.

Itchen Abbas Station 1976.

Winchester Junction

Junction of the London and South Western Railway (LSWR), the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway (DN&SR), and the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) Alton and Winchester line.

Winchester Junction map early 1900s.

Winchester Station

Winchester Station was opened in 1839. It became a temporary terminus for the Winchester to Southampton section. On the same day, another station was opened at Basingstoke, which was a temporary terminus of the London to Basingstoke section.The following year, a line was built joining Winchester and Basingstoke and the line was complete.

Later, the Great Western Railway built the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway. This passed at a separate station on the eastern side of Winchester called Winchester (Chesil). In 1949, it was renamed Winchester Chesil, whilst Winchester's main station was renamed Winchester City. In 1966 Chesil closed and the following year, City station was changed back to simply Winchester.

A small engine shed was built by the Southern Railway in 1927. This housed a shunting locomotive which worked in the local goods yard. It was closed together with the goods yard in 1963.

Winchester Station map late 1800s.

Winchester Station map late 1900s.

Winchester Station in 1950s.

Winchester Station now.

Winchester Chesil Station

Winchester (Chesil) station was opened with the line from Newbury in 1885, originally being named Winchester Cheesehill. Originally a terminus, since the intended line southwards to Southampton was never completed, it became a through station in 1891 when a connecting line to the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) was opened, joining the latter at Shawford Junction.The station closed temporarily in 1942, reopening in 1943. The station was renamed from Winchester Cheesehill to Winchester Chesil in 1949.

Further to the south of the station was an area of extensive sidings known as the Bar End Yard. There were 4 sidings, two passing loops, a large goods shed, and a ten-ton crane. The goods facilities were withdrawn in 1966. To the east of the line, adjacent to the goods shed, there was an engine shed which opened in 1885 and closed in July 1953.

Like the other stations on the southern part of the line, Winchester Chesil closed on 7 March 1960; but unlike the others, it was reopened for the next two summers: 18 June 1960 to 10 September 1960 and 17 June 1961 to 9 September 1961, on Saturdays only.

Winchester Chesil Station map late 1800s.

Winchester Chesil Station early 1900s.


Wikipedia - Winchester Chesil Railway Station
Wikipedia - Winchester Railway Station
Wikipedia - Itchen Abbas Station
Wikipedia - Alresford Station
Wikipedia - Ropley Station
Wikipedia - Medstead and Four Marks Station
Wikipedia - Watercress Line
Watercress Line
Friends of Alton Station
Wikipedia - Alton Station
Old Maps Online