Watlington Railway

The Watlington & Princes Risborough Railway Co was formed in 1859 by the Earl of Macclesfield and others.  It built this Line with Stations at Watlington, Aston Rowant & Chinnor and ran as a small Private Company until 1884 when it was taken over by the GWR.  The Rolling Stock and so on had to be altered and only the Station Buildings remained of the original Design.  Watlington had its own Stationmaster.

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Originally known as the Watlington & Princes Risborough Railway Company, the Railway was largely promoted by local Land Owners following the failure of the planned extension of the Wallingford Branch through to Watlington.  Construction of the Branch was Authorised by an Act of Parliament dated 26th July 1869.  This authorised the construction of the Branch as a Light Railway, commencing from the Great Western Railway Station at Princes Risborough and running for a distance of 8-miles 66-chains to a Terminus at Pyrton just outside Watlington.

The Watlington-Princes Risborough Railway which opened in 1872 was an Independent English Railway Company that connected the Oxfordshire Towns of Watlington, Aston Rowant & Chinnor to the Main Line Railway network of the Great Western Railway (GWR) at Princes Risborough.  The Company was always short of money and the Great Western Railway (GWR) acquired it on 1st July 1883 for the sum of £23,000, which was less than half the cost of its Construction.  Investors sustained a considerable loss.  It was made a Branch Line of the Great Western.  There were Halts at LewknorKingston Blount, Wainhill and at Bledlow Bridge.  Road Vehicle & Bus 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; British Railways closed the Line to Passengers in 1957, the Stations remained open for Goods & Parcel Traffic until 2nd January 1961, after which the Section from Chinnor to Watlington was closed completely and the Track lifted.

The Section from Chinnor to Princes Risborough was retained to serve the Cement Works & the Siarey’s Sawmill & Woodyard in Chinnor.  Siarey’s ceased to use Rail Freight by the beginning of 1961 and in the early 1970s the Station Building at Chinnor was demolished and the Platform broken up.  In 1989 British Rail declared the Coal Hopper Wagons used to carry the Cement Works Fuel obsolete.  Set against the cost of new Wagons & Unloading System and given the effectiveness of having Coal delivered by road, the Service was declared non-Operational.

Photograph of cement works in Chinnor, Oxfordshire [c.1930s-1980s] by John Piper 1903-1992
Chinnor Cement Works with Beehive Lime Kilns in the Background

A large Cement Works was established at Chinnor in 1908, Mr William Elijah Benton a Mining Engineer from Acton, founded a small Business to manufacture Lime on the Southern edge of Chinnor. This eventually consisted of 5 Beehive Lime Kilns producing Lump Lime for use in both Construction & Agriculture.  In 1919 he added a small Cement Plant which used Flare Kilns (that had to be Loaded & Unloaded by hand).  By 1928 the Business had grown and the 1st Rotary Kiln was commissioned and following Progress & Development, the Chinnor Cement & Lime Co. Ltd was formed in 1936 and further investment followed, with Rotary Kiln No.2 being installed in 1938.  A further Rotary Kiln No.3 was added in 1958 and the Company had also grown, becoming Chinnor Industries Ltd; by 1962, the original Rotary Kiln had been replaced by a new No.1 Inclined Rotary Kiln and the Site extended to almost 200 acres.

There was once an old adage or Country-folk saying that Train & Time wait for no man, but William Elijah Benton, Founder of Chinnor Cement Works, a frequent Passenger on the Branch Line, was probably one exception.  He had the habit of announcing his Train Journeys by whistling from his Office Door across to the Chinnor Station and be it noted, no Train Driver dared to leave without him.  Norman Molyneux Benton, who succeeded his father as Chairman & Managing Director, was wont to arrive at the Booking Office window and say ‘my piece of cardboard please’; his destination was always made known to the Station Staff in advance.

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A Heritage Railway Group took it over and operates successfully as the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway.

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Last Train at Bledlow Bridge Halt 1957

The Halt was one of three that the GWR opened on the Line in September 1906 to try to encourage Passenger Traffic in the face of increased competition from Buses.  It was situated to the North of Bledlow, on the Northern side of Perry Lane adjacent to the Railway Overbridge which carried the Watlington & Princes Risborough Railway over the Road. A flight of steps led up from the Road to the Station which had very basic facilities: a single low Platform, no more than one coach-length long, a running-in Board and a small wooden Passenger Waiting Shelter. The 7-sq yds (5.9M²) needed for the Waiting Shelter were acquired by the Railway Company from Lord Carrington in 1909.

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Bledlow Bridge Halt
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Aston Rowant Station with Milk Churns
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Aston Rowant looking towards the A40 Bridge
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Aston Rowant Station looking towards Chinnor

Lewknor Bridge Railway Halt
The Halt was one of 3 that the GWR opened on the Princes Risborough/Watlington Line in September 1906 to try to encourage Passenger Traffic in the face of increased competition from Buses.  It was Southeast of Lewknor, on the Western side of a Bridge carrying the Railway over a Lane known as “Shiftcutts“.  The Bridge (No.6m74c), which had 19-ins (480mm) wrought Iron Girders, spanned 20-ft (6.1M) and was supported by Brick & Flint Abutments; it had a minimum headroom of 15ft-8in (4.78M).  A Single Platform was provided on which stood a Wooden Passenger Waiting Shelter and the Running-in board – a large Sign showing the name of the Railway Station. The Halt was unstaffed and in Winter 2 Hurricane Lamps lit the Platform at night, both being lit & extinguished by the late-turn Guard.  Access to the Station was via a Kissing-gate and a flight of steps from the Roadside on the Southside of the Bridge.  In the longer term, the GWR’s Halt strategy did little to dissuade people from more convenient Bus Services.  In 1957 British Railways closed the Halt and withdrew Passenger Services from the Line.  Shiftcutts (now known as Hill Road) was truncated by the Diversion of the B4009 Watlington Road which bypasses Lewknor Village, cutting across the former Railway alignment and obliterating the Site of Lewknor Bridge Halt. Although the Bridge no longer exists, the steps leading up to the Halt are reported to be still extant.

OS Map 1919 – Oxfordshire XLVII.7 ( Lewknor)

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The Watlington & Princes Risborough Railway Co was formed in 1859 by the Earl of Macclesfield and others.  It built this Line with Stations at Watlington, Aston Rowant, & Chinnor and ran as a small Private Company until 1884 when it was taken over by the GWR.  The Rolling Stock and so on had to be altered and only the Station Buildings remain of the original Design.  Watlington had its own Stationmaster.

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When Watlington’s Goods were sent by Rail the Goods Traffic was worth £1,000 a year at its height in 1924, but eventually, Producers changed to Road Transport.  In 1960 Sugar-beet was grown and the Farmers opposed the closing of the Watlington Railway for Goods on the grounds that it would affect its carriage to Market.

When we went to London from Stokenchurch we walked 1½ miles to the Kingston Crossing, which was just a small Hut by the Level Crossing; from there we caught the ‘Watlington Donkey‘, just 2 Carriages, to Risborough and from there to London.  Quite an easy journey, really, as the Trains connected every time.