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The London & South Western

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The South Western - for so it is always called notwithstanding the other South Western over the Border - has been associated with Southampton from the beginning. The insecurity of the Channel, even after Trafalgar, had clearly shown the advisability of an inland route to London to avoid a sea passage at the mercy of an enemy's cruisers and privateers; and it is not to be wondered at that in the days of- canals a canal was projected. But fortunately little was done. The London end, the Grand Surrey, stopped at Camberwell, and when another start was about to be made railways had begun to pay, and the canal gave place to the London & Southampton Railway.

It was the shipowners of Southampton who put the company afloat. Seeing in 1830 what the Liverpool & Manchester was likely to do for the shipping of Liver pool, they talked matters over together, and in April 1831 there appeared the prospectus of - notice the significance of the title - the Southampton, London, and Branch Railway and Dock Company. As enough money could not be raised for this, a meeting was held in London at which the dock part of the scheme was abandoned, to become a separate enterprise, thereby reducing the capital by half a million, and in the session of 1832 a Bill was introduced into Parliament for the construction of the London & Southampton Railway, which was thrown out. Next year it met with a similar fate, but in 1834 the promoters were more fortunate, and at a cost of 31,000 for legal expenses the Act was obtained, the capital being one million with a third as much in loans - and it was nearly all spent in two years.

Had the route been direct much money would have been saved, but it went almost due west from Woking to Basingstoke, with the intention of throwing off a branch to Bristol, and this aroused the hostility of the Great Western people, who did their best to prove the embankments so huge and the gradients so steep that the line could never be made or worked. The engineer was Francis Giles, who had surveyed for Rennie's Portsmouth canal, and who when the Liverpool & Manchester Bill was before Parliament gave evidence that "No engineer in his senses would go through Chat Moss if he wanted to make a railway from Liverpool to Manchester." When the Southampton Bill was before the House the Great Western called George Stephenson on their side, who promptly had his revenge with "No engineer in his senses would go through Basingstoke if he wanted to make a railway from London to Southampton!" But as Giles had been mistaken, so was "Old George."

Giles had to get through the Hampshire ridge, and he ran the line at so high a level to avoid as many long tunnels as he could. The earthworks were tremendous for those days, sixteen million cubic yards of them, and there were difficulties of many kinds, not the least being that the work had been let out to small contractors, who obtained payments on account and cleared off as soon as the contract ceased to pay them. There was practically no progress, and matters came to a crisis. Many of the shareholders were Lancashire men, - "the Liverpool party" of the South Western, in fact, - and these, after bringing about the resignation of Giles, put Joseph Locke of the Grand Junction in his place, who called in his friend Thomas Brassey, and in their capable hands the construction went steadily on. This was Brassey's coming to London. He was then thirty-one, and the contract for the portion between Basingstoke and Winchester, and other parts of the line, was his first big job. With it he commenced a career which was to take him railway-making over a large part of Europe, India, and Canada.

The terminus was at Nine Elms, the present goods yard; so placed by the bank of the river as to secure a share of the barge-borne trade of the port of London. The first station, called Wandsworth, was really in Battersea, being - according to the map at South Kensington - on the north side of the road where Battersea Rise ends at what is now the Freemason bridge. The Brighton line, running along the site, bears away just at the spot, and on the other side of the road that company in 1856 built a passenger station, now used for goods only, which, to distinguish it from the old one, was called New Wands-worth and gave the name to the district. At Earlsfield, skirting the east side of Garratt Lane, just before crossing the Wandle, the line went over the old Surrey Iron Railway to Croydon; Wimbledon v/as the second station from Nine Elms; then came Kingston - at Surbiton - placed so far away from the town that Surbiton was known facetiously for years as Kingston-upon-Railway, until, in fact, the present Kingston Station was opened on the loop line. Next came Ditton Marsh - now Esher - then Walton, then Weybridge, then Woking Common, the present Woking, to which the line was opened on the 12th of May 1838.

Meanwhile work was in progress on the way to Shapley Heath, now Winchfield, and at the other end between Southampton and Winchester. Beyond Woking the task was heavy owing to the cuttings and embankments, and beyond Farnborough there was Fleet Pond to be crossed along the sandbank faced with turf, thatched with hazels, pinned with willows, and edged with chalk. The line still rising went on to its summit level at Litchfield, 392 ft., and then ran down through the tunnels and under the canal to Basingstoke. In June 1839 trains began to run from London to Basingstoke and from Southampton to Winchester, a coach ride filling up the gap until May 1840, when the first train ran through to Southampton. The works had cost over two millions, more than double Giles's estimate, much of it raised by issuing the 50 shares at half price.

The first branch was to Gosport from Bishop-stoke, now Eastleigh. This was easily arranged. Portsmouth wanted a railway, but would have nothing to do with anything bearing the detested name of the rival port. At the same time it was evident that a branch from the existing line would give much cheaper access to London than an independent one all the way that would cost a fortune in legal expenses to get sanctioned by Parliament. Could nothing be done? "Is it our name only you object to?" asked the Southampton directors. "That is all." "Well, then, that can be settled at once. Instead of the London & Southampton we will call our line The London & South Western." And the Portsmouth people were delighted, the Gosport branch was made, and the railway took the name we know it by.

It might be called the recreation line, for what with its nine racecourses, and the Thames boating and reviews and sundries, it makes more out of sport and pleasure than any other. And it began early. The first chairman was Sir John Easthope, a successful stockbroker, proprietor of The Morning Chronicle, etc., whose breezy, interfering ways were quite a feature of all the small stations on the road to Weybridge, where he lived. As he added racing to his other interests there was nothing surprising in the new railway announcing that on the Derby Day, eighteen days after the opening, eight trains would run from Nine Elms to Kingston - Surbiton - for the convenience of the public, who could walk the rest of the way to Epsom. The idea does not seem attractive to us now, but things have changed. So pleased were the people at the opportunity that they swarmed down to Nine Elms early in the morning and formed a crowd of 5000, who, not being prepared for, carried the station doors off their hinges, took possession of the platform - which was 15 in. high - filled all the carriages in sight, and after doing much damage had to be cleared off by the police. If this was not an indication of the need of a branch to Epsom, Sir John had never heard of another; and so the Epsom branch was the first to be proposed. But unfortunately the forefathers of the Brighton, the London & Croydon, had also their eyes on Epsom, to proceed there atmospherically, and they brought in an opposition Bill which met with Parliament's approval while the other did not. Their atmospheric road remained in the air, and for some time, the Derby and Oaks patrons, more amply provided for, went to the Downs and back by way of Surbiton.

Thus the Gosport branch was the first to be opened, the next being that to Guildford, bought from another company who were going to lay it with wooden rails. The next was that to Richmond, afterwards extended to Windsor, which was reached in December 1849. This branch went off just before the first cutting, now known as Clapham Cutting; and in making this cutting, springs were dug into which flooded the excavation, and, to work the pumps for clearing it, the engineer built the windmill which still stands, without its arms, overlooking Wandsworth Common.

A new station was built near Falcon Lane, taking the place of the so-called Wandsworth, and to be called Battersea, or rather Battersea Junction. But the name was changed to Clapham Junction; why is a mystery, unless we accept the usual explanation that it sounded more important, for it is very much in Battersea and over a mile from Clapham, to which a branch was never proposed. On this Richmond branch, opened in 1846, the first station was the Wandsworth, now known as Wandsworth Town; a little farther on, close to the Wandle, the line crossed the Surrey Iron Railway to Croydon, as the main line had crossed it at Earlsfield, and as the South Western bought it just as the Brighton bought the extension from Croydon to Merstham, that old railway ceased to exist on the 31st of August of that year. The next branch was to Salisbury from Eastleigh through Romsey, and the next that to Hungerford Bridge.

The last was the most costly and best of all, though it was only two and a quarter miles in length and the outlay nearly two millions, the station being no other than Waterloo, so named from its main entrance in the Waterloo Road. The well-known station was not intended to be a terminus, for the line was going farther east along the present route of the South Eastern & Chatham, and much of the property had been secured, such insignificant items as Barclay & Perkins's brewery and Southwark Bridge being about to be taken over by the company, when the financial crisis made them pull up where they have remained.

Waterloo Station now covers twenty-two acres. Within it are nineteen roads, that is to say that when full it holds nineteen trains abreast, and the bridge over the Westminster Bridge Road by which it is approached carries eleven roads. Over 2500 trains, engines, etc., are dealt with every day, and as many as 12,000 passengers are despatched from it during the busiest half-hour of each working day of the week, for the South Western suburban traffic extends far beyond the range of competing trams.

Trains no longer go from London to Salisbury by way of Eastleigh, but direct from Basingstoke, and the main line is fairly straight all the way to Exeter. North of it the spurs are to Windsor, Wokingham, and Bulford; south of it the branches lead down, with many inter-crossings, to Portsmouth, Southampton, Bournemouth, and Dorchester. Beyond Salisbury the southerly branches serve the coast again between Lyme Regis and Exmouth, and from Exeter goes the great curve round the beautiful country of Dartmoor to Plymouth, throwing off the picturesque roads to Barnstaple, Ilfracombe, Torrington, Bude, and Padstow. Altogether just over 1000 miles of track, every mile carrying on the average 66,000 passengers a year.

The great feature of the system is the way in which the branches loop up with other branches, or end in communication with other systems so as to provide alternative routes and through routes for passengers and merchandise. There are less than a couple of dozen loose ends that do not form a junction with some other line; and of these more than half have their terminus on the coast; three of them, Hampton Court, Shepperton, and Windsor, end on the banks of the Thames; and two, Bisley and Bulford, are for military purposes.

The South Western is our most important military line. It skirts the Channel, and has more military stations on it than any other. It connects the three great naval stations, Portsmouth, Portland, and Plymouth, with the two great camps, and serves as many garrison towns as it does cathedral cities. The road it jointly owns with the Brighton into Portsmouth is the only one in the country that passes through a rampart. And, owing to the concentration of the troopships at Southampton, it carries every British soldier that goes or returns on foreign service.

On the Channel the seaside towns it serves are Southsea and those of the Isle of Wight; Lee, Lymington and Bournemouth; Poole, Swanage, and Weymouth; Lyme Regis, Seaton, and Sidmouth; Budleigh Salterton and Exmouth. North Cornwall it claims for its own. Bude the nearest Atlantic port to London, it runs the coach rides northward to Clovelly and southwards to Boscastle that excel all others. From Clovelly downwards is the rockiest, healthiest coast in England. Along it the real blue water, for the nearest over-the-way to the west is America. Beautiful in every mood, splendid the sunshine, terrible in the storm, let those who would know what an Atlantic sea is like venture out in a gale on to the cliffs at Morwenstow or Bude, or that pirate's wild harbour, Boscastle, or even windier Tintagel and they will learn what they cannot learn on the coasts c Channel and the North Sea.

The history of the line in the west is that of a sixty years' war with the Great Western. As the champion of the standard gauge in the south, the broad-gauge people naturally endeavoured to stop its advance and that all the more strongly from its being an invader. But battle over private Bills have lost so much of the little interest they had for those not engaged in them that we need not dwell on them here.

What the South Western intended to do was clearly shown in 1846, when it took shares in the Sutton harbour at Plymouth, which was not reached until forty-two years afterwards, as also in 1845 when it bought the Bodmin & Wadebridge. This little, single, narrow-gauge line was opened in 1834 at a cost of 35,000 for the purpose of carrying sand from the Camel River, which the farmers of Bodmin were then using in large quantities as a top-dressing for their pastures. It was worked by two engines, the Camel and the Elephant, made by Tregellas Price of Neath. On it ran a passenger train, up one day and down the next, up being from Wadebridge on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It was laid as railroads were laid then, with light rails on tiny chairs fastened down to granite blocks by a couple of tenpenny nails, and was perhaps more lightly built than usual as it was the only sand line ever made; and the sands of its time began to run out from its commencement. Eleven years after it was opened, being then in a bad way, the Cornwall Railway, that is the Great Western under another name, offered to buy it, provided the Cornwall Railway Act was obtained, and the Cornwall & Devon Central, the competing company, did likewise whether they got their Act or not. The Wadebridge people accepted the definite offer - 33,096, 9s. 8d. - and the Cornwall & Devon Central, which never had a line but were financed from Nine Elms, passed on the bargain to the South Western, who thus obtained an outpost in the west, two hundred miles away, which it took fifty years to reach, and now works with a steam rail-motor car.

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