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National Railway Museum

South of England Group
Vice Presidents: Richard Hardy; Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA

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8 April 2011

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Midland and South Western Junction Railway
by Alan Gosling, FNRM South of England Group Committee Member
18th May 1998

Alan started his talk by pointing to his five connections with the M&SWJR: his house is named after one of the Stations, he has 2 tickets from the M&SWJR which were purchased by his parents when going on their honeymoon, he travelled on it when young, he is a member of the Swindon & Cricklade (which is one of the few remaining parts of it still extant), and finally he used it during his national service in 1953.

The main reason for building the M&SWJR was to tap goods from Manchester to Southampton. It was originally proposed by, of all people, George Stephenson in the first half of the 19th century. It was not, however, completed until much later; the problem was the GWR which was very protective of its area and, in particular, of any other railway wishing to cross or use its tracks.

As built, the railway started as a junction with GWR, through Swindon, to Andover, then running powers over LSWR, to Southampton. There are only two parts still extant: the Swindon & Cricklade, and Tidworth to Red Post Junction used by military for transporting tanks. At Andover there were separate sheds for the M&SWJ and LSWR.

Some notable railwaymen had connections with the M&SWJR for example Sam Fay started off as a Booking office clerk at Southampton Terminus but rose quickly in the management of M&SWJ.

The railway was built in parts, first was the Swindon, Marlborough and Andover section. This achieved its royal assent in July 1873. The ruling gradient was 1 in 90 on northern part so it tested the locomotives of the time. Originally, there were running powers over the GWR in the centre part, but difficulties caused the M&SWJR to build a parallel route and cross-over. The original hope of tapping some of the South Wales coal traffic from the GWR to Southampton never materialised, partly because of the restrictive practices of the GWR. In response the M&SWJR directors decided to extended in direction of Cheltenham. This they achieved and that concluded the extent of the line.

A large number of locomotive types were used on the line; the principal classes of which included 2-6-2 tanks, Dean Goods, Pannier Tanks, Manors, U Class, and Standard 4-6-0s.

The 1950s saw the run-down of the line. The usual technique of removing useful services were used to justify closure. Ludgershall to Tidworth closed in 1959 (it is now being considered for reopening to serve a new town development). General closure came in September 1961. Some sections still remained open to goods, but these gradually closed in the 1960s. The remains today are limited with a few stations converted to dwellings.

Alan then gave us a detailed presentation of some of the locomotives used on the line, starting with the original ones purchased from Beyer Peacock. These were still running when the GWR took over the line at the Grouping. They made significant changes, replacing the boiler and fittings on these ageing engines and "Swindonising" them, even to the extent of changing over the driving position.

Of particular interest was loco No 6, which was transferred to the Isle of Wight Central Railway to become their No 7 for the princely sum of £695. Loco No 16 with its cylinders placed low down gained the name "Galloping Alice" because of its rough riding. It lasted a long time, being transferred to the GWR, then in 1934 it was purchased by the Hartley Main Colliery in the North East, finally finishing its days at the Cramlingham Colliery under the NCB. Some of the remaining M&SWJR 4-4-4 tank engines were subsequently transferred to Birmingham for use on the Snow Hill commuter services.

The military always played a big part in the line and still does through its depot at Ludgersall. Here, there are facilities for transfer of tanks and armoured vehicles and, even, a ramp originally used to load horse cavalry. This was still extant in 1981 and could be seen during a special excursion on the line. The Army still has an allocation of diesel mechanical shunting locos at Ludgershall. On closure of Bramley Ordnance Depot, three of the engines from that depot were transferred in convoy to Ludgersall via Andover using Army drivers and BR pilot men.

Alan finished his talk on an optimistic note. Blunsdon station was the seed from which the Swindon and Cricklade Railway has grown. There was a slow start but events have recently been moving more quickly. Engine No 5637, which has been undergoing restoration there for many years, has now been restored and was recently steamed for the first time. Their other locomotive is "Hall" No 7903 which is undergoing restoration. A Drewry shunter was obtained a few years ago and was used for publicity at Membury services on the M4. The line is now being extended and there are hopes it could soon link in with new housing developments on the edge of Swindon. We could even be seeing the rebirth of the M&SWJR

Also see the visit report to the Swindon & Cricklade Railway