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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 64 - Winter 1987 / 88
Rails around Verney Junction - John Fairman
The first railway to enter Buckinghamshire was the London and Birmingham (later London and North Western), which opened on 20 July 1837 as far as Boxmoor and extended on 9 April 1838 to Denbigh Hall, north of Bletchley. In 1845 the Buckinghamshire Railway Company was formed, in association with the L&NWR, to construct a number of railways in the Buckinghamshire area. These comprised a line between Harrow and Aylesbury via Amersham, another between Tring and Banbury via Aylesbury and a third between Bletchley and Oxford, which would cross the Banbury line at Winslow. Of these three schemes, the latter survived in Parliament and was duly built; the former, the line from Harrow, perished; and the Tring to Banbury line altered, to start from Aylesbury, although later the Aylesbury to Winslow portion was abandoned.
The Buckinghamshire had Sir Harry Verney, a powerful local landowner, as Chairman and Mr Edward Watkin as Secretary. The Bletchley to Banbury section was opened to traffic on 1 May 1850 and stations were at Swanbourne, Winslow, Padbury, Buckingham, Fulwell & Westbury, Brackley and Farthinghoe, with the terminus at Banbury (Merton Street). The railway to Oxford was constructed from Claydon, near Winslow, and opened on 2 December 1850 to a station called Oxford Road, which was 3½ miles from Oxford. Intermediate stations were built at Claydon, Marsh Gibbon & Poundon, Launton, Bicester and Islip. It was extended into Oxford (Rewley Road) station on 20 May 1851. The designer of Rewley Road was Sir Joseph Paxton and the station was built by Fox and Henderson.
The first railway to Oxford had been Great Western Railway broad gauge branch from Didcot, which was opened on 12 June 1844 and extended on 2 September 1850 from the former terminus at Millstream Junction(¾ mile south of Oxford) to Banbury. On 1 October 1852 the line extended from Banbury to Birmingham and the present site of the station at Oxford was opened.
Another railway which was active in the Oxford area was the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway, which had been authorised in 1845 under GWR auspices. It was soon in financial trouble and relations with the GWR deteriorated. The OW&WR then allied themselves with the LNWR and completed a connection from Wolvercote, on the LNWR line outside Oxford, through to their own line. This connection was opened by the LNWR on 1 April 1854 and was known as the Yarnton spur. It provided a through route for the LNWR to Worcester and from October 1854, when a curve was opened between the main line and the Oxford branch at Bletchley to provide for direct running, a London (Euston) to Worcester service was started. The OW&WR amalgamated with other companies to form the West Midlands Railway in 1860 - and this, in turn, was absorbed into the GWR in 1863. When the mixed narrow and broad gauge line was completed between Reading and Paddington, through narrow gauge services between Paddington and Worcester became possible - and after 30 September 1861 the Yarnton spur was normally only used for goods traffic.
Meanwhile, Sir Harry Verney, Chairman of the Buckinghamshire Railway, decided (in 1859) to revive the Winslow to Aylesbury branch scheme - and in this plan he had the support of the Marquis of Chandos (Chairman of the LNWR and later the 3rd Duke of Buckingham), who was a landowner in the area which would be served by the line. The Aylesbury and Buckinghamshire Railway Act was passed on 6 August 1860 and construction started in February 1861 at the Winslow or Claydon end. Both these villages are named, because the point of connection with the Oxford and Bletchley was at least two miles from either place. The junction was, therefore, called Verney Junction, after Sir Harry Verney - and it was built by the LNWR at the A&BR's expense. In 1861 the Marquis of Chandos had to resign from the Chairmanship of the LNWR owing to certain differences of opinion and the A&BR lost its LNWR support. As a result, the A&BR had to turn to the GWR for locos and rolling stock for opening the line on 23 September 1868. Three trains were run daily in each direction. Although the A&BR advertised connections to Oxford, Bletchley and Banbury, the LNWR advised their passengers to travel from Verney to Aylesbury via Bletchley and Cheddington!
Verney Junction station is 2¼ miles west of Winslow and until December 1875 there were two independent lines running west from Winslow, one serving Oxford and the other serving Banbury. This section was converted to a normal double line from that date. The service from Bletchley in the 1870s comprised the 8.25 am, 10.40 am, 12.20 pm, 6.15 pm and 9.10 pm passenger trains to Oxford. A separate portion for Banbury was run at the rear and detached at Winslow. A similar procedure was followed for the reverse direction; Banbury portions being attached at Winslow to the front of trains from Oxford. This method of splitting and joining trains at Winslow continued until the late 1890s, although there was in fact normal double track between here and Verney from 1875. For the last few years down trains split at Verney and up trains joined at Winslow.
On the Oxford section there was a heavy goods traffic (eight each day), because Yarnton Junction, Oxford, became an important exchange point with the GWR. One Sunday train ran on the Oxford line and one on the Banbury line, largely for milk traffic.
Apart from the changes in motive power and rolling stock as the years went by, the most interesting development on the Bletchley and Oxford line was the introduction of through trains between Oxford and Cambridge, run non-stop between Oxford and Bletchley, with the exception of Bicester. There was also established a service of motor trains between Oxford and Bicester - which, in 1910, amounted to six return trips each day. For this service, halts were opened at Port Meadow, Oxford Road and Wolvercote between Oxford and Islip, plus Oddington, Charlton and Wendlebury between Islip and Bicester. On the Banbury line, in 1910, there were five trains each way stopping at all stations, with an additional two trains a day between Verney and Buckingham. One interesting service was provided on the 4.50 pm from Euston, which slipped a carriage at Bletchley for attachment to a train for Banbury.
The Verney Junction to Aylesbury line was acquired by the Metropolitan Railway on 1 July 1891. However, the GWR continued to work trains until January 1895, when the LNWR loaned locomotives and men. Physical connection with the rest of the Metropolitan Railway was established in. 1894, but it was not until the line had been doubled in 1897 and 1898 that the Metropolitan ran their first through trains from London to the country junction. In 1906 the line was transferred to the Metropolitan and Great Central Joint Committee.
On the Oxford and Bletchley line to the west of Claydon station, the route of the Great Central Railway crossed the LNWR at right angles and a construction spur was laid in to enable traffic to run from the LNWR to the GCR. This spur ran from the Oxford direction and turned southwards towards Aylesbury. It was removed when the GCR was fully opened to traffic in March 1899. Much later, in 1940, an emergency spur for war-time use was built and this provided a connection from the Bletchley direction to allow running onto the Great Central line in a southerly direction. A signal box called Claydon (LNE) Junction was installed on the LNWR and the box on the GCR was called Calvert Junction. A similar war-time connection was opened on 8 November 1940 to provide a physical connection between the GWR and the LMS (LNWR) north of Oxford (Rewley Road). This new connection made through running possible off the Bletchley line to the GWR station and was eventually used as the means of providing terminal facilities for LMS trains and allowing the closure of Rewley Road on 31 October 1951. Throughout the last war, traffic was extremely heavy - but following the end of hostilities, the poor passenger service continued to be provided although there was a very heavy iron ore traffic between the Northants quarries and the steelworks in South Wales.
The first closure in the area took place on 4 July 1936, when the Metropolitan Railway withdrew their passenger services north of Aylesbury and closed the intermediate stations between Verney Junction and Quainton Road. Granborough Road had a goods yard which remained opened, but Winslow Road was closed completely. In December 1939 a start was made on lifting one track between Verney and Quainton and this was finished at the end of January 1940, thereby leaving a single line in use for freight traffic only, but the spur between Claydon and Calvert duplicated this route and traffic became lighter. By early 1954 the home and distant signals at the Quainton Road end of the branch had their arms removed suggesting that no great future remained for the line, presumably because all the exchange was being carried over the Calvert spur. At this time a great deal of spare rolling stock was stored at the Verney Junction end of the branch. In fact, the line as far as Winslow Road was reinstated as a double track siding. At the end of January 1966 contractors completed the lifting of this section, which had been derelict for so many years.
Reverting to the Banbury branch, mention should be made of the junction at Cockley Brake, about two miles east of Farthinghoe, which was opened on 1 July 18 72 and provided a link with Banbury for the Northampton and Banbury Junction Railway. They had running powers over the LNWR from Cockley Brake Junction to Banbury. This line was closed to passenger traffic on 2 July 1951 and for goods on 29 October of the same year.
The last Banbury branch steam service was the 7.00 pm Banbury to Bletchley hauled by BR Standard 4 2-6-4T No. 80084 on Saturday 11 August 1956. On the following Monday, an experiment began using Derby railcars Nos. M79900 and M79901, providing an improved service between Banbury and Buckingham, calling additionally at the new halts Radclive and Water Stratford. Steam working still continued between Buckingham and Bletchley for a period, but this was eventually replaced by a diesel multiple unit service. Goods traffic still used steam power and there were occasional specials - for example , the through train between Euston and Buckingham, for the pupils of Stowe School.
Unfortunately, the Banbury experiment was unsuccessful and it ended on 31 December 1960. On the last day all trains ran to and from Bletchley - and the final passenger train, the 10.15 pm from Banbury, used one of the four-car Marylebone sets. Goods traffic continued to use the branch for a period, but was finally withdrawn between Buckingham and Banbury in December 1963. Shortly after, Buckingham lost its fight to retain a passenger service and the trains to Bletchley were withdrawn on 7 September 1964, with the last freight running in December 1966. During the following year, the entire branch was lifted.
December 1966 also saw the end of passenger services on the Bletchley to Oxford main line, a similar withdrawal taking place between Bedford and Cambridge, leaving only the Bedford to Bletchley section of this once important cross country route open to passenger traffic. Goods and parcels traffic continue to use the route. Also empty Marylebone DMUs run from Aylesbury via the Calvert curve to Bletchley for servicing. Principal traffics are the twice daily stone trains, rubbish from the Western Region requiring reversal at Claydon to gain access to Calvert tip and fertiliser for the UKF depot at Grendon. A Speedlink Coal service for Oxford currently gains the route, now single track, at Claydon, having run up the GC route from Aylesbury.
The latest development came with the commencement of the 1987 summer service, when Network SouthEast restored a limited passenger service between Bicester (Town) and Oxford, principally for the use of commuters and shoppers. As this looks set to continue, perhaps we can hope for an eventual Oxford to Milton Keynes service - but first perhaps BR should include the initial scheme in the timetable. Even the latest publication does not recognise its existence ...
Readers who are interested in the complicated story of railways in the Verney Junction area may like to refer to a series of articles published in Railway World during 1986 and also an item on the Banbury branch in the Autumn 1987 Backtrack. The Oxbridge Line has been the subject of an OPC book and the same publishers The Brill Tramway also covers Verney Junction. Both books and magazine articles are by local historian Bill Simpson.
Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
Page Updated: 26 November 2017