The Fairford Branch was built in two stages by two separate private companies. The Witney Railway Co. was formed locally after the residents of the prosperous blanket making town were repeatedly thwarted in their attempts to get connected to the booming railway network during the early Victorian era by the locally dominant Great Western Railway Co. On 23 December 1858 a meeting led to the formation of the independent Witney Railway Co. and royal assent was granted to a bill to build a line on from the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway at Yarnton to Witney on 1 August 1859.

The line was surveyed by the well known engineer Sir Charles Fox and a considerable amount of the building work was carried out by local builder Malachi Bartlett. The line opened on 13 November 1861.

The Fairford Branch like so many rural lines up and down the country continued to serve the local community with remarkably little change in the pattern of services well into the 20th Century.

The second world war actually brought an increase in traffic to the line and numerous track improvements were put in place to cater for the extra traffic. Aerodromes at Fairford, Broadwell (near Alvescot), Brize Norton and Stanton Harcourt, as well as various army camps all ensured a large number of military personnel using the line. However, after the war, the increased use of road haulage of goods and the ever increasing rise in the use of the private motor car saw traffic on the line reduce considerably.

The reduction in traffic finally led to the Witney to Fairford section being closed to all traffic on 18 June 1962. The last trains ran on Saturday 16 June 1962.  A freight service continued from Oxford to Witney until 2 November 1970.

The Fairford Branch Line enjoyed a rich array of corrugated iron buildings along it’s 20-odd miles of track. From the typical GWR-style pagoda-type shelters, to permanent way and wayside stores, to larger goods sheds.

In this post we’ll take a virtual journey along this (now long-since lost) line.

I hope you enjoy this trip into a ‘lost age’ of steam…

Cassington Halt on 29 September 1956, looking towards Yarnton Junction. This view clearly shows the construction of the concrete platform. In addition to the simple wooden shelter, note the ingenious use of the concrete posts; not only for platform fencing but also supports for the nameboard and lamp standards. The halt relied on oil lamps which were maintained by the train guard using the brick built steps below each lamp, which would not be acceptable to today’s Health & Safety Executive! Note also the small corrugated iron store at the end of the platform. Photo: Martin Loader Collection
Eynsham Station: at the rear of the yard was the weighbridge hut, seen here in April 1980, along with one of the ubiquitous corrugated iron stores that were so prevalent on GWR station sites. The longest of the three sidings in the goods yard (normally used for coal) ended just to the left of this picture. Photo: Martin Loader Collection
South Leigh station in around 1970, looking towards Oxford Photo: Martin Loader Collection
South Leigh station looking towards Witney in the early 1960s. Photo: Martin Loader
A South Leigh panorama. In early 1970 the siding (bottom right) had been removed, although as can be seen here the point remained in situ. This view taken from the cattle dock area shows the entire station area, and also the warning boards installed after the line became freight only. Photo: Colour Rail
South Leigh station building and corrugated iron goods lock-up pictured from the approach road side on 15 May 1979, just a few months before they were demolished to make way for a new bungalow. The station building had been modernised a short time before, and yet planning permission was granted for its removal, without any consideration of its historical interest. Photo: Martin Loader
The original Witney Railway station, seen from the platform side on 18 May 1979. In the centre of the picture the original Malachi Bartlett wooden station building can be seen, along with its boxed in canopy. This was a conversion to increase storage space once it had been converted to a goods-only station. On the extreme right in the background can be seen the 1939 built stationmaster’s house, and towering above that St. Mary’s parish church. Photo: Martin Loader
A panoramic view of Witney goods station on 18 April 1980. On the left, above the recently constructed breeze block coal bins, is the weighbridge hut, while the stationmaster’s house can be seen behind the Ford Transit van. The original Witney Railway Company station building is in the centre of the picture with a modern site office on its immediate left. Prominent on the right is the large corrugated iron store erected by the GWR on the former passenger platform. Photo: Martin Loader
The original Malachi Bartlett built Witney passenger station building, which for nearly one hundred years was used as the goods office, is pictured in about 1960 looking towards the goods shed. Notice how the building has settled during this time with a definite slope away from the brick built chimney. Photo: Tony Doyle Collection
This fine view, taken in July 1956, shows Witney station looking neat and tidy in its final form, and before the dilapidation that set in towards the end. On the left the water column stands in front of the down platform waiting shelter, with its ornate lamp. On the up platform, the station building and canopy can be clearly seen, along with the signal box, and a pagoda corrugated iron shed. Photo: Martin Loader Collection
The signalman walks back to the box with the Brize Norton & Bampton to Witney token on 10 March 1956. This view from the 12:35 Fairford to Oxford train shows a reflection of the signal box and pagoda hut in the coach windows. The platform seat has just been repainted. Note the paint pot near the nameboard, and the remains of a wooden packing case with attached “wet paint” notice used to prevent anybody inadvertently sitting on it.
Photo: Malcolm Henderson Collection
Witney Station shortly after closure. The weeds have already started to gain a foothold, and the windows of the pagoda hut have been boarded up. Photo: Stanley C. Jenkins
A rain soaked Alvescot station in 1934. An interesting comparison with the picture below, which was taken from almost the same viewpoint over a quarter of a century later. Although the trackwork and buildings remained unchanged, subtle differences can be seen. Pre-war the standards of maintenance were obviously higher, as stone edged flower beds and neatly trimmed bushes give the station a well cared for appearance. Note also, that in 1934 the station still had platform lighting. This panoramic view also shows the weighbridge hut on the extreme left, which was the last building to survive on the site. Photo: Martin Loader Collection
Alvescot station viewed from the road bridge in the early 1960s. Photo: Colour Rail & Martin Loader (Past and Present Photo)
Alvescot station pictured on 17 April 1959. This view clearly shows the brick construction of the station building. Plenty of detail of a typical Great Western branch line station is also visible, from the GWR seat and pagoda hut to the platform trolleys and barrows. More homely touches such as the daffodils growing under the station nameboard, and the bicycles leaning against the station building and fence reinforce the easy going nature of the line. In the background can be seen the small goods store and yard crane. A sixteen ton steel open wagon can also be seen standing on the goods loop, while a wooden bodied open wagon can just be glimpsed on the back siding, behind the shed. Photo: Martin Loader Collection
A fine view of Kelmscott & Langford station taken on 29 September 1956. Photo: Martin Loader Collection
Kelmscott & Langford station pictured in the early 1960s, looking towards LechladePhoto: Colour Rail
The fireman of an Oxford to Fairford train is about to hand the train staff to the Lechlade signalman in this 17 April 1959 view. A couple of the signal levers can be glimpsed through the open signal box door. Photo: Martin Loader Collection
Fairford Station, September 1961, and the crew of the 18:00 Fairford to Oxford train are relaxing in the warm evening sunshine before commencing their 25½ mile journey to Oxford. This scene typifies the lazy nature of the line, no passengers visible and the signal already ‘off’. The I in 100 gradient commencing under the bridge is readily apparent in this view. The standard GWR pagoda hut on the left was used for bicycle storage. 
Photo: Paul Strong

Much of the information in this post was drawn from a fabulously informative website: where much more information, and illustrations on the Fairford Branch can be found.

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