THE FAIRFORD BRANCH LINE

LECHLADE

Lechlade is a pleasant small market town standing on the north bank of the River Thames. Except for very small craft, it marks the limit of navigation, and in consequence it was nearby that the Thames & Severn Canal began its journey across the Cotswolds to link up with Severn. A popular tourist destination now, Lechlade was unfortunately some little distance from the station, and tourist traffic probably suffered as a consequence. Ironically, since closure, the town has grown out to meet the station! As Kelmscott & Langford station had not opened at the time, Lechlade station featured in the funeral arrangements for William Morris in 1896, the coffin being taken to Kelmscott from Lechlade on a specially prepared farm wagon.

Lechlade station (SP218006) was situated next to the A361 road just to the north of the town and was 18 miles 38 chains from Yarnton Junction. Standard EGR buildings were provided along with a GWR signal box. Although a passing loop was added during the Second World War, this was only for the use of freight trains. It can just be seen in the background of this early 1960s view. Note also a wagon standing on the overgrown long back siding to the left of the signal box. The field on the left was shortly be used for gravel extraction, and is now a popular fishing lake.
Paul Strong

3722 at Lechlade

57xx Class 0-6-0PT 3722 passes Lechlade goods shed with a train bound for Oxford in the late 1950s. There was obviously still a little goods traffic being handled at this late date, as a line of wagons are visible in the goods shed siding. 3722 had moved from Oxford to Newport (Ebbw Junction) by late 1960, and was withdrawn from there in May 1962, and was scrapped at Cashmores of Newport the following November. 
Paul Strong

Lechlade Station 17 April 1959

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. In 2006 it is still possible to stand on this spot (see below), but the platform surface and the road bridge are the only structures still extant. The typical flood under the cheaply built EGR is evident in this picture, while in the distance, the down advanced started signal can just be seen, placed on the north side of the line. In the far distance the line can be seen disappearing under Bridge No.26. 
Martin Loader Collection

An excellent view of the station approach road taken in the early 1960s. From left to right we can see: the gates giving access to the platform for the loading of milk churns, the station building, standard GWR pagoda hut, goods shed, corrugated iron store, with the isolated cattle dock behind, and the weighbridge hut. As can be seen, the field to the south of the station was used for allotments. Note the elm trees in the background, a once familiar sight in the area until the ravages of Dutch Elm Disease in the late 1960s changed the landscape for ever. The original Kodachrome slide shows plenty of detail, including a PW hut in the far distance, and the famous topiary hen in the gardens opposite the platform. This can just be seen through the branches of the tree by the station building. Compare this view with the same scene on 21 November 2005 (hover your mouse over the image). Virtually the only feature linking the two pictures is the railway fence.
Colour Rail & Martin Loader  Past and Present Photo

Lechlade station from the approach road

Lechlade station building seen from the approach road on 2 September 1959. The toilet block is on the left, the small window giving light to the ladies toilet. The first window in the main building was for the ladies waiting room, followed by the main waiting room. The doors in the centre of the building opened directly into the main waiting room. The next two windows (both with bars) are for the office and parcels store respectively. The back of the signal box can be seen between the station building and the pagoda hut. The cupboard like extension on the rear of the box presumably housed the ATC equipment and batteries. As in the previous picture, an air of desertion already exists here. 
Colour Rail

Very few pictures have come to light showing the Witney to Fairford section after the cessation of train services but before removal of the track. However, this rather poor quality picture of Lechlade station on 30 June 1963 shows the line one year after closure. Apart from some forty gallon drums and tyres on the platform, not a lot seems to have changed, although a caravan has appeared behind the signal box and there appears to be some kind of mast, or possibly borehole drill erected behind it. Does anyone know what this was for? 
Colour Rail

Lechlade station after closure 30 June 1963

Lechlade Station in 1966

Over three years later in late 1966, the track has gone and the platform is becoming choked with grass. At this time the trackbed was clearly used by farm vehicles, as prior to the building of the housing estate on the other side of the A361, this must have been a convenient route between fields, avoiding the main road. Although having not been tended for several years, the elaborate garden opposite the platform is still just about holding out against the rough grass. In the background the field on the left has been cleared for gravel extraction, and the resultant lake has already started to form. 
Tony Doyle

Lechlade station site 19 April 1980

Lechlade station site 19 May 1992

On 19 April 1980 (above left), the station site was still being used as a coal yard, with sacks of coal stacked on the concrete base of the corrugated iron pagoda hut. Shortly afterwards, the site was abandoned, and nature quickly took over. In this view from 19 May 1992 (above right) the vegetation is starting to gain the upper hand. During the late 1990s the area had become an impenetrable jungle. 
Martin Loader

In August 2003 the whole site was cleared of all vegetation and a new fence erected alongside the road. The concrete plinth visible behind the pagoda hut base in 1980, now stands in glorious isolation (above right). Various other sections of masonry and assorted railway came to light during this clearance.
Martin Loader

Lechlade station site concrete base
Lechlade station after the August 2003 clearance

This view, taken on 24 August 2003, shows the remains of the platform with the road bridge just visible behind the tree in the background. The newly erected fence alongside the road can also be seen. New houses were built some years ago on the other side of the road, and presumably the recent clearance operations herald the end of the station's existence. However, over three years after the clearing operations nothing has happened, and nature is already starting to gain the upper hand again! No work can begin until the road bridge is demolished due to safety concerns over the junction into any new development. Take the opportunity to view the site now before the likely redevelopment takes place. 
Martin Loader

The extensive clearance operations in August 2003 revealed the layout of the station after years of being hidden under dense vegetation. This view shows the base of the goods shed. Lechlade had a very spacious goods yard - the area behind the goods shed in this view only contained one siding. The picture was taken from the bank on the north side of the line, and is looking towards Manor Farm in the distance. 
Martin Loader

Base of Lechlade goods shed

Lechlade bridge

Lechlade road overbridge pictured on 22 April 2006. The new housing development on the other side of the bridge has resulted in a fence being erected, blocking off the other side of the bridge. This has obviously been seen as too good an opportunity to miss, and so a second lower fence has been erected on this side (just visible behind the bushes) and the resultant void used as a handy dumping ground for domestic and builder's rubbish. 
Martin Loader

The structural integrity of Lechlade bridge seems a little in doubt, when you examine this view of the underside of the span seen on 22 April 2006. At sometime in the bridge's life the original rolled joists and timber decking were replaced with these reinforced concrete sections. However, ingress of water has rusted the reinforcing rods and consequent expansion is splitting off large junks of concrete. Although not dangerous yet, this can only get worse, and when you consider that the road above is the A361 which carries a high volume of heavy traffic, it seems certain that demolition will have to be considered shortly. 
Martin Loader

Lechlade bridge

Immediately after the A361 road bridge there is now new housing development on both sides of the line, effectively obliterating the route. The straight line where the gardens of the more recent houses on the north abut the houses on the south marks the course of the route. Less than ¼mile from the A361 bridge (SP215006) the houses on the north of the line give way to the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust's Edward Richardson nature reserve. This is another former gravel pit, now a haven for birds and other wildlife. A couple of footpaths cross the route here (SP213006 and SP212006).

Hambridge Lane Bridge

Approximately ½ mile after leaving Lechlade station, the line passed under another of the characteristic EGR bridges (SP210006), referred to in the GWR bridge survey as Hambridge Road, Bridge No.26. The road is currently called Hambridge Lane and is part of the old Salt Way, the medieval trackway used for the transportation of salt from Cheshire to the Thames at Lechlade. The bridge has a span of 12ft 8in (13ft 3in on the skew). On 19 April 1980 the track has gone but the flood remains! This view is looking back towards Lechlade. 
Martin Loader

Hambridge Lane Bridge

This bridge still survives, and the approach road doesn't seem to be suffering quite so much subsidence trouble as many of the others. In fact, as this picture taken on 16 July 2008 shows the bridge has recently had some significant repair work carried out. The former corrugated iron sides have now been replaced by a mesh screen, and in addition to repair work on three of the stone parapet ends, the one on the south west corner has been completely replaced. Apart from the fact that the capstone is concrete rather than the original stone, it is an excellent job, and no doubt once it has weathered will be an perfect match. This is a surprisingly busy road, considering it only leads from Lechlade to the villages of the Coln Valley. Obviously the structure of the bridge was considered to be sound enough to warrant repair work rather than demolition, which would probably also have entailed realigning the road at this point to remove a noticeable double bend. Note the retention of the former railway fencing on the right.
Martin Loader

Continuing westwards from the Hambridge Lane bridge the railway has been incorporated into the fields, as can be seen here at the point where another footpath crosses the line (SP204007). This view is looking east along the hedgerow on 16 July 2008. The field on the left have been extended over the railway. Presumably the removal of many tons of ballast was considered worthwhile for the small increase in field acreage.
Martin Loader

Trackbed west of Lechlade

Bridge over stream west of Lechlade

Although all trace of the line has been obliteratied adjacent to the footpath crossing, the bridge over the stream (SP204007) survives in its original condition. However, as these views from 16 July 2008 show it may well not survive much longer. Although the north side of the bridge is in good shape (upper picture), the same cannot be said for the south side (lower picture). Although not immediately obvious from this picture, the whole side of the bridge above the arch is leaning outwards at an alarming angle, due to the root growth of a tree that is growing on the track bed. It can only be a matter of time before the whole section comes crashing down into the stream. As this will obviously block the watercourse and lead to flooding of the neighbouring fields, it is inevitable than when this happens this original structure will be replaced by the ubiquitous concrete pipe. The creeping roots of the ivy have not helped either, as the outer bricks of the lower arch ring have already disappeared, except for the few at the left side, which are also on the point of falling into the water!
Martin Loader

Bridge over stream west of Lechlade

A short distance further on, the remains can be seen of one of the concrete ballast bins that were placed at intervals along the line to assist with local manual ballast packing. Constructed from four concrete sections bolted together, these bins have all the hallmarks of emanating from the former Southern Railway's concrete works at Exmouth Junction. Two sides had disappeared by the time this picture was taken on 14 August 2004. 
Martin Loader

Ballast bin near Lechlade

The course of the line is now running virtually due east, and soon crosses another stream (SP194008) on a rebuilt bridge that has consequently lost its original Barlow rail decking. The farm buildings of Claydon Field can now bee seen on the left. A further ½ mile brings us to one of the more interesting relics of the line still extant today.

Barlow rail on a bridge between Lechlade and Fairford

Barlow rail on a bridge between Lechlade and Fairford

As mentioned on the Cassington page, Barlow rail was used on a number of Fairford branch bridges. These distinctive inverted V shape rails can still be seen in the decking of the bridge over the stream approximately 2 miles west of Lechlade station (SP187009). These views taken on 6 December 2003 and 14 August 2004 show (left) Barlow rail visible on the edge of the 4ft wide bridge, and (right) the heavily corroded Barlow rail decking viewed from the underside of the bridge. Continuing westward, the course of the line is discernable until the public footpath from the A361 crosses (SP181010), thereafter the line has been incorporated into a large field, reappearing again when it crosses another small stream (SP176011) and enters a heavily overgrown section. 
Martin Loader

Bridge near Fairford

 

The road bridge carrying the Whelford to Southrop minor road over the line (SP173011) is the final surviving structure on the line. When pictured on 19 April 1980, it still had wooden parapets, however, now it has rather makeshift modern rail and wire parapets. This view impossible is now due to rampant bush growth. From this bridge the line curves slightly to the south on the approach to the site of Fairford Station. 
Martin Loader