Robert Brown's article published in The Gazette October 24, 2003

THE recent television series The Seven Wonders of the Industrial World has opened up the eyes of many people to the marvels of constructive engineering.

England has its own wonders and this includes the many railways that cross the country. Its various railway stations are also worth looking at, for most of them have been in operation for more than 150 years, and although some of them have been refurbished, the majority are of the same design as when they were constructed.

A book recently published in the Yesterday’s Hampshire series, by the Reflections of a Bygone Age of Keyworth, Nottingham, looks at 70 of these stations in this county.

The book is called Hampshire Railway Stations on old picture postcards, and the author is Andrew Swift, who has compiled 12 other books in the series.

His latest offering has a selection of black and white picture postcards of many of Hampshire’s railway stations, mostly in the pre-1914 period, with extensive and informative captions.

A few of the stations no longer exist, such as Herriard, which was on the Alton Light Railway, while the local stations that are mentioned are Hook, Bramley, Fleet, Oakley, Micheldever, Alresford, Andover, Winchfield, and, of course, Basingstoke.

An introduction by the author gives a good history of the area’s stations, and mentions the work of Sir William Tite, the eminent architect, who lived from 1798 to 1873. He designed many of the railway stations for the London and Southampton Railway, which Basingstoke was served by, in those early years of railway building in southern England.

Although not mentioned in Mr Swift’s book, it is interesting delving into the history of how Basingstoke and nearby towns and villages came to be on the railway line, for the original idea was for the London to Southampton track to be put through Hampshire in a straight line and avoid Basingstoke altogether.

When this was first mentioned, the local people protested and eventually the authorities gave way and made the track curve towards Basingstoke. This was to later benefit the line which was laid to Salisbury and also to Reading from here.

The appointed engineer for the London and Southampton Railway was Francis Giles, but the construction work turned out to be so slow that a directors’ inspection was made in December 1836, and the result of this was the resignation of Mr Giles and the appointment of Joseph Locke as the new engineer.

Locke called upon his friend Thomas Brassey, another qualified engineer, to help him, and, between them, managed to get the work moving quicker.

By June 10, 1839, the railway line was opened between Woking and Basingstoke, as was the section between Southampton and Winchester, but problems arose in trying to pass through the high hills between Basingstoke and Winchester, known as the Hampshire Ridge.

Brassey brought in equipment and men to drill through the thick chalk of this 18 mile gap between the two towns. It was finally breached by high embankments, deep cuttings, and tunnels.

Meanwhile, passengers were transferred to stagecoaches for nearly a year between Basingstoke and Winchester, and vice-versa, until that section of the line was completed and opened on May 11, 1840.

The final cost of the London and Southampton Railway was more than double the original estimate, but it was built to such a high standard that the railway could operate the fastest standard gauge trains in the world.

Thomas Brassey’s career was fully established by this work and his railway construction continued in Europe, India and Canada.

Born to a possible life as a farmer, as his father was one, he became a well respected gentleman, and died in 1870 aged 65.