MONDAY June 10, 1839, was a special day in Basingstoke, a day of novelty, celebration and great excitement. It was the day the railway came to Basingstoke.

The work of building the eight miles of track from Winchfield and Hartley Row Station to Basingstoke was finally completed. It was now possible to travel by the London and Southampton Railway from Basingstoke to the London terminus at Nine Elms.

There had been a celebration in September 1838 when the line reached Winchfield. On that day the directors of the railway company travelled from Nine Elms to Winchfield by special train.

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Basingstoke Gazette: Basingstoke Station facing the town

They arrived at the new Winchfield station shortly after three o’clock where they were met by “a large assembly of the neighbouring gentry and rustics. The presence of the fair sex, a band of music, and a fine day made the scene a very gay one”.

The opening of the railway in Basingstoke on 10 June 1839 began with the arrival of an empty train at quarter to seven in the morning in good time to collect the passengers for the first scheduled service to London at quarter to eight.

A newspaper remarked that “as the day advanced, the town presented the appearance of a perfect holiday”. The church bells rang in celebration, flags were hoisted on St Michael’s tower and the Town Hall.

People arrived in droves from the surrounding villages anxious to see these strange new machines they heard were coming to Basingstoke. The Basingstoke Band added to the atmosphere of fun and jollity by playing lively pieces of music while the crowds waited for the next trains to arrive.

At half-past eleven a special train carrying a party of the railway’s directors and their friends left Nine Elms to celebrate the opening of the new stretch of line. When the train arrived at Winchfield at about five to one, it was met by cheering crowds. 

After a short delay, the train travelled over the new tracks watched by groups of spectators who had gathered at every spot between Winchfield and Basingstoke where they could expect to find a good view of the trains.

It took 20 minutes for the directors’ train to reach Basingstoke, travelling slowly so the passengers could admire the scenery. The train stayed at Basingstoke for about an hour, giving the crowds a chance to examine at close hand the engine and its carriages. It left at half-past two to return to Winchfield where a dinner had been prepared for the directors and their guests before leaving for London.

Another of the sights to surprise and amaze those who were lucky enough to see it was what happened when the Star coach from Yeovil arrived in Basingstoke.

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Basingstoke Gazette: Basingstoke Station from the Holy Ghost ruins

Instead of continuing its journey to London along Winchester and London Streets, it drove up to the railway station where it was disengaged from the horses. The coach was placed on a truck behind the train so that its passengers could travel from London to Basingstoke in two hours, which was less than half of the journey time by road.

The Hampshire Chronicle reported that many thousands of people visited Basingstoke station on 10 June and were “at once gratified, astonished, and enraptured by the rapid motion of the powerful locomotive engines as they passed and repassed the station … so unwilling were the populace to leave the station in the evening, about eight o’clock, that the railway police had much difficulty in clearing the yard”.

As the police were taking a person “who had been most refractory” to the town jail, they were attacked by a gang of railway labourers in Wote Street who were attempting to free the prisoner.

After “a sharp contest” the police managed to secure their prisoner and three of the ringleaders, James Wellman and William Tigwell of Oakley, and David Williams of Deane. When they appeared before the Mayor and magistrates the following day, they were each fined £1. As Wellman and Tigwell either couldn’t or wouldn’t pay their fines, they were sent to prison for a month.

Also on 10 June, the line between Winchester and Southampton was opened, and on 11 May 1840, the remaining 18 miles of track between Basingstoke and Winchester were finally opened, connecting the two sections.

This article was written by Bob Clarke