Railway header
The Lymington Railway and
Isle of Wight Ferry
By C. S. Riley
Train standing at Lymington Town station
Lymington Pier train at Lymington Town. The small engine shed is on the right.
THE ancient town of Lymington was well to the fore when plans for the construction of railways in that part of the South Coast were first considered. As early as 1844, the Town Council resolved that railway communication would be advantageous to the town, and associated itself with the projected Southampton & Dorchester Railway. In 1847, a branch line to Lymington was authorised, but the powers were allowed to lapse so that nothing ever came of it.
The promoters of the Southampton & Dorchester originally intended to build a station at Latchmoor, a. district near the present Lymington Junction Signalbox. Oddly enough, it was the Mayor of Lymington who objected to this plan; he convened a public meeting which passed a recommendation that the station be built at Brockenhurst, about a mile further away from Lymington. Brockenhurst Station was eventually opened to traffic on June l, 1847, when the line from Southampton to Dorchester was opened throughout.
  Six years later, in August, 1853, it seemed that wiser counsels prevailed, for another public meeting in Lymington pressed for the construction of a branch railway from Brockenhurst to serve the - town. This project received considerable support, and eventually by Act of July 7, 1856, the Lymington Railway was incorporated for the purpose of constructing such a branch, four miles in length. Its original capital was £21,000, and its powers included the purchase of the road toll bridge across the Lymington River, the town quay and ferry.
Six months after the incorporation, work on the line commenced, the ceremony of turning the first sod taking place on January 8, 1857. The directors of the railway optimistically expected that the line would open before the year was out. In point of fact, although no great engineering works were involved, construction went ahead very slowly. The terminus was to be on the site of a mill pond, which had to be filled in before building could take place.
76 THE   RAILWAY   MAGAZINE February, 1956
In January, 1858, the connection between the Lymington Railway and the Southampton & Dorchester Railway near Brockenhurst was put in, and by that time the line was virtually complete, although the reclamation of the mill pond had scarcely started. It became evident that this work would considerably delay completion of the line, and so in April a temporary wooden station was built alongside the road leading to the toll- bridge. It was intended that the building should be used as a toll-house for the bridge as soon as the permanent station was built; in fact this original station was situated some 300 yd. from the tollbridge, and it never assumed that role.
Meanwhile plans were being made for a grand opening ceremony, culminating in the ascent of a balloon, which was to release pamphlets over the town. This was to be followed by a firework display, but as these functions would rather strain the meagre resources of the company, they met with some opposition. The first train, an engine and carriage gaily decorated with laurel leaves, ran
  over the line on May 9. The directors were at the temporary station and greet its arrival in company with the engineers and contractors; all these gentlemen contrived to clamber aboard the engine and tender, while as many sightseers as could pack themselves in were accommodated in the carriage. This ensemble puffed up and down as far as the junction throughout the afternoon, to the great delight of those who were able to take advantage of a free ride.
This must have been a highly irregular proceeding, for the official Board of Trade inspection did not take place until three days later. Colonel Yolland, the Government inspector, expressed his satisfaction with the line, which was tested with "two powerful L.S.W.R. locomotives.” Although the Board of Trade certificate was granted, the London & South Western Railway refused to work the railway until much of the line had been strengthened, to the great dismay of the Lymington Railway officers. The improvements necessary to bring the line up to the requirements of the

Map of the railways in the Lymington area at the time of the 1923 grouping
  THE   LYMINGTON   RAILWAY 77
L.S.W.R. took two months to complete, and then the line was opened at a few days notice.
Monday, July 12, l858, saw the official opening, the first train leaving Lymington at 7.15 a.m. In spite of the early hour, a large number of people turned up to give the train a good send-off, the church bells were pealing, and the Lymington Town Band enlivened the proceedings. These were the only celebrations to take place, and so were something of an anticlimax to the gala occasion promised. The official opening notice announced that the buses which had plied hitherto between Brockenhurst and Lymington would be withdrawn, rather a reversal of the present-day tendency. The original service consisted of seven trains each way on weekdays, and three on Sundays. The locomotives were mixed-traffic 2-4-Os designed by Beattie.
There followed a period of complacency and optimism for the railway directors. At the half-yearly meeting held in August, it was stated that the revenue in the first few weeks of operation had been so great that the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the L.S.W.R., two of its directors and several officers had been down to see how they managed it. Whether this was the real reason for their visit is a debatable point, because the line was then barely paying its way, and scarcely justifying the capital spent on it. However, it was claimed that Lymington was enjoying greater prosperity than it had ever known before, as also were the Isle of Wight towns of Freshwater and Yarmouth.
Goods traffic began to use the line in late July, and a wooden goods shed was built in November. Work continued on the site for the Town Station, but it was not until September, 1859, that construction of the buildings could be commenced. A glowing contemporary account mentioned the walls of blue, red and white bricks tastefully interspersed and the three handsome gables facing platform and approach roads.
Meanwhile, some improvements had taken place on the main line. The Southampton & Dorchester Railway was originally single track, which was in- adequate for traffic requirements, so that the L.S.W.R., which took over the local company in 1848, doubled the line throughout between 1857 and 1863.
  Brockenhurst was served by double track from Christchurch Road (now Holmsley) on August 1, 1857, and from Beaulieu Road on September 1, 1858. While these developments would considerably benefit the Lymington Railway, other developments taking place further a field were destined temporarily to have the reverse effect.
The principal alternative route to the Isle of Wight was through Portsmouth. By rail from London, Portsmouth was 86 miles by the L.S.W.R., via Eastleigh and Gosport, and 96 miles by the London Brighton & South Coast Railway, via Brighton and Havant. An independent concern, the Direct London & Portsmouth Railway had built a line from Godalming (L.S.W.R.) to Havant (L.B.S.C.R.) and had obtained Parliamentary powers to work over the lines at each end; the distance from London to Portsmouth by this route was reduced to 74 miles. The line was purely a contractor's venture, and on completion its owners made overtures to various interested companies which might take it over and work it. The L.S.W.R. did not at first wish to do so, because of its satisfactory fare-pooling arrangement with the L.B.S.C.R.; later, however, fearing that the South Eastern Railway might gain access to Portsmouth it decided to take over the direct line. This greatly upset the L.B.S.C.R., for it gave the L.S.W.R. a route over twenty miles shorter than its own, and the right of that company to running powers over the line into Portsmouth was hotly contested. On December 28, 1858, the famous battle of Havant occurred, when the L.S.W.R. tried unsuccessfully to work a train through, leading to physical conflict between the rival parties. Parliament eventually settled the dispute in favour of the L.S.W.R., and there followed a fare-cutting war. The
L.B.S.C.R. return fare from Cowes to London eventually was reduced to 8s. first class and 3s. 6d. third class, inclusive of steam boats, pier tolls and omnibus, and this fact was prominently advertised on the front page of the Lymington Chronicle. As the comparative fares from Lymington to London at this time were 27s. and 13s. 6d. respectively, those who were in no great hurry and few people were in those days took the steam ship Red Lion to Cowes, and travelled to London that way.
78 THE   RAILWAY   MAGAZINE February, 1956
 
Exterior of Lymington Town Station in September, 1954   Passengers embarking on "Freshwater" at Lymington
 
The original Lymington Station, closed in 1860 and demolished in 1954   Lymington Pier Station, looking north, with "Farringford" at landing stage
  THE   LYMINGTON   RAILWAY 79
The Solent Steam Ship Company was pleased to report a 25 per cent. increase in passenger traffic on the Cowes route in the first six months of 1859! At the half-yearly meeting of the Lymington Railway, it was pointed out that the drop in passenger receipts was due to the ruinous competition between the L.S.W.R. and L.B.S.C.R., but that this had now come to an end.
The year 1860 was a notable one for the Lymington Railway for it saw the opening—at long last—of the permanent Town Station. This notable event took place on September 19, and was greeted with enthusiasm because Bridge Lane, the road leading to the temporary station, had deteriorated to such an extent as to be considered unsafe! The new station boasted first, second and third class waiting rooms among its amenities, and it brought the telegraph service to Lymington, hitherto no nearer than Brockenhurst. The station was partly enclosed to afford protection to passengers on the platform — part of the screen still remains, although in modified form as the result of air raid damage in 1941.
Another noteworthy event in 1860 was the opening of an intermediate station on the line. At the half yearly meeting, the question was raised (as had been done on previous occasions) as to the provision of a station at Shirley Holmes, intended to serve the needs of the residents of Sway and Boldre. The chairman remarked that this could not be done without the consent of the L.S.W.R., but when the new Town Station was opened it might be possible to transfer the temporary building to Shirley Holmes. In fact, this was not done, and the old station remained on its original site beside the level crossing. For many years used as a dwelling house, it later lay derelict and was eventually demolished in September, 1954. However, a platform was erected at Shirley Holmes, and its opening notice is worth quoting in full: —

“Shirley Holmes Station: on and after Wednesday, 10th October, all trains running between Lymington and Brockenhurst will stop at‘ that platform on the up journey to take up passengers and on the down journey to set down passengers. On the up journey the trains will not stop after daylight. Passengers for up trains must be in waiting on the platform before trains approach, otherwise the trains will not stop. Passengers by down
 

train must inform the guard of the Lymington train when they desire to be put down at the platform. By the down trains passengers must have tickets for Lymington. By the up trains passengers must take tickets at Brockenhurst paying in addition the fare from Lymington.”

This may well have been the first example of a halt platform on a British railway, although the term “halt" originated in the railmotor era, about 1904. Unusual features of Shirley Holmes were that its name never appeared on a ticket, nor was it mentioned in the time- tables, public or working, of the L.S.W.R. Sway Station on the new line to Bournemouth was opened in 1888, and with improved road communications use of the platform gradually lapsed, and it was closed to passengers soon after the turn of the century. For many years it was used for permanent way materials, but there is now little trace of it.
Nearly twenty years elapsed before the next event of any importance took place, and this was foreshadowed at the first half-yearly meeting of the L.S.W.R. in 1878 when the report stated: " The directors under powers already granted by Parliament have agreed with the Lymington Railway for the absolute purchase of their railway and works, which have been worked by the Company exclusively since completion in 1858. The dividend paid by the Lymington Railway Company for 1877 was 3 1/2 per cent." The Lymington Railway was formally vested in the L.S.W.R. on March 21, 1879. For many years the connection from the Town Station to the Isle of Wight steamers had been unsatisfactory. In the early days of the railway the ferry boats frequently had to tie up alongside a cargo boat, and passengers clambered over planks on embarkation, a tedious business. Lymington was a prosperous port then, with vessels from the U.S.A. and Norway bringing shipments of timber, while coastal ships brought coal from Sunderland and slates from Portmadoc. In 1859, work commenced on the railway jetty which was intended to still passenger's complaints. It was opened on June 1, 1861, but was very inconveniently situated for railway passengers, necessitating a long walk, and early fears that it could not be used at all states of the tide were soon confirmed.
The L.S.W.R. decided to build a pier,

80 THE   RAILWAY   MAGAZINE February, 1956

with an extension of the railway line for half a mile to bring trains alongside the vessels. This extension was opened on May 1, 1884, the first passenger train to use it being the 8.30 a.m. from Lymington Town. There were no formalities, unless the explosion of a few detonators can be so described. With the opening of the railway pier, the Solent Steam Packet Company, which had hitherto been responsible for the ferry service to the Isle of Wight, approached the L.S.W.R. with the request that the railway company should take over the steamship services. This transfer took place in July, I884, the L.S.W.R. purchasing the paddle steamers Solent and Mayflower for £2,750. There have been several schemes for a Solent Tunnel over the years, of which the South Western & Isle of Wight Junction Railway, proposed in 1901, was one of the most important. This was to consist of a railway line deviating from the branch about 1 1/2 miles north of Lymington Town, and running four miles to a point on Keyhaven Marshes, where it entered the tunnel, which was to have been 24) miles long with 1 in 40 gradients at each end. Emerging from the tunnel the line was to continue for a further three quarters of a mile to join the Fresh- water, Yarmouth & Newport Railway at a junction facing Yarmouth and Newport, while a short spur line made a facing connection towards Freshwater. Had this scheme materialised it would considerably have increased the importance of the Lymington Railway. In fact, however, the reverse was the case, for the Southern Railway tended towards a policy of concentrating Isle of Wight traffic on the Portsmouth-Ryde route, so reducing the importance of the Lymington route.
In 1905, Lymington was the scene of an early experiment with railway owned motor buses. On July 19, the L.S.W.R. inaugurated a service between Lymington, Milford-on-Sea and New Milton, operated by steam buses built by Clarkson of Chelmsford. These buses did not steam well until fitted with patent water tube boilers early in 1906. Moreover the local roads were totally unsuited to them at that time, and they sank into the mud so often that more substantial tyres had to be fitted. The service was withdrawn on September 15. 1906, and the two buses allocated to Lymington were transferred

 

to the Exeter-Chagford service. Although not successful at the time, the L.S.W.R. anticipated by several years the present road services in the district, operated by the Hants & Dorset Company.
The last development of the Lymington line before the 1923 grouping was in the introduction of pull-and-push trains. The L.S.W.R. had been first in the field with steam railmotors in 1903, followed by motor trains worked by engines of railmotor type in 1906. In 1915, a number of the smaller bogie tank engines were converted for pull-and-push working, and engines of this type, of Adams and Drummond design, appeared on the Lymington services about 1920 and subsequently. The old L.S.W.R. system of motor train working, which involved a complicated set of wires and pulleys running across the top of the trains, gave way after grouping to the former L.B.S.C.R. system of air control. This was introduced on the Lymington branch in July, 1930, with Drummond 0-4-4 tank engines. Apart from the school train and certain summer Saturday workings, these engines are still responsible for all passenger trains on the branch.
The Lymington branch is 4 1/2 miles in length, and diverges from the main line at Lymington Junction, a mile west of Brockenhurst, where also the old and new lines to Bournemouth diverge, going respectively via Ringwood and Sway. From the junction, the line is single throughout, crossing heathland for some distance, and then threading its way through woodland to emerge at Lymington Town Station, where the original building was opposite the signalbox. A large goods yard is provided, and an engine shed with accommodation for the branch engine. The line continues beside the Lymington River, and after passing a supposedly haunted culvert, and the wide level crossing for cars using the ferry, it reaches the Pier station. Special authority is given for motor trains running between Brockenhurst and Lymington Town to run without a guard, one of the Town Station staff performing this duty on those trains that run to the pier. Lymington Pier was rebuilt in 1938, when the car ferry was first introduced, and the slipway was extended at Admiralty expense in 1942.
Although the first task of the L.S.W.R.

  THE   LYMINGTON   RAILWAY 81
on absorbing the Lymington Railway was to renew all under bridges on the line, it is still subject to severe engine restrictions. The largest engines used are class "Q" and "Q1" 0-6-Os and ex-L.S.W.R. class "T9" 4-4-Os. A Drummond 0-4-4 tank is stabled at Lymington Town. Although Lymington has 23,000 inhabitants compared with Brockenhurst's 3,000, the County School is at the latter place, and a six-corridor set is maintained for the school train. The Lymington engine works the first train into Brockenhurst, returning at 7.4 a.m. with a mixed train, piloted by a tender engine which works the 8.10 a.m. school   working through to Waterloo. All other trains change engines at Brockenhurst; in recent years the 8.45 a.m. and 9.42 a.m. from Waterloo and their return workings have been in the hands of class “D15” 4-4-Os and class "U" and “ U1" 2-6-OS. these being the largest engines that can use Brockenhurst turntable. Class “ Q1" 0-6-0s are usually responsible for working these trains over the Lymington branch. At Lymington Pier, engines can run round ten corridor coaches of pre-war design, or nine of the longer post-war coaches, and the length of the through trains is limited accordingly. In early years, steamers from Lymington Pier

Former L.S.W.R. "M7" class 0-4-4 tank engine No 30058 diverging from the
main line at Lymington Junction, Brockenhurst, with a Lymington train.

train from Lymington Pier. The return school train leaves Brockenhurst at 4.1 p.m., headed by an 0-6-0 tender first, while on the rear of the train is the motor train and the Drummond tank. This unusual arrangement permits the latter to work the 4.18 p.m. train from Lymington Pier. The daily freight train is worked to Lymington Town by a Drummond 4-4-0 tender first; 6ft. 7in. driving wheels are little suited to the shunting it must perform there! This engine returns light to Brockenhurst to work the 4.8 p.m. Portsmouth passenger, the school train engine working the return freight trip.
On summer Saturdays, there are a number of through trains over the branch, the first of which leaves Lymington Pier at 10.35 a.m., its Drummond 4-4-0 engine

 

went to Portsmouth, Cowes and Totland Bay, as well as to Yarmouth. The Totland Bay service survived until 1927, since when services have been concentrated on Yarmouth.
The earliest known vessel on this route was the Solent, which plied to and from the Isle of Wight for several years before the railway came to Lymington. She was joined in 1858 by the Red Lion, purchased second-hand from the Admiralty to deal with the expected extra traffic. Both these vessels were small wooden paddlers, as was the new steamer built at Lymington in 1863, which replaced the Solent and acquired that vessel's name. The Red Lion did not long outlast its former consort,‘ being replaced in 1866 by the Newcastle-built

82 THE   RAILWAY   MAGAZINE February, 1956

Mayflower. The second Solent and the Mayflower were taken over by the L.S.W.R. in 1884, and were joined in 1893 by the Lymington, built at Southampton. The dimensions of the ships used on this service have always been restricted by the shallowness of the Lymington River, although the Lymington was somewhat larger than her predecessors, and was the first steel vessel built for this service. The Solent survived until 1901, and the following year a third vessel of that name was built, which worked until 1948. The Mayflower was sold in 1910. In 1927, the Southern Railway introduced the handsome Freshwater, built at Cowes, and the last of the conventional type of paddle steamers on this route. Two years later the Lymington was sold for conversion to a houseboat.
As far back as the 1850s the Lymington vessels ran with "tow-boats" attached, conveying carriages and cattle (and later motor cars) to the Isle of Wight. After 1938, this practice ceased, for in that year the new t.s.m.v. Lymington appeared, a double-ended vessel of car ferry type, equipped with Voth-Schneider propulsion devised to make her more easily manouvrable in the confined reaches of the Lymington river. After some teething troubles she settled down on the service, and could be operated with less trouble than the paddle-boats, with their string of as many as four loaded barges. She became disrespectfully referred to locally as the “Crab” on

 

account of her extraordinary manoeuvrability.
The latest shipping development was the introduction, in 1948, of the Farringford, virtually a paddle version of Lymington, but larger and with increased covered accommodation. She is popular with passengers as an all-weather vessel, but rather the reverse with yachtsmen as she has at times proved somewhat unwieldy, and certainly takes up a good deal of space in the narrow channels. The Cinderella of the present trio is the Freshwater, which is laid up in the winter months, when one or other of her ugly sisters is sufficient to cope with the service. It is doubtful whether the promoters of the Lymington Railway could have foreseen that it would ever take three such vessels (large by their standards) to deal with the summer traffic, which has considerably increased in recent years.
Nowadays there is a frequent service of trains on the branch, many of which have London connections at Brockenhurst and steamer connections at Lymington. Indeed, it is now evident that the early optimism of the directors proved wholly justified, and the present prosperity of the borough of Lymington is in no small way due to the success of its railway.
In conclusion, the author would like to make grateful acknowledgement to the many local people, both railway officials and otherwise, who readily gave assistance in the preparation of this article.


The end of the line: a Drummond 0-4-4 tank at Lymington Pier in 1928
This history of the Lymington railway branch line was published in 1956 and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the Railway Magazine