Bishops Waltham Railway Share certificate 1863
The Bishops Waltham branch had its origins in a much grander plan put forward in the early 1860's. A group of businessmen in the Southampton area proposed a railway running across eastern Hampshire into Southampton. They were led by Arthur Helps, a prominent national figure (he had recently been made Clerk of the Privy Council) and writer. He owned an estate near Bishops Waltham and had financed the creation of the town's Coke & Gas Company and a brickworks. The aim of the Bishops Waltham, Botley & Bursledon Railway (BW,B&BR) was to link the proposed Petersfield & Midhurst Railway to the main line into Southampton which was owned by the London and South Western Railway (LSWR). The LSWR was a large and established company having built the South Western Main Line between London and Southampton in the 1830s. The promoters of the Bishops Waltham Railway, like many similar small railway undertakings, hoped to arrange for the LSWR to operate the line once it was built in return for a share of the takings.
Bishops Waltham Railway Company
The LSWR objected to the proposed BW,B&BR as a potential competitor to its own line and refused to an agreement. However the LSWR was equally wary that its main rival, the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) would secure the rights to operate the line itself and thus be able to run its services right into the heart of LSWR territory. The LSWR and the BW,B&BR reached an agreement that the smaller company would reduce its plans to a simple branch between Botley and Bishops Waltham. The LSWR would operate the line at a favourable rate and would consider an extension to Petersfield in the future. The BW,B&BR changed its name to the Bishops Waltham Railway Company (BWR) and an Act of Parliament secured in 1862.
Opening to Bishops Waltham
Enough money had already been raised for the construction of the railway's earthworks and track and these were completed quickly, with the first train reaching Bishops Waltham in June 1863. However the BWR was forced to take out further loans and a mortgage to fund the construction of a passenger station and a goods yard at Bishops Waltham, which were not completed until March 1865 at a cost of £8,000. The branch earned its owners only minimal profits in the first few years once the small company's interest payments and the L&SWR's operating costs had been paid.
Bishops Waltham and Petersfield Railway
The BWR tried to fix an agreement with the LSWR to extend the line further in search of extra traffic and a second company, the Bishops Waltham & Petersfield Railway (BW&PR), again led by Arthur Helps, was formed to try to secure investment for the project. This unfortunately coincided with a minor banking crisis and a recession in the British economy which saw investment in new railway projects dry up. It also further reduced traffic over the Bishops Waltham branch line which was dealt a fatal blow in April 1867 when the Bishops Waltham Clay Company, the local brickworks and one of the railway's main customers, went into liquidation and ceased production.
Sale to the LSWR
The LSWR itself was making a profit from its operations over the line since it had none of the debts incurred in the line's construction yet took a proportion of all income from the branch. It continued to run trains along the line and simply billed the BWR for its outstanding payments. The BWR existed in a state of limbo for many years. By 1870 the company's annual meeting was disbanded because no shareholders were present. Following the death of Sir Arthur Helps in 1875 the company's Board of Directors informally disbanded. When in 1881 it was arranged to sell the remains of the BWR outright to the LSWR the process was held up because the company was in chancery with no directors, treasurer or secretary to act on its behalf. The sale was eventually conducted by the BWR's chief creditor and the LSWR took over the operation at a cost of £20,000.
Proposed Alton and Petersfield line
In the 1860s the LSWR proposed a railway line between Alton and Petersfield, This railway would have had a junction near Warnford that crossed the Meon Valley and then ran to Bishop's Waltham, thus connecting to Botley and the Eastleigh to Fareham Line. This would have required major works of civil engineering including a large bridge or viaduct, and would have put Bishop's Waltham on a major railway in the region. The plans never progressed.
The railway branch carried on it's mundane existence until absorbed into the Southern Railway in the 1923 grouping.
By 1922 the line was costing three time more to operate and maintain than the meagre revenue it was earning and so in 1932 the Southern Railway closed the line for good.