WHEN the Oxford Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway opened in 1853, Chipping Norton found itself a few tantalising miles from the steel road to Victorian prosperity, writes William Crossley.

Two of the town’s leading businessmen, mill owner William Bliss and brewer William S Hitchman, had long been keen to cut the cost of transporting the coal needed to fuel their enterprises.

They had begun lobbying the board of the OWW in 1845, even before it was granted powers to build the main line by Parliament.

Witney Gazette:

The Leys in Chippy, with Bliss Tweed Mills coal wagons in the sidings at Sarsden Halt.

To improve their chances of success, in the early 1850s they enlisted the support of railway entrepreneur Samuel Morton Peto, a backer of the OWW, and James Houghton Langston MP, owner of Sarsden House.

Witney Gazette:

Churchill level crossing house.


They helped to secure the passing of a Parliamentary Bill authorising the building of a four-and-a-half mile branch line to connect the town with the OWW main line at a junction station near the village of Kingham.

Witney Gazette:

Circus elephants loaded in a railway van.

Construction began in August 1854 and the first trains ran a year later.

The story of the branch line and the waxing and waning of its fortunes over the next 109 years, before Dr Beeching’s axe fell, are chronicled in a new book, Chipping Norton Railway, by Alan Watkins and Brenda Morris, members of the town’s Local History Society.

Witney Gazette:

The last Banbury to Kingham passenger train in Chipping Norton station in 1951.

Drawing on the collection of Chipping Norton Museum, which is run by the society, and the accounts of the men who worked the route, they paint a portrait of a branch that eventually grew to become an artery for long-distance freight and passenger trains before, like so many other rural railways, it succumbed to competition from the car, bus and lorry.

Witney Gazette:

Wallace the station cat means business in 1912.

An excellent selection of photographs recalls a vanished world, from the little station that served Chipping Norton for so many years, Sarsden Halt, now simply a name on road signs, to the Chipperfield's Circus elephants who were once regular ‘passengers’, and Wallace the station cat, caught on camera by photographer Frank Packer in 1912 with a stoat he had caught ‘trespassing’.

Witney Gazette:

The seven Hall brothers – all railwaymen – at Kingham station in the 1950s.

  • Chipping Norton Railway, by Alan Watkins and Brenda Morris, is published by Amberley Publishing, priced £14.99.
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