Canal and Railway Mania - its effect on Kingsclere


Canal construction in Britain began in earnest in the 17th century and the success of the early coal carrying canals prompted proposals to build a vast network of canals throughout the country. In particular the canals built in rural areas failed to live up to their promoter's promises as trade failed to develop and competition grew, first of all from the turnpikes and then from the railways.

Kingsclere's First Canal
The canal which had the greatest economic effect upon Kingsclere was the Kennet Navigation. Begun under an Act of Parliament in 1715 this canal was constructed by straightening the River Kennet between Newbury and Reading and shortening the journey by water from 18.5 miles to 11.5 using artificial cuts and building 21 locks. 18 of these were turf locks which have only recently been replaced by traditional chamber locks.
The early years of the canal were dogged by financial problems, principally in persuading traders to use the canal, and in disputes between the Newbury bargemen and 'foreigners'.
In 1761 it was said: "The undertaking has been ruined by Idle Servants, Extravagant Wages, Imbezelments & Loss of materials & by a superflous & unnecessary number of Hands all which Evils must be remedy'd by Industry, Frugality great care & application on your part & by laying it down as an invariable Rule that none of the Props Servants shall eat the Bread of Idleness or Roguery" (Kennet Navigation Minute Book 20 May 1761)
The canal was taken over shortly thereafter taken over by Francis Page, a Newbury business man who had built up a big coal trading business using the canal. He invested in improvements including enlarging the locks to take 128 ton barges instead of the previous 80 ton limit.
The benefits to Kingsclere were two-fold. Firstly it was now possible to develop a profitable trade in malting barley with London. Previously it had been carried overland to Newbury or Reading on difficult roads for river shipment to London. With the opening of the Aldermaston turnpike it was possible to transport the grain to Aldermaston Wharf for onward shipment in much more efficient barges. Secondly, the availability of coal shipped from Newcastle via London and the Kennet Navigation meant that it was possible to develop a malting industry in Kingsclere and the village soon became a supplier of prime malt to the London Brewing Industry.

Kingsclere's Second Canal
In 1778 a canal was promoted to link Basingstoke to the Wey Navigation near Weybridge and the canal was opened in 1794. The canal never earned the tolls predicted and probably was most profitable in the 1830s when it carried materials to build the London and Southampton Railway (later LSWR and then SR) which was to drive it out of business.
In the early days there were various proposals to extend the canal from Basingstoke to Andover via Whitchurch in order to provide links to Southampton, Winchester and Salisbury on other canals and to create a through canal link from London to Southampton. At the height of the Napoleonic War this could have been a useful strategic route.
At about the same time, proposals to link London and Bristol by water which had been under consideration since the time of Elizabeth I began to bear fruit when in 1788 agreement was reached to link the Kennet Navigation to the Bristol and Bath Navigation by means of the Kennet and Avon Canal through Devizes and Hungerford. This canal was not opened until 1810.
Starting in 1788, proposals were also made to link the new canal to the Basingstoke Canal by means of the Hants and Berks Junction Canal. This would have left the Kennet and Avon Canal at Speen and the original intention was to follow broadly the line of the A34 to Whitchurch and a link to the proposed Basingstoke Canal extension. The reason behind the proposal was the high cost of shipping goods on the Thames which was a circuitous route with many mills and weirs causing delays to navigation.
In the 1790s there were proposals to modify the route by taking the canal via Kingsclere to Old Basing. Although no details of the route are known it would probably have followed the route of the old railway to Burghclere and then via Sydmonton to Kingsclere. The proposal foundered, probably through lack of water throughout the summit stretch.
The chief benefit of the completion of the Kennet and Avon Canal was to bring coal from the Somerset coalfield direct to the area using the Somerset Coal Canal which linked directly into the Kennet and Avon. This would have reduced the cost of coal in the area considerably, but it would still have to be transported by road from Newbury.

Kingsclere's Third Canal
A final attempt to build a Hants and Berks Junction Canal was made in 1824 when a route was surveyed and a Bill submitted to Parliament. The proposal was strongly opposed by local landowners and the Thames Commissioners who stood to lose a lot of trade and it failed. The Bill was again presented in 1826, again failed, and the idea was dropped in 1829. By now the railways were looming near and road transport was becoming more efficient so there was little prospect of this canal ever even being started.



In the 1840s, there were two large railway companies striving for dominance in the area The Great Western Railway (GWR) had started as a line from London to Bristol and expanded rapidly both into Wales and the Midlands and into the West of England. It's rival for the traffic to the West of England was the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) which had started life as the London and Southampton Railway.
In 1844 the prime target was the construction of a railway to Newbury which ultimately became the line from Reading to Westbury known by railwaymen to this day as the Berks and Hants. This line opened from Reading through Newbury to Hungerford on 21 Dec 1847 and a branch from this line just to the west of Reading opened to Basingstoke in 1848. At that time Basingstoke had two railwaty stations alongside each other and the new branch line terminal was a classic Great Western train shed. This also explains the existence of a Great Western Hotel in the north station entrance. The completion of these two lines effectively prevented other railway speculation in the area until the building of the Didcot Newbury and Southampton via Burghclere in 1882.
Both companies came up with a number of schemes to intrude into each others territory and the LSWR made proposals for lines from Basingstoke to Didcot and from Basingstoke to Swindon via Newbury. The latter would almost certainly have been routed via Kingsclere. In the end the Board of Trade Commissioners ruled against most of the schemes including the Basingstoke to Newbury line.

What would a Railway have meant for Kingsclere?
In 1900, the railway could have had quite an important effect upon Kingsclere. The roads were then unsurfaced and muddy in winter with clouds of dust in summer. Vehicles were either horse-drawn or pulled by traction engines.
The railway would therefore have provided an efficient and cheap means of carrying the malt produced in the village to the London breweries and improved the maltsters' competitiveness. As with Lambourn, the transport of racehorses to meetings would have become much more effective and the local dairy farmers would have a bigger market for their milk.
Equally the Gas Works and coal merchants would have obtained cheaper coal supplies and local shops would have been able to import goods cheaply and competitively.
The promoters of the line saw it as providing a faster connection between Newbury and Basingstoke than the alternatives via Whitchurch or Reading and this could well have meant the growth of commuter housing close to the railway station as wealthier businessmen looked for country residences.
The carriers might not have been able to compete and might have gone out of business because of the easier travel to the two main towns.
It is interesting to note that even in 1921 the Kingsclere Wl identified the need for a light railway to improve the community.

The London and Bath Direct Railway
This railway was promoted in 1842 by the London and South Western Railway. It would have left the main line near Farnborough and run across country through Kingsclere, Ecchinswell, Burghclere, Highclere and Great Bedwyn. The evidence for the line is contained in various applications to landowners in the area which are still held in the County Records Office and no survey map exists.

Some Other Proposed Railways of the Time
Proposals to fill the gap led to a number of proposed railways for which deposited plans can be found in the County Record Office:

1834 Basingstoke and Bath Direct through Ashford Hill and Headley to Kintbury
1843 Basingstoke and Newbury via Ashford Hill
1845 London Newbury and Bath Direct from Farnborough through Ashford Hill etc
1845 Bristol and Dover Direct Junction (not all route known) Chertsey to Enborne Valley via Headley (junction to south)
1847 Basingstoke and Didcot Junction via Ashford Hill - east of Newbury, junction to Swindon via Ramsbury

The Didcot Newbury and Southampton Junction Railway
This company was incorporated in 1873 to build a railway from Didcot on the GWR to Micheldever on the LSWR. In 1876 the GWR agreed that they would work the line for the DN & S. At this time the bad blood had arisen between the GWR and the LSWR over the Somerset and Dorset Railway and this was seen as an attack by the GWR on the traffic to Southampton.
Construction of the line was started in 1879 and the stretch from Didcot to Newbury across the Berkshire Downs was completed by 1882. In that year the DN & S obtained powers to extend its line from Newbury to Southampton via Winchester, Twyford and Chilworth. Approval was also given to construct a direct junction loop from the GWR at Aldermaston to join the DN & S at Burghclere Station (actually in Old Burghclere). This line would have followed the Enborne valley to the south of Brimpton and then the Gaily Brook through Kingsclere and then below the West Clere Scarp to Old Burghclere.
The proposal to build this line was dropped when all available funds were used in negotiating and constructing the extension from Winchester to Southampton.
This was the closest Kingsclere ever came to having a railway and for many years Burghclere Station at Old Burghclere would have been a local, if limited, railhead.
The DN & S continued as an unprofitable enterprise until 1923 when it was absorbed by the GWR but came into its own during the Second World War when it became a vital link in supplying the forces invading Normandy. To achieve this much of the original single track was doubled throughout by the US Army Railway Corps and, on other parts of the line, much longer passing tracks were built. This explains the modern concrete signal boxes which remain. The line was eventually 'Beechingised' and much of it now lies under the A34 dual carriageway.

The Highclere, Kingsclere and Basingstoke Light Railway
In 1896 the Light Railways Act was passed appointing Light Railway Commissioners who could approve the construction of light railways without an Act of Parliament. The Act permitted the compulsory purchase of land, encouraged county authorities to help promote county transport and enabled the Treasury to make grants and loans towards construction costs.
A light railway was one built to lower constructional standards than a main line railway with an axle loading limited to 8 tons and a speed limit of 25 mph.
This led to a flurry of railway construction including the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway although very few such independent railways were constructed and the Treasury provision of a million pounds for loans was only ever tapped for £200,000.
In 1900 a prospectus was issued for a Highclere, Kingsclere and Basingstoke Light Railway and the public were invited to subscribe. The plan was to build a line leaving the existing Didcot Newbury and Southampton railway south of Highclere station (which was actually in Burghclere close to the Carpenters Arms). The line would have reached Basingstoke via Ecchinswell, Kingsclere, Wolverton, Ramsdell, Monk Sherborne and Sherborne St John, each of which would have had a station.
The line would have joined the LSWR main line to the west of Basingstoke station roughly where the Winterthur Life building stands.
Some land was purchased. The land where Wellman's Meadow now stands would have been Kingsclere Station and old postcards show that part of Newbury Road as Station Road which survived as an address until well into this century. In general though landowners were offered shares in the line in return for access.
Despite considerable public support including a heavily attended public meeting in Kingsclere, the line was never built probably through the inability for raise the necessary funds, either in cash or in land in exchange for shares. As the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway never made a profit this was probably a good thing.

The Bristol and Dover Direct Junction Railway
In 1845 plans were tabled to build a railway direct from Bristol to Dover. It appears that for at least part of the journey the trains would run over other company's rails and the exact line of the whole route is not known. There are however deposited plans for the central part of the line which are held at the County Record Office.
This shows the railway leaving the LSWR mainline at Weybridge Station and travelling north through Chersey before turning west through Windlesham, Bagshot and Bramshill. After passing through Mortimer West End it would have entered Kingsclere Woodlands at Ashford Hill passing through the village and just to the north of the newly build St Peters Church.
The line would have passed just to the north of Knightsbridge and then followed the line of the River Enborne passing south of Newtown and then via West Woodhay and Inkpen to Shalbourne where the plan stops.
Interestingly, the line of a junction is shown on Headley Common just east of Knightsbridge. This branch headed southwards towards Kingsclere village and it is interesting to reflect where it would then have run. To Basingstoke or to Whitchurch following the line of the later D N &S?

The South Midland Railway
By 1871 one would have thought the railway map in this area was almost complete. The London and South Western Railway had completed its main line to the south and west via Basingstoke and the Great Western Railway had effectively blocked the LSWR by building the Berks and Hants Extension Railway from Reading to Westbury via Newbury. The GWR had built the line from Reading to Basingstoke and was underwriting the building of the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton line through Newbury and Whitchurch to Winchester. A possible branch line through Kingsclere was being considered but dropped because of costs.
In that year plans were announced for a new network of railway lines to form the South Midland Railway effectively by building a series of lines which would all be linked.
The initial line would have extended the Wye Valley railway from Lydney across the Severn at Purton Passage to Berkely. From there a line would have run via Malmesbury to Wootton Basset and this line would have been extended to join the Berks and Hants at Hungerford. At Malmesbury a branch would have run through Tetbury to Nailsworth.
Two lines would have run from Hungerford. The first south to Andover through Shalbourn, the Collingbournes and Ludgershall would have followed much of the line of the Swindon, Marlborough and Andover Railway. The second would have left Hungerford Station and run through Avington, Gore End, Adbury, Sydmonton and Ecchinswell. From there it would have crossed Porch Farm land and passed between Stantons and Coldridge Farms before crossing Gaily Brook near
Island Mill and entering a tunnel under Great Knowl. Emerging on Frith Common it would then have run through Baughurst Street (Stoney Heath) and Monk Sherborne before entering Basingstoke Station from the west.
Clearly the funding was never available to build such a railway empire at that time.