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Trail: The LMS Railway

Article on the Railways of Helmdon from Aspects of Helmdon No. 1 by Stewart Moir


The botton station in Helmdon, now the coach yard A new era in the life of Helmdon commenced on the 1st June 1872 with the opening of the railway from Blisworth to Banbury for passengers. Freight had been conveyed between Towcester and Helmdon in August of the previous year.

Parliamentary powers for a line from Northampton to Banbury had been obtained as long ago as 1847 but the inability to raise sufficient capital had led to the winding-up of the original Company in 1852. Until the opening, the nearest railway station would have been Brackley on the Buckingham Railway, opened in May 1850, with trains to Banbury and Bletchley with onward connections to London Euston from the latter. From September 1850, it was possible to travel to Oxford via Banbury and from 1852 to Birmingham.


Three trains per day were run from the start and the opening announcement spoke optimistically of an improved service being advertised shortly, but this didn't happen. On Thursday (Market Day) an additional return train ran through to Banbury.


Receipts from the start disappointed, and income and expenditure were very closely matched throughout the life of the line. The railway ran through purely farming countryside and generated very little passenger traffic. The service was reduced during the First World War to two trains each way and this basic service remained until the end. Journey times did improve slightly over the years from an hour or more to an average of 40 minutes by the 1930s. Goods traffic was catered for by a single daily train, although cattle vans were attached to passenger trains on market days.


With the growth of the motor car and van, an early demise was inevitable with the limited service. The line closed for passengers in July 1951, quickly followed by freight at the end of October in the same year.


The 2 Railways Cross Paths The Great Central Railway which opened in 1901, almost thirty years later than the Banbury - Northampton line, was a much grander concept altogether. From being a purely provincial line, the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway - its former title - had long harboured ambitions to bring their line south in order to carry coal to London instead of handing it over to other lines in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire and thereby greatly increasing profits. A channel tunnel and railway was also contemplated by the chairman, Edward Watkins.


After the initial abortive attempt, the appropriate Bill was passed by Parliament in 1893 to bring the railway south of Nottingham. Work commenced in 1894 and involved several viaducts and much in the way of earthworks to keep a reasonable maximum gradient for the locomotives, enabling the climb to be no greater than '1 in 176' south of Nottingham except for a short stretch of half a mile at '1 in 140' at Leicester.


A large camp was built, together with various sidings, underneath the viaduct at Helmdon and many navvies lived here for some time during the construction. The construction work provided much needed traffic for the Northampton and Banbury Junction Railway. There was also a small brickworks beyond the Sulgrave Road bridge which provided many internal bricks for the structures although bridges, viaducts, etc. were faced with blue bricks from elsewhere.


The line was opened on 15 Match 1899 for passenger traffic after consolidation by goods trains which had commenced on the 25th July the year before.


There was great feasting at Brackley and a holiday was pronounced and although no records of any celebration can be found for Helmdon, no doubt many people would have gathered at the "Top" station to watch the first passenger trains pass.


There was now a much greater frequency of trains from Helmdon directly to places of importance such as London, Rugby, Leicester and beyond, and many people, including school children, would have used the line as far as Brackley on a daily basis, particularly in the early years. However, the combination of limited stopping services and the spread of the motor again hastened the demise of the last mainline railway built to London. Helmdon Station closed in March 1963 when stopping trains, together with the through expresses were withdrawn, leaving semi-fast trains calling at the limited number of stations still open (including Brackley) until September 1966, when the line as far as Rugby closed completely.


A move to re-open the line from near Daventry down to join the old Great Western/Great Central joint line at Ashendon Junction, principally for freight traffic on lorries bound for the Channel Tunnel and beyond, was proposed in 1994, the Great Central being built to the continental loading gauge, but it was almost unanimously opposed and failed to get Parliament's approval in 1996.


J M Dunn Stratford, Midland Junction Railway Oakwood Press 1952
Arthur Jordan Stratford on Avon Midland Junction Railway O.P.C. 1982