The Railway in Wootton
After the opening of the lines between Cowes and Newport in 1862 and between Ryde and Shanklin in 1864, the Ryde and Newport Railway (R&N) gained its Act of Parliament in 1872. The towns of Ryde and Newport were then linked up by the railway, some 9 miles long, when it opened on 20 December 1875. The R&N was just one of a number of small railway companies on the Island and together they eventually constructed some 55 route-miles. Such small independent companies were not really viable and amalgamations soon occurred, the R&N becoming part of The Isle of Wight Central Railway from 1887.
The R&N ran from Ryde St Johns Road station on a separate track to Smallbrook, where it curved away from the Shanklin line, and on through a mixture of woodland and open countryside. Intermediate stations were provided at Ashey, Havenstreet, Wootton, Whippingham and the line ended at Newport station, now the site of a dual carriageway.
Originally there was just a single line and small station here. In 1886 a benefactor, John Rylands, built a gasworks to the south of the station. Gas coal was delivered by the railway until the 1920s when the works were closed. The building is now used by the Steam Railway.
In 1926 the station was rebuilt and provided with a passing loop for trains. The layout was unusual with an island platform and access was by means of a foot crossing. Haven Street station is now the headquarters and main centre of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. Part of the site lies within the parish of Wootton Bridge.
It is hard to visualise it now but the original Wootton station was located in a cutting below the level of Station Road. When the line was built, a three-arch bridge was constructed to enable the road to pass over the railway. The centre arch spanned the track itself whilst the arch nearest the village contained the station offices. The platform was located on this side and was lengthened in 1912 to accommodate longer trains.
Access to the station was by means of a zigzag path from the road. The adjacent Stationmaster's house was built in 1907. George Henry Edwards was the Stationmaster at Haven Street from 1906 and in 1910 he was transferred to Wootton. Seven years later he moved again, this time to Whippingham. His daughter Marjorie Smith remembers that the Porter at Wootton would always shout "Wootton for Woodside".
Dorothy Marey took over as Stationmistress from George Edwards for the duration of the First World War and she later married Cecil William Miller. In about 1920 Mr. Spinks took over as Stationmaster; he had lost an arm in the conflict.
The 1908 Ordnance Survey map indicates a siding on the Havenstreet side of the bridge; it was used by Osborne coal merchants. The only other nearby buildings were a few cottages and the Methodist Chapel; the village itself was half a mile away.
In 1923 the Island's railways became part of the Southern Railway and a programme of improvements to the system was undertaken. In 1948 the railways were nationalised and the Island lines became part of British Railways Southern Region. It was not to be very long before routes and stations were to be closed on economic grounds. On 21st September 1953, Wootton and Whippingham stations were closed to passengers although trains still continued to run over the line.
A quotation from the Wootton Parish Magazine, dated May 1953, reads:
"As according to present decision it will be possible to go from Wootton Station by rail it was decided to take a last fond farewell by going [on the annual Sunday School Outing] by rail".
The end for the Ryde - Newport - Cowes route came on 20 February 1966 when passengers services ceased at the end of the day. The summer and autumn of 1966 still witnessed some traffic on the line, albeit restricted to coal trains and engineers trains run in conjunction with the forthcoming electrification of the Ryde - Shanklin line. By January 1967 it was all over for steam trains on the Island.
As the steam railway system was being phased out there were ideas afoot to try and preserve something of the past for future generations. From such small beginnings blossomed forth the present Steam Railway.
Isle of Wight Steam Railway
It was on 24th January 1971 that the last carriages and wagons which had been saved were transferred from Newport to a new home at Havenstreet station. It was a close run thing, the track in the cutting through the closed Wootton station having become distorted through the movement of the clay subsoil.
In 1973 attempts were made to bring back into operation the former Wootton station as the western terminus of the preserved line. It was to be in vain for the clay subsoil proved impossible to control and any remedial works would have been beyond the financial capabilities of the fledgling railway.
A decision was therefore taken to abandon the site and build a new station to the east of Station Road. Much civil engineering work was involved, including digging out more of the blue clay, in order to create a terminus on a level site. The three-arch bridge and original station are now buried. It was on 7th August 1986 when passengers were able to board or alight from trains again at Wootton, some 33 years after its original closure.
The station recreated on a new site has the air of a sleepy country terminus. The signal box structure came from Freshwater after having served as such for the railway and then as a bus shelter. The levers inside were retrieved from Shanklin signal box when that was demolished. The small booking office on the platform was originally the ticket collectors' booth at Ryde Pier Head.
Wootton now sees trains again in season and the line links up at Smallbrook with the electric train service from Ryde to Shnklin.
The station is just outside Wootton Bridge's parish boundary. It was built in the same opulent style of Ashey station and is a mirror image of it. Like Ashey, Whippingham station was in a remote location and both are now private residences. The area it purported to serve was some two miles away and included Osborne House, Queen Victoria's residence. It is known that Her Majesty did use the station on at least one occasion, on 11th February 1888, when she travelled from Whippingham to Ventnor and back for the opening of the National Consumption Hospital.
The royal connection was maintained when, on the last day that a steam train passed through Whippingham on 24th January 1971, a stop was made to hand to the Island's MP Alderman Mark Woodnutt a despatch bag containing a letter to Her Majesty the Queen. The document commemorated the fact that this was the last train to call at Whippingham Station, once used by guests of royalty travelling to Osborne House.
Subsequently Royalty has returned three times to the Steam Railway and Wootton. On 22nd January 1976, Earl Mountbatten of Burma drove a Royal train from Haven Street to Wootton and back. On 20th August 2001 HRH The Duke of Edinburgh visited the Steam Railway and travelled to Wootton and return. On 19th May 2004 Her Majesty The Queen arrived by road and boarded a train at Wootton station to be conveyed to Havenstreet where Her Majesty unveiled a plaque to commemorate the official opening of the carriage and wagon workshop, built with the aid of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant.
In 2012 the station was upgraded and returned to its original Victorian glory.
Further information on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway can be found on the organistions website www.iwsteamrailway.co.uk .
Source: Contibuted by R. Richardson.This page was last edited on: 4th March, 2015 06:17:20