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Diagram of the LSWR system in 1922

The London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) was a railway company in Englandmarker from 1838 to 1922. Its network extended from Londonmarker to Plymouthmarker via Salisburymarker and Exetermarker, with branches to Ilfracombemarker and Padstowmarker and via Southamptonmarker to Bournemouthmarker and Weymouthmarker. It also had many routes connecting towns in Hampshire and Berkshire, including Portsmouthmarker and Readingmarker. In the grouping of railways in 1923 the L&SWR became part of the Southern Railway.

Among significant achievements of the L&SWR were the electrification of suburban lines, the introduction of power signalling, the development of Southampton Docksmarker, the rebuilding of Waterloo Stationmarker as one of the great stations of the world, and the handling of the massive traffic involved in the First World War.


After the Napoleonic Wars there was great concern about the security of coastal shipping routes between Southampton and London, and a number of canal schemes were put forward. After main line railways were seen to be feasible, the idea of connecting places in the South West of England to London was much discussed.

An early proposal for a railway came from Robert Johnson and Abel Ros Dottin, member of parliament for Southampton. A prospectus was published on 23 October 1830 and a public meeting in February 1831 gave unanimous support to the proposals. The railway was promoted as the Southampton, London and Branch Railway and Dock Company, with capital of £1.5 million in shares of £20. The line was to link Southampton and London, and to extend a branch to districts between Hungerford and Bristol. At this time the Great Western Railway (GWR) was being promoted, and the two schemes soon became competitors in providing railway connection to towns in the South West.

However commercial interests in Bristol and Bath seemed to favour the GWR's proposals over the Southampton company's, and a more modest initial scheme, linking only Southampton and London, was developed. Two alternative routes were surveyed by the engineer Francis Giles. One was broadly the route finally adopted, from London via Kingston, Woking and Winchester; the other was a more southerly alignment through Guildfordmarker, Farnhammarker and Alresfordmarker to Winchestermarker. The southerly route passed through more prosperous agricultural land, but the northern route was preferred by the proprietors because of the better access to possible branch lines to Bristolmarker via Hungerfordmarker, Devizesmarker, and Bathmarker).

The railway was promoted as the London and Southampton Railway (L&SR) and authorised by Act of Parliament on 25 July 1834.

Construction of the Southampton line

Diagram of the line when first opened

Construction started in September 1834 with Giles as engineer. His method was to employ a number of small contractors working concurrently at various places on the line. However their lack of resources meant that progress was slow and sporadic, and Giles was unable to maintain control of costs. With mounting delays, the projected cost to complete the line rose from the initial £894,000 to £1.5 million, and in 1837 parliamentary authority had to be sought to raise further capital. Following an examination of the accounts, instigated by a group of Lancashire shareholders, Giles was dismissed and replaced as engineer by Joseph Locke. Locke replaced many of the small contractors with the established firm of Thomas Brassey, and the rate of progress improved greatly.

The new line was opened in stages; the first section was from Nine Elmsmarker to Woking Commonmarker (later renamed Woking) on 21 May 1838, and the company changed its name to the London and South Western Railway Company on the same day.

The opening of the remainder of the main line followed:
  • Woking to Shapley Heath: 24 September 1838
  • Shapley Heath to Basingstoke: 10 June 1839
  • Winchester to a temporary "Southampton" station at Northam Road: 10 June 1839
  • Basingstoke to Winchester, and also the Southampton terminus: 11 May 1840.

The section between Basingstoke and Winchester was the most difficult to engineer, as it crossed the Loddon, Test and Itchen Valleys. It passed through four tunnels before descending to Winchester.

The stations on the line at the time of opening were:

  • Nine Elmsmarker; the London terminus on the south bank of the River Thames, adjacent to the present Nine Elms Way; the station was a little over a mile from Trafalgar Square;
  • Wandsworth; later renamed Clapham Common, on the northern margin of Wandsworth Common, about half a mile west of the present Clapham Junctionmarker which replaced it;
  • Wimbledon; somewhat to the west of Wimbledon Hill Road and of the present station;
  • Kingston; on the east side of King Charles Road, about half a mile east of the present Surbiton station;
  • Ditton Marsh; now Eshermarker;
  • Walton; now Walton-on-Thamesmarker;
  • Weybridgemarker
  • Woking Common; now Wokingmarker;
  • Farnboroughmarker;
  • Shapley Heath; now Winchfieldmarker;
  • Basingstokemarker;
  • Andover Road; now Micheldevermarker;
  • Winchestermarker;
  • Northam Road station; at the road of the same name;
  • Southampton; later renamed Southampton Terminus, at the present Terminus Terrace, it was an elegant building in the classical style by Sir William Tite.

Gauge wars

Between the first proposal for a railway from London to Southampton and the construction, the proprietors and other groups were considering rail connections to other towns, some in the territory towards Bath and Bristol. The Great Western Railway (GWR) also planned to reach those towns and obtained its Act of Parliament on 31 August 1835 which for the time being removed Bath and Bristol from the L&SWR's ambit but there remained much disputed territory, and the L&SWR and its allies continually fought the GWR and its allies for possession of territory for expansion. The GWR was built on the broad gauge of while the L&SWR gauge was standard gauge, and the allegiance of any proposed independent railway was made clear by its intended gauge. The protracted competition for territory, investment funds, and parliamentary approval between the GWR and the standard gauge companies became called the gauge wars.

In early days government held that several competing railways could not be sustained in any particular area of the country, and a commission of experts referred to informally as the Five Kings was established by the Board of Trade to determine the preferred development, and therefore the preferred company, in certain districts, and this was formalised in the Railway Regulation Act 1844.

In 1836 and later years there were proposals for a standard gauge extension to Exeter and Plymouth, but the Bristol & Exeter Railway, a broad gauge company, was successful in reaching Exeter first on 1 May 1844.

In 1844 a Wimborne solicitor put forward proposals for a Southampton and Dorchester Railway, and explored with the L&SWR its interest in supporting his scheme. However these negotiations were not positive, and in September 1844 the GWR agreed to lease his line, implying that it would be built to the broad gauge. The L&SWR developed an independent, opposing scheme, but the Five Kings supported the Southampton & Dorchester line. Formal agreement was reached on 16 January 1845 between the L&SWR, the GWR and the Southampton & Dorchester, agreeing exclusive areas of influence for future railway construction as between the parties. Part of the agreement made the Southampton and Dorchester line a standard gauge route, and gave the L&SWR access over the GWR line to Weymouth.

Early expansion

Diagram of the L&SWR in 1858
The L&SWR's energies were not confined to the gauge wars in the early years, and branch lines were constructed to Salisbury (as part of the thrust to the West), Richmond, Gosport (for Portsmouth), and Godalming.

In 1836 the promoters of the L&SR proposed a branch from Bishopstoke (Eastleighmarker) to Portsmouthmarker, the Portsmouth Junction Railway. However the population of Portsmouth wanted a direct line to London rather than a branch from a main line to Southampton. Their opposition resulted in the defeat of the Bill at its second reading.

In January 1838 a direct independent line was proposed to London, through Chichestermarker, Arundelmarker and Dorkingmarker. The promoters approached the L&SR, but they were rejected with a degree of vindictiveness. The L&SR was already planning a line to Gosportmarker on the western side of Portsmouth Harbour. The L&SR's Act succeeded on 4 June 1839. As a concession to Portsmouth the L&SR changed its name to the London and South Western Railway.

London Terminal Stations

The company's first London terminus was at Nine Elmsmarker on the edge of the built-up area. The wharf frontage on the river was advantageous to the railway's objective of substituting for coastal shipping transits, but the site was inconvenient for passengers, who had to travel on to London either by road or by boat.

The "Metropolitan Extension" to a more central location had been discussed as early as 1836, and an extension northeast was authorised by Act of Parliament on 31 July 1845 with a supplementary Act of 1847 authorising a wider railway and a larger terminus; the capital authorised was £950,000. The line was to have an intermediate station at Vauxhall and two short branches, to Waterloo Bridge Road and to Hungerford Bridge. An unfulfilled intention was for a through station with services nearer to the City and the eventual terminus, named Waterloo Bridge until 1886, was planned to be a through station.

Opening was planned for 30 June 1848, but the Board of Trade Inspector did not approve some of the large-span bridges at the eastern end, however his superior was satisfied by later load tests, and the line opened on 11 July 1848. At first incoming trains stopped outside the station and were pulled in by capstan after the locomotive had been detached.

The Nine Elms site became dedicated to goods traffic and was much extended to fill the triangle of land eastwards to Wandsworth Road.

An independent Richmond railway was promoted which would have run north of the L&SWR as far as Nine Elms, then would have crossed the L&SWR line and run to Waterloo. However the L&SWR adopted the Richmond line and so had four tracks from the junction of the routes, just east of the present Clapham Junction station, to Waterloo Bridge.

West of Salisbury

The Exeter and Crediton Railway (opened on 12 May 1851), and the North Devon Railway (opened on 1 August 1854) were leased to the London and South Western Railway from 1862/1863 and then bought out in 1865. The Exeter and Crediton line a link in what became the West of England Main Line, the LS&WR's main route from London to Plymouth. The rival Great Western Railway had already reached Exeter at St Davids stationmarker. The L&SWR was able to build its own station, called Queen Street station (now Exeter Centralmarker), but due to the geography of the area the LS&WR was forced to construct a link line to the GWR station, where its trains would run briefly on GWR metals until they could proceed on their own line to Okehamptonmarker which opened in 1871 and reached Plymouthmarker in 1876. The two stations were connected by a short tunnel on a severe 1-in-37 descent from the L&SWR to the GWR lines, a problem amplified by the GWR insisting that all LSWR trains stopped at its own Exeter station. Hauling heavily-laden boat trains or holiday specials from rest up the gradient frequently required three powerful locomotives. An indication of the tortuous route the L&SWR had to take through Exeter is given by the fact that at Exeter St. Davids London-bound trains from the two companies faced opposite directions at the platforms.

The L&SWR's lines reached their most westward point at Padstowmarker (some 260 miles (418 km) from Waterloomarker) on the completion of the North Cornwall Railwaymarker in 1899.

The company's routes west of Exetermarker were known to railwaymen as 'The Withered Arm'. The name arose because these lines were constructed to much lower engineering standards than the routes nearer London, with steeper gradients, fewer major bridges, tunnels or cuttings, a lower maximum axle loading and often long stretches of single track. The name also referred to how these lines appeared on a map of the L&SWR system- in comparison to the dense, largely straight-running mainlines of the Londonmarker suburbs and Hampshire the sparse network in the west with the single main line splitting into a series of long, wandering, branches resembled a withered limb and fingers.

Suburban Lines

Diagram of the L&SWR in 1890

Routes in Hampshire

The original South Western Main Line, opened in stages between 1838 and 1840, linked the Hampshire towns of Basingstokemarker, Winchestermarker and Southamptonmarker. However the new line did not connect with Hampshire's most politically and commercially important city, Portsmouthmarker. Even during the construction of the SWML the company had drawn up plans to resolve this.

In 1841 the LSWR opened two separately-built lines that provided a link to the town of Gosportmarker, less than a mile away from Portsmouth across Portsmouth Harbourmarker. The Eastleigh to Fareham Line branched off the main line at Eastleighmarker and took an almost perfectly straight line to the market town and port of Farehammarker. Here the route joined the newly-built line to Gosport stationmarker where a ferry service completed the journey to Portsmouth itself.

This situation continued until 1847 when the LSWR's eastern rival the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway opened its route to Portsmouth proper via Havantmarker. The next year the LSWR built a short line via Portchestermarker to meet the new line as it entered Portsmouth. However, whilst Portsmouth now had its own station the route to London was still very indirect since it was via Brightonmarker or Southampton. Businessmen and civic leaders in Portsmouth raised enough money to back a private venture by a civil engineer to build a direct route from the LSWR's station at Guildfordmarker. The line reached Havant in 1850, sparking a fierce war (both legal and, at times, physical) battle between the LB&SCR and the LSWR (who managed the services over the independently-owned line) over access rights to Portsmouth over the former's line. This reached a peak at the so-called 'Battle of Havantmarker', but from 1859 the new Portsmouth Direct Line was bought-out by the LSWR, providing the company with a second main line to the south coast.

Meanwhile, in northern Hampshire the company had opened its line to Alton in 1852. Initially this was from a single branch from Farnhammarker, but in 1865 a new fast line from the SWML at Brookwoodmarker through Aldershotmarker. An independent company, the Alton, Alresford and Winchester Railway Company, had built a line between those places which also opened in 1865, with the LSWR running the trains, which worked through Alton stationmarker. In 1884 the LSWR bought out the AA&WR, becoming the full owner of the Alton to Winchester line.

In 1863 the company took over the Bishops Waltham Railway Company, which had built the Bishops Waltham branch between that village and the LSWR's Botley stationmarker on the Eastleigh to Fareham Line. The branch had not opened at the time that the BWR was taken over, so the LSWR was the first to operate services on the line.

In 1866 the LSWR built its short branch from Southampton to Netleymarker to service the newly-opened Royal Victoria Military Hospitalmarker. A decade later, in 1876 the Portsmouth Direct Line was extended further south to reach Southseamarker and to serve the Naval Dockyardmarker with a new station, Portsmouth Harbourmarker.

With all the major towns and cities in Hampshire now connected, the LSWR carried out little new building in the 1880s. The only notable openings were the link between the SWML and the newly-built Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway (over the Hockley viaductmarker, the longest in the county) and a short section of line from the Netley branch to Fareham through Swanwickmarker, finally completing the West Coastway Line between Southampton and Brighton in 1889.

Hampshire saw a brief but significant burst of new-line building in the 1890s. In 1894 a new line from Gosport stationmarker to Lee-on-the-Solentmarker was built to take advantage of the growth in tourist traffic to the Isle of Wightmarker. However the most significant new routes came about as the LSWR acted to block its greatest rival, the Great Western Railway from building its own line to Portsmouthmarker from Readingmarker. This blocking action took the form of two lines. The Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway was a minor route- the first in the country to be built under the terms of the 1896 Light Railways Act. The second line was the Meon Valley Railway between Alton and Farehammarker, built to main-line standards as a second London to Gosportmarker route. The new lines opened in 1901 and 1903 respectively, these being the last lines in Hampshire to be built by the LSWR before the 1923 grouping.


In 1913 the L&SWR, led by Sir Herbert Walker who came in 1912 from the London and North Western Railway whose suburban lines he had electrified on a 630 V DC fourth rail system, chose 630 V DC third rail electrification for its suburban routes. Implementation was somewhat delayed by First World War and the first L&SWR electric service ran on 20 October 1915 between Waterloo and Wimbledon via East Putney. In the following year electric services began on the Hounslow and Kingston Loop Lines.

This system was incompatible with LBSCR's 6600V 25 Hz AC overhead system which after the 1923 grouping was replaced by the LSWR system.

Southampton Docks

When the company was founded it showed interest in Southampton Docks. The first docks had already been built and the development of the port of Southampton was accelerated by the arrival of the railway. In 1843 the L&SWR started running ships from Southampton as the New South Western Steam Navigation Company.. Later, the L&SWR took over the vessels and in 1892 it bought the docks and continued the rapid development of them..

Eastleigh Works

In 1891, the works at Eastleighmarker, in Hampshire, were opened with the transfer of the carriage and wagon works from Nine Elms in Londonmarker. The Locomotive Works were transferred from Nine Elmsmarker under Drummond, opening in 1909.

LSWR infrastructure

For details of the LSWR Main Line routes, see:

Notable people

Chairmen of the Board of Directors

  • 1832–1833: Sir Thomas Baring, Bt, MP
  • 1834–1836: John Wright
  • 1837–1840: Sir John Easthope
  • 1841–1842: Robert Garnet, MP
  • 1843–1852: W. J. Chaplin
  • 1853: The Hon. Francis Scott, MP
  • 1854: Sir William Heathcote, Bt
  • 1854–1858: W. J. Chaplin (again)
  • 1859–1872: Captain Charles Mangles
  • 1873–1874: Charles Castleman
  • 1875–1892: The Hon. Ralph H. Dutton
  • 1892–1899: Wyndham S. Portal
  • 1899–1904: Lieut-Col. the Hon. H. W. Campbell
  • 1904–1910: Sir Charles Scotter
  • 1911–1922: Sir Hugh Drummond

General Managers

  • 1839–1852: Cornelius Stovin (as Traffic Manager)
  • 1852–1885: Archibald Scott (as Traffic Manager 1852–1870)
  • 1885–1898: Sir Charles Scotter
  • 1898–1912: Sir Charles Owens
  • 1912–1922: Sir Herbert Walker, KCB

Chief (civil) Engineers

  • 1834–1837: Francis Giles
  • 1837–1840: Joseph Locke
  • 1840–1849: Albino Martin
  • 1849–1853: John Bass
  • 1853–1870: John Strapp
  • 1870–1887: W. Jacomb
  • 1887–1901: E. Andrews
  • 1901–1914: J. W. Jacomb-Hood
  • 1914–1922: Alfred W. Szlumper

Locomotive engineers, works and corporate liveries

Locomotive works

The locomotive works were at Nine Elms Locomotive Works from 1838 to 1908. Under Drummond they were moved to a new spacious site at Eastleighmarker in 1909.

Locomotive liveries

John Viret Gooch
Little information is available although from 1844 dark green with red and white lining, black wheels and red buffer beams seems to have become standard.

1850–1866 (Joseph Hamilton Beattie)
  • Passenger classes - Indian red with black panelling inside white. Driving splashers and cylinders lined white. Black wheels, smokebox and chimney. Vermilion buffer beams and buff footplate interior.
  • Goods classes - unlined Indian red. Older engines painted black until 1859.

1866–1872 (Joseph Hamilton Beattie)
  • All engines dark chocolate brown with 1-inch black bands edged internally in white and externally by vermillion. Tender sides divided into three panels.

1872–1878 (William George Beattie)
  • Paler chocolate known as purple brown with the same lining. From 1874 the white lining was replaced by yellow ochre and the vermillion by crimson.

1878–1885 (William Adams)
  • Umber brown with a 3in black band externally and bright green line internally. Boiler bands black with white edging. Buffer beams vermilion. Smokebox, chimney, frames etc black.

1885–1895 (William Adams)
  • Passenger classes - Pea green with black borders edged with a fine white line. Boiler bands black with a fine white line to either side.
  • Goods classes - holly green with black borders edged by a fine bright green line.

1895–1914 (Dugald Drummond)
  • Passenger classes - royal green lined in chocolate, triple lined in white, black and white. Boiler bands black lined in white with 3-inch tan stripes to either side. Outside cylinders with black borders and white lining. Smokebox, chimney, exterior frames, tops of splashers, platform etc black. Inside of the main frames tan. Buffer beams vermilion and cab interiors grained pine.
  • Goods classes - holly green edged in black and lined in light green. Boiler bands black edged in light green.

1914–1917 (Robert Urie)
  • Passenger classes - olive green with Drummond lining.
  • Goods classes holly green with black edging and white lining.

1917–1922 (Robert Urie)
  • Passenger classes - olive green with a black border and white edging.
  • Goods classes - holly green often without lining until 1918.

Other details

  • The longest tunnel is Honiton Tunnel 1,353 yards (1,218m); there were six others longer than 500 yards (450m)
  • The Waterloo and City Railway was built by the LSWR to give them access to the City of London
  • The L&SWR and the Midland Railway were joint owners of the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway
  • The anglicised script version of the Russian word for railway station is 'vokzal'. A longstanding legend has it that a party from Russiamarker planning their own railway system arrived in London around the time that the L&SWR's Vauxhall station was opened. They saw the station nameboards, thought the word was the English word for railway station and took it back home. In fact, the first Russian railway station was built on the site of pleasure gardens based on those at Vauxhall — nothing to do with the English railway station. (Fuller details are in the Vauxhallmarker article.)

See also


Further reading

  • Dendy-Marshall, C. F. (1968) A history of the Southern Railway , Kidner,R.W. (ed.), new ed., London: Allen, ISBN 0-7110-0059-X.
  • Hamilton E.C. (1956) The South Western Railway: its mechanical history and background, 1838-1922, George Allen & Unwin, 256 p.
  • Nock, O. S. (1971) The London & South Western Railway, Ian Allen, ISBN 0-7110-0267-3
  • Williams, R. A. (1968) The London & South Western Railway, v. 1: The formative years, and v. 2: Growth and consolidation, David and Charles, ISBN 0-7153-4188-X; ISBN 0-7153-5940-1

External links

  • - South Western Circle : The Historical Society for the London & South Western Railway

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