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OUR STATIONS - A HISTORY

SMALLBROOK JUNCTION

Smallbrook History
On 20th December 1875, the Ryde & Newport Railway opened their new line, the last mile of which ran parallel to the Isle of Wight Railway’s track from Ventnor to Ryde.

Smallbrook Junction Station is at the point where the two lines originally converged although there was no physical connection until they reached Ryde St John’s Road.

The Southern Railway, who took over the operation of the Island’s railways in 1923, created a new junction and signal box at Smallbrook which opened on 18th July 1926. This new connection was used during the busy summer months to speed up the flow of trains onto the single line railways to Cowes and Ventnor. In winter the two tracks reverted to single line operation controlled from Ryde St John’s Road.

In February 1966, the railway to Newport and Cowes closed; in April the line to Ventnor was cut back to Shanklin. Smallbrook Junction box was dismantled in January 1967 and the tracks removed in 1971.

The volunteers of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway relaid over three miles of line from its base at Havenstreet to Smallbrook and Network SouthEast, then operators of the electrified Island Line, generously funded the construction of this important interchange station. Smallbrook Junction had, for the first time, its own station which opened on 20th July 1991.

Located over the fence, between the platforms, are the concrete foundations of the 1926 signal box, carefully retained as a tangible reminder of the railway’s past.

This station is completely land-locked and its only access is by rail; Island line trains call on Steam Railway operating days only. As a direct result of the remote location, passenger facilities are limited and comprise a ticket office, manned at busy times, a small passenger shelter and open air seating. There is also a single unisex chemical toilet.

ASHEY STATION

Ashey Station
Work on the Ryde & Newport Railway started early in 1873, under the contractors Barnett & Gale but by 1874, they were in financial difficulties and were succeeded by J. & G. Taylor of Devon. By August 1874, a branch off the railway at Ashey to a chalk quarry was nearly complete and work had started on the station by February 1875.

Ashey is essentially in the middle of nowhere, the grandness of the station was probably due to Sir Henry Oglander of Nunwell; he objected to the railway passing through his best pheasant country and the building, which is a mirror image of the ‘Royal’ station at Whippingham, may well have been a way of placating him. In addition the station was styled ‘Ashey for Nunwell’ for some time, presumably to add a little significance to an otherwise inconsequential location.

For years Ashey was the only crossing place between Ryde and Newport, it boasted a 12 lever frame to operate the loop and ½ mile branch to Ashey Down Quarry. In April 1882, a race course was opened immediately south of the Station, bounded on one side by the quarry branch. Originally three meetings a year attracted 3000 visitors a day but as time went on, one of the meetings was dropped.

By 1907, the quarry was disused and the branch cut back to half its length, the remaining portion used for stabling up to three complete trains which provided a ‘mobile’ grandstand. The tracks at Ashey were rationalised by the end of 1927, after the opening of the new crossing place and station at Haven Street and racing ended in 1930 when the wooden grandstand was destroyed by fire in suspicious circumstances. The Station returned to its sleepy existence, further track changes saw the mainline using the Up (north) platform and the down side converted to an engineers siding. Eventually ground movement necessitated the removal of part of the Up platform and the siding taken out to make way for the main line. A new three coach platform complete with shelter was constructed on the Down side and opened to traffic on 18th June 1961, and it is this structure which we use to-day. The old station building was available as staff accommodation but was never popular and became near derelict. It was put on the market after the line closed in February 1966 and is now in private hands.

Soon after arrival at Haven Street, the Steam Railway secured a lease on the trackbed from Wootton to Smallbrook Junction thus preventing any unwelcome building or rights of way issues which may have prevented future extension of the track. This wise move kept the way safe for nearly 20 years before reconstruction started. As part of their support of the rebuilding programme, the Isle of Wight Council generously donated the freehold of the whole trackbed to the Steam Railway….it was time to get building!

This work saw a new importance for Ashey as its road access,(private car crippling cratered farm tracks), and location meant that work was split into a number of sections either side of the station. The tracks were actually joined on Easter Monday 1991, after a colossal effort by the volunteer teams. The line reopened to passengers on 21st July 1991, but it was not until 2nd May 1993, after the site was cleared and landscaped that Ashey station was ready to receive its first passengers.

If you are about in the early spring, the ghost of the races is re-incarnated in the Ashey Scurry, an equestrian event held on the site of the erstwhile race course organised by local farmers and horse owners. It’s a thoroughly fun day out for which the Steam Railway, naturally, run race trains.

Otherwise, Ashey remains a quiet backwater, trains stop by request and its an ideal place for a picnic or a ramble off into the countryside; but don’t expect any mod-cons, this is rural Wight at its best!

Passenger facilities comprise a small shelter and open-air seating. There is no public access to this Station except by footpath and train service.

HAVEN STREET STATION

Haven Street Station
When the Ryde & Newport Railway opened on Monday 20th December 1875, the station at Haven Street was incomplete and its location was of little consequence to the operation of the line. Even by 1876, work was still not complete and when eventually finished it comprised no more than a collection of wooden shacks on a single platform, its not surprising that the rural backwater serving Hethenstrete (road of the heathens) barely got a mention in timetables.

A principal landowner in the village was one John Rylands, a Manchester cotton mill owner who is probably better known for founding the John Rylands Library, an Alma Mater for religious scholars. His philanthropic works at Haven Street included the Gasworks and adjacent cottages opposite the station. These were constructed in 1886, and also necessitated the building of a short siding to deliver coal to the works. The Gasworks became disused in the 1920’s and the building used as a barn; the siding lingered on for another 30 years although little used.

In 1926, the station took on a new lease of life as an island platform and station building was constructed. This reason for this investment was the provision of a more convenient place to cross trains between Ryde and Newport. The old loops at Ashey and Whippingham were closed and staff drastically reduced.

The ‘new’ building at Haven Street is that which you see to-day, it’s a single story structure designed to be operated by a single man. The signal-box doubles as the booking office and is located to one end, the central portion is a waiting room whose quarry tiled floor is evidence that the front of this area was once open to the weather before being enclosed in the 1930’s. At the far end of the building are the toilets, the ladies are led off the waiting area, gentlemen have to brave the elements on their way to the flat roofed extension … although it was always thus in the original plans.

Back in 1934, the station forwarded 60,986 gallons of milk to Newport and strawberries and carnations went to Covent Garden, much of this was loaded from a special timber platform built on the south side of the line close to the bridge which crosses the main road, this platform had direct cart access from the station yard. The exact date of its demise has yet to be determined but was probably around the time of the Second World War.

In the 1950’s the Post Office instigated the contracted name Havenstreet to prevent confusion although this was only partially adopted by the railway….and remains thus!

The railway closed in February 1966 although the track remained in place and the building boarded until the Steam Railway arrived on Sunday 24th January 1971.

Whilst it would have been ideal to have preserved the station in aspic the requirements of a modern visitor attraction and the need to service and maintain the locomotives and carriages necessitated change. The old coal siding was reinstated at the same time as sidings connecting into the locomotive workshops; the old gasworks was purchased and now houses a small museum and store. A new shop was constructed on the site of the old tar pits and later volunteer accommodation was provided in a similarly designed building next door.

At the south-western end of the station, new sidings have been laid to accommodate an ever increasing volume of wagons and rolling stock, much of which is used by our engineers to maintain the track and lineside. Behind the Shop-Museum complex a further workshop for carriage and wagon restoration was built. It was made possible by a grant from the Heritage lottery Fund and voluntary donation; Her Majesty The Queen opened the new workshop in 2004. This building is available to visit on most operating days and provides an up close insight into vehicle restoration.??Another vestige of the stations past is the narrow platform accessed by a ramp from a foot crossing. With present-day numbers of passengers, we have protected the crossing with gates interlocked with the signalling. Visitors are asked to be patient if the gates are shut – however irksome this may seem, it’s for your safety!

To the north of the line a further waiting room, second hand book shop and school parties audio visual room are located in a prefabricated building which also houses Company offices, model railway and visitors audio visual presentation. Nest door are the Refreshment Rooms and Calbourne Room. This building was first constructed in 1982 in a style to match the gas house and used second hand bricks from a demolished hotel. An extension in 2005 added the Calbourne Room, a popular conference and party venue.

Outside, a children’s play area borders a delightful woodland walk and extensive recreation field which visitors are free to use. This field also provides the location for numerous events and shows held throughout the year.

WOOTTON STATION

he section of line from Havenstreet to Wootton was constructed in 1873 by contractors Barnett & Gale but Wootton Station was not available for business when the line opened on Monday 20th December 1875, and was described by Inspecting Officer Col. Yolland as a “new road side station” when he visited on 11th March the following year. It lacked amenities such as name boards, clock and conveniences….the situation was little improved by 1879!

The platform was in a deep cutting alongside a three arch bridge carrying Beech Road,(later Station Road) over the line. This location was formally part of Quarrell’s Copse and is about a mile from Wootton village. In 1907, a station masters’ house was constructed high above the station and an arch of the bridge was bricked in to provide ladies toilets. A booking office was also later provided in this way. To the east of the bridge an access road was provided to a new 110ft siding which was worked from a ground frame. This facility remained in use until 1959, but the track stayed put until lifted by the Steam Railway in 1976.

The station was closed ‘on and from’ Monday 21 September 1953, although occasional trains would stop to set down or pick up local staff members until the line closed. The difficult clay conditions at the station site led to constant maintenance and part of the old platform was cut back due to encroachment. The line finally closed in February 1966 and lay dormant until 24th January 1971.

The Steam Railway received less than a weeks notice to quit the Newport base and move the locomotive and rolling stock to Havenstreet through the troubled site at Wootton. A small team cleared the collapsed bank from the track and packed up the rails to allow passage of four very heavy passenger and goods trains.

Steam Railway trains started running from Havenstreet to Wootton Station Road Bridge at Easter 1971; the following year a survey of the old station site suggested it could be stabilized and reused. Work commenced but came to an abrupt halt some months later when, after a period of very heavy rain, the whole bank was in immanent danger of collapse! The scheme was abandoned and the cutting filled together with the whole area under and around Station Road bridge, which, incidentally still exists under the road by the station bus stops. The Railway made plans for a new terminus further east but it was not until 1977 the the first engine was able to run round its train. The station formally opened in August 1986, it comprised a single platform with a booking office which had graced Ryde Pier Head for 100 years, a signal box which had a life at Newport and Freshwater before becoming a bus shelter, and an old carriage body as a waiting room. Quaint and functional but not particularly decorative and in 2009 it was decided to give the whole area a major make over in the Isle of Wight Central style. Various plans are on the table and the next few years will see exciting developments at Wootton.

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