A brief history of the MSWJ
on whose former trackbed the Swindon & Cricklade is being built

 

The Line

Link to system map

Link to Crosslanes map

The Midland & South Western Junction Railway was a minor railway of just under 60 route miles. While its passenger services ran between Southampton and Cheltenham, its own metals began at Red Post Junction outside Andover and ended at Andoversford. The towns along the line included Marlborough, Swindon, Cricklade and Cirencester.
 
In Swindon, the MSWJ had its own station at Swindon Town. This was quite separate from the Great Western station on the London to Bristol main line.
 
The early years of the line were made difficult by the Great Western, who were strongly opposed to any competition within an area where it had a monopoly. In the event the MSWJ, at its fullest extent, never attracted enough business to make a significant impact.
 
The only exceptions occurred during the two World Wars, when exceptionally heavy traffic was carried, including that to military camps on Salisbury Plain. The MSWJ's only branch was from Ludgershall to Tidworth, where services were dominated by military needs.


Locomotives
Swindon, Marlborough & Andover Railway 2-4-0T locomotive

MSWJ loco list link

During its independent existence the MSWJ (and its predecessor, the Swindon, Marlborough and Andover Railway) purchased a total of 38 locomotives. Almost without exception, these were from well-known builders, including Dubs, Beyer Peacock, Sharp Stewart and North British.
 
At the 1923 Grouping, 29 locomotives passed to the GWR. While one or two were scrapped quite quickly, the majority received standard GWR features and lasted into the 1930s. A small class of three 2-4-0s, built by Dubs in 1894, survived into British Railways ownership. The last example was withdrawn in 1954.
 
MSWJ locomotives were a varied and interesting collection, and offer several interesting prototypes for the modeller.
Stations
The original station at Blunsdon -
little more than a halt for handling milk traffic.
Link to Tyers single-lie tablet pages Most MSWJ stations were opened between 1881 and 1891, reflecting the initial construction of the line between Swindon and southwards towards Red Post Junction (for Andover), and its later completion northwards to Andoversford near Cheltenham.
 
Blunsdon, home of the Swindon & Cricklade Railway, was the last to appear. Opened in 1895, mainly for milk traffic, Blunsdon did boast a single siding, although its curve was so sharp that locomotives were forbidden to enter - wagons had to be backed in from the main line.
 
Having been the last station to open, Blunsdon was one of the first to close. In 1924 it lost the final vestige of its passenger service, when a single train ceased to call on Sundays! It closed for goods traffic in 1937. Milk, hay, cattle cake and straw were major traffics in the station's busier days.

Survivals

With the exceptions of a few bridges, very little remains in the way of MSWJ structures. This signal box is a unique survivor. To quote from John Hinson's MSWJ Signal Box'Signalbox' website, 'Only one signal box survives from the former MSWJ, and here it is. Located at Savernake High Level station, it is now on private land. This part of the line was opened by the Swindon, Marlborough & Andover Railway, and all of the initial signalling was provided in 1882 by the Gloucester Wagon Company. In 1884 the MSWJ took over, and subsequent boxes were built to Dutton & Co or London & South Western Railway designs.

'There was no box originally, but this cabin was possibly originally erected at nearby Wolfhall Junction. It was moved here in 1898. The box contained an 18-lever Gloucester Wagon Company frame, which no doubt came with the box from its original location. The box ceased to function as a proper block post in 1933, although it was retained until the line closed in 1959 to act as a ground frame.' Our thanks to John for permission to reproduce his picture. We recommend you visit his website at www.signalbox.org if you have the slightest interest in signalling matters!

Happy accidents?

The MSWJ was a small concern that struggled all its life to make ends meet. It did, however, have larger ambitions, and these bought a major benefit to the Swindon & Cricklade.
 
When the single track main line was built, the formation reflected the hope that it could one day be doubled. This far-sightedness assured the Swindon & Cricklade adequate space to install the run-round loops and sidings required by the new railway! Doubling of the line was completed between Red Post Junction and Marlborough and between Cirencester and Andoversford, but the Cirencester to Marlborough section remained single.
 
It might also be noted that the S&C's extensive new facilities at Hayes Knoll are being built on a piece of ground beside the running line that has been in railway ownership since the building of the MSWJ.
 
It is possible that, when the land was originally purchased, it was the 'cut off' corner of a field that the farmer of the time didn't feel worth retaining. A reflection of land values 'then and now'!


Write to us