The Railway Station Oxford might have had
The railways came to Oxford comparatively late — thanks to the university authorities’ fear that the bright lights of London might tempt undergraduates away from their studies and generally undermine the cloistered world of dreaming spires.
The Warden of Wadham College led the fight against the Great Western Railway Act of 1843, which paved the way for the arrival of trains here the following year; and even when the first station was built, it was situated, inconveniently enough, in Western Road, Grandpont — so any student catching a train to London had to pay the toll to cross Folly Bridge to get there.
The first station on the present site opened on October 1, 1852, after Great Western took over a rival company, the Oxford and Rugby Railway, which had planned a station there.
Now the £12.5m expansion plan for the place, approved last week, continues the ongoing railway saga at Oxford. But thanks to Frank Dumbleton, of Chilton, who sent in the lithograph (pictured), dating from about 1846, we have a tantalising idea of how the station would have looked had plans by the Oxford Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway company gone ahead.
The picture, displayed in the Great Western Trust’s Museum and Archive at Didcot Railway Centre, shows a splendid structure which, had it been built, would have provided a suitably grand arrival point in Oxford — instead of the series of far-from-grand stations we have had to put up with over the years.
Mr Dumbleton writes: “The architectural style is very similar to Stoke-on-Trent station, which was completed in 1848 and is described as a ‘robust Jacobean manor house’.
“The Oxford Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway (OWW) had a difficult history. It was incorporated in 1845 by Act of Parliament, but not completed until 1853. The route from Oxford to Worcester is today’s Cotswold Line.
“It was inextricably drawn into the gauge wars, with the Great Western Railway’s broad gauge branch from Didcot to Oxford at its southern end, and the standard gauge railways of the rest of the country at the Wolverhampton end.
“Not surprisingly, the gauge controversy cost much money, and the OWW had little left to build stations in the style it would have liked. In 1860, it became part of the West Midland Railway, which was absorbed into the Great Western Railway in 1863.
“The Oxford station lithograph used to hang at Paddington station in London, along with many other mementoes of the Isambard Kingdom Brunel era. When Stanley Raymond became the Western Region’s general manager in the early 1960s, he had a mission to banish the GWR traditions that still permeated the place, and he ordered that all the pictures be destroyed. Fortunately, railway enthusiasts rescued many of them.”
For more than a century the present Oxford Station stood cheek by jowl with the lovely Rewley Road station, opened in 1851. It served the line to London via Bletchley and was built by the same engineers who developed Joseph Paxton’s ideas at Crystal Palace — which housed the Great Exhibition in London of that year. It closed to passengers in 1951 and was removed to the Quainton Railway Society’s Railway Centre, in Buckinghamshire, in 1998 — to make way for the Said Business School.
Crystal Palace burned down in 1936 but the Rewley Road station contained so many echoes of it that the magazine The Structural Engineer commented in 1975: “Until recently it was thought that no trace of the Crystal Palace structure remained. Strictly speaking, none does, but something very similar has survived.”
It then went on to describe the Paxton-like work at Rewley Road. The magazine added: “Almost more telling as a comparison than the structural components are the remains of the decorative iron cladding at Oxford which were clearly made from the same castings as in the Exhibition Building.”
As for the dons’ fears that the train to London might take students away from their studies, perhaps they were right: the last train back to Oxford was for years called the Flying Fornicator.