The ''London & Southampton Railway'' commenced through running between Nine Elms and Southampton on 11th May 1840, a distance of 77-miles. Construction of a 60½-mile-long single-track extension to Dorchester started on 21st July 1845, having originally been promoted under the guise of the ‘’Southampton & Dorchester Railway’’. The extension, known as ‘’Castleman’s Corkscrew’’, pursued a circuitous course between Brockenhurst and Hamworthy, via Ringwood, and came into use on 1st June 1847. The line had been promoted by a wealthy solicitor of Wimborne, Charles Castleman, who was well aware of the LSWR’s and GWR’s desire to conquer Dorset. He took the opportunity to play one company off against the other on the subject of which of the pair would support and operate the line, trying to make as much profit as possible in the process. The LSWR was first in line, but dropped out as a result of Castleman’s demanding terms and conditions, but a keen GWR stepped into the breach. The latter eventually pulled out, too, for the same reasons, and Castleman returned to the LSWR, the latter now in a much stronger bargaining position. Both sides eventually agreed terms, and the solicitor was later given a position on the LSWR Board.
Now onto the branch line. On 7th July 1856, the ‘’Lymington Railway Company’’ was incorporated by an Act of Parliament to construct a four-mile-long single-track branch between the town quay at Lymington and the LSWR’s Brockenhurst station. John Cass Birkinshaw was appointed as engineer of the line, and 1856 was indeed turning out to be a good year for this man. At the same time, he was selected as engineer for the ‘'Sittingbourne & Sheerness Railway'', which had been incorporated to construct a seven-mile branch between Sittingbourne, in Kent, and Sheerness, on the Isle of Sheppey. Little time was wasted in starting the Lymington scheme, and the first trains started to run along the Hampshire branch on 1st July 1858. On opening, the line terminated at a temporary wooden affair in Lymington, since building works at the main station were far from complete. Unfortunately, all was not rosy for our engineer, Birkinshaw, and trouble was brewing on Sheppey. Directors of the Sittingbourne & Sheerness Railway started to become disillusioned with what they considered a slow rate of construction. Knuckles were wrapped, and the engineer was sacked from the Kent project, being replaced by T.E. Marsh. Over in Hampshire, Lymington Town station finally opened on 19th September 1860.
Birkinshaw standardised his architecture across both branches, for very similar designs emerged at Lymington Town and Queenborough – indeed, even the Sheerness terminus was a scaled-down version of these buildings. The theme was Gothic, and a substantial main building, two-storeys-high, emerged on the western side of the line. The forecourt façade featured twin pitched-roof sections sporting sash-style windows, and the slated roof sprouted no less than six chimneystacks. At Queenborough, the main building was painted all over in a whitewash finish, but peculiarly, that at Lymington only received such treatment to the upper floor of its eastern elevation. On the eastern side also emerged a single platform face, serving a basic run-a-round loop formation. Both platform and the immediately adjacent track were protected by a pitched-roof trainshed, about 80-feet-long by 25-feet-wide, supported upon five struts to its east and the station building to its west.
Goods facilities were concentrated at the northern end of the site, for immediately to the south was the estuary of Lymington River. A trio of northward-facing sidings could once be found on the ‘’up’’ side of the line, terminating halfway behind the platform. A pair of these, about 80-yards in length, encroached onto the station forecourt, being laid at an angle to the branch line. The third ran parallel with the branch, immediately behind the platform, and terminated within a goods shed. The latter was a substantial red-brick affair, about 50-feet in length by 25-feet in width, and attached to its rear could be found a two-storey high goods office. On the opposite side of the single-track to the goods facilities could be found a red-brick pitched-roof engine shed. This was about 20-feet in width by 60-feet in length, and was a through affair situated upon a single-track spur accessed by a set of southward-facing points, located at the northern extremity of the site. The shed was accompanied by a water tower attached to its eastern elevation, this measuring about 12-feet in width by 25-feet in length, and a coal stage was provided alongside for terminating engines.
From the outset, a landing stage had been provided immediately south of the station, on the northern embankment of Lymington River, served by a single-track spur from the platform line. Initially, this is where Isle of Wight ferries docked, after carefully negotiating the mud banks and shallow waters of the estuary. In early years, the LSWR had no incentive to improve this situation, for the company concentrated its resources on serving the island’s ferry traffic at Portsmouth. Things, however, began to improve after the LSWR formally took over the independent Lymington Railway Company in 1878; by the end of this year, 552-route-miles of line were owned by the LSWR. A 690-yard-long southward extension was opened from Lymington Town to a new pier station on 1st May 1884, where ferries could dock more easily than at the landing stage within the town quay. The ferry operation lacked a railway link on the Isle of Wight, but this was forthcoming under the ‘’Freshwater, Yarmouth & Newport Railway’’, which opened a passenger station at Yarmouth on 20th July 1889 (the railway had opened to goods on 10th September of the previous year). The track layout at Lymington Town station was slightly revised by installing a set of points at the southern end of the engine shed road, so engines running off the pier could access the building directly without the need for a headshunt manoeuvre. As a result, the set of points allowing direct access to the shed from the Brockenhurst direction were eliminated.
The Southern Railway opened a new signal box at the northern end of the layout, beside Bridge Road level crossing, in 1928. This was a brick-built affair, built to virtually the same design as that which is still in existence today at Okehampton, Devon, and replaced an earlier LSWR cabin situated on the opposite side of the run-a-round loop to the platform. Post-mounted gas lamps on the platforms were also replaced by lamps attached to the walls of the goods shed and main building, but little else changed at the site until major modernisation under British Railways. The Bournemouth electrification was authorised in September 1964, which included the extension of third rail from Brookwood, Surrey, to Branksome, Dorset (just west of Bournemouth) and conversion of the Lymington branch to electric operation. This became the last branch line in Southern England to be worked by steam traction, the last train of this kind running on 2nd April 1967. Goods facilities and all sidings at Lymington Town – including the engine shed road – were officially taken out of use on the 3rd of the following month, and the layout simplified to the extent of leaving just the single running line. The engine shed, goods shed, and overall roof were demolished, and the latter replaced by a CLASP canopy. The station became an unstaffed halt thereafter, and the line was worked on the ‘’one engine in steam’’ system, the 1928 signal box being retained to control the level crossing. The signal box was eventually abolished in 1979, when automatic lifting barriers, controlled from the 1964-opened cabin at Brockenhurst, were installed. The 1967 electrification left the branch with an hourly service from Brockenhurst.
With thanks to Tom Burnham for information concerning John Cass Birkinshaw
A 2-HAP is seen entering from the Brockenhurst direction, having just passed over Bridge Road level crossing. The latter still had traditional gates and, beside it, can be seen the SR-designed signal box of 1928. The vacant land in the foreground was once the station's goods yard and the loading gauge formerly stood over the siding which fed the goods shed. The engine shed was swiftly demolished after the end of steam traction on the South Western Division, having once stood on that site now fenced off, to the right of the 2-HAP. The signal post in the foreground still displayed a "Southern Railway" warning sign.
© David Glasspool Collection
24th October 1989
4 CIG No. 1225, looking resplendent in Network SouthEast livery, is seen crossing the bridge which carries the railway over Lymington River, Pier-bound.
© David Glasspool Collection