A single island platform, a tiny canopy, an exposed footbridge, flanked to the north by the main trunk road linking central Southampton with Totton, and to the south by extensive car parks within the docks, it is a rather lonesome scene for the waiting passenger at Millbrook. However, for the enthusiast, the locality is rich with railway interest: two Freightliner terminals and Southampton Docks provide a significant flow of goods traffic. The traveller can swap the bustling industrial landscape for pleasant views of woodland and wildlife by journeying a mere four route-miles to the west, where the scene transforms into the New Forest.

The Southampton & Dorchester Railway opened to public traffic on 1st June 1847 as a single-track line via Wimborne in Dorset, which made an indirect connection in Southampton with the London & South Western Railway’s (LSWR) main line from Nine Elms. However, Millbrook station was a later addition to the route, coming into use on 1st November 1861 (ref: The London & South Western Railway, R. A. Williams, 1968) — by February 1859, double-track working had been in operation between Southampton and Wimborne (ref: Herepath's Journal, 5th February 1859). A pair of timber-faced platforms were in evidence upon a gentle curve, and there was little in terms of elaboration as far as station buildings were concerned. The "up" (London-bound) platform was host to a timber-built booking office, which your author can best describe as being similar in design and proportions to the waiting shelter still in evidence today at Rye in Sussex. The "up" side booking office was accompanied by a small waiting shelter, also of timber construction, which looked remarkably like the structure still in use at Ham Street, Kent; this diminutive shelter was also replicated on Millbrook’s "down" platform. Early photographs of the station also include a signal box-like structure situated upon the western end of the "up" platform which, like the other buildings, was fabricated from timber. It was a single-storey structure with a hipped slated roof and, at its rear, a brick chimneystack.

The 1871 Ordnance Survey edition, although small-scale, shows no evidence of sidings at Millbrook — just the main line, flanked by the platforms, is depicted. At this time, the railway ran along the edge of the mud banks of the River Test from Southampton to Millbrook and Redbridge, a spectacle that later disappeared during land reclamation for Southampton Western Docks. The 1898 Ordnance Survey edition reflects the same scene; however, by 1910, a considerable number of sidings had been laid in the vicinity of the station. Two sidings were now present on the "up" side, these of which made a trailing connection with the main line south east of the station; one of these terminated directly behind the "up" platform and could possibly have been for use by the adjacent stables. Multiple sidings had also been laid west of the station, on the "up" side of the running lines, on a spacious site which is today occupied by Millbrook Freightliner Terminal. By this time, a footbridge had been erected across the running lines, linking the station’s platforms at their western ends.

Millbrook: 1933

This diagram shows the first Millbrook station's two platforms on the right, immediately before the laying of rails to Southampton Western Docks and prior to the Southern Railway's quadrupling of the line. The siding running alongside the Malt Kilns (9) was formerly longer and passed the Public House and stables. Additionally, this same siding also sprouted a second track, but by 1933 this had been lifted and its site occupied by the rectangular structure situated in-between the Public House (8) and Malt Kilns (9). The goods yard to the west had only then recently been expanded. Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

By 1933, the goods yard situated on the "up" side of the line, west of Millbrook station, had been greatly expanded by a complex formation of sidings and a large goods shed. The station had also been upgraded with larger waiting accommodation on both platforms and a canopy linking all buildings on the "up" side. Previously, in April 1931, the Southern Railway had given the go-ahead for the construction of what would at that time be one of the world’s largest dry docks at Millbrook. This formed the beginnings of Southampton Western Docks, which involved the reclamation of 400 acres of land (ref: The Journal of Commerce and Shipping Telegraph, 31st July 1933) south of the railway, from Millbrook through to Southampton West (later "Central") station. The King George V Graving Dock (also known as a dry dock) was formally opened in Millbrook by its namesake on 26th July 1933. The dock was 1,200-feet in length, 135-feet wide at the entrance, with a depth of water of 45-feet, and could accommodate ships of 100,000 tons (ref: The Journal of Commerce and Shipping Telegraph, 4th March 1933). The dock was flanked on each side by railway lines, these of which made an indirect connection with the "down" main line west of Millbrook station.

In 1934, it was announced in the press that rebuilding of the railway between Southampton West and Millbrook was soon to commence. This was to involve the quadrupling of the line in the area and the replacement of the existing Millbrook station with a brand new construction:


£70,000 Plan to Double Track

The time taken by boat trains between Waterloo and Southampton will be lessened by a quarter of an hour as the result of important work on the Southern Railway main line between Southampton West and Millbrook.

The scheme, which will cost £70,000, will double the number of tracks over a mile and a half, providing two up and two down lines.

Millbrook station will be entirely reconstructed as an island platform 600 feet long, reached by a new footbridge from Millbrook-road. There is to be a new junction near the station for the two tracks serving the railway’s new docks.

This widening, which is connected with the £178,000 reconstruction of Southampton West station, will give adequate facilities for dock traffic and relieve the pressure at Southampton West. [News Chronicle (London), Thursday, 24th May 1934 ]

In addition to the details described above, the 1934 edition of The Railway Magazine revealed that a 200-foot canopy would be a feature of the new station, and a booking office, waiting room, and parcels office were planned. The September 1935 edition of the same publication stated that the quadrupling works had been completed, the station rebuilt, and new connections between Millbrook and the docks brought into use.

1st January 1967

A westward view shows the station as rebuilt by the Southern Railway, comprising a single prefabricated concrete island platform and that company’s standard W-shaped canopy design with plain timber valance. The footbridge in the background, linking the island with both sides of the railway, also dated from the 1935 rebuilding and, like the platform, was fabricated from concrete. The train to which the rake of carriages belongs becomes apparent in the next photograph. © David Glasspool Collection

The rebuilt Millbrook station was steeped in SR design. The W-shaped canopy which adorned the single island platform was built to the company’s then standard design, similar structures coming into use at the rebuilt Southampton Central (so-called from 7th July 1935) and as part of upgrading works 12½-miles down the line at Brockenhurst. The footbridge was about 130-feet in length — the main span being of concrete construction — and linked both north and south sides of the main line with the island platform. The platform faces were of prefabricated concrete construction, concrete bracket lampposts were in evidence upon the surface, and beyond the western end of the island was opened a then new signal box. Of the latter, this was a sturdy two-storey-high red-brick structure, demonstrating a rectangular appearance; it was a slightly smaller version of the [still extant] signal box that came into use at Southampton Central at the same time. Finally, on the "up" side of the railway, a provender goods store, of prefabricated concrete construction and situated upon stilts, was built.

1st January 1967

Filthy Unrebuilt Bulleid Light Pacific No. 34002 "Salisbury" — which has the distinction of hauling the last scheduled British Railways steam-hauled train from Penzance, Cornwall — is seen at the head of the 2:25 PM ex-Bournemouth departure on the "up" fast past Millbrook. In spite of the engine’s condition and late date, it retained nameplates and shields. In the background is the island platform amongst some fine semaphore gantries. Conductor rails are in evidence in the foreground — the full accelerated electric timetable came into operation in the following July. © David Glasspool Collection

February 1964 saw the arrival of three Pullman carriages — "Agatha", "Fingall", and Car No. 35 — at Millbrook goods yard, accompanied by withdrawn "Schools" Class 4-4-0 No. 30928 "Stowe". All vehicles were bound for what was then called the Montagu Motor Museum, Beaulieu, where they would be exhibited on a 300-foot length of flat-bottomed track (ref: The Railway Magazine, May 1964). From Millbrook, each exhibit was transferred on low-loader over the thirteen miles to the museum, and the railway display — titled "Bournemouth Belle" — was inaugurated on 24th March 1964 (ref: The Railway Magazine, May 1964).

The British Railways (BR) era heralded a wave of significant changes at Millbrook. The station became unstaffed from 22nd May 1966 (ref: RCTS’ Railway Observer, June 1966). Next was the electrification of the main line through the area on the 750 volts D.C. third rail system, the full accelerated electric timetable to Bournemouth coming into effect on 10th July 1967. A week later, on and from 17th of the same month, the large goods yard to the west of the station, on the "up" side of the line, was closed to public traffic (ref: RCTS’ Railway Observer, September 1967). By that time, redevelopment of the goods yard site into a Freightliner terminal had been approved, and this saw its first departure on 29th January 1968 (ref: The Railway Magazine, March 1968).

Millbrook: 1942

Millbrook as depicted after the Southern Railway's quadrupling of the line and complete rebuilding of the station. Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

Photographic evidence seen by your author shows that Millbrook’s SR buildings and platform canopy had gone by November 1971. In the place of the canopy, metal lampposts were installed; however, the existing concrete bracket lampposts elsewhere on the platform were retained. Other features kept included the concrete footbridge of 1935 and the signal box. In 1978, it was announced that the latter would be one of thirteen signal boxes to close as part of a £12.5 million scheme to increase the area controlled by the signalling panel at Eastleigh. The line from Southampton Central to Millbrook was taken over by the Eastleigh Panel on 9th November 1981 (ref: The Railway Magazine, November 1981), and colour aspect lights replaced semaphore signals.

In 1979, a considerable upgrade of the adjacent "Millbrook Road", which ran along the railway’s northern side and linked Southampton with Redbridge, was completed. This produced multiple lanes of traffic in either direction and crossed over the railway on a new course east of Millbrook station. As part of these works, a metal footbridge was erected over the widened road, which joined and formed a continuation of the station’s concrete bridge of 1935.

We now fast-forward to the privatised railway era. In 2004, a small V-shaped canopy — less than 25-foot in length — was installed on the island platform, upon part of the site formerly occupied by the offices of 1935. Next, in late 2020, the concrete footbridge was taken down. The footbridge’s northern ramp was removed on 2nd November 2020 (ref: RCTS’ Railway Observer, December 2020), the southern ramp followed on 6th December, and the main span went on 27th December (ref: RCTS’ Railway Observer, February 2021). A temporary scaffold structure was installed between Millbrook Road and the island platform; a span from the latter to the docks on the southern side was not provided. A new footbridge was lifted into place on 1st March 2021 (ref: RCTS’ Railway Observer, April 2021) and the temporary footbridge removed on 5th of the following month (ref: RCTS’ Railway Observer, July 2021). The new footbridge lacks a span stretching from the island platform to the south side of the line.

1st January 1967

Looking in the opposite (eastward) direction to the previous photograph, we see the quadruple track formation that was created by the Southern Railway during rebuilding in the mid-1930s. Another splendid collection of semaphore signals are in evidence as Bulleid Pacific No. 34002 "Salisbury" approaches its next stop: Southampton Central. © David Glasspool Collection