Located within the pleasant rural environs of the New Forest, upon what was originally promoted as the "Bournemouth Direct Railway", this station retains its major architectural assets from the late 19th Century. The station still affords — at least in part — a bygone air. Naturally, peripheral features such as the signal box, goods shed, and sidings, have long since gone, but Sway, as per its sisters at New Milton and Hinton Admiral, still offers much interest to the railway historian.
The first main line through Hampshire and Dorset was that of the "Southampton & Dorchester Railway", a 60½-mile-long single-track route that opened on 1st June 1847. This became an extension of the London & South Western Railway’s (LSWR) main line from Nine Elms and made an indirect connection with the latter in Southampton. Between Brockenhurst and Poole Junction (today’s "Hamworthy"), the line assumed an inland course through northern Hampshire and Dorset, via Ringwood and Wimborne. The reasons for this were two-fold: Ringwood and Wimborne were two of the more important towns in the region at the time, the south coast between the New Forest and Poole having little in the form of population centres or holiday resorts; secondly, the railway's main promoter, Charles Castleman, was a Wimborne-based solicitor.
Bournemouth was of little note on the advent of the Dorchester Railway — a population of 691 was recorded in the 1851 census — but it steadily grew into a resort in the latter half of the 1850s, being promoted as a coastal retreat from the capital. The growing importance of that section of the south coast between Brockenhurst and Hamworthy not served by "Castleman's Corkscrew" (the colloquial term for that part of the Dorchester Railway between Brockenhurst and Poole Junction) was reflected by the opening of a 7¾-mile-long single track branch line from Ringwood to Christchurch on 13th November 1862. This was followed on 14th March 1870 by the commissioning of a 3½-mile-long westward extension to Bournemouth. The original Southampton to Dorchester line was doubled piecemeal from 1857 to 1863 (The Railway Magazine, March 1903).
The distance between Brockenhurst and Christchurch is about 10½-miles as the crow flies. However, via the eastern part of the "Corkscrew" and the 1862-opened branch from Ringwood, trains had to endure a snaking route of 17¾-miles. As Bournemouth and its surroundings grew in importance, the LSWR eventually submitted a Bill to Parliament for the building of a "cut off" line. Named the "Bournemouth Direct Railway", the Bill had been deposited to Parliament by 30th November 1878 (ref: Herepath’s Railway (and Commercial) Journal, 7th December 1878). This was to be a double-track line, little over 10½-miles long, traversing the New Forest, extending from Lymington Junction (72-chains southwest of Brockenhurst) and joining the Ringwood to Bournemouth line at Christchurch. The Bill received Royal Assent on Monday, 20th August 1883, and it was reported that the railway would be started as soon as possible (ref: Christchurch Times, Saturday, 25th August 1883). In conjunction with the scheme, the Christchurch to Bournemouth line was also to be doubled.
Although no costly viaducts nor bridges were required for the Bournemouth Direct Railway, earthworks were heavy. Two million tons of earth was removed during construction, and 130,000 tons of chalk and 16,000 tons of Swanage stone was required to stabilise slopes and banks. Construction of an embankment at Sway, about half a mile in length and 60-feet in height at its greatest point, gave great difficulty to the contractors and delayed the opening of the line; sinking soil caused an enormous slip (ref: The Hampshire Independent, 7th March 1888).
The track layout changed little over the years up until withdrawal of public goods traffic in 1962. Click the above for a larger version.
© David Glasspool
The ceremonial opening of the Bournemouth Direct Railway took place on Monday, 5th March 1888, the occasion being marked by a special train from London to Bournemouth that carried the Chairman, Shareholders, Directors, and officials of the LSWR (ref: The Hampshire Independent, 7th March 1888). In the March 1903 edition of The Railway Magazine, it was reported that the Sway "cut-off" opened to traffic the following day, on 6th.
The London to Bournemouth distance was reduced from 115¾-miles via the original Ringwood route to 107½-miles via Sway; additionally, express trains no longer had to endure a line characterised by a series of sharp curves — indeed, that section between Ringwood and Christchurch was still single-track. Three stations were brought into use with the then new line, at Sway, Milton, and Hinton, the first of which this section deals with. The line — including the provision of the mentioned stations — cost £607,000 (about £72,000,000 at 2021 prices) to build, much of this being attributed to the difficult earthworks involved (ref: The Salisbury and Winchester Journal and General Advertiser, 10th March 1888).
Variations of a standard design were employed at all three stations along the Bournemouth Direct Line. Two platforms at Sway were adorned with attractive canopies of triangular cross-section, albeit without a decorative valance. The canopies were about 65-feet in length, each supported by four cast-iron stanchions, and possessed half-width timber windbreaks at either end. The "down" side canopy was fully backed at its rear by clapboard and this, combined with the wraparound sides, gave it the air of a giant waiting shelter. The "up" side cover was similarly generous, although this was backed at its rear by the main station building. The latter was a substantial affair for a rural intermediate station in the New Forest, comprising a two-storey high Station Master's house and a single-storey booking hall. Red brick construction was used throughout and sash-style windows incorporated. The booking hall had a neat canopy fitted over the forecourt entrance, and a plaque indicating the year of construction — 1886 — was affixed to the Station Master's house. As previously mentioned, structures at [New] Milton and Hinton [Admiral] stations were similarly built, and the same architectural style can also be found at Swanwick and Swaythling.
Goods facilities could be found at the southern end of the station, exclusively on the "down" side of the line. Two Bournemouth-facing sidings that terminated behind the platform and one London-facing siding were in evidence. Their connections with the main line are illustrated in the diagram on this page and the layout changed little over the years.
The layout was controlled from a signal box situated upon the "up" platform, located roughly midway between the latter’s Bournemouth end and the main building. It was built to an in-house LSWR design and comprised a hipped slated roof and horizontally-sliding window frames.
Maps from 1897 and 1909 show no evidence of a footbridge at Sway, indicating that passengers used a track foot crossing between platforms or, alternatively, the road bridge at the London end of the station. A period photograph from about the Great War period shows a footbridge in place.
In 1913, Mr Frank Blake became the Station Master at Sway. On his retirement from that role in 1922, Sway was brought under the control of the Station Master at New Milton, who at that time was Mr E. Spackman (ref: New Milton Advertiser, 30th May 1936). Thus, from 1922, Sway no longer had a resident Station Master.
In early British Railways (BR) days, the station received concrete lampposts, to which were affixed the well-known "Sausage" totems. On 9th April 1962, public goods facilities were withdrawn from Sway (ref: Clinker's Register, 1980); thereafter, the goods yard became home to a pair of Pullman camping coaches. As one of the photographs on this page attests, by May 1967 these carriages had disappeared, the sidings behind the "down" platform lifted, and the former goods yard site fenced off.
On Sunday, 26th February 1967, Track Circuit Block working and colour light signalling was introduced between Lymington Junction and Christchurch (ref: British Railways Southern Region Signal Instruction No. 19 S.W.D., 1967). The switchover had formally started at 22:30 the previous night and the work involved the abolition of Sway, New Milton, and Hinton Admiral signal boxes. On 10th July of the same year, the full accelerated electric timetable between Waterloo and Bournemouth came into effect.
The three stations that opened with the Bournemouth Direct Line — Sway, New Milton, and Hinton Admiral — have all retained their main platform structures. Of these the site at Sway has, however, altered the most: in about 1988, an extension of the former Station Master's house was completed. As one of the photographs in this section shows, the extension has taken the form of a two-storey-high house of red brick construction, designed as a plain version of the 19th Century building.
1st July 1964
A south westward view shows Rebuilt Merchant Navy Class No. 35005 passing through with a Bournemouth to Waterloo Express. It can be seen in the foreground that one of the station’s three sidings had already been lifted by this time, public goods traffic having been withdrawn in April 1962.
© David Glasspool Collection
27th May 1967
BR Standard 5MT 4-6-0 No. 73018, with makeshift smokebox number plate, is seen departing with a stopping service to Bournemouth. On the right is the former goods yard, by this time fenced off, but the second derelict siding that once served it was still partly in situ.
© David Glasspool Collection
3rd September 1977
A view towards Brockenhurst from the "up" platform shows a station that had changed very little since opening. Glazed timber windbreaks were still in evidence underneath the canopies and the "down" side (on the right) retained the timber waiting area backing out of the rear. The trailing crossover between the running lines, underneath the road bridge in the background, had gone, probably at the time of electrification. Sway won a series of awards during the 1970s for being the best-kept station in the Bournemouth area, this competition having started just after World War II.
© David Glasspool Collection