Today, this remains as an attractive, traditional railway station, located in a northern suburb of Southampton, 3-miles 43-chains from the city’s Central station and 75-miles 56-chains from Waterloo. It seems an ideal candidate for the 4mm scale modeller wanting to create a main line in a relatively small space, for the station comprises just two platforms on a gentle curve and – for the steam-era enthusiast – once had a goods yard which, with a bit of licence, could be made more compact and remain convincing.
Through running of scheduled passenger services between Nine Elms and Southampton started on 11th May 1840, but Swaythling was a much later opening, not coming into public use until over four decades later. The commencement of initial building works was reported in the local press:
The proposed station at Swathling – Messrs. Bull and Sons, builders and contractors, of Southampton, are now engaged in erecting a signal box at Swathling, where there is to be a new station. A special train on Saturday conveyed several of the directors and officials to the spot, and it is expected that the station will be at once commenced. [The Hampshire Advertiser County Newspaper, 8th February 1882]
According to newspaper articles of the time, at least part of the impetus for a station at Swathling (note spelling – more of later) appears to have come from local mill owners wanting a closer point on the railway from where to collect crops. At that time, the parish of Swathling’s nearest station was that at St Deny’s, about three miles distant:
Mr John Gater – “I occupy the West End Mills at South Stoneham, between Southampton and Bishopstoke. The proposed station at Swathling would be of a great advantage to me. The Didcot scheme would be of no earthly advantage to me. I have been in business for twenty-five years.
I have had to ask for special arrangements. The Didcot line would not do me any harm. We have to cart the wheat to the mills from the nearest railway station. If the Swathling Station were made we would be less than a mile distant from it. We have now to go three miles to the railway station [St Denys]. I hold some preference stock in the South-Western Railway Company. [The Southampton Railways Bill, Select Committee, The Hampshire Advertiser County Newspaper, 29th April 1882]
Of the mentioned “Didcot line”, this was the then under-construction “Didcot, Newbury, and Southampton Railway”. It was an independent concern which aimed to forge a standard gauge line to Southampton from Great Western Railway territory at Didcot. The Didcot to Newbury section was opened to public traffic on 13th April 1882, and participants of the above-mentioned Select Committee hearing were estimating its impact on their businesses. Cost prevented the line from being built beyond Winchester, to which it opened on 1st May 1885. However, a junction with the London & South Western Railway (LSWR) was eventually brought into general use on 1st October 1891, little over half a mile north of Shawford station, allowing Didcot trains to reach Southampton.
On 15th October 1883, the LSWR opened Swathling station to scheduled passenger traffic:
A new railway station at Swathling, between the Bishopstoke Junction and St. Deny’s, was opened on Monday. About twenty trains a day will stop there. [Hampshire Chronicle and General Advertiser for the South and West of England, Saturday, 20th October 1883]
Two platforms were situated either side of the double-track line. The main building was located on the “down” platform; this was a neat single-storey red brick building with a hipped tiled roof and arched windows. The structure was a variation of a standard design, and similar buildings also came into use at intermediate stations beyond Southampton, such as at Hinton Admiral, Sway, and New Milton. Unlike Swathling, however, the buildings at those sites incorporated a two-storey-high Station Master’s house. At Swathling, the Station Master's house was remote from the main building, a detached property being situated to the east of the platforms, beside the adjacent road. This structure was accompanied by a block of semi-detached railway cottages, and their positions relative to each other and the station can be seen on the diagram below.
Both platforms sported a pitched-roof canopy, approximately 65-feet-long, once again built to the same style as those which came into use at the likes of Sway and New Milton later the same decade. The canopies were equipped with timber windbreaks, and that on the “up” side was also backed at its rear by a clapboard waiting shelter. The “down” canopy was linked by a covered walkway to the main building, for the latter was set back about 12-feet from the platform. Both platforms were connected by a lattice footbridge located at the extremities of their Southampton ends.
The goods yard was situated on the “down” side of the line, a series of south westward-facing sidings existing behind the platform. The connections between these and the running lines, in addition to a London-facing “down” siding, are perhaps a little too complex to articulately explain; thus, they can be seen in diagram form below. A raised platform containing cattle pens was evident, but no goods shed was provided, and the track plan remained remarkably unchanged over the years.
The signal box, construction of which was ongoing during February 1882, was situated on the “up” side of the layout, on the opposite side of the running lines to the goods yard. It was situated 50-yards south west of the platforms and was built to a standard LSWR design, similar cabins coming into use at Lyndhurst Road and Lymington Junction.
In the 20th September 1884 edition of The Hampshire Independent newspaper, it was noted that in one week, 2,500 tickets had been sold at Swathling station, little under a year after it had opened.
Until now, the quoted period sources have referenced “Swathling”, rather than today’s “Swaythling”, the latter including the letter “y”. Clinker’s Register (1980) suggests that the station’s name changed to today’s spelling on 1st June 1895, and this is backed-up by newspapers of the era, which had started to mention “Swaythling station” from 1896. However, some articles as late as 1922 were still using the original spelling.
The station’s most eventful episode to date was that which occurred during World War II. The main building had a lucky escape on 19th January 1941 when a German bomb dropped through its roof at 8.25 P.M., but failed to explode. In his book “War on the Line” (1984), Bernard Darwin remarked that the Leading Porter’s dog was the only casualty and that the bomb disposal team was at the station the following day.
The goods yard was a comparatively early closure, ceasing to handle traffic from 13th July 1959. Next, as part of the Bournemouth electrification scheme, a then new signal box was brought into use at Eastleigh on 6th November 1966, controlling colour aspect lights. This took control of the stretch of line from just south west of Worting Junction, where Bournemouth and Salisbury routes diverged, to near St Denys, and resulted in the signal box at Swaythling going out of use. The full accelerated electric timetable to Bournemouth came into effect on 10th July 1967.
In the late-1980s, that section of the A335 “High Road” which ran adjacent to and parallel with the railway at Swaythling station, was upgraded to dual carriageway. As part of the works, the station's footbridge gained a 145-foot-long extension on its western side, which allowed the walking route to be continued over the upgraded road. In the September 1993 edition of the RCTS' The Railway Observer magazine, it was noted that a then new long ramp was added to the "down" side of the existing station footbridge, this being installed during the week ending 24th July of that year. Approximately 125-feet in length, this replaced the previous staircase, but the original lattice span across the tracks was retained. Period maps suggest that the footbridge had for long been used as part of a public footpath, this quite likely having been the case since opening.
Finally, after many years of being used for vehicle parking (unconnected with the railway), the former goods yard site was redeveloped into housing in 2010.
4th January 1964
Rebuilt "West Country" Class No. 34001 "Exeter" is seen passing through non-stop in the "down" direction with a Bournemouth West service. On the right can be seen the rear of the station building and the covered walkway which links it to the covered portion of the "down" platform. On the left can just be seen the clapboard waiting shelter which backed onto the "up" side platform canopy. Those parts of the windbreak of the "up" side canopy that contain glazing are not original features, being later additions. The canopies' timber triangular end screens in this view are also of a simpler design to the originals; previously, these were akin to those still in use at New Milton. Southern Railway concrete lampposts with "Target" name signs are in evidence.s
© David Glasspool Collection
4TC unit No. 407 is seen forming the rear of a twelve-vehicle formation to Waterloo, lead by a 4 REP, in a scene which remains largely unchanged since the 1964 view. Indeed, conductor rails were now present and each platform had seen part of its rear area fenced off to mark out dedicated pathways. By 1985, the glazing in the covered walkway had been covered over, and that in the windbreaks of the "up" canopy removed, leaving gaping holes; the latter had been boarded over by the following year. When the footbridge received a new inclined approach on the "down" side, in combination with road widening works during the mid-1980s, the pathway running behind that platform (on the right in this picture) was taken out of use.
© David Glasspool Collection