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Mid Hants Railway
The Watercress Line
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Click any image above to view the Ropley Station Master's office and sitting room.
 Internal link   Introduction

The Mid Hants Railway, known as the Watercress Line, is located in Hampshire, England, United Kingdom, about 50 miles southwest of London and you know where that great city lies. The railway's popular name is the "Watercress Line" as it once transported locally grown watercress to markets in London. The easternmost end of the line begins at Alton which is served by Southwest Trains therefore it's accessible from the National Rail network. British Rail closed the line in 1973, although it was not part of the Beeching Axe. It was restored, partly, as a heritage railway commencing service in 1977. Currently the line is 10 miles in length and runs steam powered trains between Alton and Alresford.

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 Internal link   A Brief History

Britain was dominated by "Railway Mania" in the 1840s that peaked in about ten years then fell off until an economic upturn in the 1860s saw smaller booms in railway construction. It was at this time, 1861, that the Alton Alresford and Winchester Railway Company was authorized to construct a new railway between Alton and Winchester connecting with the London & South Western Railway (LSW) at Alton and Winchester. The railway opened for business in 1865 named the Mid-Hants Railway but was operated by the LSW until 1884 when the LSW purchased the Mid-Hants Railway. The railway offered an alternative route between London and Southampton. Beside transporting locally produced watercress it was particularly important for military traffic between the army town of Aldershot and the military embarkation port at Southampton. The line became part of the Southern Railway in 1923 until 1937 when the line between London and Alton was electrified forcing passengers to change trains at Alton. 1948 saw the Southern Region of British Railways take over the route. It survived the Beeching Axe of 1963 only to be closed by British Railways in 1973.


The current section of line between Alton and Alresford was purchased from British Rail by Mid Hants Railway Limited in November 1975. Reconstruction of the line subsequently progressed in stages with the section between Alresford and Ropley opening in 1977. To provide engineering and maintenance facilities, a locomotive shed and workshops were constructed at Ropley. An extension to Medstead and Four Marks opened in 1983. The final section to Alton opened in 1985. Some structures on the line today were not part of the original railway infrastructure but have been added to make the line serviceable recreating the feel of a fully operational steam railway. The line is maintained by a few paid staff and a core of over 400 volunteers.

 Internal link   The Line Today

 Image The station at Alton is shared with Southwest Trains which makes it very easy to reach the Watercress Line from anywhere on the National Network. Mid Hants Railway steam powered trains run southwest stopping at Medstead and Four Marks, Ropley, and finally Alresford, a distance of ten miles. Four Marks lies at the summit of the line with a grade of 1 in 60, or about 1.7 percent, for trains climbing up from Ropley. The maintenance center for the steam locomotives, a carriage works for the restoration of wooden vehicles with woodworking machinery, and a signal box lie at Ropley along with the 1865 station which is noted for its topiary. The pedestrian overbridge named Handyside Bridge was transported from its original site at King's Cross station in London. The facilities at Alresford include the station building, buffet, souvenir shop and museum. Many carriages are stored in the yard here where daily maintenance is performed on them.

 Internal link   Locomotives

The railway has 16 steam locomotives in various states of repair, overhaul, or reconstruction. Please refer to their web site for specific details. On the day of my visit two were handling trains, London Midland & Scottish (LMS) "Black Five" number 45379 (4-6-0) and "Green Four", whoa don't get uptight, the logic works doesn't it?... or Southern Railway Schools class number 925 "Cheltenham", which is a 4-4-0.

Diesel locomotives on the Watercress Line number eight in quantity including one Diesel Electric Multiple Unit class 205 named "Thumper", you can guess why. Class 08 shunter number 08377 was working the coach yard at Alresford upon arrival there.

 Internal link   Canadian Pacific

The Southern Railway (SR) Merchant Navy class, known as Bulleid Pacifics, Spam Cans, or Packets, is a class of streamlined 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotive designed for the SR by Oliver Bulleid. The first members of the class were constructed during the Second World War with the last 30 locomotives being built in 1949. The design of the Merchant Navy class was among the first to use welding in the construction process. This enabled easier fabrication of components during the austerity of the war and post-war economies. The locomotives featured thermic syphons and Bulleid's innovative, but controversial, chain-driven valve gear. The class members were named after the Merchant Navy shipping lines involved in the Battle of the Atlantic, a publicity masterstroke by the SR.

Spam Can Merchant Navy Class number 21C213 "Blackmoor Vale"
on the Bluebell Railway at Sheffield Park - 28 Jul 2003 Ulrich Kammer.

Due to problems with some of the more novel features of Bulleid's design, all members of the class were modified by British Railways (BR) during the late 1950s, losing their streamlined casing in the process. BR modifications adopted many features from the BR "Standard" locomotive classes that had been introduced in 1950. The streamlined casing was replaced with conventional boiler cladding. The chain-driven valve gear was replaced with three separate sets of Walschaerts valve gear. The rebuilds were provided with a completely revised cylindrical smokebox, a new Lord Nelson-type chimney, and LMS (London Midland & Scottish) style smoke deflectors. Together with the lack of the streamlined casing these helped reduce the problem of smoke and steam obscuring the driver's vision of the line. These locomotives were operated by BR until the end of Southern steam in 1967. A third of the class has survived and can be seen on heritage railways throughout Great Britain.

Southern Railway Merchant Navy Class number 35005
"Canadian Pacific" - Date unknown Anonymous Photographer.

SR Merchant Navy Class number 35005, "Canadian Pacific", is the flagship of the Mid Hants Railway fleet. Affectionately nicknamed CanPac, it is the oldest surviving member of Bulleid's Merchant Navy class. The Mid Hants Railway purchased "Canadian Pacific" in 2006 and it ran on the railway until 2008 when its statutory overhaul became due. The government requires an overhaul every 10 years to keep locomotives safely in steam. At 74-years-old this 95 ton engine has been completely stripped down and will be rebuilt by a team of skilled engineers and apprentices. The three year restoration project has been awarded £895,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the total cost of £1.5 million. The remainder of the project's costs will be met through fund raising and donations to the Mid Hants Railway Preservation Society, the charity behind the Watercress Line. The Mid Hants Railway aims to have CanPac hauling passengers once again over their heavily graded line.

 Internal link   News Articles

3 Dec 2007 - Police Name Man Who Died in Watercress Line Fall
27 Apr 2009 - Watercress Line's Station Expansion Plans Opposed
2 Nov 2011 - Watercress Line Gets King's Cross Harry Potter Bridge
5 Jun 2013 - Iconic Footbridge Opens at Watercress Line Near Alresford
4 Nov 2013 - Thousands Enjoy Watercress Line Steam Gala in Alresford
12 Jun 2014 - Watercress Line Searching for New Apprentices
11 Oct 2014 - Stolen Clock Returned to Watercress Line After Five Years
27 Oct 2014 - Hampshire Poppy Appeal Launched at Alresford Watercress Line
30 Mar 2015 - Lottery Cash Boost for Bid to Restore Historic Watercress Line
6 Jul 2015 - Enjoy a Summer Food Fayre on the Watercress Line
4 Jan 2016 - Investigation After £27,000 in Charity Cash Goes Missing...
24 Jan 2016 - Alton Station Bridge Repair Driven by Local Group
11 Jun 2016 - Full Steam Ahead for Railway

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 Internal link   Associated Links

Mid Hants Railway
Permanent Way Department Blog
Urie Locomotive Society
Friends of Alton Station
h2g2 The Watercress Line
Derailment at Ropley
Companies House
Eastleigh Works
Yoshi's Steam Photo Gallery
Glenn B. Clarkson Photos
National Rail
Southwest Trains
Just Trains Simulator Add-Ons

 Internal link   Bibliography
 Image The Mid Hants Railway Revisited:
The Watercress Line
Matt Allen
Halsgrove Publishing Ryelands Business Park Bagley Road Wellington Somerset UK TA21 9PZ.
144 pages, 150 photos, £14.88

This book takes a return trip to the Mid Hants Railway, commonly known as the Watercress Line, to see what has changed since Matt Allen's original book on the line was published by Halsgrove in 2007. There is no better sight than a superbly restored steam locomotive in action and the Mid Hants Railway is one of the best heritage railways in the UK to see this happen, with its steep gradients ensuring the locomotives have to work hard. The Mid Hants was closed by British Railways in 1973. However, a determined band of volunteers set about preserving and rebuilding it to its former glory. It is now, one of the UK's premier heritage railways and one of Hampshire's biggest tourist attractions. Matt Allen has used his local knowledge of the railway to showcase over 150 spectacular photographs which capture the essence of what the railway is all about. Throughout this book you will see the locomotives that haul the passengers along the 10 mile journey, the people who give up their time to make it all happen, and the sympathetically restored stations.

 Image The Mid Hants Railway:
Celebrating 40 Years in Colour
Ron Neal
Waterfront Publishing Ltd. Collective Temperance Hospital 110 Hampstead Road UK NW1 2LS.
100 pages, £5.47

A full colour book showing stunning photographs of the Mid-Hants Railway Watercress Line's progress from 1973 to 2013. The first locomotive arrivals in 1973, followed by the first main line locomotive, N Class number 31874. We see this loco as it was restored in the station siding at Alresford followed by its first steamings. All the further locomotive arrivals, such as West Country Class 34016 Bodmin, 31806, 30506, 35018, 31625, and 34105 Swanage. The book covers operations to Ropley, then Medstead in 1983, followed by trains running into Alton from 1985. Further special pages include Gala events, such as when the Somerset & Dorset was remembered and the occasion of anniversaries surrounding the end of Southern steam in July. A section includes the main line involvement of MHR locomotives with Bodmin, 73096, 31625, and 41312. Another section covers visiting engines such as 60007, B4 Dock Tank 96, M7 30053, Met Number 1, City of Truro, and many others. Altogether a complete historical and colourful record of 40 years on the Mid-Hants Railway.

 Image The Mid Hants Railway:
The Watercress Line
Matt Allen
Halsgrove Publishing Ryelands Business Park Bagley Road Wellington Somerset UK TA21 9PZ.
144 pages, £7.20

This book takes you on a trip through rural Hampshire steam style. Travelling along the steeply graded Watercress Line Steam Railway. You will see the seasons come and go, different locomotives, the fantastically restored stations, and of course the people who make it all possible.