Railway Matters by Dave Henwood

165 165136 approaches Bourne End from MarlowBourne End railway station is today the most local of three stations available for residents of Bourne End and Wooburn and currently the rail service is provided by First Group as part of the First Great Western franchise. September 2015 will see a change of brand as train services gain a new colour scheme and a powerful new image with First Group ceasing to use the First logo in favour of the all together more retro title of GWR. Yes, I was as surprised as anyone to learn that in 2015, the iconic name of one of the greatest railway companies in history, the Great Western Railway would once again become a name everyone will know.47a 165128 approaches Colmoorholme Lane Crossing with 1338 from Maidenhead 070315

This change of direction is anything but backward, quite the opposite infact, with the all new Great Western Railway being created to act as the driving force behind First Groups plans to ‘Build a Greater West’.

But we live in the South East don’t we? Yes of course but the Greater West vision is wholly inclusive of all 326 miles of route from Paddington to Penzance in the west, and the 192 rail miles from Paddington to Swansea, South Wales. In all of that, there are numerous secondary routes and branch lines through the Thames Valley, the Cotswolds, Somerset and Devon; one of which, that from Maidenhead to Marlow includes Bourne End which is nowadays the local railhead for Wooburn.

When it comes to choice, local residents are almost spoilt for choice; take Wooburn Green as an example – you fancy a day out on the train, do you use Bourne End or do you choose Beaconsfield?
The answer depends entirely where you are travelli168 165136 departs Bourne End for Maidenheadng to, if it’s London then many Bourne End residents will opt to use their local station and travel by way of Maidenhead where a change of train is often required. If you live around the Wooburn area, you might choose Beaconsfield or High Wycombe by preference, both of which offer a direct service to London or in the opposite direction, Aylesbury, Bicester or even Birmingham! Such are the possibilities and with a regular bus service between Wooburn, Bourne End and High Wycombe, you really don’t need to worry about the hassles of driving or parking.

Let’s have a quick look at the history of our two local railway routes. Over time, much has been written on the subject and a local website such as this is not the place to go into the finer details about such things but I do believe a great many people enjoy knowing a little about the railway routes that are available to them therefore I have put together this simple timeline to provide you with an overview of how things came to be the way they are today.

The year was 1854 when the original Great Western Railway built their cross-country line from Maidenhead to High Wycombe and extended it through to Thame via Princes Risborough in 1862. There were a number of smaller stations built along its length, these were located at Cookham, Marlow Road, Wooburn Green, Loudwater, West Wycombe, Saunderton, Bledlow and Towesey Halt.

In 1864 the Wycombe Railway Company opened a further extension from Thame to Oxford linking with the Great Western Railway from Didcot and in so doing creating a circular route back to Maidenhead via Reading. A number of small halts were built, at Tiddington, Wheatley, Horspath, Morris Cowley, Littlemore and Iffley.

Princes Risborough thus became by far the most important place on the line, with two branch lines being opened. In 1863 the branch to Aylesbury was built with halts at Monks Risborough, Little Kimble and South Aylesbury.

The mighty Great Western Railway finally took over the operations of the Wycombe Railway in 1867. Marlow Road station was to exist in its original state for another six years until the Great Marlow Railway built its line from Marlow to Marlow Road, the opening day seeing the renaming of Marlow Road Station to Bourne End.

Bourne End this became a junction and a rather busy and complex one it was too. Much local goods traffic was dealt with by the Great Western and Great Marlow Companies, with Greenwich Sawmills at Marlow and Jacksons Millboard at Bourne End both generating significant wagonloads of freight, not to mention the receipt of raw materials including coal for heating and power.

As long ago as 1899, the Great Western opened a more direct route to Paddington from High Wycombe as part of its new line from Birmingham Snow Hill and almost immediately the line via Wooburn and Bourne End lost a proportion of its traffic, it remained though a significant and important diversionary route.

As things settled down and 1899 became the early 1900s, the railway through the valley of the River Wye and alongside the Thames developed its own character, a character it has to be said it retains to this day. For the next 70 years, the core service over the original Wycombe Railway fluctuated between periods of activity and periods of almost sleepy tranquilty. Being so close to London meant that the area became favoured by London residents seeking to escape the City and the natural attraction born of the River Thames led the Great Western to operate many special excursion trains, some of which came from much further afield.

Next to Princes Risborough, Bourne End became a junction of interest, with the Great Marlow Railway, by now referred to as the GWRs Marlow Branch providing connecting services into and out of trains between Maidenhead and High Wycombe, Oxford and Aylesbury. Outside of the peak hours, some trains from Marlow reversed at Bourne End to reach Madenhead; at other times, a train from Maidenhead would run as far as Bourne End and it would be a train from Marlow that would run through to High Wycombe.

These seemingly complex arrangements had their purpose and apart from offering the lucky passenger from Marlow the ability to reach Wycombe without changing trains; in the hour or so that the ‘Marlow Donkey’ was north of Bourne End, it gave the staff of Greenwich Sawmills at Marlow the freedom of Marlow station in which to shunt their loaded and empty wagons.

Later still, a series of timetable amendments saw less trains work through from Maidenhead to Oxford and Aylesbury, with more services running between Maidenhead and High Wycombe only. As before, a proportion of these would run just as far as Bourne End but, crucially, not all would connect to and from Marlow.

The observant traveller would by now have worked out that the local Thames Valley Omnibus service between Windsor, Maidenhead and High Wycombe was at times offering a more reliable service along the Wye Valley than that offered by the Great Western. In 1948, the Government decided to nationalise the railways which spelt the end for the once mighty GWR. Bourne End and Wooburn Green became part of the Western Region of British Railways and it wasn’t long before economies of scale started to affect the branch line.

Through services between High Wycombe and Paddington via Maidenhead tended to become more of a peak hour offering, it was after all quicker to travel by way of Beaconsfield and Gerrards Cross to Paddington (not Marylebone as it is today).


Marlow Donkey – 28th February 1959

The branch line was in danger of becoming something of a backwater and with the 1960s and 70s seeing a much greater rise in private car ownership, travelling by rail was becoming less and less attractive. Who needed to wait at Wooburn Green Station for a train that by now was running only every two hours and in some cases only once every three? Who needed to change trains at Bourne End when the bus or your own car could take you from door to door in a fraction of the time?

1969 became 1970 and British Railways who had not yet become the much criticised and much maligned British Rail, decided that enough was enough and posted closure notices for the section between High Wycombe and Bourne End. Quite why the southern section survived will probably never be known, it was after all the more awkward section to operate, for all trains now had to reverse at Bourne End if Marlow was to continue to be served.

It all seemed a long time since the gory days of the 1900s when special excursion trains from as far afield as Yorkshire would run through to Marlow, full of day trippers seeking to enjoy the natural attractions of the Thames When the carriages of these trains would return empty to Bourne End to be cleaned and watered.

Maidenhead – Bourne End and Marlow the timetable said and that is what we were left with on and after May 15th 1970. Bourne End station became something of a sad place in the weeks immediately after closure. For a short time it still had the air of importance attached to it, a footbridge linking the two platforms was taken down piece by piece and a tarmac walkway installed behind the buffer stops in its place.

Soon, the Marlow Bay had its track lifted and fell into a state of decay and abandonment. The signal box that had controlled the level crossing, the signals and the points was demolished too, to be replaced by 5 small levers in a frame and operated by the station staff twice an hour.

The Marlow Donkey it still was albeit in a diesel version but in many ways, it was not the place it used to be and it would be 1987 before anything significant was to happen. One day, the familiar drab grey of the lamp posts, the peeling blue and grey paint of the waiting room and doors of the station building suddenly got a repaint! The lamp posts were painted bright red, the doors were painted bright red, new plastic covered – metal benches were delivered – bright red! British Rail had become Network Southeast and a new era was born.

Of course, nothing could be done that could alter the fact that Wooburn Green now no longer had a station but, being close to Beaconsfield and Wycombe, and with both lines appearing to have become linked overnight to a well known brand of toothpaste, the railway had gone red, white and blue with many service enhancements to come in the years that followed.

Network Southeast was ultimately broken up in a wave of fragmentation, designed initially to promote competition and investment. In 1996, local rail services gained independent identities. The mainline through Wycombe which had hitherto been known by Network Southeast as the Chiltern Line was privatised to become Chiltern Railways. The branch line became part of the Thames Trains network until being acquired by First Group initially as First Great Western Link.

Later still, the suffix ‘Link’ was dropped as First Great Western extended there sphere of operations. September 2015 will see things turn full circle as the Great Western Railway gets a phoenix-like re-birth albeit without the polished gleaming steam locomotives of the past. If you haven’t used the train in a while, give it a go, you might be surprised by just what possibilities exist.

36 165128 passes alongside Spade Oak Meadow with the 1238 ex Maidenhead 070315-001


1 Comment

  1. dave allen

    Nice piece!


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