Ropley to Medstead: 30 years on...
2014 saw the 30th anniversary of the re-opening of the Watercress Line from Ropley to Medstead & Four Marks on 28th May 1983. Here are some photographs as a reminder of what was involved.
The latter-day Mid-Hants Railway re-opened between Alresford and Ropley on 30th April 1977. Although the Railway owned the trackbed between Ropley and Alton, the track had been lifted and the ballast scraped from the formation. Medstead & Four Marks station was a derelict shell.
For the first few year, efforts were concentrated on the operational line but by 1980 thoughts were turning towards re-instating the track from Ropley to Alton. As a start, about 1.5 miles of second-hand track panels were purchased from Eastleigh.
Here the first length of the extension is being laid, under the overbridge east of Ropley station. A youthful Robin Higgs, chairman of the Mid-Hants Railway Preservation Society, is seen in the background addressing the assembled multitude.
Track was relaid using a pair of these powered gantries to lift 60ft panels from railway wagons and move them forward to the 'head of steel'. Powered by Renault Dauphine engines, they ran on temporary 'service rails' laid 7 feet apart. Moving these service rails forward in the mud was to become a popular pastime for the extension gang. The gantries served us well and, when we had finished with them, they moved on to help lay the first section of the Docklands Light Railway.
Track panels were delivered by road to Alresford, where the station forecourt took on the appearance of a permanent way yard. In due course an enormous ballast heap appeared behind the up platform. Panels were loaded onto flat wagons in the dock siding and propelled up the line.
An immaculate 'N' class 31874 is seen here propelling a rail train through Ropley.
The Eastleigh track panels took us as far as the start of Ropley Soke cutting, about halfway to Medstead. Here operations came to a halt while we obtained sufficient track and ballast to get us to Medstead & Four Marks.
Eventually, tracklaying recommenced. The gantries took us as far as the site of Medstead up home signal. The gantries are seen here parked on the site of Medstead yard. The site looks very different today.
Ballast was loaded into hopper wagons over the platform at Alresford. The locomotive on the left is 'Austerity' 0-6-0 tank no. AD196 'Errol Lonsdale'. A former Longmoor Military Railway engine, this was one of two steam locomotives with which the Watercress Line commenced operations in 1977. Too small for the extended line, it later moved to the South Devon Railway and now resides in Belgium.
A locomotive Department volunteer purchased this 350hp diesel shunter for ballast train duties. Similar to BR class 11, it was built for Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. Now at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, it is named 'Redcar' after its former workplace.
Medstead and Four Marks Station.
By 1980, Medstead & Four Marks station looked like this...
The down platform looked like this...
...and the interior looked like this.
This picture was taken looking from the booking hall, through the booking office and into the porters' room. The building appeared to have been robbed of building materials.
The signal box was demolished by British Railways in 1968 but at least the foundations and the locking room floor remained in situ.
The running-in boards were second-hand from Brockenhurst in 1937 (when the station was renamed Medstead & Four Marks).
The surviving buildings were in such a state that one writer in the Society's magazine suggested that they should be demolished and replaced by a bus shelter! As was no doubt intended, this galvanised some of his readers into action and a group of members from the Thames Valley started work to secure the station and restore it to health.
The sale of logs was an early fund-raising venture.
An early open day demonstrated work in progress.
Main services had to be laid on.
Replacement sash windows were built for us by apprentices at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough (seen here demonstrating their handiwork at the RAE).
A replacement wooden signal box was obtained from Wilton South, near Salisbury, and craned into position before track was relaid through the platforms.
Meanwhile, some serious work had to be done to improve drainage on the trackbed. A new drainage channel was dug and a membrane laid between the platforms. This impressive collection of contractor's plant is standing on the crossing.
Track was laid through the platforms by hand as the relaying gantries would not fit.
Here the permanent way gang is aligning the track to the platform...
...and assembling the points at the London end.
Finally, all was ready for re-opening on Saturday 28th May1983.
Here the first public train enters the station, hauled by 'U' class 31806.
Slightly later, an official re-opening ceremony was attended by 'Lord Tichborne' and friends from local schools. Where are they now?
The story, of course, did not end there. Over the following two years, further work was needed to complete the building and signalbox at Medstead & Four Marks and bring the second platform into use. Meanwhile the line was relaid from Alton to Medstead & Four Marks. This section was re-opened on 25th May 1985 and at last the Watercress Line was complete.
Acknowledgements: this selection of photographs is taken from the Mid-Hants Railway archives, with thanks to the original photographers: Russell Jones, Ian Cooper, Bob Morley, David Bailey (not that one!), the late Eddie Gray and anyone else whose name has escaped us.