THE DEMISE OF THE VIADUCT
British Railways began to be dismantled by Dr Richard Beeching in the 1960s, although during the 20s and 30s there had also been many changes to the network. The railway network had gradually increased from the invention of Stephenson’s Rocket to just under 23,500 route miles by the First World War although closures had occasionally occurred even as early as 1851 – a section between Newmarket and Chesterford.
The main pressures on the railway system were the rapidly increasing successes of buses, cars and road haulage, and as they could offer a more frequent service, the railways began to close short suburban lines. Also too many railway companies were competing with almost duplicate lines and these became redundant and were closed with the grouping of the rival companies in 1923.
During the Second World War the railway system came into its own again and became essential to the war effort – a time when our own Viaduct, as part of the DNSR line, was so invaluable. However in 1948 the substantially worn down railways were nationalised and in the early 50s closure began again.
Between 1948 and 1962 over 3,000 miles of railway were closed down. The massive closures in the 60s were the government’s attempt to stem the significant losses following the War – loss of income as well as loss of business. The road expansion of this post-war period was attracting both passengers and goods, and the 1955 Railway Modernisation Plan did little to halt the drain. As is so often the case in this country, successive governments preferred cost-saving methods rather than any investment and so the rot set in.
The Newbury to Southampton, via Winchester and over the Hockley Viaduct, ceased its passenger service in March 1960, although it continued in use for freight until the mid-60s. The section of line from Shawford Junction across the Viaduct through Winchester Chesil Street to the tunnel under Winnall was sold by British Rail to the Winchester City Council (WCC) and thus began its next phase of history.
The lines and buildings etc were all removed or cut down, and now only the track bed remains on the Viaduct to remind us of its former usefulness. In the 1980s WCC requested the Army to blow up the structure but public outcry forced the Army to decline!
Thank goodness! We now have a superb structure which has been opened as part of National Cycle Route 23 and can be marvelled at and enjoyed by pedestrians, dog walkers, skateboarders and children on scooters as well as cyclists.