11:00AM, Saturday 20 February 2021
In the 1840s two transport companies battled it out to open the first railway station in Windsor and to win Queen Victoria’s patronage.
The Royals had become fans of train journeys, often using Slough railway station to go into London and both Great Western Railway and the London and South Western Railway Company (SWR) wanted to bring a station to the town.
GWR proposed a branch line from Slough into central Windsor while SWR proposed a line from Staines to Waterloo with a station in Datchet.
But Queen Victoria wasn’t entirely sure she wanted Windsor to have it’s own station.
Becky Tabrar, museum arts and local studies officer at the Windsor and Royal Borough Museum said: “To begin with Queen Victoria didn’t want trains coming near the castle, there were fears that it would pollute the air and bring criminals into town and it would be an eyesore.”
Support was also split in the town, with some preferring a station in the centre of town (proposed by GWR) and others preferring a direct route into the centre of London even if it meant having to get the train from Datchet.
Becky said a public meeting was arranged by the mayor, James Bedborough, but both railway companies sent their staff to fill the Guildhall and local residents were prevented from having their say on which line they would prefer.
At the time the Windsor Express reported: “The hall was filled to an overflow, indeed we never remember to have seen it so crowded.”
The meeting then became ‘stormy’ as both companies advocated their respective lines. A petition was placed in the Guildhall for five days. In the end 14 signed for the GWR line with 238 against.
GWR also had to win around Eton College as an extension of its Slough line to Windsor would have to be built on the college’s land.
But in the end the school came around and so did Queen Victoria as the Crown charged the railway companies to build on its land and that money went towards the Town Improvement Bill which meant the town of Windsor would be ‘cleared up’.
GWR paid £25,000 and SWR £60,000.
Becky added: “Having two stations doubled the money and they had both been fighting to get there for a long time.”
The original London and South Western Railway bill was passed in Parliament on June 25 1847 but this only granted permission to Datchet.
Becky said the Crown only wanted there to be one terminus in central Windsor to be shared by the two companies but this was impractical as SWR used narrow gauge tracks and GWR used broad gauge and the difficulties were too great to overcome.
GWR was granted permission to build its branch line on August 14 1848, and on the back of this, the SWR extension into central Windsor passed with no opposition in February 1849.
Becky added: “The race was then on to see who could open their station first in central Windsor. GWR won because a girder snapped on the bridge across the Thames at Black Pots and so delayed the SWR. GWR opened their station on 8 October 1849 and South Western opened on 1 December 1849.
The race for a station in Windsor was recently featured on a television show – The Architecture The Railways Built on the Yesterday channel.
Becky featured on the show filmed in October and presented by Tim Dunn.
She added: “I was interviewed about the viaduct over Windsor playing fields and spoke about how they were built, the competition and opposition from Eton College.
“In Windsor you use those stations all the time but if you live locally you might not know about the architect and the stories connected with it.”
The show can be watched online at www.uktvplay.uktv.co.uk/ shows/the-architecture-the-railways-built/watch-online/6223957357001
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