The railway came to Hungerford as a terminus station in 1847, and was extended west through the town in 1862.
Brunel's GWR London to Bristol: Some years earlier, in 1835, Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Great Western Railway Act had been passed, and such was the
speed of railway construction that the main line from London to Bristol was fully open by June 1841. However, this was the line through Didcot and Swindon - many miles north of Hungerford.
The Berks & Hants Railway: Railways were expanding far and wide, and it was not long before a line from
Reading through Newbury to Hungerford was proposed. This "Berks & Hants Railway" received Royal Assent in 1845.
Land had to be acquired from a variety of private owners, including John Matthews, William Tours, George Martin, George Earl, George Willes, John Satchell Rev.
Charles Townsend, John Rees, Thomas Longford, George B. Cundell, Mary Spearing, and Henry A. Cundell.
In addition, of course, land on the Common had to be acquired from the "Borough and Manor of Hungerford", and a meeting of all Commoners was arranged in the
Town Hall on Tuesday 24th February 1846. Those present agreed that the sale should go ahead.
A double track broad gauge extension line was extended from Newbury to Hungerford, and the new terminus station (with the adjacent turntable) was opened
on 21st December, 1847. The terminus station was to last for 15 years.
The Berks & Hants Extension Railway: In 1859, a local company proposed the building of what became the
'Berks and Hants Extension Railway', a 24 mile extension of single track onward from Hungerford westwards to Seend near Devizes, where it was to link with a branch of the Wilts,
Somerset and Weymouth Railway.
The line was opened in November 1862, and its construction had a considerable effect on the appearance of Hungerford.
In the first place, the original terminus station was altered to allow through traffic, and for the first time the broad High Street was spanned by a railway
bridge (later replaced in 1896 when the line was converted to double track). A high embankment was built through the very heart of the town, and three more bridges were built, in Croft
Lane, Parsonage Lane, and Marsh Lane (all later enlarged to carry the double track).
The railway bridge carrying he track across Hungerford High Street was considerable engineering feat.
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[Bradshaw's Tours, Section II, 1866) describes Hungerford thus:
A telegraph station.
HOTEL - Black Bear.
MARKET DAY - Wednesday.
FAIRS - Last Wednesday in April and Sept., and first Wednesday in Oct.
HUNGERFORD is a market town which stands partly in the county of Berks, and partly in that of Wilts. The Kennet flows past this town, which opens a communication with the river Thames on the east, and the Avon and Bristol Channel on the west. The town principally consists of one long main street, with a few smaller ones branching from it.
In the centre stands the market house, over which there is a large room for public business and here is still preserved the Hungerford Horn, presented to the corporate body by John of Gaunt. It is made of brass, and is blown every Horn Tuesday to assemble the inhabitants for the election of the town constable.
From Hungerford you may follow the Berkshire Downs round to Reading, past Lambourn, Ashdown (where Alfred beat the Danes). Uffington Castle, Wayland Smith's Stone, the White Horse Hill (893 feet high with the figure of a galloping horse 370 feet long, cut in the chalk). Wantage, along
Ickleton Street (a Roman way on the ridge) to East Ilsley (noted for its great sheep fairs), and so to Reading, a strip of about 40 or 45 miles, never to be forgotten by a light-heeled
The Berks and Hants, a railway 24½ miles long, begins here and runs through a nearly level country. Although the title would seem to imply, it forms no connection
between the two counties named, taking as it does a westerly direction from the borders of Berks through the very heart of the county of Wilts.
Station fire, 1867: On Saturday morning 16th November 1867 the buildings on the down platform were found to be on fire, and as they were composed chiefly of wood and canvas, were
soon reduced to the ground although the local fire brigade had attended.
Switch from broad to standard gauge: Brunel's wider "broad" gauge (7' 0¼" = 2140mm) track added to passenger
comfort but made construction much more expensive and caused difficulties when eventually it had to interconnect with other railways using the narrower gauge. As a
result of the Railway Regulation (Gauge) Act 1846 (after Brunel's death) the gauge was changed to standard gauge (4' 8½" = 1435mm) throughout the GWR network.
It was not until 1874 that the single track line (from Hungerford to Holt Junction) was changed from broad gauge to standard gauge.
A temporary road coach service was used between Hungerford and Devizes whilst the work was carried out. The Parish magazine records that "Hundreds of labourers have been engaged for the last fortnight in effecting the change from broad to narrow gauge on the Hungerford Branch of the Great Western Railway, the Berks and Hants, and Wilts and Somerset Railways.
For five days the traffic was entirely suspended between Hungerford and Marlborough and Devizes; and on Sunday, June 28, the line was entirely closed. It is
hoped that the ordinary service of trains will be resumed on Saturday, July 4.". It was!
Swindon, Marlborough & Andover Railway: On Wednesday 28th July 1875 "the first sod of the Swindon,
Marlborough, and Andover Railway was turned - with the usual ceremony and much local rejoicing". It was anticipated that the new line would benefit Hungerford by giving better rail access
to Gloucester and Birmingham to the north, and to Southampton in the south. It was anticipated that the Railway would be completed by the end of 1877. In fact the Marlborough to
Swindon line did not open until August 1881.
The line from Savernake to Andover opened on Tuesday 4th April 1882, the line from Newbury to Didcot on Wednesday 12th April 1882.
Snow blocks the line: In 1881 the line through Hungerford was completely blocked by snow for two days.
From single to double track: In 1881 the Great Western Railway Company applied to Parliament for a Bill to
authorise the purchase of the Railway of the Berks and Hants Extension Company, between Hungerford and Devizes. The resulting merger brought about the doubling of the line between
Hungerford and Devizes, which eventually was achieved in 1896.
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In November 1882 the community became aware that the doubling of the track to Devizes would necessitate the rebuilding of the High Street "Railway Bridge which
at present disfigures the High Street; and it is to be hoped that timely steps will be taken to induce the Railway Company to erect a structure more worthy of its position in the
principle Street in the Town of Hungerford".
Application was made by the GWR in December 1882 to make a railway from Woodborough to Westbury, and from Castle Cary to Langport, "so as to render the line
through Hungerford the most direct route to the West of England."
Messrs Smith & Sons opens: In January 1886 the Parish Magazine reported that "Messrs Smith & Sons have
lately opened a temporary Book and Newspaper Stall at our Railway Station with a view to ascertain whether there is sufficient demand to induce them to provide permanent accommodation of
Footbridge built: A footbridge was built for passengers going from one platform to the other in 1902.
In 1906 this line became part of the shortened route to the West Country.
Mr Frank Hunt: Mr Frank Ernest Hunt (of Shrivenham) was appointed Station Master in 1908. The first GWR General
Manager under whom he served was Mr J Grierson, later replaced by Sir Felix Pole, who had long been aquainted with Mr Hunt. It was an unusual compliment and (presumably) a token of
friendship that some time later Sir Felix presented a signed portrait of himself to Mr Hunt, in whose office it was afterwards prominently displayed until Mr Hunt's retirement in
After his retirement, he moved to Priory Road.
The King's Visit, 21st-26th October 1912:
In October 1912, King George V came by train to visit Sir John Ward at Chilton Lodge.
The proposed visit captured the enthusiasm of the whole town, which set about the task of preparing and decorating the town with enormous energy.
The King's train came from Paddington, and arrived punctually at 7.15pm. The Constable (Mr John Adnams), the Station Master (Mr. Frank Hunt) and many other
dignitaries were on the platform to welcome the King and his party to Hungerford. One photograph shows that the station staff at the time totalled about 26 men!
Goods Shed fire, 1936: A timber shed used by L. Beard & Son as an office in the Goods Yard was destroyed by
fire on the 15th January 1936.
Mr Archie Allen: Archie Allen (father of John Allen) came to work at Hungerford station in 1926. Archie had worked
for the GWR for many years at Windsor station and in 1926 he was appointed Clerk in Charge of the Goods Depot at Hungerford, becoming Station Master in 1935.
Archie was a very keen Ambulance man and formed his own Railway Ambulance team in the 1930s. One of Archie's duties on Sundays accompanied by his son John was to fill up the many chocolate and cigarette machines, but John has no knowledge of any extra chocolates being handed to him.
Signal Boxes: There were two signal boxes at Hungerford for many years, until January 1939 when the East box was
closed and all traffic was controlled from the West box. The signalman was Harry Bennet, who died aged 50 years in 1956.
The main Hungerford box was partly demolished in the crash of 10 Nov 1971 (see below). Its replacement was demolished in Nov 1978 (see "End of an era" - NWN 16 Nov 1978).
Watercress: Hungerford has always been a busy station. In the 1930s much watercress was despatched by Passenger
train to various destinations. Watercress beds near Shalbourne mill were established in 1929, and varieties such as "Morning Dew" and "Mill Brand" were sent to Covent Garden and
Birmingham to be sold. The Shalbourne business closed in 1972.
Mail and passenger traffic: Post Office Mails, and many people travelled by train until the 1960s when cars became a more popular means of transport.
Second World War: During the 1939-1945 war years, very heavy goods traffic was dealt with at Hungerford. Goods
- coal and coke for the four coal merchants Alexander Bros, L Beard & Son, W Lewington, and T D Barnes of Aldbourne,
- feeding stuffs and fertilizers for John Adnams
& Sons, and James & Co., of Great Western Mills.
- agricultural implements were received for Oakes Bros, and I A Bennett & Son.
There were many extra Passenger trains
put on for the movement of English and American troops.
At this time the station was staffed by a Station Master, (A J Allen) and two booking clerks, a Senior Porter (F. Cox) was in charge of the Parcels Office also
two Junior Porters. Bruce Richardson was the clerk in charge of the Goods Depot assisted by one Junior Clerk. A lorry driver (F. Didcock) was provided for the collection and delivery of
parcels in the town and outlying villages. The signalmen employed were Harry Bennett, Fred Liddiard, and Harold Prout.
There were also two gangs with a total of 16 men looking after the permanent way.
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Replacing the railway bridge:
In 1966 the railway bridge across the High Street was replaced.
In 1970 the station ceased to deal with Goods traffic, Reading being the railhead for this area.
Most of the station buildings were demolished in 1971, and Hungerford
station became an un-manned halt.
Railway crash, 10 Nov 1971:
In the early morning of Wednesday 10th November 1971, a goods train from Westbury to Theale, with 41 wagons containing 1000 tons of stone, was derailed whilst
on the high embankment just west of the High Street bridge. 28 wagons came off the track, blocking both lines, crashing into the signalbox and strewing wreckage and ballast over the
Relief signalman Robbie Bowden had a lucky escape when two of the waggons jack-knifed into the signalbox. Although he had concussion and shock, he managed to
restore all signals to danger before calling for assistance.
Despite such a catastrophic crash, it is remarkable that no-one was injured, although the signalman, Bob Bowden, was trapped in his signal box for over half an
hour until rescued by firemen.
After the crash, a temporary box was built on the west end of the up platform, but this too was removed in Nov 1978 after colour light signals replaced
semaphore signals on 17th July 1978. (See "End of an era" - NWN 16 Nov 1978). See also "Signal of significance to couple who are retiring - for a while" - NWN 10 Sep 1981 regarding John & Brenda Newton's retirement and the Hungerford signal they bought).
For many years from 1939 onwards a Public Telephone Box was thought necessary at the station but it was not until December 1990 one was erected opposite the
Railway Tavern Pub.
The only remaining evidence of the old station up to 1999 was the 1902 footbridge, but this was replaced by a new footbridge on 6th June 1999. No sign of the
original G.W.R. station now remains.
(Much of this was based on
information from John Allen, Dec 2005)
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Replacement of Croft Road railway bridge:
In April 2012, the Croft Road bridge was replaced. The old bridge had probably been in position since c1951, as the NWN of 18 Oct 1951 reported "The railway bridge over Croft Road, Hungerford, is to be replaced by a new structure".
150th Anniversary of the Berks & Hants Extension Railway:
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the line west through Hungerford, a heritage train of 13 coaches headed by LNER Bittern stopped in
Hungerford station for about 20 minutes, to take on water - and 81 passengers! The train had started from Victoria station, London, and went on to Minehead, before returning in the early
See also the following items kindly sent by Tony Bartlett:
- Press Release of Cathedrals Express heritage train
- Photo-gallery of 12 pics of the event