Windsor to Ascot by Rail
Plans abandoned by 1914
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Raymond South, Crown, College and Railways:
How the Railways Came to Windsor (Barracuda 1978)
In this article we feature the plan of a proposed Great Western Railway extension from Windsor to Ascot.
In the earliest days of the railways, in the 1830s, there was a possibility that Windsor would be a main line station on the route from London to Bristol and the West Country. The plan was promoted by The London and Windsor Railway Company and in 1833, the need to construct the line over Crown land was accepted in principle by the king, William IV. The line would have arrived across the river from the east and to the north of the Home Park and between the castle and the river, with a station to the west of the town, which would permit further westerly expansion.
Despite apparent royal approval for the London and Windsor Company plans, a second scheme was being promoted by the Great Western Railway to build a line between London and Reading, also with the intention of expanding to the west and South Wales. The required Bill in the House of Commons for the GWR plans received its second reading in March 1834 and shortly thereafter the London and Windsor Company withdrew their plans, quite possibly because of financial concerns. The Great Western Railway pursued their scheme despite considerable opposition from Eton College. Supporters of a route through Windsor continued their campaign hoping to get the GWR to alter their proposed route. Windsor solicitor Charles Stuart Voules, pressed the case for a slight deviation of the GWR's original route so that the line could arrive in Windsor from the east and around to the south, with a tunnel under the Long Walk. Although Eton College was opposed to the development of any railways near to the college, this plan would have satisfied their concerns but the diversion through Windsor was not to be.
The headmaster at Eton College, Dr. Keate and his successor, Dr. Edward Hawtrey, were also opposing the GWR line passing close by the college through Slough, and equally to their planned branch line through to Windsor. Theopposition of the college failed to get the main line moved further north, away from Eton, but did delay the Windsor branch line for some fourteen years and succeeded in moving it further west and ensuring that no station would be built to serve Eton itself, or, for a while, even at Slough where tickets had to be bought at the nearby Crown Inn.
The railway to Windsor was actually completed in 1849, first on a wooden viaduct as it climbed over the river and up towards the castle and later, in the 1860s, on the brick arches we know today.
The completion of the branch line to Windsor was not the end of the story, there were plans to construct a line onwards from a point to the west of Windsor through to Ascot. The proposal received much public support in 1871 but the South Western Railway Company vigourously opposed the Parliamentary Bill put forward by the GWR as it would have competed with its own Staines - Ascot line. Nevertheless the bill passed the Commons Standing Order Committee in February 1872. It must have been about this time that the GWR actively bought the required land yet still no construction could take place.
In 1892 the GWR renewed attempts to build the line but they came to nothing, the only railway related construction in that year being a flight of steps from the station concourse to Goswell Hill. ('Breakneck Alley'). The steps it seems were reluctantly built by the GWR and only after great pressure from the local corporation. 1897 saw a further attempt to begin the line but came up against renewed opposition from Ascot residents who were not keen on the prospect of a station opposite Ascot racecourse. In addition, the Rector of Clewer [Roland Errington, Rector 1880-1900] expressed concern over the disturbance to the peace of his parish, although there was still much local support for the planned line. By 1900, as the Central Station was finally completed, hope remained that the line would eventually be built, but it was not to be and the project was ultimately abandoned.
The map below shows areas of land purchased by the Great Western Railway for the proposed railway line which would have joined the existing viaduct at Baths Island, curving through the terraced housing at Gardner Cottages and Vansittart Road, crossing Stovell Recreation Ground, Maidenhead Road and Parsonage Lane heading towards Dedworth. Few roads existed at that time to the west of Windsor and just Smiths Lane and Roses Lane are marked joining Dedworth Road. Give or take a few yards, the railway and perhaps a station would have been built on the area now occupied by Tesco's in 2004.
We have heard rumours of GWR marker posts, (lengths of rail with cast iron plates welded on top), in the area of the allotments along Maidenhead Road but we have never had an opportunity to photograph any. We have also heard a rumour that the Fleur de Lis in Winkfield was originally built as a railway station for the line. If anyone has more information, then do please let us know by email (To contact us, email Thamesweb.) or via the forum Windsor to Ascot by Rail.
This map dates from around 1914 and shows what areas of land had been purchased and how land was sold off to a variety of individuals once it was decided that the line from Windsor to Ascot would never be built. Please contact the editor if you would like a high quality version of this image. (24Mb).
To contact us, email Thamesweb.