Written by: David Taylor from of Didcot & District Archaeological & Historical Society

Imagine the announcement at Oxford station: "Next train on platform three is for London Paddington calling at Abingdon, Steventon, Reading and London Paddington."

This is just one of the possibilities which could have happened if things had turned out differently.

In 1824 the London and Bristol Railroad Company first proposed a railway linking London to Bristol via Reading, Wallingford, Wantage and Mangotsfield (no mention of Didcot) but it was abandoned due to lack of funding.

In March 1833, the project was revived, funded by Bristol-based merchants with the young Isambard Kingdom Brunel appointed as the engineer, to survey at least two routes: one was proposed to run from London via Slough, Maidenhead, Reading and Wantage.

The other from London via Reading, Newbury, Hungerford, Trowbridge, Bath and Bristol.

Various branch lines were proposed in the initial plans for the Great Western Railway, including Oxford but defeat of the parliamentary bills on at least three occasions left the University town without a railway, following opposition from landowners along the route, mostly the Oxford colleges and Abingdon-based businessmen.

Although Wallingford, Abingdon and Wantage would have been Brunel’s ideal route, because of the opposition from the local landowners, he finally chose the route we know today: London Paddington, Slough, Maidenhead, Reading, Swindon, Chippenham, Bath and Bristol, the flattest and therefore cheapest route to build his railway.

In August 1833, Brunel was confirmed by the London and Bristol Railroad as the engineer. He was so pleased with his appointment that he called the project the Grand Western Railway, later renamed The Great Western Railway and the railway was given royal assent in August 1835.

Work commenced in 1836 and, by June 1840, Steventon was reached, with the railway bypassing the village of Dudcote as it was called at the time.

The first train to Steventon on June 1, 1840, was cheered as it passed Dudcote, with locals standing on the embankment at Foxhall Bridge.

Travel time was two hours from Paddington to Steventon with a further 1.5 hours by coach to Oxford, over badly made roads for 10 miles.

It was suspected that Brunel thought if the coach service from Steventon to Oxford continued to be slow and uncomfortable, the authorities could be persuaded to allow the building of a branch to Oxford.

Brunel had ambitions to reach the university town and further north with his Broad Gauge line.

The initial proposal was for a line to Oxford with a branch to Abingdon.

The station was to be near Magdalen Bridge, but Christ Church College objected and it was defeated in the House of Lords.

A new bill was presented with the station near Folly Bridge and the Abingdon branch line dropped, but again it was defeated in the House of Lords.

Abingdon Town Council continued its unanimous opposition to a through railway station and even to a branch line.

Finally, after a majority of Oxford colleges realised the benefit of the railway bill and supported it, royal assent was given in 1843.

In June 1844, The Oxford Railway Company, backed by the Great Western Railway, opened a branch line from Didcot Junction (notice the change in spelling) to a new station just off the Abingdon Road, Oxford.

If it hadn’t been for the continuous opposition by Abingdon Town Council in the 1830’s and 1840’s, the route of the railway could have been very different.