WHAT, you may ask, could the city of Southampton possibly have in common with the town of Didcot?

Well, strangely enough, there are two answers to this question.

The first relates to the long-closed Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway.

This was envisaged as an independent cross-country railway primarily to provide an alternative route for heavy traffic from the Midlands and North of England to the busy south coast port.

Unfortunately, its promoters were unable to raise sufficient capital to complete the line as planned and became dependent upon the cooperation of two much larger, established railway companies - the Great Western Railway and the London & South Western Railway, before the line could reach its intended destination.

Initially, a compromise on its route resulted in the railway terminating at Winchester (Chesil), although this later became a through station.

Thus the line opened in two stages, in 1882 and 1885, while the company, like many others with similar aspirations, was eventually absorbed by the Great Western Railway in 1923.

Sadly, the anticipated volume of through traffic never materialised, except for a short period during World War II, when huge quantities of munitions and troops were transported during preparations for the Normandy landings. This required the tracks of the Didcot to Newbury section to be doubled, while the southern section was upgraded by reinstating and extending the lengths of numerous passing loops, improving the overall capacity.

In peacetime, however, the line never carried significant passenger numbers, and declining traffic led to its closure in stages from 1960 to 1964, leaving passengers to travel between Didcot and Southampton via Reading, Basingstoke and Winchester, as they do today.

Surprisingly, although closed over 50 years ago, a number of features associated with the line are still evident today. To the east of Didcot in particular, remains of the line’s raised embankment are still visible alongside Jubilee Way, while a small industrial area called Rich’s Sidings joins Broadway nearby. Additionally, motorists parking their cars in the upper level of Didcot Parkway’s eastern car park may unwittingly park against a surviving section of the old Bay Platform.

Now, I expect you’re wondering what the second answer is. Well, this relates to the 70ft Southern Railway turntable installed at Didcot Railway Centre that, coincidentally, originated from Southampton Docks. More about this on a future occasion...