Few residents of Compton will not be aware of the Hockley Viaduct, which is actually in their parish.
Opened in October 1891 by the London & South West Railway to continue the line from Newbury and Didcot via Winchester Chesil down to Southampton, it was built under the expertise of consulting engineer W L Galbraith and the contractor was Jos. T Firbank. Galbraith already had experience in the West of England of building smaller viaducts with a mass concrete core faced with bricks. However the Hockley Viaduct was his largest and used bricks from Wellington in Somerset and engineering coping stones by Blanchards of Bishops Waltham.
The viaduct is 33 arches long and straddles the Itchen and its surrounding Watermeadows.
During WWII the viaduct was an integral part of a line which carried all the supplies from the industrial Midlands and North down to Southampton, ready in particular for D-Day. Up to 1600 trains crossed the viaduct with their military loads in the year prior to D-Day, the line having been temporarily closed as a passenger line in 1942.
After the end of the war, the line reverted to being a passenger one again until Dr. Beeching began his somewhat radical closure of much of the British Rail network. The line was closed to passengers again, only permanently this time, in March 1960, continuing as a freight line until its final closure in the mid-1960s. The lines and buildings were all removed and now only the trackbed remains on the viaduct to remind us of this once-important line of communication. Winchester City Council bought the viaduct from the British Rail Board and since then not much has happened.
However in 2007 a group called The Friends of Hockley Viaduct was set up to try to persuade the Council to work with the County Council, who own the land on which the viaduct stands, to come to an arrangement with Sustrans, the UK’s cycling network initiative, to restore the viaduct as part of Cycle Route 23.
The City Council under their Conservative leader George Beckett, himself a Compton man, has pledged to pay towards the restoration work and The Friends are keen to use their small funds to pay for information panels.
The restoration would entail a certain amount of rebuilding of the viaduct walls and removal of damaging plant growth such as buddleia, ivy and blackthorn etc.
The Friends completely cleared all the vegetation on the walkway of the viaduct in 2008 and earlier this year the area was again completely cleared. The chalk Downland plant varieties growing along the edges of the trackbed number over 100 and all during this spring and summer have provided a beautiful walk for pedestrians, with or without dogs, and runners to continue down on to the Itchen Navigation path running along under St Catherine’s Hill.
The area is rich in native fauna and flora, and buzzards, kestrels, kingfishers, and the occasional deer and fox can be watched from the viaduct’s lofty heights – the views across our surrounding countryside are spectacular, so why not try a walk for yourself? You can access the viaduct either from Five Bridges Road or from the slip road on to the London-bound M3.
Perhaps before you go you should take a look at the website of the Friends. There’s much of interest on there as well as a number of excellent photos taken by devotees of the structure. And then why not join The Friends for a modest £5 a year – to go towards the costs of good information panels – you’ll be most welcome! Full details on the website.
Secretary & Treasurer
The Friends of Hockley Viaduct
- More historical information, with bibliography, is at transportheritage.com
- The Southern Counties Railway Society’s February 2013 newsletter included a short history of the viaduct, from 1891 to 2012.
- Grace’s Guide on the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway (DNSR)
- Hockley Viaduct can be glimpsed briefly 29 seconds into this 1960s movie taken from the footplate on the Winchester to Didcot railway