The Manchester & Southampton Railway courtesy of Chris Heaven

The Manchester & Southampton Railway was never built as a single entity but in the 1840’s it gave birth to a concept that ultimately lead to the Midland & South Western Junction and the Andover to Redbridge (Sprat and Winkle) Railways. That concept was for a railway to run from Cheltenham via Cirencester, Swindon, Marlborough, Ludgershall, Andover, Stockbridge and Romsey to Redbridge at the head of Southampton Water.

In the mid 1840’s there was a proliferation of railway construction projects. The existing larger railway companies were vying for control of territory. One aspect of this rivalry was the competition for West Midland’s traffic. In this context in 1845 the London and Birmingham Railway was challenged by an alliance between the Grand Junction Railway (Birmingham to Liverpool/Manchester) and the Great Western Railway. They jointly proposed a new broad-gauge route from Birmingham to Oxford. This would create a through route from Lancashire to London. Amongst the counter proposals was a scheme, promoted by the Midland Railway but supported by the L&B, to build a line from the Midland’s Birmingham to Bristol trunk route at Cheltenham to the London and South Western Railway’s line at Romsey. This would create a north to south standard-gauge route and was given the grand name of The Manchester and Southampton Railway. It would compete with the Great Western Railway.

These rival railway schemes were formulated by their respective chief engineers. Robert Stephenson acted for the London and Birmingham Railway and he and George Bidder were the engineers for the proposed Manchester and Southampton Railway. Brunel and Joseph Locke were engineers for the schemes allied to the GWR and GJR. This resulted in the prominent engineers of the day giving mutually critical and opposing evidence at Parliamentary hearings and yet (amazingly) they managed to maintain good personal and professional relationships. This was probably a significant factor in the L&B and GJR eventually burying their differences and merging to form the London and North Western Railway in 1846.

The Manchester and Southampton Railway proposal was put before Parliament in two consecutive sessions 1846-8 but failed and was never built. However a route following a very similar course did come into existence step by step over the course of the next 60 years. That part north of Andover became the Midland and South Western Junction Railway (M&SWJR). To the south the Andover and Redbridge Railway acquired the name “The Sprat and Winkle Line”.

The course of the most northern section of the M&SWJR from Cirencester to Cheltenham is the only part to substantially deviated from the original Manchester to Southampton Railway proposal. The M&S plan had been for a route along the Churn valley following what is today the A435. However by the 1880’s the Banbury to Cheltenham line had been built and it made more sense to take a route more due north from Cirencester to join with that line at Andoversford.

The plans for the Manchester and Southampton Railway survive and shown below are a small selection of these taken from a series of 60 covering the entire route.

These images here were taken on a domestic digital camera at about 1MB per picture. Some of the original plans have been professionally digitally copied in studio at 40–50 MB per image and reprinted on art quality paper-card to A3 size and are available for purchase. They look superb framed.

On these plans the plots of land adjacent to the proposed line are numbered. Supplied with each print will be a copy of the relevant pages from a directory which accompanied the original plan. For each numbered plot this gives details of the property, its ownership, lessee and occupier. The plan thus provides details of the social history of the location 160 year ago.

For further details e-mail: or visit

The plans currently available are for the towns and villages of:
Cheltenham to Andover section:
Charlton Kings
Cubberley (Cobberley)
North Cerney
Cirencester Park & Baunton
Cerney Wick
New Swindon & Rodbourne Cheney
New Swindon (& lands south of GWR line)
Ogbourne St George
Ogbournes: St Andrew & Maisey
Collingbourne Kingston
Collingbourne Ducis

Andover to Southampton section:
Lower Clatford
Southampton Waterfront
Southampton (proposed tramway)

A selection of the home produced images of the plans follow. As mentioned above, much better quality images and further information can be obtained from Chris.

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