Mr Woodley’s bee-farming business was reliant on the railways to send swarms of bees and bee products to customers as well as to ship various products to shows for judging. No doubt,
Mr Woodley would use the railways to travel. Mr Woodley writes in ‘Notes By The Way’ of using Newbury station and I would imagine many of his goods which needed to travel north would travel via the Newbury to Didcot railway.
Mr Woodley’s neighbour Mr Dyer was a railwayman and, Mr Dyer lived 2 ½ miles to the east of Beedon in the village of Compton. The Newbury to Didcot section of the ‘Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway’ (DNS) went through Compton and indeed Compton had one of the larger stations on this section of line.
Mr Dyer lived in a railway cottage which was adjacent to a road crossing and Mr Dyer’s wife would man the crossing. Mr Dyer was a ‘plater layer’ and this meant he was responsible for the maintenance of the railway track. Mr Dyer’s cottage has a small window on the ground floor south elevation which overlooks the road crossing the railway. I imagine Mrs Dyer would glimpse through this window and respond to traffic queuing at the crossing gates.
Mr Dyer was one of a growing new breed of beekeeper. Back in the 1870’s, it was envisaged that modern beekeeping in boxes with movable frames would help improve the prospects of farm labourers who traditionally kept their bees in skeps. However, farm labourers in general from the 1870’s onwards were more inclined to give-up beekeeping. This was because farming became more precarious in tenure and opportunities in the industrialising towns and cities became more alluring. Conversely, people from more industrial occupations and also those who lived in the suburbs were more inclined to take-up modern beekeeping and Mr Dyer is a good example of this.
The Didcot to Newbury section of the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway was opened to traffic on 12 April 1882, but it wasn’t until 1891 that the entire railway was completed (Southampton to Didcot). This railway played an important role during the Second World War by transporting supplies and servicemen to the south-coast in preparation for D-Day.
However, post war governments did not value this line. The Newbury to Didcot Railway closed to passengers on 10 September 1962 and later the line closed to freight 1967. Subsequently the line was dismantled and the land and property sold off. Compton Crossing was sold and the adjacent track was later incorporated into the cottage’s garden.
The loss of this line has long be lamented. It provided a strategic rail link between Southampton and the Midlands. The existing rail network does not provide such a direct north/south route. I would contend that this makes transportation of goods to and from the port of Southampton more efficient by road; hence the large volume of traffic the A34 carries.
The 1982 photographs of the cottage show a modest building with white rendered walls and delicate timber sash windows and ornate gable-fascias with finials at the apex. The white picket fencing and the crossing gatepost are present. Concrete posts and chain-link fencing prevent people from straying onto the dismantled track. It would appear upto 1982 little had changed with the cottage since Mr Dyer’s time.
Much work has been done since 1982 to Compton Crossing not least its name is now ‘Crossing Cottage’. The striking change is the exterior face of the house is brick instead of white render. This effect was achieved by a layer of brickwork on the outside of the cottage (I assume no rendering was removed) and as such the interior window cills in the original building are very deep! This makes the proportion of the gable-end appear a little wider.
The small window on the southern elevation which overlooks the crossing was kept and the door on the same elevation was replaced with a modest window. On the northern elevation a two-storey extension was built, again in brick. On the eastern elevation a porch was constructed and it straddles both the old and new parts of the cottage.
There is little evidence of the crossing itself. However there are still clues: the road dog-legs around the cottage and there is a pedestrian gate which I would assume allowed pedestrians to cross the track without the assistance of the lady who manned the crossing. The track cutting along the garden has been filled. A wall has been constructed along the road over the former track which is part of the Cottage’s garden.
Many thanks goes to Christine and David Richardson for allowing me access to their home.
[UPDATE 15 DECEMBER 2014: My earlier blog about Mr Dyer can be found here]
[UPDATE 21 DECEMBER 2014 Footage on-board the train passing Crossing Cottage can be found here]