HIAS - Eastleigh - Hampshire’s Railway Town

The townscape of Hampshire owes itself to three main factors – trade, which made Southampton; defence, which made Portsmouth, as well as Aldershot and Farnborough; and administration and justice, which made Winchester. 

London, too, ever greedy for space, has intruded itself into the county, inflating places like Basingstoke and Andover, and in one instance making a completely new town. This is Eastleigh, which has its roots in the opening of a rail line between Nine Elms terminus of the London and South Western Railway and Gosport. 

The main line between London and Northam, Southampton, via Winchester, had opened in 1839, but two years later a branch line to Gosport with a junction near Little and Great Eastley Farms and the hamlet of Barton was constructed.  At a time when a direct line from London to Portsmouth was beset by all manner of problems, the Gosport line took passengers to Portsmouth via a novel floating bridge.

The point of departure from the London and Southampton line was initially called Bishopstoke Junction, and then in 1889 Eastleigh & Bishopstoke, before becoming plain Eastleigh in 1923. A look at the map suggests that it might have been called Eastley or even Barton. But when in 1868 the novelist Charlotte Yonge, born in nearby Otterbourne, was asked to name a new parish made from parts of South Stoneham parish, she chose Eastley, but gave it what she called a ‘Frenchified’ spelling.

The fascinating story of the growth of Eastleigh has been told in a recent article by Howard Sprenger in the latest issue of the Hampshire Industrial Archaeology Journal (vol. 27, 2019). He explains how in 1847 a branch line to Salisbury was opened and five years later a County Cheese Market was set up at Bishopstoke. It was “held on the third Thursday of every month, when great quantities of cheese usually change hands,” according to White’s Directory of Hampshire of 1859.

The lands that became Eastleigh were variously owned by several wealthy local families. The Smythes of Brambridge, the Chamberlaynes of Cranbury Park, the Flemings of North Stoneham and the Heathcotes of Hursley. But it was Thomas Chamberlayne (and later his son Tankerville) who profited most from its development. His master stroke was to buy a part of the Brambridge Estate, which gave him “both component parts” of the new town. Later, many more houses were built by Jonas Nichols, memorialised in the Nicholstown part of Southampton between Bevois Valley and St Mary’s.

The population of Eastleigh rocketed when the LSWR decided that Nine Elms  – a part of London now best known for Battersea Power Station and New Covent Garden Market – lacked space for its works, even though the terminus itself had in 1848 been extended to Waterloo. In 1851 Eastleigh had a population of 193, which had risen to 3,613 by 1891. In that year, the LSWR carriage and wagon works were transferred from Nine Elms, to Eastleigh, followed in the early 1900s by its locomotive works, which called for 4-5,000 new houses.

Any walk round Eastleigh will be hugely enriched by this excellent article. In the same issue are articles on A History of the Southampton Floating Dock, by Jerry N.J. Vondeling and on Cast Iron Gravestones and Memorials, by the late Tony Yoward. Copies of the journal are available from: Eleanor Yates, Danesacre, Worthy Road, Winchester SO23 7AD; 01962 852594; eleanor.yates@ntlworld.com.

The article by Howard Sprenger includes much more fascinating detail on the development of Eastleigh, as précised below. It also records, for posterity, the meanings of the names of roads in the 1980s Grange Park Estate, Hedge End, which are related to the railway.

Interestingly, when LSWR was looking for a site to move its works from Nine Elms it considered Basingstoke and Andover, before deciding on Eastleigh, which was favoured as an important junction with cheap land.

Much of the early built environment of early Eastleigh was demolished in the 1960s and 1970s, including the first house believed to have been built, in 1841, The Elms, which stood at the south end of the station. Also the Junction Hotel, built by David Nicholson of Wandsworth, and designed by the railway architect William Tite, with a Market Room added later for the cheese market. And Cross House built for the crossing keeper after the opening of the Salisbury line, which was demolished after the last war. Another loss was a terrace of ‘superior’ cottages built in 1847 on the Southampton Road for foreman grades and the like. An early candidate for demolition was Tate’s Terrace, which made way for Eastleigh’s multi-storey car park and offices in the 1960s. It was named after Mathew Tate, a man who had played a significant role in the construction of both the railways and attendant housing.

Jonas Nichols, using bricks from a works at nearby Boyatt, built most of the houses that gave Eastleigh its current grid pattern. They were mainly three-up three-down terraced houses, each for two families with a common cooking range in the middle room of the ground floor. The houses were generally poorly built, but, as Sprenger comments: “swapping the poorest parts of Battersea for life in a healthy country town was surely appreciated by those who made the move.” 

Although most houses were built by private developers, those on west side of Dutton Lane were the work of the LSWR itself, though its target of 100 was not met. It was named after its chairman, the Hon. Ralph Heneage Dutton.  Priority as tenants was given to members of the works police and fire brigade. Twenty-six cottages on the west side of the lane still stand. The LSWR also built a dining hall capable of providing meals for 600 men at a sitting. It burnt down in 1970, the site now being occupied by ATS Euromaster Ltd.

Much of the housing was of poor quality, which led to a public enquiry in 1891. It was no surprise to find that when Tate’s Terrace was demolished in the 1970s it had virtually no foundations!  Better standards were followed when Campbell Road – named after Lt-Col. H.W. Campbell, Chairman of the LSWR, 1899-1904 – was developed in the early 1900s to cope with the need for more housing when the Locomotive Works moved down from Nine Elms. One huge advance was the provision of bathrooms.

The first parish church in Eastleigh, the Church of the Resurrection, dated from 1868 and was designed by GE Street, with a major extension by Sir Arthur Blomfield in 1901. After a major fire in the mid-1980s, it was deconsecrated and developed as apartments.

Public facilities for the employees included the Railway Institute, built by Jonas Nichols and opened in 1891 by the wife of the LSWR Chairman, Mrs Ralph Dutton.  The original building was demolished in 1982 and the Institute moved onto the site of the former vicarage of the Church of the Resurrection. In 1919 came the Locomotive Engineers Institute, and in the mid-1920s completion of the iconic bandstand, both of which still stand.

The development of Eastleigh had consequences elsewhere. It led in the early years to the growth of Chandlers Ford, especially after the building of the Salisbury Line. A station was opened there in 1847, but closed in 1969, only to be reopened in 2003 as a single-track line. Hedge End too has grown in recent years, with its own station opened in 1990, especially to serve the Grange Park Estate.

For more information, see the  Hampshire Industrial Archaeology Society website.