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The Wycombe Railway

The railway to Wycombe was first planned in 1846, but after a number of false starts the line was finally opened 1st August 1854 to a terminus station at High Wycombe with intermediate stations of Maidenhead (Boyne Hill), Cookham, Bourne End, Wooburn Green and Loudwater. The Railway line was built and owned by the Wycombe Railway Company with its engineer, the famous Isambard Kingdom Brunel, The Wycombe Railway company later extended the railway from High Wycombe to Thame in 1862 with a branch line to Aylesbury from Princes Risborough in 1863 before finally extending and completing the railway from Thame to Oxford in 1864, ten years after reaching Wycombe itself.

The Wycombe Railway was leased to the Great Western Railway from the start, and who finally brought the line from the independent Wycombe Company in 1867. The track was laid to the I.K. Brunel unique broad gauge of 7ft 0¼in, being converted to today’s standard 4ft 8½ in 1870.

The Wycombe railway as originally built was uniform in appearance throughout its length, with the larger stations of Wycombe and Thame being provided with trainsheds and attached engine sheds, while the smaller intermediate stations being identical in design, having a booking office at one end with a open porch or waiting area at the other. Those stations that had adjacent level crossings had an additional crossing keeper house attached to the station. The only differences being in the building construction, the original 1854 section having been built in red brick and flint, while the 1862-1864 sections were built in plain brick either red or yellow.

Left: David Lane's impression of the view from High Wycombe station approach in broad gauge passenger days

© D Lane
Right: An impression of the station building and overall roof as constructed, with the locomotive shed at the rear.

© D Lane

With the coming of the Great Western and Great Central Joint Railway at the turn of the century and the upgrading and doubling of the line between High Wycombe and Princes Risborough the old Wycombe Railway was truncated into two separate branches, the original line between Maidenhead and Wycombe and a second part between Princes Risborough and Oxford.

With nearly 150 years of history behind it and large sections of the line having closed, A project to survey and record those parts that still remain was undertaken; most remarkable was there survival of the original Brunel designed terminus station at Wycombe. When the original line was extended to Thame in 1862 a new alignment was built to the north of the old station, through trains having to reverse out of the station to proceed to Oxford this arrangement lasted until at least 1864 when a new station at Wycombe was built on the current site, at the same time the old station was converted to a goods shed.

Due to Wycombe being the terminus and most important station on the 1854 route, it was provided with an overall roof to Brunel's famous trainshed design, in fact when the line was extended to Thame in 1862 the design was repeated with very minor differences but to the same dimensions and style. As originally built the station had a pitched slate roof with brick and flint walls covering both the single platform and two lines of rails with glass porticos at each end. The train shed measured some 120 feet by 40 feet, and on the side that is adjacent to Birdcage Walk there was the main station building, while attached to the side facing the present station was the locomotive shed this being 50 feet long by 20 foot wide. Over the years from 1875 till 1905 a number of extensions were added to the old station doubling its length and hiding its attractive glassed portico’s and locomotive shed within the extensions, although looking at the roof should reveal all.

Out of some 75 to 100 stations once built to Brunel’s trainshed design on the Great Western Railway system, only three others have survived, all these other survivors are located in the West Country, but importantly out of these Wycombe Station is the oldest and possesses many unique architectural features not repeated elsewhere. Due to the importance of the building an application was forwarded to list the building in June last year, which was granted in December at Grade Two. In the meantime a plan to demolish it to provide a car park was submitted in October by Chiltern Railways, which due to outcome of the listed status was withdrawn. Buckinghamshire County Council had also drawn up plans to provide a transport interchange on the site, which have also have had to be amended.

Although the future use of the building has not yet been decided it could be adapted or incorporated into the proposed transport interchange or turned into a visitor centre serving the people of High Wycombe in a similar use to what it was designed to do nearly 150 years ago.

A number of original contract drawings and maps showing the old station have been located although only one photograph has been found that clearly shows the whole building, which is surprising as it will be celebrating its 150th of opening in three years time.

For photos of Wycombe station building as it was in 2000, and a report on the sucessful effort to save it from demolition click here

Below is a list of the original Wycombe Railway stations on the line with opening dates.

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© 2002 Broad Gauge Society
Last Modified: 15 Feb 2002