Metropolitan - from Quainton Road to Brill
The Brill Branch of the Metropolitan line is probably the strangest part of railway to have been identified with the London Underground in that it was a rural branch line winding its way through sleepy Buckinghamshire, running from just outside the small town of Quainton, to just outside Brill, passing through 5 intermediary stations, all seemingly in the middle of nowhere. For a long time it didn't even have a licence to operate as a railway!
The line started out as a horse drawn tramway to serve the estate of the Third Duke of Buckingham and Chandos where it was known as the Wotton Tramway, or just Tramway to people living locally. Two horses were used to draw up to three goods carriages along most of the line, with the two horses being used to pull a single carriage when the gradient got too steep on a heavy load.
Building started in 1870, with Brill station being the last to be completed in April 1872. Initially, the single track line was constructed for the transportation of goods and minerals for local farms and works and only estate workmen and people accompanying live stock were permitted to travel on the line but the people who lived locally expressed an interest in using the line also, so a carriage was borrowed so that a passenger service could start.
With the advent of the passenger service, it was realised that the original horse locomotion wasn't enough so an Aveling & Porter steam locomotive was bought, an engine specifically designed for use on a tramway such as this.
An attempt was made in 1873 to upgrade the tramway's status to that of being legally recognised as a railway, but this failed as the tramway didn't meet many of the criteria required to be classed as a railway. Specifically, at this point in time there was no signalling, no accommodation for level crossing operators (these were operated by the train driver himself) along with many other problems. So, the tramway continued operating in this fashion for many years.
With Quainton Road increasingly seeing more traffic, the Duke saw the potential of extending his tramway west to Oxford and so the Oxford, Aylesbury & Metropolitan Junction Railway Company was formed to pursue the possibility of creating such a line and the Tramway was officially renamed the Oxford and Aylesbury Railway. An act of parliament was granted in 1888 to allow the extension to take place giving the company 4 years to complete the work. Unfortunately they weren't able to raise the necessary capital required and with the death of the Duke on 26th March 1889, the plans weren't followed through.
The plans were revived by a new act in 1892 and work started in reinstating the existing tracks as by now they were in a pretty poor state, with frequent derailments. The tracks were relaid and station buildings constructed of wood and iron were built at each stop. Signalling was improved, a junction with the Aylesbury & Buckingham line was provided at Quainton Road and platforms constructed (until now, most of the platforms were merely raised areas of ground). Each stopping point was provided with a manually operated siding.
Despite this effort, no work was carried in extending the line further than Brill during this time and eventually the act of parliament once again expired along with plans to extend to Oxford.
In July 1890 the operation of the line was taken over by the Metropolitan Railway Company (who became the Metropolitan Line). At that time they had an eye on expanding to the west and north, providing services from as far afield such as Manchester through London to the continent and beyond. They leased the line from the Oxford and Aylesbury Tramroad Company with a view to buying it later. They ran through trains from Baker Street to Verney Junction and also ran the tramway (now referred to as the Brill Branch) as a single track shuttle service. Rolling stock was improved with several new locomotives joining the line.
Newer stock which replaced the Aveling & Porter engine. Notice the multi-purpose train. The first carriage carried livestock, the second people and the third milk urns.*(copyright)
The Metropolitan's beady eye turned towards Oxford and once again extension in this direction appeared in the plan. The Met. also expressed that they wished to double the tracks as part of this extension as they had done on their branch to Verney Junction. As with the other plans to extend this branch, nothing ever came of this due to other lines rapidly expanding across the country, eventually making the plans redundant.
Over the subsequent years, the Metropolitan lost the desire to expand so everything settled into the status quo and operation of this quaint line continued with the Metropolitan.
Rolling stock similar to these (restored and preserved by the Bluebell Railway) would have been an every day occurance along this line towards the end.
Image: Lewis Nodes, Bluebell Railway Preservation Society
Eventually, the locomotives and carriages used by the Tramway Company were replaced by stock that had started life operating in the bowels of London's Underground. They were to spend the last days of their lives pootling back and forth through rural Buckinghamshire, very much like pit horses being put out to field in the last years of their lives.
When in 1933 the Metropolitan came under the auspices of the London Passenger Transport Board (which eventually became London Underground), they no longer had any interest in running rural services and it was quickly decided that all services west of Aylebury would be closed. The Brill branch line was closed to passengers on 30th November 1935 when the last train from Brill to Quainton Road stopped in each station on the way to collect documentation and to lock the station building for the last time. The station buildings were put up for sale and sold - the station house at Westott can still be seen today as a private residence as indeed can the one at Wotton. The Oxford And Aylesbury Railway therefore never got anywere near the two locations from which it derived its name.
A Metropolitan train at Quainton Road in 1934, not long before the line was closed
The tracks were soon lifted and the line's course was left for nature to take over. Nature did a good job as it's quite difficult to follow the Tramway's course now in some places without some prior knowlege of its original course.
What's there today?
It takes a bit of dedication to follow the path taken by this branch line today as much evidence has since gone. There are however clues to be found by the dedicated explorer. On March 25th 2005 I followed this line as closely as I could to see what remained.
Since Quainton Road station's site is occupied by the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre, the Brill Branch platform is probably the best preserved section of the line. The first thing you notice is that the platform is surprisingly short. This is because the line was only ever designed to be served by no more than an engine hauling a single carriage.
Quainton Road station. OS: SP737189
Once the Tramway's left left Quainton Road, it then ran over its first of five level crossings and then ran in parallel with the road south towards the A41. The way from Quainton Road to the location of the level crossing was clear to see as was the line's course alongside the road.
The Tramway leaves Quainton Road. The Level Crossing was just to the right of the first picture at the junction. The second picture looks down the track that runs in parallel with the road. OS: SP735187
Waddesdon Road station would have been located north of the A41 alongside the road. It consisted of a short platform and some wooden buildings. As with all of the other stations along the line, there would also have been a short siding.
The road junction with the A41. The station would have been located in the open area near the trees, with the siding curving behind the trees. OS: SP735187
Before leaving the station, the train driver would have to close the gateway of the line's second level crossing over the A41 (then a single track road), stop on the other side, close the gate and then proceed on his way towards Brill. All of the level crossings were manually operated in this way.
At this point it looked like it wasn't possible to follow the Tramway's course as it ran directly through a farm's private grounds. However, a nearby sign pointed out a public footpath that bypasses the farm.
The sign for the "Brill Tramway Walk". OS: SP726175
The footpath goes around the farm and soon re-joins the tramway's course. Between Waddesdon Road and Westcott, the path takes on several different forms, from being a concrete path at the beginning, to being an open field at the end.
Rejoining the Tramway's course and looking back towards the farm that is private property and not a public right of way. OS: SP725173
Next, the Tramway's path follows some electricity poles at the side of a field before finally running through an open field near Westcott. OS: SP722171
Arriving at Westcott, the station's location is marked by the station house, still standing and marked as having been built in 1871. In the house's garden a small structure could be observed which was the station's original booking office. This house would have housed the station manager as well as several other workers that serviced the line. Immediately to the left of the house, a small wooden structure still stands - this is the only surviving original platform building. Since the line's closure, an extension has been built to the left of the house - the line would originally taken course through the left part of the house as it stands today. The house also had several other rail related decorations which showed that the current occupiers knew some of it's history.
The Station House, at Westcott. To its left, the platform building.
The B&C stand for Buckingham and Chandos, the Duke's title. OS: SP720167
At this point, the Tramway would have crossed its third level crossing. The line's path could then be seen leading into Westott Venture Park. This is a disused airfield which used to be the site of a jet propulsion laboratory. Despite the innocent looking entrance making it look like an ordinary business park, following the line along this section was totally impossible as it's still a high security area - the quickest way to get to the next accessible location was by car.
The Tramway ran down where this road is today and through the venture park into open country beyond. OS: SP720167
As the road route to Wotton station goes over some raised ground, it is clear to see the path taken by the tramway through the open fields between Westcott and Wotton as a series of trees and bushes that have grown along the Tramway over the years. The straight flat route is no accident when considering that the line's original propulsion was equine. This stretch is named Tramway Ditch on Ordinance Survey maps.
The tramway's course can be followed as a line of trees and bushes passing through the fields in the distance.
Picking up the course of the line after it's left the grounds of the Venture Park, the line first passes through some fields and then takes the form of a farm trackway (often completely overgrown) for about a mile. At the time, this was known as the Bluebottle Incline. On today's maps, the stream that runs in parallel with the line's course is marked as Tramroad Ditch.
Immediately beyond the Venture Park (looking towards Verney Junction) and farm trackways near Wotton.
The next location visited was the land that used to be occupied by Wotton station. Before walking down the short track to the station's location (a small opening), another station house survives. Like Westcott, this had B&C and 1817 imprinted on its facade.
The station itself was a short walk down a track to the left of the house. Here the trackway opens out into a wider area, which used to accommodate several sidings. Until comparatively recently, a derelict stable building for the horses that originally powered the line was still there.
Just before the line ran into the station, the tracks were crossed by the mainline tracks of the Great Central Railway. Until the this line was closed in the 1960s as part of Dr. Beeching's cutbacks, the line had two bridges in the vicnity - one to cross the Tramway and then immediately afterwards another to cross the road, with a station situated there. When closed, the two bridges were soon demolished and the line can now be seen as a raised embankment on either side of the Tramway's course.
It is at this point where our quaint and almost forgotten Tramway is intersected by the possibly significant future of UK rail travel. Phase 1 of the High Speed Railway 2 (HS2) proposes to develop a new railway line providing an important European standard freight link between the Channel Tunnel and Central England, removing thousands of lorries and containers from the UK's roads. To minimise the disruption that the formation of a new railway will inevitably cause, they plan to re-use many of the old railway routes that were closed in the 1960s. This includes the raised mainline that crosses the Tramway at this point, so this quiet corner of Buckinghamshire may once again hear the rumbling of railway traffic. A map of the proposed route can be seen.
The land that Wotton station occupied. OS:SP694154
Moving on from here and things got a little more complicated. The path of the line was easy to follow as there was a footpath, but working out the precise location of the next station was difficult as the path was now in open countryside with no sign of habitation apart from a few cows in an adjacent field.
Between Wotton and Church Siding today and circa 1910 *(copyright)
Church Siding's location was by far the least obvious location to try to find as farming has almost completely obliterated the station's actual location. As well as a siding, Church Siding had a water tower and was also the start of a short branch line which ran towards the town of Kingswood (this never carried passengers). On the day, I failed to find the station's actual location as I simply didn't believe the GPS coordinates I had been given as they placed the station in the middle of a field!
A subsequent visit and some more knowledge made the archaeology of finding the station's location a lot easier. Closely examining the features of the field adjacent to the footpath at this location revealed the clearest physical imprint left by the actual railway line itself on the landscape. Over 70 years since it had been raised, some raised areas clearly revealed the actual course of the railway and its siding and branch to Kingswood.
Near Church Siding. This image looks back down the siding/Kingswood branch towards where the Tramway continued directly into the field on the right. The station would have been situated in the middle of this field. OS: SP689158
For some aerial clues to the path originally taken, download this page from Bing mapping. The Tramway can be seen coming in from the right at the location of Wotton station. It then performs a gentle arc southwards (bottom of picture). Just at the point it starts to bend northwards you can see some faint marks in the field curving away towards the south. This is actually the course of the Tramway and the station would have been in that field. The wide scar running from the top to the bottom of the picture is a recently installed pipeline.
The Tramway runs horizontally in this picture, now visible as a slightly raised area. The siding can clearly be seen as two parallel ditches coming towards the camera's view.
A small pile of rubble and some bumps in the ground are all the remain today of Church Siding.
The line took a meander through some fields, crossed a minor road (its fourth level crossing) and then a wooded area before arriving at the next station immediately after crossing its fifth and final level crossing.
he line passed in front of this house and crossed the road at this junction.
Wood Siding stop, circa 1910. Notice that the station building is basically a tin shed and also the poster advertising connections with the rest of the Metropolitan Line. The oak tree that can be seen behind the station still stands today.*(copyright)
Today, Wood Siding is a small open area between a road junction and a mainline railway. The station would originally have been partially situated on a bridge over the main railway line along with a siding, but the bridge has long since been demolished. Looking over the existing road bridge's wall, the last remains of the tramway's bridge can be observed.
The remnants of Wood Siding's bridge in the foreground (not the one in the distance, which is an access road for a farm). OS: SP672153
The Oak tree that used to provide shade over the platform at Wood Siding. The level crossing would have been just to the right of the tree, over the road.
From this point on, the Tramway would have followed close to the road almost all the way to Brill station, only diverging northwards a few hundred yards before arriving at the station's location itself. The only evidence of the railway's path today are a line of electricity poles that followed the line's course, the name of the Tramway Business Park, and a nearby house (originally, the station house) named Sleepers.
The station itself is about half a mile outside Brill because a relatively even gradient was required for the original horse power used when the line was originally conceived and since Brill is built on a hill, this was the most logical location for such a station.
Tramway Business Park, not far from the location of Brill station. OS: SP656152
Although the tramway has long gone, its memory is still preserved in some local place names. The sign on the house next door to the station's original location was referring to railway sleepers.
Last Modified: January 2nd 2014
Grid Reference data for locations given in Ordinance Survey grid reference notation.
The 1934 print Brill Train at Quainton Road was from a post card originally issued by Pamlin Prints and is taken from my collection. I have been unable to contact them to clear copyright. If you are the copyright holder and wish me to remove the images I will do so.
* All images marked with this symbol are © Buckinghamshire County Museum and are used with permission.
All material on this page is © 2005 Hywel Williams unless otherwise noted.
Research material used to derive the line's history:
Buckinghamshire Railway Centre
A cutting from an unkown source provided by the Railway Centre
The Wotton Tramway (Brill Branch) by Ken Jones - Locomotion Papers Number 75
UNDERGROUND Number 13 "From Quainton to Brill - A History of the Wotton Tramway by Ian Melton - The London Underground Railway Society (1983)