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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 38 - Spring / Summer 1979

Origin of a Railway - The Aylesbury and Buckingham Line

Written in 1897 by J Kersley Fowler of Prebendal Farm and The Old House, Hampton-on-Thames


It may be of some interest to railway people and others to learn the singular history of a much despised and greatly ridiculed little railroad. I may be pardoned for recounting this, as I was the projector of the scheme for reviving a portion of the original design of old George Stephenson, which was further developed by his son Robert. This line, the Buckinghamshire, was one of the great proposals of the latter in the year 1846, and was projected to connect the Great Western at Oxford with the London and North Western at Bletchley, as also to join the former line at Banbury with the latter at Aylesbury, the two lines crossing at a spot now called Verney Junction, in the parish of Claydon, on land belonging to the late Sir Harry Verney. The lines were commenced, and shortly afterwards the railway crisis ensued, and in the end the portion from Verney Junction to Aylesbury was abandoned, and was thought nothing of for a space of nearly fifteen years. Sometime about the year 1860 some gentlemen called on me to confer as to the desirability of making a line to Thame, and then continuing it to Oxford from the terminus of the London and North Western at Aylesbury. The line was surveyed, and was apparently sure of success, but the old, old story, want of capital, caused the project to be abandoned. A year or two later, a Mr Brydone, one of the engineers of the Great Northern Railway, with Mr. F. Rummens, a small and quite unknown contractor, who had been one of those concerned in the abortive railway to Thame, begged of me to join them in reviving the undertaking. I told them it was useless to attempt it, as a Bill had been obtained the previous session by the Great Western Company to make a line to that town and thence to Oxford, but I said, I remember, that in the year 1847, the portion of the Buckinghamshire (formerly described) had been abandoned, and ought to be revived. The original intention had been to connect Aylesbury with Banbury, Buckingham, and Oxford; but the main line was now like the play of Hamlet with the principal character omitted. The line was, in fact, deprived of all its value. If they thought it worth while, I would show them the country, and prove it would be of incalculable advantage to the whole district if the project could be carried out. I then ordered out a carriage and a pair of horses, and we started over the line, and I pointed out to them old George Stephenson's original scheme to the north, through Birmingham. We drove to Claydon, saw Sir Harry Verney, who was Chairman of the Buckinghamshire, and when I explained to him my plans, he was greatly pleased, and agreed to assist by every means in his power the object in view. On our return I took them to Wotton, calling on the Marquis of Chandos, afterwards third Duke of Buckingham, fortunately finding him at home, and explained our purpose in coming. He welcomed us most cordially, and expressed himself heartily in support of the scheme, and said he would subscribe 5,000l, and become chairman of the company! As he was then Chairman of the London and North Western Railway Company, this was far in excess of our expectations, and I need not say that I looked on our Bill as safe, and the line as good as made. We arranged for a future conference and returned to Aylesbury.

At a future meeting the preliminary company was formed, the Marquis becoming chairman of the directors, Sir Harry Verney vice-chairman, with a strong addition of some leading county gentlemen, bankers, and others, with myself, the company being duly registered as the Aylesbury and Buckingham Railway Company, afterwards generally known as the A and B Company. The surveys were made, the Bill deposited, and in 1861 our Act of Parliament was obtained. Shortly afterwards the prospectus was issued, the subscription list opened, and the estimates having been accepted for the construction - being 100,000l for the twelve and a half miles - about 25,000l cash was subscribed, besides a good portion of the land required. The Marquis considered that this was quite sufficient to start with, and the contract was entered into with Mr. Rummens, this to be divided into three portions, the first to begin at Claydon, with a junction to the Bucks line. Sir Harry Verney being the principal landowner for nearly two miles, stipulated that the connection should be called Verney Junction, by which it is still known. This was in 1861 - 62. Without any fuss or show, except the consumption of a few gallons of beer to the men, I cut the first sod of the line on my own farm at Aylesbury, so as to make a beginning, but the real work of the road was at Claydon. The want of sufficient capital soon became apparent, and it was found that the bulk of the line must inevitably be made on paper, which more or less threw the directors into the hands of the contractor. The reign also at about this time of the Marquis of Chandos as Chairman of the London and North Western Company came to an end, and Mr R Moon reigned in his place. The Sun of the Marquis had set, and the Moon had risen in his stead.

Before actual work had commenced, Mr J G Rowe, our secretary, had received an answer from Mr Stewart, the then secretary to the London and North Western Company, to his application respecting the support to be given to the A and B by the directors of the London and North Western. The secretary replied that he was directed to inform him that as soon the line was completed they would be happy to work on fair and equitable terms. The Marquis was then chairman of both lines, and he, with our other directors, were of course perfectly satisfied with our prospects. We issued 35,000l worth of 5 per cent debentures, which were readily taken up by the public, and we thought we were in clover. Soon after the retirement of the Marquis the crisis of 1866 came upon us, and the want of money utterly paralysed our exertions. In addition to this, a London solicitor, the agent to an impecunious landowner, through whose property our line passed for nearly three miles, threw every obstacle in our way, levying blackmail on us by every means in his power, persuading the tenants to put forth monstrous claims for severance and residential injury, and causing us quite a year's delay. This was most unwarrantable, as this same lawyer had welcomed us effusively, promised to give us every encouragement, as the estate would be improved 30 per cent by having a station upon it, and promised to let us have the land at agricultural value. When we began to treat for the land, as soon as the works had reached this property, this man pretended that the proposed route had been altered, which was utterly untrue, and demanded three times the value of the land, and stipulated that an iron railed fence should be carried along the line instead of a fence of wood and a quick set hedge. In spite of his obstruction, the landowner himself living a long distance away, in Bedfordshire, we gave the usual legal notices, and an eminent land valuer arbitrated on the case. He decided in the company's favour as far as the value of the land was concerned, but the delay which this litigation caused stopped the construction of the line for several months, and threw the many arrangements out of gear, until the terrible crisis of 1866 stopped the supplies for more than a year; the works were almost entirely suspended, some funds were advanced by the bank, and the second portion of the contract was completed. The most important part remained, namely, the last five miles into Aylesbury. The estimate for this work was 30,000l, and under the suggestion and by the direction of Mr Rummens, the contractor, I persuaded the board to issue to him 60,000l worth of fully paid-up shares instead of 30,000l cash. I am particular in mentioning this in view of the result. The line was then supposed to be completed and ready for opening. Colonel Yolland, the inspector, made a rigid examination, and reported that several things were of necessity to be done before he could certify. The principal items were additional signals and junctions with locking apparatus; these made an extra of 5,000l. The board were greatly troubled at this, as there was no money. The Duke of Buckingham was in India as President of Madras. The Bucks and Oxon Bank agreed to advance the amount on the joint note of the directors then present. I happened to be one, and in my anxiety to open the line, I at once consented to sign the bill. The money was found, and the secretary drew out the amount as required for its completion. The line was opened, which then raised the question as to its working; and as the secretary, Mr. Stewart, of the London and North Western Railway Company, had written, as mentioned, officially to say that the company would work the line for us on its completion, on fair and reasonable terms, our secretary was directed to apply to them at once to carry out their proposal. It will scarcely be credited that a company of such high repute and position as the London and North Western Railway should have acted so dishonourably, but they repudiated the whole transaction. Mr. Stewart was dead, the Duke of Buckingham had ceased to hold the chairmanship, and this refusal was then ratified by the then London and North Western Board. In all my experience I do not know of a more unwarrantable act. I am at a loss to conceive why this conduct was pursued; probably it was to force the A and B Company to sell their line to the repudiating company. The Great Western Company were then applied to, and an arrangement was made with them to find locomotive power, a first, second, and third class carriage, with guard's van, driver, stokers, and guard; our company to supply oil for lighting, with station masters and porters. I forget the exact amount, but I think it was 1s, 1½d per mile, about 13s 6d per trip, for three trips, a day. I am mentioning these details as a record of a poor struggling line. We were all greatly pleased that our efforts had been crowned with success, but the traffic had to be obtained and developed. In this we were thwarted by obstacles created by the London and North Western at every one of their stations. As an instance, passengers from Oxford, Banbury, Buckingham, or Bicester, who wished to go to Aylesbury, were carried past our junction at Verney to Bletchley, nine miles, then to Leighton Buzzard, seven, to Cheddington five, and finishing another seven miles at Aylesbury, making altogether twenty-eight miles with two changes, when they could have travelled via Verney on the A and B rail without change for twelve miles; and this was done, notwithstanding every attempt being made by us at all seven stations, to show the advantages of the new route. I found on inspection that these placards were hidden behind doors and other notices put over them. Coal traffic was diverted for thirty miles after, passing Verney junction, and sent to Oxford on to the Great Western broad gauge line. The rates per ton per mile of coal were charged 4d per ton if brought by A and B and only 1d per mile by Great Western Railway; thus, for seven miles to Princes Risbro' 2s 4d per ton was charged, which could be sent by other lines for 7d.

Shortly after our Bill had been first obtained in 1862, Mr Brydone, Mr Rummens, and myself busied ourselves with an improved approach to London, going carefully over the country, through Wendover, Missenden, Amersham to Rickmersworth[sic], Watford and district, also to Harrow and Uxbridge. We projected a line direct to the Metropolis, this having been, as I knew, a part of old George Stephenson's original line from London into the North, but as the authorities at Euston objected, we abandoned it to a future opportunity. It would be useless to attempt a record of the varied fortune which attended the applications to Parliament for a line up this Missenden valley, until at last the Duke of Buckingham and myself persuaded Sir Edward Watkin, with his right hand, Sir Myles Fenton, to join the Board of the A and B line, which in the end they agreed to do, on vacancies being arranged for them. Thereafter the new line was vigorously taken up; and finally, after nearly thirty years of frustrated endeavour, the Act was obtained, and the line completed and opened from Baker Street to Aylesbury. And a further development was projected, viz. the bold scheme of purchasing the despised Aylesbury and Buckingham, thus continuing the railway into the North, and joining the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire line. This was looked on as too Utopian for serious consideration, but through the determined action of Sir Edward Watkin, who, as Chairman of the Metropolitan, had succeeded in purchasing the A and B Co. for 100,000l, the line having cost us 167,000l, and had never earned a shilling for the shareholders, nor had the directors ever received a farthing for their services, or their expenses. This purchase gave the Metropolitan Company an advance of fifty-six miles to the North from London. Despite the violent opposition of all the northern lines, assisted also by the Great Western Company, the Act of Parliament was obtained, and the line is now in course of construction, and when completed the new Metropolitan station will be erected in the Marylebone Road, affording an entirely new route into the north by means of the much despised, and well sneered at, condemned little line, immortalised, as it was, as the A and B. Mr. Rummens, the chairman and original contractor, is now gone to his grave, after successfully opposing the honest claims of the original directors, for the advances they had made to construct and complete the line. He, as the largest shareholder, objected to all claims which militated against the value of his shares, and through the quibbles raised in the Court of Chancery lost us many thousands of pounds, depriving me alone of over 4,000l. I had the honour of representing this company in the Railway Clearing House for nearly twenty years, and had an opportunity of meeting many delightful, business-like men, as representatives of all the great railways in the kingdom, whose agreeable companionship will never be forgotten by me.

The text in this Quainton Railway Society publication was written in 1979 and so does not reflect events in the 35+ years since publication. The text and photographs are repeated verbatim from the original publication, with only a few minor grammar changes but some clarifying notes are added if deemed necessary. The photos from the original publication are provided as scans in this internet version of this long out of print publication.

Origin of a Railway - The Aylesbury and Buckingham Line - Quainton News No. 38 - Spring / Summer 1979

Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
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