The station through time

The earliest images of Culham station we have found are the original contractor's drawings from 1843. These drawings are held by the Network Rail Corporate Archive who very kindly scanned and made them available to us. The full set of images can be seen on their Culham Station Gallery where they may now also be purchased. The full sized drawings are quite large so only extracts are shown below. These drawings were produced for the Oxford Railway Company and are entitled Dorchester Road Station whilst it was actually called Abingdon Road when first opened. Also included in the set is a sheet entitled Dorchester Road Goods Shed - Abbingdon [sic]. The ticket office (on platform 2) and the waiting shelter (on platform 1) drawings do not indicate the relevant platform as we might now expect, but the ticket office is appended Departure and the waiting shelter Arrival.

It is interesting to note that the drawings show the Ticket Office to be constructed with stone or flint walls and not brick infill as actually built. Although of a different design, similar construction was used for the station building at Chinnor, home of the Chinnor & Princess Risborough Railway, which has been beautifully rebuilt with stone infill as per the original. As with the stone/brick infill differences these early drawings may not reflect the station 'as built' condition.

Contractor drawing
Contract drawings from 1843
Oxford Railway - Dorchester Road Station © Network Rail Corporate Archive

Pangbourne station in 1846
Pangbourne in 1846
Print originally published by J.C.Bourne
Author's collection

Whilst not of Culham, this print included in his book The Great Western Railway of 1846 by J.C.Bourne gives some idea of what the station might have looked like in its early Broad Gauge days. The ticket office is almost identical to that at Culham as is the platform shelter which can be seen opposite. David & Charles produced a limited edition large format, but abridged, reprint of the original book in 1969.

1904 Leach's postcard
Postcard published by Leach's Printers of Abingdon
Author's collection

Culham station in 1904

This hand tinted postcard was printed by T.Leach of Bath Street, Abingdon. Although published in 1904 the actual photograph may have been taken a year or two previously. Posted by a student at Culham College who wrote that he was looking forward to once more standing on this platform, presumably to return home at the end of term. It is franked 'Abingdon 28 Oct 1904'.

In this view the original signal box can be seen with the signal man leaning out surveying the scene. Platform 2 does appear to be quite busy. As originaly built, passengers at stations such as Culham were expected to cross the line via a boarded crossing as in the foreground. This must still have been the case in 1904 as there is no sign of a footbridge. A safer alternative would have been to use the arched road bridge in the background. To the right is the original platform shelter and behind it the 'Railway Hotel' as it was then called. Near the centre of the picture can be seen the head shunt from the goods shed with some discarded conical milk churns. The very tall telegraph pole carries many wires, all presumably for use by the railway.

1908 plan of Culham station
Layout of station in 1908
Original document held by Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

In 1908, the Rt. Hon. Lewis Harcourt M.P. entered into an agreement with the GWR for the installation of some telephone wires across the line. More details of this and another earlier agreement can be found under the 'Nuneham House' page under the 'BITS & BOBS' menu tab. The original documents are held in the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre in Chippenham, itself a town with interesting Brunel and railway links. Included with the agreement is the above plan showing the proposed telephone wires in red. It is included here as, being a scaled drawing, it serves to document what the track layout was at the time and the relative position of the railway buildings.

Another interesting historical note is that the foot crossing at the end of the platforms is clearly shown, but a footbridge is still absent. This means of crossing the line was becoming increasingly dangerous with at least one fatality. One final observation is that the ticket office is shown as being parallel with the platform edge. As mentioned under the 'Electrification' page under the 'ABOUT' menu tab this is not quite true. As with many old buildings absolute squareness is a rareity and the Old Ticket Office is no exception.

Footbridge under construction sometime around 1910
Courtesy of the Great Western Trust

Footbridge being erected around 1909/10

We are very grateful to Laurence Waters for making available this unique image from the Great Western Trust archive which featured in his book Oxfordshire Railways in Old Photographs - a Second Selection. It shows workmen constructing what would be the very first footbridge connecting the two platforms. This helps to date the photograph, as we know the bridge is not present on the 1908 plan above but is seen in the photograph below from 1919. Another clue can be obtained from examining old 25inch to the mile O.S. maps. The bridge is absent from the map revised in 1897 and published in 1899, but clearly shown (along with the relatively new Station House) on the 1910 revision published in 1912. So 1909/10 is an educated guess until we find out different.

Close examination of the photograph reveals that the footbridge has yet to have its stair treads installed, and the canopy roof is clearly a work in progress. Health and safety would not have been a requirement at the time, as evidenced by the workman posing casually on a ladder leant against one of the smoke deflectors. We hope a train was not due soon! One workman is standing and another is kneeling on a temporary planked platform with what appears to be a large paint tin beside him. The 'Changes at Culham' page contains a close up of this portion of the photograph.

This photograph was taken from the forecourt of the Railway Hotel and shows the end of the waiting room building on the Down platform, just in front of which can be seen a man with a donkey cart.

The station in June 1919
Courtesy of the Great Western Trust

The station in June 1919

As yet we have little information about this image from the Great Western Trust archive, but it is believed to date from 14th June 1919.

The photograph has been taken from a vantage point underneath the Abingdon Road overbridge and so affords a better view of that end of the station platforms than if it had been taken from the footbridge as has been more common. Whilst the platforms are devoid of passengers, there seems to be some luggage waiting on Platform 2 together with one or two parcel trolleys with a porter nearby. On Platform 1 what appears to be another porter is hurrying away from the camera. Conical milk churns can be seen here and there and gas lamp standards, a bench seat and nameboard can also be seen before the footbridge. A few wagons stand on the cattle dock siding with open countryside beyond, this being well before RNAS Hornbill was developed. The tidyness of the station is emphasised by the well kept shrubs and other plantings, and the seemingly immaculate fencing.

GWR drawing of Culham dated February 1935
Elevations as existing in 1935
Drawn by GWR Architects Office, Paddington Station © Network Rail Corporate Archive

In the absence of any photographs from this period we have included an extract from a scale drawing dated February 1935 apparently detailing the old ticket office as existing at the time. This is one of a series of drawings made available to us by the Network Rail Corporate Archive and is available to purchase from their online store at Culham Station Gallery. However its accuracy in detail is somewhat questionable as these elevations do not show the second (unused) chimney nor any of the other flues which would have been present, any rainwater goods or the false window in the end elevation. A contentious issue is the valance which is shown on the approach elevation. It is the subject of much debate as to whether one was ever installed along this edge of the canopy, however it can clearly be seen on a photograph taken in 1911 so could have been an original feature which was removed in the years prior to 1975 when photographs now show it to be absent. To further complicate things, the original contract drawings from 1843 show no valances at all, although this may not represent the 'as built' situation. The ends of the roof beams along the forecourt and end elevations have chamfer detailing which, although seen along the forecourt which now has no valance, is hidden at the ends suggesting a valance was a later addition. A puzzling detail which serves to illustrate how buildings can alter over time according to prevailing fashion or design standards.

Just visible to the right of the main building is the end of the Parcels Office with its 'Pagoda' shaped roof. This drawing is useful as it also places and scales the original footbridge and confirms the presence in 1935 of a wall mounted Post Box by the main entrance. This suggests that a Post Box had been installed before the current one which carries the Royal cipher of King George VI who didn't come to the throne until 1936.

One final detail visible to the right of the main entrance door is what appears to be a wooden cabinet with a lever to one side and a spout near the bottom suggesting that it is a hand pump. Possibly used only as an external water supply no evidence remains of the pump, however there is a small drain and what could be a patch where a pipe may have emerged from the ground in the right place. The water table is reportedly not very far below the trackbed level so it is possible that such a water supply was viable but, as yet, no photographs have been found which show a pump.

The station in the mid 1950 The station in the mid 1950s
Lens of Sutton Collection

The station in the early 1950s

These two photographs are both from the Lens of Sutton Collection. The first photograph is a desolate view looking down the platform towards Didcot taken sometime in the very early 1950s. The covered footbridge appears to have been here for some years as it is in poor repair and blackened by smoke from passing trains. The second was first published (slightly cropped) by O.P.C. in 1976 in the book An Historical Survey of Selected Great Western Railway Stations - volume 1 by R.H.Clark which is now published by Crécy Publishing Limited. Looking the other way the goods shed can be seen on the left with a Culham station nameboard in the foreground, and the cattle dock siding which is still in use to the right. The connection to RNAS Hornbill is also just visible and the canopy from the platform waiting shelter can just be seen in the foreground on the extreme right. The shelter must be a relatively recent addition as it does not appear in the photograph above which was taken in 1919 but can be seen on the plan below.

1950s track layout
Plan of station in the early 1950s
Drawn by British Railways (Western Region) Chief Civil Engineer's Office, courtesy National Railway Museum ©Science and Society Picture Library

This undated drawing must originate from the early to mid 1950s as it shows the connection to RNAS Hornbill and is attributed to British Rail. It shows the changes to track layout and platform extensions when compared to the 1908 plan above. An interesting point is that a building next to the 'Station Master's House' (or Station House) on the approach road is labelled as being the 'Old Cafe', and a small building attached to the 'Railway Hotel' is labelled as 'Cafe' with steps leading down to it from the bridge embankment. It is hard to visualise sufficient passing trade to justify a Cafe but one must have existed for a reasonable length of time, possibly relying on trade from the air base and downsizing at some point.

Close examination of the large scale plan reveals some detail of the internal layout of the Old Ticket Office at that time. Identified are the Ladies' Waiting Room, the Booking Hall, the Booking Office and a room designated as the Station Master's Office. The latter has an internal partition which formed a lobby area connecting it to the Booking Office and the doorway onto the platform. This partition was taken down in 1984 and marks remain to show where it had been. There is a small hatchway in the partition between the Booking Office and the Station Master's Office - too small for most practical purposes but possibly there so he could keep an eye on the office next door. A long flue from a stove can be seen emerging from the roof above this office in the colour slides from 1977 below. During cold weather the Station Master must have been cosy in his small office. This end of the building was originally used as the parcels office, but when the change of use took place is unknown. A separate outbuilding labelled 'Parcels' is shown on the platform between the main station building and the signal box.

The station in 1958 The station in 1958
Courtesy of Pendon Museum

Sometime in 1958

These two photographs are shown courtesy of the Pendon Museum archive. It looks as if they were taken one summer afternoon and the first shows the scene being surveyed by a gentlemen in shorts and sandals and wearing glasses. Could this be Roye England himself on a fact finding visit for the model of Pendon Parva featured at Pendon Museum? Electricity is supplied by overhead cable, and a busy telegraph pole can be seen on the left. The signalman's motorcycle mentioned with the August picture below is parked just under the awning and the pergola roofed parcels office is seen to advantage.

The second photograph gives us a good view of the waiting room on platform 1 together with the goods shed. The platform face clearly shows where it was extended in the 1920s when the track layout was amended. Taken from a slightly different angle to the photograph from earlier in the decade, it does serve to show how the paintwork has become pretty time worn in the intervening years. Interestingly, the telegraph pole seen in the earlier view has now gone.

The station in August 1958
J.D.Edwards, courtesy of the Great Western Trust

A damp day in August 1958

This photograph, from the Great Western Trust archive, appears in the book GWR Then and Now by Laurence Waters first published by Ian Allan in 1994, now published by Crécy Publishing Limited. It is an interesting view as the old broad gauge goods shed features prominently. The home signal is just visible above the waiting shelter on platform 1 the roof of which appears to have had its original covering replaced by corrugated sheeting. The station itself looks well kept and tidy, with a porter wheeling a trunk up the platform under the shelter of the awning ready to load onto the approaching train. This is the Oxford to Reading stopping service hauled by 4-6-0 locomotive no 5983 Henley Hall.

The signal box is still almost new as it was built in 1953/4 to replace the original. An old lady visited during the Heritage Open Days in 2014 and saw this photograph. She explained that her husband had been a signalman at Culham and he used to ride his motorcycle to work each day, parking it on the platform next to the ticket office where it can just be seen in the photograph. He must have been on duty when the photo was taken, which we all thought was nice.

The station in 1960
Courtesy of Pendon Museum

January 1960

Another photograph courtesy of the Pendon Museum archive and believed to have been taken in January 1960. The overhead power supply cable is much in evidence and the difference in platform edging shows where the platform had been extended to run across the front of the signal box. The old van (is it an Austin A35?) helps to confirm the date of the photograph as it shows a mixture of Great Western (notice board) and British Rail (fire buckets) details. A large hangar from the old air base can be seen, together with one or two wagons standing on the siding leading to the base. After the closure of RNAS Hornbill, the site was used by the Admiralty as a storage facility until 1960 when it was handed over to the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

The station on 15th May 1966
M.Hale, courtesy of the Great Western Trust

The station on 15th May 1966

First published by O.P.C. in 1976, the book An Historical Survey of Selected Great Western Railway Stations - volume 1 by R.H.Clark includes this image from the Great Western Trust archive. This interesting book is now published by Crécy Publishing Limited. A sole passenger (or train spotter) occupies the station in this view taken from the book. The tall telegraph pole has gone, but the original shelter remains on platform 1 and the lattice footbridge still retains its roof.

Just visible on the left is a two lever frame. Reference to signalling diagrams reveals that it was used for placing detonators on the line. Whilst such levers were sometimes installed within signal boxes (such as was the case at Banbury North for example), it was apparently common for the GWR to place them trackside directly outside the cabin. Detonator placing levers were painted black with white chevrons indicating 'up' or 'down' line, but the photograph is too small to make this out. Above the levers one can make out the closed white gate which used to seperate the public station forecourt from the cattle pens. It is quite removed from the position of a similar gate as shown on the 1908 plan above. It is possible that it was repositioned when RNAS Hornbill was opened and the estate road to Nuneham House was closed.

The Old Ticket Office in the early 1970s
Courtesy of Stanley C.Jenkins

The Ticket Office in the early 1970s

This view was made available to us courtesy of Stanley C.Jenkins from his personal collection. Whilst undated, it is possible to deduce that this image was captured sometime after 1972 as there is no sign of either the signal box or goods shed and just visible on platform 1 is the horrible replacement waiting shed. The station still looks reasonably tidy although pretty desolate now. This view is useful as it shows the original wooden platform fencing and the gate which would hve given access to the cattle loading dock.

The Ticket Office in 1975

Two visitors survey a sad looking Ticket Office in this photograph taken by an unknown observer in 1975.

It is apparent that not a lot of maintenance has been carried out in recent years and the building has been left to rot. The presence of railway posters does show that the station is still in use however. Various flues protrude through the roof and the door to the Waiting Room is painted in a light colour which matches the window frames. On the large version of this image a pair of old ceramic telephone wire insulators can be seen on the roof just above the doorway with the broken wire left dangling. The underside of the canopy looks to be in a terrible state and the bricks and stonework are stained with algae. Close examination reveals that the glass in both panes of the window in the Ladies' Cloakroom has been smashed with the window temporarily boarded up from the inside. The window bars have been removed, presumably to facilitate its repair - a job which could not be left undone.

The station in the mid 1970s The station in the mid 1970s
The station in the mid 1970s The station in the mid 1970s
Unknown photographer, Author's collection

Culham in the late 1970s

Here are a series of four colour slides which were taken towards the end of the 1970s, probably in 1977 just before the ticket office closed to the public. Posters are still attached to the building, mostly on the platform side, and what look to be heater flue pipes stick up through the roof. Access to Platform 2 is to the side of the left most fence post in the final view, just out of shot. For some reason a number of the stone window sills have been painted white.

The original footbridge remains, but the signal box, brick waiting shelter on Platform 1 and the Goods Shed have long gone. The footbridge roof which is visible in the images from the 1950s and 1960s above was removed at some point, but the supports and valance were left in situ certainly until 1973. In the view here these too have mostly been removed.

It will be a few years before the new Platform 2 is built and so some hints of trackbed where the sidings were can just be made out in an enlargement of the view from the old road bridge. In the distance can be seen some of the original hangars from RNAS Hornbill, now lying within Culham No. 1 Site. On the second slide Station House can just be seen on the right behind the Ticket Office.

A BR poster at the station in 1979
Photograph ©Jay Tilston

BR poster taken in 1979

'Have a good trip!', Inter-City poster at Culham. This photograph was taken by Jeremy Tilston when he visited Culham station sometime in 1979.

The ticket office will have been closed to the public for a year or two by now, and the general air of abandonment is evident in this picture. We can see the curiously painted white window sill and green algae on the walls which is a sign of persistent damp.

An old telephone cable can just be seen crossing above the poster and entering the office throught the wooden window frame. Nobody ever seemed much bothered to remove redundant cable of any description during any of the refurbishments, including the mains cabling serving the defunct strip lights under the platform canopy. A new telephone cable had been installed at some point however and enters the building via a hole in the waiting room wall wending its way down to a modern master socket fixed to the wall. Even that was not operational as there was at least one line break which had to be fixed when Entikera moved in. There were many lengths of cut telephone cable dangling from various places outside, going from nowhere to nowhere. It was amazing how much tidier the building looked once these had been cleared away.

Culham in 1980

This unattrubuted photograph shows Platform 2 and the Ticket Office as viewed from the footbridge. Whilst being taken within a year of those above and below, being in monochrome, it is perhaps a little kinder to the station. Gaps can however be seen in the dagger board valance and bushes are growing behind the wooden Gents' toilet screen. The area which the cattle dock and associated trackwork once occupied now seems completely devoid of features. Just to the far end of the platform a patch of plain tarmac and a gap in the platform supporting wall indicate where the 'new' signal box once stood. The platform edge appears to have been newly painted as white paint has run over the edge and dripped onto the ballast below. The white paint on the stone bay window sill and door surrounds, together with other white 'detailing' looks very fresh too - perhaps completed as part of the same project.

Drysllwyn Castle on 3rd Sptember 1981
Photograph © Chris Jennings

Drysllwyn Castle in 1981

Chris Jennings took this photograph from an unusual vantage point. It shows 5051 Drysllwyn Castle steaming through Culham with a special on 3rd September 1981, The headboard reads Anniversary Venturer. The horrible replacement waiting shelter on Platform 1 can be seen together with rubbish and discarded concrete sleepers littering the end of Platform 2 where the cattle dock and loop once stood.

The Ticket Office in February 1984 The Ticket Office in February 1984
Images © Crown copyright, Historic England Archive

The Ticket Office in 1984

These photographs from the Historic England archive were taken by Michael Hesketh-Roberts in February 1984, just before work commenced on alterations to convert the ticket office for use as a hobby room. During the previous six or seven years more liberal use of white paint has resulted in the stone door surrounds and other bits of stonework being highlighted. The office looks a bit sad although some tidying up has been done as various wonky flue pipes which were poking out from the roof have been removed. The only flue still visible, from the Station Master's office, looks to be relatively new and straight! A larger version of the first photograph was included in a book published some years ago about station architecture and just visible in that one is a small flue or vent pipe above the Ladies' Cloakroom. Close examination also reveals that the doors facing the station forecourt have changed colour to match those opening onto the platform. These changes were probably carried out as part of the refurbishment which was given approval to proceed in October 1978. Otherwise, the building is almost unchanged since its closure to the public.

Whilst the ticket office has not been operational for some time, the name 'Culham' still appears above the Waiting Room door and a timetable poster remains on the wall, both there presumably because the platform itself is still in use. Otherwise only shadows remain as an indication of where posters would have been fixed in better days. Just visible in the bay window and Waiting Room door on the platform side are two 'To Let' notices.

The Ticket Office in 1985
Photograph © Clive Warneford, Wikimedia Commons

The Ticket Office in 1985

Following the work sanctioned in 1984, the old gents' entrance is now barred with a substantial metal gate and the cistern which used to be visible attached to the wall above has been taken down. The old wooden screen round the entrance to the toilets has also been removed and the Station Master's office flue has disappeared. The vent pipe above what was the Ladies' Cloakroom remains. It is still there (in 2017) and there is no sign of it inside so it's a mystery what it is (or was) for although something may be hidden above the very old false ceiling. Platform 2 is still in use however with access now being through an opening in the fence just out of shot to the right of the building.

The Ticket Office in the late 1980s
Unknown photographer

The Ticket Office sometime in the late 1980s

It is difficult to accurately date this photograph which we were sent with no information at all. However, the ticket office does look clean and tidy with concrete bollards being neatly spaced in front of the building. These do not appear in any photographs prior to this one so they could well have been put in place as part of the work done in 1984. The new metal gate to the old gents' (now an outside store) is just visible, with the station fence starting at the corner of the building so that access to the store is from Platform 2. This would be consistent with the above photograph which is known to have been taken during 1985 so this view must date from within a year or two of then.

The station in late 1987
Unknown photographer, Author's collection

The station in late 1987

This photograph reveals a tidy but totally deserted station. Written on the back is the date 15/9/87. The view is somewhat unusual as it has been taken from the trailing driver's cab of a DMU as it is drawing out of the station on its way towards Appleford and Didcot.

The Ticket Office in 2007
Unknown photographer

Sometime in 2007

It has proved impossible to find the original source for this image as it has featured on several other web sites without attribution. However, we have chosen to include it as it is the only photograph we have found from this period.

Taken on a sunny afternoon, it shows the Old Ticket Office only three or four years after the major refurbishment by Network Rail in 2003. The difference between this and earlier photographs is striking. Seemingly between tenants, a 'To Let' notice has been attached to the gable end visible from the footbridge. When Entikera enquired about the possibility of reinstating a couple of railway posters to add atmosphere it was strictly forbidden. Estate agents must be exempt from such rules - or perhaps they simply didn't ask.

The Ticket Office in 2014

Late August 2014

Having leased the Old Ticket Office from Network Rail earlier in 2014, Entikera Ltd opened their doors to the public for four days in September 2014 as part of the National Heritage Open Days scheme. This was the first time in almost 40 years that the public had been able to view the inside of this unique listed building. Local media keenly covered the event with The Oxford Mail carrying an illustrated article and Radio Oxford transmitting two live reports from the Ticket Office on their morning show. Posters advertising the Open Days can just be seen in the windows in this photograph taken during August.

Following his visit during the 2015 Open Doors weekend, one visitor posted a blog with photographs which can be seen by clicking or tapping this link.

November 2017

Wednesday the 29th November 2017 saw a surprise visit by Phil Parker and team from the magazine British Railway Modelling to the Old Ticket Office. He recorded the visit on his blog which can be seen at Phil's Workbench. This blog carries a photograph of Station House, the Old Ticket Office seen from platform 1, and a view of Pendon Parva station (at the famous Pendon Museum) which is based on Culham. The team were meeting up at Culham station before going on to Pendon Museum to record a magazine feature for publication in 2018. They were pleasantly surprised to find the ticket office occupied and actually stayed for nearly an hour recording both video footage and stills.

A snowy station in December 2017

First snow in 2017

This photograph was taken in early December. The newly fallen snow adds a timeless quality to the Old Ticket Office. It was hoped to capture a unique image of 'Black 5' 45212 steaming through with an excursion from Slough to Stratford-on-Avon. Whilst the train started on time, the adverse weather sadly caused it to be cancelled after only reaching Reading but this view made going to the station worthwhile. Many services were affected on that Sunday, with a points failure also adding to the problems.

Drone shot of the Old Ticket Office
Courtesy of BRM magazine

Fame in 2018

The February 2018 issue of British Railway Modelling carried a very special dvd with coverage of their visit to Culham featuring as the first item and that to Pendon forming the other. The Old Ticket Office had its 5 minutes of fame! A short preview of the dvd was put on the BRM YouTube channel and can be viewed by clicking or tapping this link. Whilst the preview only features the station for a few seconds, it does have this nice drone shot of a train passing through.

July 2019 and the flowers are all out

175th anniversary, June 2019

June 2019 saw great excitement and activity at Culham as we celebrated the 175th anniversary of both the Old Ticket Office and that of the Didcot to Oxford railway. The actual anniversary on 12th June was marked by GWR running a special non-stop train from Oxford to Paddington, setting a new speed record in a time of 37 minutes and 35 seconds! The ticket office was open to the public on Saturday 15th when events took place all along the line, and again on Sunday 16th June. You can read all about our open weekend, and the record breaking train, by visiting the '175th Anniversary celebrations' item under the 'ABOUT' menu tab, or you can go straight there now by clicking or tapping this link.
Here we see the building in the early morning sun during the July. The flowers were a bit too late for our anniversary open days, but they certainly look splendid now.