Andover Canal: Latter Days
The Manchester & Southampton Railway (M&SR) agreed in 1845 to purchase the canal for £30,000. A Bill was presented to Parliament but failed; a further attempt in 1847 also failed. However, the London & South Western Railway (L&SWR) were authorised to build a line from Basingstoke through Andover to Salisbury thus providing a roundabout route from Andover to Southampton. The L&WSR also obtained powers to buy the canal to build the Andover and Southampton Junction Railway (A&SJR). Work on the railway from Basingstoke was started but stopped in 1849 as a result of difficulties in raising the necessary finance. Work on the A&SJR didn’t even start and the powers to build it lapsed.
In the same year, the canal company started carrying goods on the canal themselves, buying the sixteen 18-ton barges working on the waterway. The existing carriers had told the company that without large toll reductions they could not continue.
The M&SR and the L&SWR agreed with the canal company in 1850 that when the purchase money was paid, the canal would be closed. An advance of around £9,000 was distributed to the canal shareholders (the only return they ever received on their investment), but the purchase was not completed. In 1851, the Basingstoke & Salisbury Railway was set up by local interests to finish the line left uncompleted by the L&SWR. The railway eventually reached Andover in 1854, when the canal company was forced to reduce its rates in order to retain traffic.
The L&SWR became interested in the canal again when the Great Western Railway (GWR) was involved in a company that proposed a Salisbury to Southampton extension of the GWR’s broad gauge line to Salisbury from Westbury opened in June 1856. This company made a provisional agreement to buy the canal in 1856 and notice was given for a Bill to close the waterway but the railway Bill was rejected by Parliament. The L&SWR line from Andover to Salisbury opened in 1857.
The next year, however, the canal proprietors themselves formed the Andover Canal Railway Company (later renamed to the Andover & Redbridge Railway) with a capital of £130,000. Notionally an independent company, it seems that they acted with the agreement of the GWR who wished to build a broad gauge line along the canal to Southampton with a possible link northwards to the GWR at Pewsey. After opposition from the L&SWR, an agreement with GWR was eventually reached in 1862 that the former should purchase the new railway company and that the line should be built as standard gauge.
The canal was closed on 19 September 1859. The railway paid £25,357 for the navigation. The Andover and Redbridge Railway Company was absorbed by the L&SWR in 1863. The ‘Sprat and Winkle’ line, as the railway came to be known, was opened with little ceremony on 6 March 1865 as a single track, having used about 14½ miles of the bed of the canal.
In its early years, the railway, serving a sparse intermediate population, showed little sign of making money, and its train services were slow and infrequent. It even achieved some local notoriety for uncomfortable travel because much of the track had been laid on the bed of the canal. Using the canal alignment resulted in some very sharp curves, described by one L&SWR Director as “more like angles”. During the 1880s, the line was upgraded to double track and realigned to provide a through route from the Midland & South Western Junction Railway, which was to link Andover with Cheltenham. This widening and easing of bends obliterated yet more of the canal.
The railway was never very busy with rarely more than ten passenger trains each way on weekdays - less on Sundays. In addition there were a number of freight movements. Despite increases in traffic during the two World Wars, there was a steady decline in traffic in the 1950s and early 60s and passenger services between Andover and Southampton were withdrawn on 7th September 1964. The line from Kimbridge (railway) Junction (north of Romsey) to Andover Town was closed completely. Freight facilities remained at Andover Town station until September 1967. The track north of Kimbridge was dismantled in 1968-9.
The railway south of Kimbridge is still very much in use for trains between Southampton, Romsey, Salisbury and beyond. Much less of the canal bed was used in the construction and subsequent widening of the railway: only about 1.3 miles (2.1km) out of the 9.1 miles (14.6km) of canal south of Kimbridge. A consequence of this is that much of the southern section of the canal can still be traced on the ground.