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Queen Victoria's Railway

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This is the story of a local railway with royal connections. Operating between Fareham and Gosport in Hampshire, UK, the line was extended at the request of Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, to reach a private dock. This was used by the Royal Family when travelling to their home on the Isle of Wight, where they spent two holidays each year.

In addition, local folklore has said for many years that the branch line to the pier at Stokes Bay was constructed to provide Queen Victoria with an even shorter route to the island. The story states that the Queen was a poor sailor and would only take the shortest route. From the Stokes Bay pier, Ryde on the Isle of Wight was a little over three miles, considerably shorter than the sea route from the private dock in Gosport. This story does not appear to be true. There's no evidence that the Queen ever personally used the line or the station at Stokes Bay to reach the island at all. It appears that the branch line was built to provide an alternative route to the Isle of Wight for members of the public who would normally travel via Portsmouth to Ryde. Unfortunately, the commercial pressures on the line were too great, and it failed to thrive against its Portsmouth rival and never became the success its builders had expected.

The Routes

The main line was opened on 29 November, 1841 and ran between the following stations, for a total distance of 4.9 miles:

Fareham — Fort Brockhurst — Gosport

The branch line to Stokes Bay Pier was opened in 1863 and ran between the following stations, for a total distance of 6.1 miles:

Fareham — Fort Brockhurst — Gosport Road — Stokes Bay Pier

To aid travellers from Portsmouth there was a connection from the Gosport terminus to Stokes Bay Pier; this was constructed and operated by the Gosport Pier and Branch Railway, and ran between the following stations, for a total distance of 1.2 miles:

Gosport — Gosport Road — Stokes Bay Pier

Fort Brockhurst station also had a branch line to Lee-on-the-Solent near the Lee pier head. The pier was not a ferry terminal; Lee-on-the-Solent was then a small refined holiday resort. The total distance along this branch line was 3.7 miles:

Fort Brockhurst — Gomer Halt — Browndown Halt — Elmore Halt — Lee-on-the-Solent Pier

The main line to London was via the station at Fareham; this network of lines was owned and operated by the London and South Western Railway Company and was constructed to compete with the connection to Portsmouth. That network connected from Portsmouth to London via Guildford and was owned and operated by the London, Brighton And South Coast Railway Company.

The Start Of The Royal Connection

In 1841, Queen Victoria purchased a house on the Isle of Wight from Lady Isabella Blachford. Osborne House was intended as a family home for the Queen and her new husband Prince Albert. Albert found the original house too small and soon had it rebuilt in the Italian style; the renovation was finished in 1846, and left the house as it is today. Osborne House rapidly became the Queen's favourite family home.

The Start Of The Royal Railway

The Gosport terminus was used by the Royal Family on 8 October, 1843, when Prince Albert met and welcomed King Louis Philippe of France there, upon his arrival for a State visit. On 14 October, 1843, Queen Victoria travelled to Gosport with the royal visitor on his return to France.

The royal extension to the railway was constructed at the request of Prince Albert. The Prince approached the commander of the Royal Navy's Royal Clarence Victualing Yard at Gosport, with a view to constructing a station at the dockside. This station was to be built within the Royal Navy's yard and connected by a 500-yard (460m) stretch of line to the Gosport terminus, via a short tunnel excavated through the earthworks of the town's defences. The request was made to the commander to breach the defences to allow the passage of the line via the gated tunnel. The walls still had to retain a field of fire over Gosport station and the surrounding approaches.

The choice of the Royal Clarence Yard was made because this was the berth of the royal vessels, the HMY Victoria and Albert and the royal tender Fairy. It was these vessels that transported the Royal Family and their supplies to and from the Isle of Wight. And it was from the Royal Clarence Yard that a safe and secure point of departure was created. Perhaps this seemed a lot of fuss to go through, but it must be remembered that the entire royal household spent a total of four months on the Isle of Wight each year. Two holidays were taken – the summer break was from mid-July to late August and the Christmas holiday was from mid-December to late February. The Queen's private station and waiting rooms were constructed in September 1845 and when the Queen used the station, a carpet was laid from the train to the Royal Yacht.

This became the Queen's main route to London. So it would appear that neither the Queen nor any other member of the Royal Family ever used the line to the station at Stokes Bay Pier. That line was not constructed until 1863, two years after the death of Albert. The Gosport Pier and Branch Railway company stated at the time that the line was to be constructed for a royal purpose, which probably is the source of the confusion and the local legend, but it might have been only to encourage investment.

The only time that the Stokes Bay line was used by the Royal Household was for the ferrying of supplies to the island for the Queen and her family. Large quantities of luggage and supplies were transported during the Queen's two annual visits to Osborne House.

The railway did benefit from Queen Victoria, though. She made the Isle of Wight such a popular holiday destination that thousands of people visited it each year. Initially the crossing to the island was completed on the ferry Gareloch. By late 1863, however, it was replaced by the paddle steamer Her Majesty. Both ships were small - the larger of them was less than 100 tons - as they had to work close to the shore.

Queen Victoria's last trip on the line from her private dock was after her death; she was taken from Osborne House to the Royal Clarence Station, then to Waterloo station in London via the Fareham main line. She was accompanied by her son Edward VII, her grandson Kaiser Wilhelm, and many mourners on her last journey.

The Stations Today

  1. Fareham - is still in use as a Southern Region main line station.
  2. Fort Brockhurst - converted into a private home.
  3. Gosport - is preserved in its ruined state as a listed building.
  4. Royal Clarence Station - was demolished and built over.
  5. Gosport Road - was demolished and the site is now occupied by the White Hart public house.
  6. Stokes Bay Pier - this was demolished by army engineers when it partly collapsed.
  7. Gomer Halt - demolished (the site was near the junction of the B3333, Privett Road and Military Road Gosport).
  8. Browndown Halt - demolished after closure.
  9. Elmore Halt - demolished after closure.
  10. Lee on the Solent - the station is located near the Lee pier head. The building is now an amusement arcade.

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