Friends of Alton Station
A Footbridge for Alton Station
The 1852 terminus station only had one platform, so there was no need for passengers to cross the tracks. However, when the station was rebuilt in 1865 with two platforms, passengers were expected to cross the tracks on the level or approach by a path from the south side of the embankment leading from paper Mill Lane. Apparently a foot subway was proposed in 1884 when the ownership of the railway was transferred to the London and South Western Railway (LSWR), but was rejected, so it wasn't until 1892 that an open wooden footbridge was provided.
We can't find a picture of this early form of the bridge at Alton, but above you can see photos of similar LSWR examples. On the left is the footbridge at Wadebridge, part of the 'withered arm' LSWR railway to Padstow in Cornwall. The next three pictured were on the Meon Valley Railway (left to right): West Meon, Droxford and Wickham. We also know that the earlier design of this bridge, with corner trusses, was installed at West Clandon, Oxshott and Andover Town stations.
The open footbridge at Alton station was not popular with ladies, so they successfully lobbied the LSWR to have the bridge roofed and the lattice sides boarded over (internally) in 1894. Clearly they were not satisfied with this because the bridge was fully enclosed with windows in 1896 and this is more or less the form we see today. This story of the ladies of Alton lobbying the railway company must play a small role in the lead up to the suffragette movement to give women the vote and other rights within the male-dominated society of the day.
Until recently, the ladies of Alton story was anecdotal. In November 2016 Local historian Jane Hurst looked back through the old newspapers and found the missing evidence. There were two letters published in the Alton Gazette in March 1894 that record the event:
March 9th: The Footbridge at the Railway Station:-
"The Directors of the London and South Western Railway Company through their general manager, Mr Chas Scotter, have been petitioned by the ladies of Alton to erect a covering over the bridge at the Railway Station. It is to be hoped that success will attend the request of the petitioners, as passengers at present are uncomfortably exposed to the inclemency of the weather while going over this bridge, in a way they are quite justified in resenting."
March 16th: The Footbridge at the Railway Station:-
"We are pleased in being able to inform our readers that the efforts of the ladies who have petitioned the L & S W Railway directors respecting this bridge, as recorded in these columns last week, are destined to be crowned with success; the following letter having been received by Mrs Wickham, that lady having kindly allowed us to give it publication.
'L & S W Railway, Secretary’s Office, Waterloo, London, 23rd February, 1894
Madam- The Chairman desires me to inform you, in reply to your letter of the 20th inst., that the Company’s Engineer is about to be instructed to improve the footbridge at Alton Station in a manner that will be found satisfactory.
I am, yours truly, W J Macaulay, Secretary.'
Mrs S E Wickham, Binsted-Wyck, Alton, Hants."
Jane Hurst adds: "Mrs Wickham was Sophia Emma Wickham (née Shaw Lefevre) 1833 - 1929 , wife of William Wickham (1831-1897) of Binsted Wyck near Alton. William was a Member of Parliament for Petersfield and a High Sheriff of Hampshire and they were important members of the community."
What we can learn from the plans
Fortunately for us, Network Rail hold the plans for all three stages of the bridge's construction (low resolution versions shown on left) in their archives and you can buy prints or high-resolution digital copies from them using this link:
What the plans reveal is that the original design of the struts is different to what we see today. Although it was first thought that the structure of the bridge had been altered, we now think that the plans were never updated to reflect the later design of LSWR footbridge. The earlier design braced the top level of the bridge with corner trusses, but these probably interfered with what is known as the loading gauge (the clearance required for all structures that trains pass near). The later design, seen in photos at the top of this page of the footbridges on the Meon Valley Line and at Wadebridge in Cornwall, used a trapezoid frame structure that braced the structure within the height of the handrail.
What we do know is that the after the alterations had been made in 1892 and 94, the boarding infill was on the inside of the cross-struts, as seen on platform 3 (Mid-Hants Railway) at Alton station. The addition of the roof required the addition of some rather nice shaped wooden braces at the lower edge of the framing and again this is seen on the side facing platform 3. The rest of the footbridge has external matchboarding and the braces have gone. We think this might have been done between the wars by Southern Railway, probably to stop the weather from rotting the angled struts.
There are other interesting things we can learn from the plans. The 1892 and 1896 plans both show the footbridge in a different location on the site plan (see image above, on right-hand side). As it happens, there is an Ordnance Survey plan of the station dated 1896 and it shows the bridge in its current location, so it rather suggests that a decision was taken in 1892 to position the bridge in a different place. In any case, if the bridge had been located where it was shown on the plans, the creation of platform 3 for the Meon Valley Railway in 1903 would have necessitated the relocation of the footbridge because it would have been too close to the new platform face.
The 1892 plans tell us in great detail about the bridge construction, including the fact that is almost entirely bolted together, with very few tenon joints. It also shows that each wooden leg was bolted into a specially-made cast iron 'shoe' that was bolted onto a concrete foundation. Although they are not visible, similar smetal shoes can be seen at Eridge station where there is a similar vintage footbridge. The 1896 plans tell us that the windows were priced at £90. According to the Bank of England's inflation calculator, this would be £10,800 at 2015 prices.
Even the smallest details on the plans have something to add to the story. The 1892 plans have a hand-written note at the top saying, "Clinker footbridge similar to this erected at Clandon 1894." This note led us to find photos of the Clandon footbridge and also at Andover Town station, giving us photos of the bridge type with the angled corner struts, as per the plans. The other slightly interesting fact is that all the footbridge plans have the number 1490A at the top, indicating that this was the original bridge number, since changed to 45A. We suspect that this change was made in 1923 when the London and South Western Railway was absorbed into the Southern Railway when 'the big four' railway companies were formed by government.
The Bridge Today
The pictures above are to illustrate some of the features of the footbridge today. Whilst the internal matchboards have gone from the centre section of the bridge, they survive on the flight of stairs on platforms 2 & 3. A lot of original features have survived, including the cross bracing of the balustrade, hidden behind the panelling. The bridge has served Altonians for well over a century, but the modern requirement for access for all led to a new bridge being built further along the platform. Once this was opened, it turned the historic or heritage footbridge into an extra burden for Network Rail and South West Trains. In the end it comes down to who is going to pay to make the bridge safe and to restore it for posterity, and that's why there have been protracted negotiations to save the bridge. To read more see: Restoring 1892 Footbridge.
HISTORY Page Index
Introduction: The Railway Comes to Alton
Basingstoke & Alton Light Railway
Meon Valley Railway
Longmoor Military Railway
Bentley & Bordon Light Railway
Click on these links, or use the drop-down menu above to navigate between the pages.