Eastleigh is a railway town in Hampshire located five miles north of Southampton and seven miles south of Winchester. The people of Eastleigh get very offended when accused of being in Southampton, and maintain their independence strongly. Southampton and Winchester are both towns that have been continually occupied and important since Roman times, but Eastleigh itself owes its existence to a failure to build a railway between London and Portsmouth in the 19th Century.
Before the 19th Century, the area that is now Eastleigh consisted of a series of small farmsteads near the River Itchen - Allbrook, Barton, Boyatt, Ham, Home and Eastley. Originally Eastley was merely a tithing, an area containing ten households, in Southampton's parish of South Stoneham. In 932 a charter records that King Athelstan granted land at Eastlea to his thane Alfred. The Domesday Book of 1086 mentions Estleie. In 1591 Saint Swithun Wells, who lived in Eastley Manor House1, was executed for illegally celebrating Catholic mass in his home in Holborn - he was canonised in 1970. Little Eastley Farm existed when farmer William Warley mentioned it in his will in 1649.
In 1710 the River Itchen, which runs by what is now Eastleigh, was converted into a navigable canal between Winchester and Southampton to form the Itchen Navigation. This canal remained in use until 1869 when, having been replaced by the railway, it fell into disuse. In the early 1800s the most important buildings in the area were Little Eastley Farm and the nearby Eastley Manor, located three miles north-east.
In 1830 George Stephenson and the Rocket proved that railways could be profitable. Following the success of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, a company was formed in the south of England with the intention of building a railway between London and Portsmouth, home of the Royal Navy. The company planned to operate both a railway and commercial shipping line, and believed that by owning both it would have a distinct advantage over any competitor. However, as Portsmouth was an important strategic site, the Admiralty argued that any attempt to build a railway to the town would compromise its defences, and so Parliament denied permission for the line to go ahead. Instead the directors of the company chose to build a railway between London and Southampton, and in 1834 Parliament approved the London and Southampton Bill.
Work by the London and Southampton Railway Company began in 1837. A railway built in a straight line between London and Southampton would have passed the towns of Farnham in Surrey and Alton in Hampshire and probably bypassed Eastleigh completely. However, the line was instead built from Nine Elms (later Waterloo) station heading west via Basingstoke and Winchester because the newly formed company had ambitious plans to next build a line between Basingstoke and Bristol. Construction of the line through Hampshire's chalk hills took longer and cost more than had been expected, and as Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the Great Western Railway linked London and Bristol first, the Basingstoke to Bristol railway was never built. The railway reached as far as the hamlet of Eastley and its 80 inhabitants in June 1839 and the completed line opened in May 1840. On opening, the railway boasted of being able to 'whisk [passengers] along at the unheard of speed of 35mph' from Southampton to London in three hours nine times a day.
In 1839 the railway company changed its name to the London and South Western Railway Company (or LSWR for short), reflecting the fact that their ambitions lay far beyond mere Southampton2. Following the success of their first line, and to make up for the disappointment at being beaten to Bristol, the railway company decided to reopen their plan to build a line to Portsmouth. Rather than go to Portsmouth directly, they would build a railway line to Gosport, a town on the opposite side of Portsmouth Harbour, and operate a ferry service across the harbour into Portsmouth. With a railway line already existing between London and Southampton in Hampshire, it made sense to utilise this line for most of the way and then branch off before the River Itchen got too wide to easily bridge at a junction. The junction where the line to Gosport via Fareham branches off was in the area between the village of Bishopstoke3 and the hamlets of Eastley and Barton. Briefly called Barton Junction, it was soon renamed Bishopstoke Junction after the closest village, which was on the opposite bank of the Itchen. A station was built to allow passengers to change trains.
By 1847 another line branched off from the Bishopstoke Junction to Salisbury via Romsey. Passengers travelling from London to Salisbury needed to change at the junction. Finally in 1848 the railway made it to Portsmouth when a line was built between Fareham and Portsmouth, meaning that to travel to Portsmouth, passengers from London would also change at Bishopstoke Junction. Two hotels existed near the junction for the convenience of passengers. In 1852 the Hampshire County Cheese Market opened next to the railway junction, although it closed in 1860.
In 1850 the population of Eastley had reached 500, and in early 1861 there were 43 houses in the area. However, William Craven, Lord of the Manor of Eastley and a breeder of racehorses, became so indebted that he was forced to sell his estate in 1861 to Thomas Chamberlayne, who owned Barton Manor and land in Bishopstoke. The increasing population petitioned Government for a church. By December 1868 the Church of the Resurrection had been built on the site of the Little Eastley Farm. Author Charlotte Yonge, most famous for The Heir of Redclyffe and who lived in nearby Otterbourne, donated £500 towards the cost of the new church. She was asked to decide whether the new town that had grown up to engulf the hamlets of Barton and Eastley should be named Barton or Eastley. She decided on 'Eastleigh', which she felt was a more modern spelling of Eastley. The ecclesiastical parish of Eastleigh was created by Order in Council on 12 December, 1868.
Thomas Chamberlayne set up the Eastleigh and Bishopstoke Housing Association and, with Jonas Nichols4, designed a new town based on terraced housing arranged in a gridiron pattern. The houses were built from the clay soil found in plentiful supply in the local area, as many small brickworks had sprung up nearby in Chandler's Ford5. Most houses were small, designed to be for the working class population, but there were also larger houses built for supervisory staff.
By the 1880s Eastleigh had a vast marshalling yard where the shunting of thousands of wagons took place 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A railway line linked Southampton to Reading via Basingstoke, and the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway had been constructed. Both these lines passed through Eastleigh, vastly increasing the amount of railway traffic through the new town.
In 1871 there were over 100 houses, and Eastleigh's population had reached 1,000 by 1885. Its first annual carnival was held in 1887, and in 1891 there were more than 670 houses.
Carriage and Wagon Works
By 1889 the LSWR owned railway lines all across southern England. Realising their original railway carriage workshop facilities at Nine Elms in London were too small to cope with the vastly increased demand, and the availability and cost of land in London making expansion all but impossible, they decided to move to entirely new workshops elsewhere. Locations considered included Andover, Basingstoke6, Salisbury, and Winchester but it was Eastleigh, the location of a busy railway junction surrounded by plentiful cheap agricultural land, that was considered the perfect spot. Parliament gave their approval and, after land had been purchased from the Chamberlayne estate, the Carriage and Wagon Works were constructed for a total cost of £45,135.
On 6 June, 1889, Bishopstoke Junction was renamed Bishopstoke and Eastleigh Railway Station, as the railway had often received complaints from passengers that the station names 'Basingstoke' and 'Bishopstoke' were too similar.
In 1890 the London & South Western Railway opened their new carriage works, transferring 1,500 railway craftsmen and their families from London to Eastleigh. The population increased almost instantly to over 5,000. This sudden impact on the area meant that Eastleigh was transformed into little more than a refugee camp, with mud track roads that doubled as open sewers, very limited water supply, no street lighting, no schools and little or no accommodation for the workers or their families.
LSWR did pay for the church to be extended to accommodate Eastleigh's increased population7 and provided the Railway Institute for its employees, including a library containing 1,000 volumes, reading room, billiard room with three full-size tables, dance hall with capacity for 500 seats, a stage, dressing rooms and a tiered gallery capable of seating 100, and educational classrooms. The foundation stone was laid on 9 May, 1891 and the institute opened on 10 October the same year.
In 1894 the Parish Council Act separated Eastleigh from being part of South Stoneham in Southampton and formed Eastleigh Urban District, complete with its own council. Eastleigh's council first met on 5 January, 1895, and it was tasked with the hard work of converting the rural, overrun Eastleigh into a modern town. Street lighting, water, sewers and paved tree-lined avenues were all quickly introduced. Initially the Urban District was concerned only with the very small area of Eastleigh itself, bordered by the Itchen to the east and Monks Brook to the west.
Little Eastley Farm's fields became Eastleigh's recreation ground in 1896, when the Urban District Council bought the land for £4,926 11s 3d, with £2,000 of the money donated by the LSWR.
The neighbouring village of Bishopstoke, initially aghast at the refugee camp built on its doorstep, was so impressed with Eastleigh's rapid improvements and development that they requested a joint Eastleigh and Bishopstoke District Council, which was formed in 1899.
In 1907 the London and South Western Railway bought the nearby Castleman Railway which linked Brockenhurst, Ringwood and Hamworthy near Poole. The LSWR closed the Castleman Railway's engine sheds, wagon shops and maintenance workshops at Ringwood and transferred everything, staff included, to Eastleigh.
The current bandstand, built in 1909, replaced an earlier wooden structure. Eastleigh's war memorial, depicting an Angel of Victory, is one of only two of its kind in England, the other being in Islington.
As constructing the town of Eastleigh had been considered such a success, the railway's locomotive works moved to Eastleigh in 1910. The move included approximately 1,500 employees of the railway's Mechanical Engineers Department, adding an additional 5,000 people to the town including their families. To aid with the construction of houses and transportation of building material, a temporary railway line was laid alongside the places where the terraced houses for the employees were built. Once the houses were complete, a road replaced the line. The houses built by the railway were the first in Eastleigh to enjoy having an indoor bathroom.
The first engines built in Eastleigh were two 0-4-0 Class S14 tank engines designed by Dugald Drummond. It was not a successful design. These were followed by five class P14 4-6-0 tender engines also designed by Drummond, the first of which was constructed in 1910. The Eastleigh works also specialised in rebuilding older engines.
In January 1923 Britain's railways were amalgamated into four railway companies. The London and South Western Railway was merged with the London and Brighton South Coast, South Eastern and Chatham, Somerset and Dorset and the three Isle of Wight railway companies, the Isle of Wight Railway, Isle of Wight Central Railway and Freshwater, Yarmouth and Newport Railway, to form Southern Railway. The newly-founded company had 6,353 miles of running track, some of which was electrified, 1,205 miles of sidings, 2,281 locomotives, 7,500 coaches, 36,749 wagons, 41 steamboats and 11 hotels. Southern Railway continued to have their locomotive and wagon works in Eastleigh, and among the engines built there were the Lord Nelson 4-6-0 and Schools 4-4-0 classes. Southern Railway also began to develop electric trains there in the 1920s and 30s.
A town hall was built in 1928, which is now The Point theatre. In 1929 the council bought a large amount of land from the Fleming family of North Stoneham, named Fleming Park. From the start this recreation area was used as a sports complex, and today contains an indoor swimming pool, paddling pool and several sports facilities. In 1932 Chandler's Ford, separated from Eastleigh by Monks Brook, was added to the District of Eastleigh and an open-air swimming pool was built in Eastleigh, to discourage swimmers from using the River Itchen, although this was later superceded by the indoor swimming pool in Fleming Park. In 1936, Eastleigh Library was built and Eastleigh was granted Borough Status by Edward VIII, so the town was given the right to elect a Mayor and Aldermen. During Edward VIII's visit, he was shown the secret prototype aircraft at Eastleigh Airport: the very first Spitfire.
During the Second World War the locomotive works converted carriages into hospital trains, and made glider aircraft and motor torpedo boats as well as repairing locomotives.
In 1948 all public utilities were nationalised, and British Rail was formed out of the four railway groupings. In 1963 Eastleigh twinned with two other railway towns, Villeneuve-St-Georges in France and Kornwestheim in Germany.
On 3 October 1966 the Battle of Britain class engine 34089 602 Squadron was believed to be the last steam locomotive to leave Eastleigh's workshops, which had constructed 320 engines and refurbished or rebuilt numerous others since it had opened.
In 1967 British Rail closed the carriage and wagon works, with Eastleigh concentrating on repair and maintenance of carriages and diesels, a task it still carries out today. Almost 50 years after it closed, the Schools Class engine 925 Cheltenham was restored at Eastleigh in 2012. The original railway institute was replaced by a rather ugly supermarket building, which at time of writing in 2013 is due to be demolished and replaced with a more modern, and hopefully more attractive, supermarket building.
Steam trains still occasionally use the station today, including Tornado. As the water tower no longer exists, a former fire engine is parked in the station car park adjacent to a siding and is used to fill up the engines.
In 1974 seven parishes were transferred from the Rural District of Winchester to Eastleigh Borough, greatly extending it. In 2010 Chandler's Ford and Allbrook, both formerly part of Eastleigh parish, obtained their own Parish Councils. Today Eastleigh Borough consists of 11 parishes, which from north to south are:
- Chandler's Ford
- Allbrook - part of the original estate of Eastley Manor/Brambridge House.
- Fair Oak & Horton Heath
- West End
- Hedge End
- Hound (Netley Abbey)
Eastleigh Borough's Villages
The villages of the Eastleigh Borough are:
Chandler's Ford - Separated from Eastleigh by Monks' Brook, with the ford long since replaced by a bridge, Chandler's Ford in effect forms a continuous conurbation with Eastleigh to the west.
Bishopstoke - A charming riverside village across the Itchen from Eastleigh.
Fair Oak - A village with an oak tree in the centre. Proposals to remove the current oak tree, planted in 1843 to replace an earlier tree which had died, were raised in 1936; following a vehement outcry, the suggestion has not been mentioned since.
West End - Much of West End is effectively a suburb of Southampton.
Hedge End - The only other town in the borough. Located next to Junction 7 of the M23, the area contains a large sprawl of retail parks.
Netley - The chief village in the parish of Hound is Netley, known as Netley Abbey to differentiate it from Netley Marsh, a village to the west of Southampton. Netley was the location of a Cistercian abbey, daughter-house of Beaulieu Abbey, which today remains one of the best-preserved abbeys in England. Also in Netley was the Royal Victoria Military Hospital, a mile-long hospital opened by Florence Nightingale in 1863, that is now the site of Royal Victoria Country Park.
Botley - A village on a crossing over the River Hamble that has enjoyed the right to hold a market since 1267. In Victorian times, Botley was Europe's largest strawberry-growing area.
Bursledon - A village that was involved in naval shipbuilding since 1338, when King Edward III launched the man-o'-war St George. Building warships continued here until the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Television soap opera Howards Way was filmed in Bursledon and the nearby area.
Hamble-le-Rice - Commonly called Hamble, this is a village located where the River Hamble meets Southampton Water. The Grace Dieu, Henry V's flagship and the largest ship in the world, was built here in 1418 and wrecked here following a lightning strike in 1439. Hamble has also had a successful aviation industry since 1912 and been a fuel terminal since the 1930s. The area today is usually associated with luxury yachts.
In 2011, the borough's total population was over 125,000. Curiously, despite the borough's expansion, Eastleigh's original manor house, Brambridge House, is in the district administered by Winchester District Council.
Maria Fitzherbert (1756 - 1837) - The daughter of the lord of Eastley Manor (Brambridge House) she secretly married the Prince of Wales, later King George IV, although when this marriage was discovered it was declared invalid.
Noel Croucher (1891 - 1980) - Born in Eastleigh High Street, Noel, nicknamed 'The richest man east of Suez', founded the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and set up the Croucher Foundation to give poor students a university education.
Tommy Green (1894 - 1975) - Winner of the Men's 50km Walk Olympic gold medal at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
Christabel Drewry, later Chrystabel Leighton-Porter (1913-2000) - Under the name 'Jane Gay', she was the Daily Mirror pin-up girl during the 1940s. When a nude photograph of her was published in 1944, it is said the result inspired Britain's 36th Infantry Division to advance six miles into Burma.
Alfred 'Benny' Hill (1924 - 1992) - Comedian who had worked at Eastleigh's Hann's Dairy; this experience led him to write his hit single 'The Fastest Milkman in the West', 1971's Christmas Number 1.
Dani King (1990 - ) - Winner of the Olympic gold medal in Team Pursuit cycling at 2012 London Olympic Games.
Getting to Eastleigh
Eastleigh town centre is served by three motorway junctions (Junctions 12 and 13 of the M3 and Junction 5 of the M27), two railway stations and an international airport. There are three National Cycle Routes in the district, two of which, 23 and 24, enter Eastleigh town centre itself.
National Cycle Route 2 - Dover in Kent to St Austell in Cornwall via Folkestone, Rye, Hastings, Brighton, Worthing, Emsworth, Portsmouth, Fareham, Christchurch, Southampton, Dorchester, Lyme Regis, Exmouth, Exeter, Newton Abbot, Totnes, Plymouth, Looe and Bodmin.
National Cycle Route 23 - Sandown in the Isle of Wight to Reading in Berkshire via Newport, Cowes, Southampton, Eastleigh, Winchester, New Alresford and Basingstoke.
National Cycle Route 24 - Eastleigh to Bath via Romsey, Salisbury, Warminster, Frome and Radstock.
Eastleigh district is also accessible to pedestrians and cyclists via ferry from Warsash across the River Hamble to Hamble-le-Rice.
There are a total of seven stations in the Eastleigh district, including the two within Eastleigh town:
On the South West Mainline (London to Bournemouth line): Eastleigh (a Grade II Listed Building) and Southampton Airport Parkway, which opened in 1986 and every train travelling north from Southampton stops there. During the day there is a train every 15 minutes from Southampton Airport Parkway to destinations such as London Waterloo, Winchester, Basingstoke, Poole, Bournemouth and Weymouth. There are also regular services to such locations as Salisbury, Reading, Oxford, Coventry, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, York, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and even as far away as Edinburgh and other Scottish stations.
On the Eastleigh to Portsmouth via Fareham line: Hedge End
On the Eastleigh to Salisbury via Romsey line: Chandler's Ford – the station opened in 1847 and closed in 1969 but was re-opened by Charlie Dimmock8 in 2003.
On the Southampton to Portsmouth line: Netley, Hamble, Bursledon
Southampton Airport, Hampshire's only international airport, is located in Eastleigh, although only by 170 yards. The airport began in 1910 when pilot Eric Rowland Moon regularly used what was then North Stoneham Farm's fields to take-off and land his Moonbeam Mk II monoplane.
In 1936 Supermarine opened a test flight facility at Eastleigh Aerodrome. Although the Spitfire aircraft designed by RJ Mitchell, drawing on his impressive Schneider Cup experience, was constructed a few miles south in Southampton, the prototype, numbered K5054, powered by a Rolls Royce Merlin engine and piloted by Captain J 'Mutt' Summers, flew for the first time from Eastleigh Aerodrome on 5th March 1936. The test flight of the Supermarine Spitfire was commemorated in 2004 with the erection of a small sculpture of K5054 at the roundabout leading to the airport.
Football - Eastleigh FC , also known as 'The Spitfires', have played at Silverlake Stadium since 1957. At time of writing they are in the Conference South.
The Point - A theatre and gallery located in the former town hall.
The Swan Centre - A shopping centre in Eastleigh town centre that opened in 1990 and expanded in 2010. It includes a variety of shops and restaurants plus Eastleigh's library, a cinema, ten pin bowling and a soft play centre with car parking.
In addition to numerous parks and playgrounds, there are four Country Parks in the borough. From north to south, these are:
Manor Farm County Park - 400 acres most famous for the historic Manor Farm, a farm that recreates rural life in the 1940s. In 2012 Manor Farm was used for BBC2's television series Wartime Farm.
Royal Victoria Country Park - A 200 acre park built in the grounds of the former Royal Victoria Military Hospital that closed in 1966. The chapel is the only part of the hospital to survive. The park contains a miniature railway, the Royal Victoria Railway.
Additionally, the South Downs National Park borders the borough in the Fair Oak & Horton Heath parish. The New Forest National Park is also located within ten miles of the borough, on the opposite side of Southampton Water.
Southampton Water - Technically an estuary rather than a river, Southampton Water leads from the Solent to Southampton and marks the borough's southern border.
Itchen and Itchen Navigation - The River Itchen flows through Alresford and meets the River Test at Southampton to form Southampton Water. The Itchen separates the town of Eastleigh from the village of Bishopstoke. The Itchen Navigation is a former ten mile canal between Southampton and Winchester converted out of the River Itchen, with the Itchen Navigation Heritage Trail running alongside.
River Hamble - A river between Bishop's Waltham and Southampton Water that marks the eastern border of the borough. The villages of Hamble-le-Rice and Warsash are located at the mouth of the river, and the area has traditionally been involved in ship building and yachting.
Monks Brook - A tributary of the River Itchen that flows past Hyde Abbey near Winchester, which gave the river its name. Monks Brook marks the divide between Eastleigh and Chandler's Ford.
Royal Victoria Chapel - The last remaining building of the former Royal Victoria Hospital and a Grade II* Listed Building.
Eastleigh Museum - Not a historic building per se, but the museum housed in the former Salvation Army citadel built in 1891 tells the story of Eastleigh and contains a recreation of a typical house in Eastleigh in the 1930s.