This week, I am mostly redirecting you to something I’ve written somewhere else, for the excellent London Reconnections website. If you have any interest in considered analysis of London’s transport then it’s a site you should be subscribing to anyway.
I currently live on the Isle of Wight, where the future of the island’s tiny railway, Island Line, is under some scrutiny. If you don’t know the Island, you might be surprised to learn that the 8.5 mile railway is operated by ex-London Underground tube trains dating from 1938 (yes, you did read that right).
This unusual state of affairs surprises and often charms tourists who visit the Island and have need of travelling on the train. For some transport enthusiasts Island Line is an attraction in and of itself. Almost by accident, it’s become a heritage railway experience. But it was never meant to be this way. London Underground trains were first imported in 1967, when the line was electrified. They were chosen for no better reason than they were simply the only ones that British Rail’s Southern Region could get its hands on which would fit under some low bridges and tunnels along the line. They were replaced with a second fleet of ex-London Underground tube trains in 1989-90, but now those trains need replacing too. Unfortunately, the job is a bit more complicated this time round, because quite a lot of the rest of Island Line’s infrastructure has also worn out.
To read more, head on over to the article at www.londonreconnections.com.
I’ve never really covered Island Line on The Beauty of Transport. To be honest, it’s not particularly notable for its architecture and design (its dinosaur-painted trains got a mention in this article on privatised railway visual identities though). But now seems like the time for a brief survey of Island Line’s architectural highlights as identified by statutory heritage body Historic England, which has listed a number of them.
Starting at the south end, Shanklin station dates from 1864. At least the bit made of stock brick on the right does, the red brick extension on the left is from 1881. As with all the listed structures on Island Line, it was originally built for the Isle of Wight Railway. It was Grade II listed in 1992, as were a number of railway buildings around the country at the same time. This was no coincidence. It was Historic England’s predecessor English Heritage ensuring that the newly privatised railway couldn’t just go around knocking down nice old buildings just because they were a maintenance headache.
Lake station, next up the line, is modern, opening in 1987. After that comes Sandown, where the station still has its original building, but it is not listed. Then comes Brading, where English Heritage/Historic England went listing mad. Not only is the 1864 station building listed but so is the 1877 station house. So is the footbridge (probably built in 1882 when a long-closed branch line to Bembridge first opened), the signal box (built 1882 and on which the scalloped valancing on the hipped roof is particularly notable, says Historic England), and the main building on the eastern platform, also dating from 1882. The eastern platform is now unused, having originally served the Bembridge branch, and southbound trains in the days when there actually was a southbound track at Brading, instead of just a bi-directional single track as there is now.
All of these structures have been listed at Grade II since 1986, and it is the fact that they have all survived which has granted them what Historic England terms “group value”. They make up “the only station complex surviving on the Island“, as Historic England explains. Indeed, you’d think you were at a preserved railway, confronted with a scene like this:
After Brading, the line passes through Smallbrook Junction, a 1991-constructed interchange with the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. Then it’s on to Ryde St Johns Road. The long, single storey station building wasn’t considered notable enough for listing, but the old engine shed, now part of Ryde St Johns Road depot, was. It dates from 1860 and was listed at Grade II in 1988. Built of red brick, it’s quite hard to see, hidden from the station platforms by a later extension to the shed clad in corrugated sheet. The old engine shed originally served two railway tracks, which entered the shed through arched openings, and there is a lovely circular window or blocked recess high up at each end. Historic England also likes the queen posts (two uprights at one-third and two-thirds distance along a truss, rather than a single king post straight up the middle) and queen struts which hold up the roof. It’s a splendid little building; essentially the archetypal early engine shed.
Though the old engine shed is the only part of Ryde St Johns Road which is listed, the station has other elements of interest. Like several other stations on the line, the platform canopies are held up by ornate columns which feature the Isle of Wight Railway “IWR” monogram:
…and there’s some old Southern Railway/Region (I’m not sure which) signage hanging around too, for fans of classy typefaces. Don’t be fooled by the vintage style hot-dog-sausage totems which display the station names here and at the other stations, though. They’re modern reproductions; you can tell because they use Brunel as their typeface, rather than Gill Sans.
And that’s it. Ryde Esplanade might be very convenient for changing onto buses and hovercraft, but it’s no great shakes architecturally and (more importantly) it’s a nightmare to use. The bus waiting facilities are uncomfortable and inadequate, and changing onto a hovercraft requires going up and and over a tall footbridge, unless you take a very long diversion. Esplanade station was due to be rebuilt as a modern transport interchange, but the scheme was abandoned in 2009 after costs escalated. Island Line then runs out along Ryde Pier to the Pier Head station, also not listed. There you can change for a ferry to take you to the mainland, if you really want to…
How to find…
Further Reading and Bibliography
Historic England listing citation for Shanklin station, here
Historic England listing citation for Ryde St Johns Road engine shed, here
…and anything linked to in the text above.