diamond geezer

 Thursday, August 31, 2006

  Metro-land revisited
  Verney Junction

"The houses of Metro-land never got as far as Verney Junction.
Grass triumphs, and I must say I'm rather glad"

John Betjeman at Verney Junction ("Metro-land", BBC, 1973)

The farthest outpost of the Metropolitan Railway is at a most unlikely spot. The line ended not in a town, nor in a village, nor even in a hamlet, but in the middle of a field. There was no local population to support a station, nor any intention of building commuter homes across the landscape to create passenger traffic. But there was an existing railway passing through - the mainline connecting Oxford to Cambridge - so it sort of made commercial sense to link up to that. But only sort of. A couple of platforms were built where the two lines met, linked to the outside world down a dirt track, with the intention that everyone would both arrive and depart by train. The station was named Verney Junction after local landowner Lord Verney (Florence Nightingale's brother-in-law) who was chairman of the local railway company. And trains passed through, and passengers passed through, and life passed by.

In 1936 the Met's rural branch lines were finally amputated. It was no longer possible to catch a train from Verney Junction to Baker Street, but you could still travel from here to either Oxford or Cambridge. This was until Oxbridge travellers discovered that travelling into London and back out again was faster than chugging painfully slowly cross-country, and so the through route duly closed to passengers at the end of 1967. Verney Junction is now your actual genuine abandoned railway station, sitting invitingly on the map awaiting a bloke with a camera. I took up the challenge and attempted a visit (which isn't easy when there are no trains).

Verney Junction is now just the name of a tiny hamlet which grew up around the station (at a rate of about one building every decade, by the looks of it). Turn off the road at the Verney Arms pub and, a short distance down an unmade track, there's a sign for a railway crossing. An anachronistic red sign asks you to Stop Look Listen, and to notify the local British Rail Manager if your load is unusually long. But the crossing gates have disappeared, the rails across the lane are barely visible, and any danger is long past [photo]. To your right, the other side of some thickening undergrowth, you can walk along the ballast in the general direction of Cambridge [photo]. And immediately to your left the main attraction - two abandoned platforms blanketed beneath a low covering of green foliage [photo]. I guess midsummer isn't the best time to come here for a decent view.

Only a single track runs through Verney Junction today, supported by slowly rusting brackets and gently rotting sleepers. The rails at the far end of the station heading away towards Oxford look relatively navigable, so long as you're on foot [photo]. But between the platforms themselves somebody has planted a loco's-length forest of yellowish saplings [photo], either to block the upline or to beautify the view from the old station house nextdoor [photo]. Elsewhere nature is successfully reclaiming the deserted station unaided. You can barely walk on any of the original platforms now that bracken, bushes and brambles have colonised both surfaces [photo]. But try to find a space and climb up here, to stand where passengers once waited to board the next steaming train to the capital. Glance across to the opposite platform while you still can [photo]. And then take a look out across the empty fields [photo], past the cattle [photo], towards the grand future that never materialised. London could never claim this tranquil spot for its own, but this will be forever Metro-land.

A full history of Verney Junction
Old (and recent-ish) photographs of Verney Junction (before the trees came)
See what the Verney Junction branch line looks like today
Claydon House, home of Lord Verney (and Florence Nightingale) [photo]

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