Steam Train

… or how we nearly came to be living in Ailsa Bridge.

In the 1870’s St Margarets had everything that any small self respecting Victorian suburb might wish for – some shops, a church or two and a pub if you needed one. Although the now familiar streets of two-ups and two-down ‘villas’ hadn’t been built yet, there were still plenty of smart, well appointed houses on tree lined avenues to admire. St Margarets even had a railway line running out from London westwards towards Reading. There was only thing that it didn’t have – a railway station… and this really ticked off the local populace…

“To the City merchant a station at his door will mean a saving of time; or in other words money; the clerk will find that his journey to his daily avocations will be of shorter duration; the ‘home bird’, who loves his fireside better than any spot on earth, will have more of it when the station saves him long and melancholy tramps through the mud of “Ducks Walk” to the comparatively far off starting points at Richmond or Twickenham; and in rainy weather hosts of ladies will bless the plucky souls who stuck out for a station through years of snubs and disappointments to at last gain for the fair ones a luxurious ride under cover to the adjacent towns on visits of pleasure or household business."

RICHMOND AND TWICKENHAM TIMES Saturday January 8th 1876

Ailsa Bridge

Such was the anxiety to get a station that local residents started a fund to buy one for themselves. They even had a name for it… Ailsa Bridge after the bridge that took the main road from Isleworth to Richmond over the railway line

“A goodly number of the advocates of the proposed station at Ailsa Bridge have been found ready and willing to cheerfully back up their reasonable desire by liberal contributions towards the fund required. Consequently we are glad to report that within the past fortnight the amount raised has increased from £390 to something like £630, of which the Conservative Land Society have handsomely contributed £100.”

RICHMOND AND TWICKENHAM TIMES Saturday January 8th 1876

The donations did not come from a spirit of altruism, a dislike of the mud along Ducks Walk or a simple wish to make it easier to catch a train. As the ‘Rich and Twick’ noted the project was driven forward by the hardnosed realisation that a station in St Margarets would be good for business and property prices.

“The Conservative Land Society regard the station project as one that must benefit them permanently…. No one can reap such great advantages from a station at Ailsa Bridge as the owners of the houses and lands in the immediate locality… Many landlords have already contributed promptly and liberally.”

The fund raising continued throughout 1876 and on October 7th of that year the ‘Middlesex Chronicle’ was pleased to announce…

St Margarets Station

“The new St Margarets Station was opened on Monday last. The structure is very commodious and well arranged, and will undoubtedly prove a great boon to residents of the St Margarets district who are in the habit of travelling by train.”

…with the ‘Rich and Twick’ adding…

The hitherto quiet spot was alive with numbers of curious spectators, and throughout the day the station continued to be an attraction; even after dark numbers of people congregated to see it lit up."

It is worth noting how close we came to living in ‘Ailsa Bridge’ because it was only with the opening of the new station that the name disappeared for ever, replaced by ‘St Margarets’.

For all the praise heaped upon the new station within one week of the opening “Determined Grumbler” of East Twickenham was urging residents to voice their dissatisfaction with the service offered by London and South-Western Railway…

St Margarets platforms

“One thousand pounds was a large sum of money given as a present to railway shareholders, and all we have in return is a neat railway station and no good trains calling at it in the day. Nearly an hour’s interval without a train in regular business hours; no late train at night, the very train required by all persons coming up from the country, to say nothing of concert goers, etc etc”

RAILWAY TIME TABLEOCTOBER 1876

ST MARGARETS TO WATERLOO Weekdays

5.34, 6.42, 7.33, 8.16, 8.41, 8.57, 9.44, 10.25, 11.12, 12.11, 1.13, 2.41, 3.91, 3.42, 4.59, 5.26, 5.48, 7.8, 8.13, 9.47, 10.19.

WATERLOO TO ST. MARGARETS Weekdays

6.50, 8.25, 9.20, 10p.25, 11.25, 12.25, 1.45, 2.20, 3.25, 4.20, 5.20, 5.50, 6.23, 7.25, 8.25, 9.30, 10.40.

Steam Train in St Margarets

The London and South-Western Railway Company did listen to the complaints and the service did improve as did the economy of St Margarets. By the turn of the century St Margarets had turned from an isolated riverside community described barely 50 years earlier by William Cobbett as “showy, tea-garden-like boxes, and shabby dwellings of labouring people who, in this part of the country, look to be dirty and have every appearance of drinking gin”… into an expanding London ‘dormitory’ with new streets and thousands of small neat villas housing a new breed of ‘labouring people’ – the daily commuters. They are still with us today.

There are some, estate agents mainly, who insist upon describing St Margarets as “a village” but it is not and never has been. If anything St Margarets is a railway town whose existence came about in the 1870’s when a group of wealthy residents decided to speculate in a station called Ailsa Bridge.

— from Martyn Day

Credit: The photographs of the steam trains are by Les Bailey on Flickr