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Poyle for Stanwell Moor Halt

Updated: Apr 19

Unless you’re of a certain age you'd be forgiven for not knowing that Stanwell Moor once had its very own railway stop, 'Poyle for Stanwell Moor Halt'. It was on the Staines Branch Line and served the village for almost 38 years, closing to passengers in 1965.

There's another website that gives much more detail on the origins of the railway line and a link can be found at the end, but it would probably still help to have a rough idea, so here goes…

The Staines Branch Line originally ran from West Drayton & Yiewsley to Staines with just the Colnbrook stop in between. It was operated by the Great Western Railway (GWR) and passengers could change to main-line trains at West Drayton, from where they could access Paddington Station and the railway company's full network.

The line was opened in stages, with the West Drayton to Colnbrook section seeing its first passengers in August 1884, and the remaining section from Colnbrook to Staines having its first fare-paying customers in November 1885.

In an effort to capture as much revenue from their branch lines as possible, GWR introduced the concept of Halts: unmanned stations where you could request the Driver to stop and buy your ticket from the Guard after boarding.

So when the Metropolitan Rifle Range Company chose Staines Moor as one of its new locations and called it 'Runemede Range', the GWR agreed to provide a Halt, and the rifle range and stop were opened together in March 1892. Runemede is the Anglo-Saxon spelling of nearby Runnymede, and although the firing range closed in the early 1900’s, the Halt retained its name until 1935 when it became 'Yeoveney'.

As the passenger traffic on the line was much lower than hoped and with GWR always seeking more revenue, a stop for 'Stanwell Moor and Poyle Halt' was opened on 11 July 1927. The new stop was to serve residents in and around Stanwell Moor that worked on the industrial estate in Staines, where two of the main employers - the Linoleum factory and Ashby's Staines Brewery - were very close to the station.

In the 1911 Census for Stanwell Moor there were six households reliant on the Lino' factory and two on the brewery, and it's reasonable to assume that those numbers would have been higher in the late 20's.

Of course the railway stop also served any villagers wanting to get to or from Staines, particularly on Market days, Wednesday and Saturday, in addition to any workers from Staines commuting to the likes of the ammunition works on Poyle Trading Estate.

In 1927 the first phase of Southern Cottages was also being built (numbers 1 to 12), so if you'd lived here at that time there was a lot happening in the village.

Oddly and just a few months after opening, the stop was renamed 'Poyle for Stanwell Moor Halt'. The reasons are lost in the mists of time but it was likely part political, part business: Lintell's Bridge that crossed the Wraysbury River and just a few yards west of the railway line, was where Stanwell Moor ended and Poyle began, and the Halt was on the Stanwell Moor side. However, the business or works traffic would have been heading for Poyle. So my best guess is that the public justification was targeted at villagers to ensure local support and get the stop opened, but behind the scenes the financial justification came from Poyle Trading Estate workers, and that's what made it viable. Regardless, once the stop was in place and with locals fully aware of its existence - whatever it was called - it was then just a matter of re-ordering the name so that any alphabetical search used 'P' for Poyle.

In an official GWR newspaper advert from October 1927 touting cheap excursions to a Brentford v. Coventry City football fixture, 'Stanwell Moor and Poyle' is used, but by August 1928 a similar advert for Weston-Super-Mare or White City excursions refers to only 'Poyle'.

GWR 'Poyle for Stanwell Moor' sign from Horton Road that marked the entrance to the footpath © Chris Leigh

When the Halt first opened there was no physical structure: the train simply stopped on the track and passengers used stairs to enter or leave from the track-side.

Three months after opening, in October 1927 the Council approached GWR requesting they pay the cost for "constructing a footpath with granite kerb on the western slope of the railway bridge". The Highways Committee wanted an alternative footpath to avoid passengers having to make use of "this narrow bridge" and observed that "there appeared to be plenty of room on the railway property".

There's no evidence that the footpath was ever built, however just one year on from that request, in October 1928 GWR announced their decision to "erect a platform of the required level" and improve the Halt. The improvements comprised a single platform, built from timber and cinders, edged with old sleepers; all waste materials that were in plentiful supply at GWR, keeping costs to a minimum. The platform had a wooden shelter with a corrugated metal roof, and a backless timber bench on either side. It was located on the Stanwell Moor/east side of the railway bridge and accessed via a tarmac footpath running down the embankment from Horton Road.

'Poyle Halt for Stanwell Moor', taken from the railway bridge, c1950 © Chris Leigh

Already you can see some ambiguity in the naming of the stop: originally 'Stanwell Moor and Poyle Halt'; then 'Poyle for Stanwell Moor Halt', which is on all tickets I've come across, although on older (GWR) tickets, Poyle is capitalised.

GWR ticket from Poyle for Stanwell Moor Halt to West Drayton & Yiewsley,

dated 10 April 1936 © Author's Collection

You can also see that the Horton Road sign dropped the 'Halt' whereas the platform sign was 'Poyle Halt for Stanwell Moor’, but whatever the name, the village was listed in the timetable, and apart from the first year or so, all trains stopped.

What sort of trains would have served the village?

The line was a single track and when it first opened in 1885 the service would have been a steam engine and one, possibly two passenger carriages. When it came to the end of the line and they needed to reverse the direction of travel, they would have detached the engine and either moved it to the other end of the carriages, or replaced it with an engine already facing in the right direction. Both options were costly in equipment utilisation, staff and time, and in the early 1900’s GWR introduced Steam Rail Motors.

Steam Rail Motors were passenger carriages with an internal steam locomotive at one end and some basic controls at the other. Having control cabs at either end of the train meant that the only change at the terminus was for the Driver to walk the length of the carriage. The Fireman would stay at the engine end at all times to fuel the boiler, and when the Driver was at the unpowered end, the Fireman took on additional duties such as releasing the brakes.

While the Steam Rail Motors were good for productivity, they were bad for passengers. The in-built steam capability meant the trains were maintained at the Locomotive depot (in this case Southall) and as a result, the carriage section was subject to ash and cinders and difficult to keep clean inside or out.

Around 1914 GWR introduced autotrains that separated the steam engine and the carriage once more, but were designed so the Driver could control the engine from the end of the carriage, which was known as an autocoach. These trains would have been the main service on the Staines Branch Line from around the end of the First World War, so it’s almost certain the first train to stop at Stanwell Moor in the summer of 1927 would have been of this type, and it would probably have been a GWR Class ‘14XX’ steam locomotive. They were called "push-pull" trains because in one direction the engine pushed the train and in the reverse direction it was pulled.

In the only picture I've seen of a steam train at Poyle Halt (below) it's a '14XX' steam locomotive being driven from the autocoach, and you can see the steam is forward of the train as it's pushed up the line towards the waiting passengers.

A GWR '14XX' Class steam locomotive approaching Poyle Halt from Staines West,

early 1950's © photographer unknown, via Chris Leigh

A clearer shot of a GWR '14XX' Class with autocoach on Staines Moor, having left 'Poyle for Stanwell Moor Halt', heading to Staines, early 1950's

© Dennis Sutton via Chris Leigh

GWR advertised “Cheap Trips” in local newspapers to drive passenger uptake and just a year after the stop was opened, in 1928 it would have cost you 1 shilling and tuppence – about 6p today - to get to Brentford from Poyle Halt on any Saturday during the football season.

Despite these prices there were still passengers that tried to dodge paying them, and in the Buckinghamshire Advertiser & Gazette from 15 December 1933, a resident of Horton Cottages – which were very close to the station – appeared at Uxbridge Police Court and was “shown leniency” and fined 5 shillings plus 10 shillings costs after admitting to giving the Guard an old ticket on which she’d rubbed out the date.

Fast forward to 1936, the ticket price to travel to see 1st Division Brentford has only risen by 1 old penny to 1 shilling and thruppence, and if you’d paid that fare to see them beat Everton 4-1 at home in April, you’d surely have felt it was worth it. Out of interest, Manchester City went on to win the 1936-37 season, their first English title, whereas their rivals, Manchester United were relegated back to the 2nd Division, having only been promoted the previous season!

A year later and passengers using the station on Monday 24 May 1937 would have been surprised with the view from the train.

Railway lines have long served as a means of visual navigation for aircraft, and in the late evening of Sunday, 23 May 1937, the Honourable Andrew Dalrymple was flying over Staines in the Chilton DW.1 monoplane that he and his friend had recently designed and built. He had been testing the instrumentation and was heading back to Heston Aerodrome when he had to make a forced landing after running out of fuel. It seems likely he was following the Staines Branch line because he opted to land in a field near Poyle Halt but managed to clip a wing on wire fencing running alongside the track, likely due to the low light conditions, and the aircraft flipped over. According to newspaper reports Dalrymple escaped unhurt and the aircraft was only slightly damaged, and that was probably an accurate statement, since the very aircraft that paid an unscheduled visit to the village is now preserved at Old Warden in Bigglsewade!

The advent of the railway line had made London fairly accessible, and on 12 July 1941 when the then owner of 'Silverbeck', Allen lane and his new wife invited friends to a wedding celebration party at the house, they laid on cars to transport guests the short distance from Poyle Halt. On the invitation, the London train departed Paddington at 5.32pm and arrived into West Drayton at 6.08pm to connect with the Staines train at 6.14pm, finally arriving into Stanwell Moor at 6.23pm, so all-in-all a 51 minute journey followed by a short hop to the house. I have no doubt a good time was had by all!

Even with low fares, passenger traffic remained weak, and the line earned its keep from the freight. During the Second World War changes were made to lengthen the passing loop at Colnbrook and to link the GWR branch on Staines Moor, to Southern Railway’s Windsor branch, enabling munitions trains to avoid going through London. In 1941, when a German invasion was imminent, the connection was said to have been used to move the rail-mounted Howitzer ‘Boche Buster’ (dating from the First World War) from storage at Catterick, to the Kent coast, and if that’s true then the famous gun would have flashed past Stanwell Moor’s platform enroute.

Although overall passenger numbers were low, from time to time more seats were needed and GWR would sandwich the steam locomotive between two autocoaches. At peak times, in the morning and early evening, they often operated a through-train to Paddington with three carriages, likely aimed at workers coming to and from Staines, but it would also have allowed Stanwell Moor residents to travel directly into London.

When the railway companies were nationalised in 1948 the newly formed British Railways inherited two stations called Staines, and to avoid confusion they changed the old GWR station to 'Staines West', distinguishing it from the main-line 'Staines Central'. They also removed the "G" on the Horton Road sign.

A local man that used the line as a boy, recalled that one of the regular Guards in the 1950’s was known as ‘Chips’. A veteran of the First World War, he told everyone he still had a bullet in him! This young traveller also remembered the train stopping at Yeoveney whilst the Driver and Foreman got out to pick mushrooms. Different times!

In letters dated 1950 and sent by a resident of Southern Cottages to her brother who was serving overseas on National Service, there are several references to using the train to get from Staines to the village on a Sunday. She talks about recognising someone who sat opposite her "on the half-past four". In another letter she mentions her old Auntie was certain someone had followed her home from the station! I only mention this as they confirm contemporary use of the trains by villagers.

In 1952 it would have cost you 10d for a return ticket from Poyle Halt to either end of the line, Staines West or West Drayton, and in 1957 if you’d wanted a day’s return into London you could travel from the village anytime after 9.30am for 4 shillings (20p today).

A shortage of steam crews led to GWR diesel railcars appearing quite frequently on the Staines Branch Line in the early 1950s. These trains were designed to be operated from either end, and the first diesel that stopped at Stanwell Moor would have been the AEC Railcar which ran from early 1954; this rare image is part of the Rokeby Collection, held by Heritage England in Swindon.

AEC Railcar at Poyle Halt, taken by Reverend Rokeby, 29 January 1955 © Historic England Archive

During and after the Second World War the industrial estate at Poyle had expanded. With many new factories, the development of existing companies, and the construction of the nearby London Airport, there was a need to serve the additional workers, so round about the same time as the AEC Railcars were introduced, in early 1954 'Poyle Estate Halt' was opened, sitting roughly half-way between the Stanwell Moor stop and Colnbrook station.

In 1958 the AEC Railcars and all remaining steam services were replaced by the so-called "Bubble-cars", the Class 122 Diesel Multiple Units (DMU's), soon joined by the Class 121 DMU's, and that was the last change of equipment that Stanwell Moor residents would have experienced.

The Introduction of the new DMU Class 122 diesel trains, 1958 © Unknown

In this timetable you can see that the village was well served...

Timetable from 1st May 1960 © Author's Collection

...but despite the frequency of trains, few passengers took to the service.

Undaunted, British Rail continued to push for traffic, and in an advert to visit the Ideal Home Exhibition at Olympia in 1960, it would have cost just 3 shillings and 9 pence, including the Underground or Bus fare on London Transport to Earl’s Court.

A DMU 122 approaches a deserted 'Poyle Halt for Stanwell Moor' © Colour-Rail

However, with take-up for the Staines Branch services remaining low throughout its years of operation, and with no sign of a turnaround, the writing was on the wall for Stanwell Moor's station, and in March 1963 when Dr Beeching announced his "reshaping" plans for the now nationalised railway network, it came as no surprise that the line was one of those ear-marked for closure.

Somewhere around 1963/64 the shelter was set on fire by vandals, and with the stop already doomed, it remained that way until closure. In this rare image of the platform taken from Horton Road you can see the remains of the corrugated metal roof, complete with fire damage, sitting behind the platform fence.

A view of the station from Horton Road; note the metal "G" on the road sign has been removed © Trevor Owen/Colour-Rail

In early 1965 the timetable was reduced and then on 27 March 1965, just two years after Beeching's announcement the Staines Branch Line was formally closed to passenger traffic and the last train stopped at Stanwell Moor.

The final passenger day of service to 'Poyle for Stanwell Moor Halt',

West Drayton bound DMU Class 121 diesel, 27 March 1965 © Chris Leigh

People I've spoken to that used the trains remember the service fondly, but sadly there were simply not enough numbers to protect it from the now infamous "Beeching Cuts".

BR Ticket issued on last day of passenger trains on the Staines Branch Line, 27 March 1965,

Staines West to Poyle for Stanwell Moor Halt © Author's Collection

Rear of ticket, dated 27 March 1965, signed by Stationmaster, Tom Bye © Author's Collection

For some this was a moment in history and they took their children to travel on the train one last time. The person that bought this ticket was almost certainly in that group, even asking the Staines West Stationmaster to sign the back. Welshman Tom Bye had been the face of Staines West railway station since about 1950 and would have been 61 when the line was closed. A life-long GWR employee - as was his father - this would have been his last position, another casualty of Dr Beeching.

The last British Rail Stationmaster at Staines West, Tom Bye (1904-1984)

© Caroline & Andrew Ashley

Despite the loss of passenger traffic the Staines Branch Line stayed open for business to goods trains. An oil depot had been built at Staines West during 1964, and the image below captures an oil train passing the old Stanwell Moor platform on its way to West Drayton. The open wagons are ‘barrier’ vehicles in case the locomotive caught fire – as this class was prone to do!

Oil Trains continued to use the Staines Branch line until early 1981.

This is D6343 passing the remains of the Halt around 1967 © Chris Leigh

Following the decision to route the new London Orbital Motorway, M25 between Staines and Poyle, the section of line from Colnbrook to Staines was living on borrowed time, and after the Contractor had finished using goods trains to haul construction materials to the Junction 14 site, the last act was for the specialist crane to lift the track and sleepers that once served the village, and formally withdraw back to Staines.

British Rail crane lifting the remaining railway line, adjacent to the now demolished

'Poyle for Stanwell Moor Halt', January 1981 © Chris Leigh

The 'Poyle for Stanwell Moor Halt' sign was saved during demolition and donated to 'STEAM - Museum of the Great Western Railway' where it can still be seen today on the back wall of Hawksworth Hall, accessible via the main entrance lobby.

Ever since our section of line was closed there have been a never-ending series of plans to re-purpose sections of the old route.

In more recent memory there was a project called Airtrack intended to bring trains from Staines into Terminal 5. It was sufficiently firm at one stage that platforms were set aside in the new terminal. In one of the published documents regarding Airtrack it stated "...Housing in Stanwell Moor may be subject to noise disturbance from the railway, especially in view of the frequency of trains and hours of operation..." Specifically, the plan was to construct a tunnel close to the village with an entry point close to J14, and 12 trains per hour from 6am till midnight. The project was dropped in 2011 when the Government withdrew funding.

Another recent project was called Central Railway which aimed to take trucks and lorries off the roads and transfer them onto rail for the journey through the Channel Tunnel. The plan had the main terminal for the trucks at the M25, Junction 14, and from memory, on the land between Spout Lane North and the southbound carriageway (note: this land would be swallowed up by the 3rd runway plan) and was expected to take more than 850,000 truck movements and run approximately 6 trains per hour spread across 28 movements a day (operating times were not made public). It had considerable support and the admirable goal of reducing carbon emissions, but the Government did not support the scheme and it was shelved in 2003.

As both Airtrack and Central Railway were vying for the same space on the old line at the same time, had both gone ahead there would have been a 35 metre wide split-level railway section comprising 4 tracks running on the old Staines Branch Line alongside the M25.

As recently as 2017 there was talk of Airtrack-lite, and there’s yet another project, launched in 2020 called the Heathrow Southern Railway, in the news right now, and if you take a look at Surrey County Council's so-called "Surrey 2050 Place Ambition", a current document (links below) you'll see they've marked Stanwell Moor as part of "Strategic Opportunity Area 1" which includes, you've guessed it, a rail connection between Staines and Heathrow!

So it's a reasonable bet that by hook or by crook parts of the old line will be reinstated at some stage in the future, but this time without any apparent need to appease those that will be inconvenienced with yet more construction and perpetual “new noise”; how times have changed.

September 2023

* * *

While working on this I was lucky enough to meet Chris Leigh, not only an authority on the Staines Branch Line but an avid model maker, and coincidentally he recently completed a model of the station. Chris kindly allowed me to photograph his work and I'm including it here because I think it helps bring the station back to life, even if at a small scale!

'N' gauge model of 'Poyle for Stanwell Moor Halt' © Chris Leigh

Links for further reading:

Chilton DW.1 G-AESZ at Old Warden

STEAM - Museum of the Great Western Railway

Surrey 2050 Place Ambition - Staines to Heathrow Railway Connection

The source of most of the excellent historical photographic record in this article, and to whom I am indebted for helping fill in some of the blanks, Chris Leigh.

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