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Built by the London and South Western Railway in 1909, Eastleigh Works was the last locomotive works to be constructed by the railway companies of Great Britain in the Golden Age of Railways.
The London and South Western Railway had grown out of the London and Southampton Railway which was constructed from the outskirts of London at Nine Elms to the docks at Southampton in the 1840s. The reason for the choice of Nine Elms as a terminus was because that was where the built up area of London extended to back then and to build the line closer to London would have been too expensive for the fledgling railway company. However as the line grew more successful an extension was built to today’s Waterloo Station and the original terminus was given over to the workshops for the line.
However, continued growth throughout Victoria’s reign coupled with the advancing technology of railway equipment meant that larger and more modern workshops were required. The Carriage Works was the first to relocate to what was then a sleepy hamlet known as Bishopstoke Junction where land was freely available at the country end of the line from London. The new carriage works was constructed in stages from 1890 onwards and the workforce transferred from London. To house the workers the town of Eastleigh was constructed in a grid iron pattern to the west of the station on what was dairy pasture and farmland. The new town was an immediate success and the continued appetite for more and larger railway vehicles ensured that the carriage works grew. However even with the room at Nine Elms created by moving the carriage works out it became clear that the London site was not large enough to handle the requirements of a modern locomotive works, not least because an additional set of tracks was needed to handle the volume of traffic running into Waterloo .
The LSWR engineer at the time was Dugald Drummond and he took the decision to build a state of the art locomotive building and maintenance works on farmland between the lines to Portsmouth and Southampton. At the same time a new running shed was built to replace the original shed at Northam which was bursting at the seams
The Works consisted of a large factory building arranged with 4 long bays fitted with overhead cranes, boiler and machine shops built onto the side and end of these and a foundry building divided into sections for iron and brass founding. In addition a lighter building was built to house the steam hammers necessary for forging heavy components from steel billets.
The Works was completed in 1909/10 although some sections of the Nine Elms factory had been migrating down since the previous year. To serve the new Works and depot a series of house were built in Campbell Road specifically for railway employees.
The first locomotive built at the new Eastleigh Works was a tiny tank engine, class S14 no. 101 outshopped in 1910. However this was followed by larger steam engines to make a total of 425 locomotives either built or rebuilt at the Works between 1910 and 1961. These included some of the most famous locomotives of their day many of which were household names for generations of boys and men. These included the Schools, Lord Nelsons, Merchant Navy, Battle of Britain and West Country classes.
The LSWR became the Southern Railway in 1921 and that continued up to 1939 when the railway were taken over by the Government for the war effort. Eastleigh Works constructed large amounts of military equipment particularly in support of the D Day landings which were organised from nearby Southampton. The workload increased as wartime conditions meant that locos were thrashed pulling heavier trains with less maintenance and a shortage of skilled labour.
Peace in 1945 say the railway at a low ebb as the backlog of repairs had to be addressed in an age of austerity. In 1948 the railways were nationalised and Eastleigh Works became part of the Southern Region of British Railways.
In postwar Britain the electrification of the commuter lines of the south of England resumed and the decision was taken to phase out steam locomotives in favour of diesel and electric traction. The Works went into a transition phase with steam, diesel and electric vehicles all being repaired on site throughout the 1950s and 60s. The closure of the carriage works in 1965 meant that the work of maintaining the electric multiple units was transferred to the Loco Works in 1966.
The last steam engine to be built from scratch at the Works in April 1950 was 34140 Bere Alston, which coincidentally was also the last loco to be rebuilt at the Works in May 1961. The last steam engine to be repaired at the Works was 34089 602 Squadron on 3rd October 1966. This event was covered by the media of the day including the BBC news and Blue Peter!
The Works entered the 1970s with a workforce of 1800 dedicated to the overhaul and repair of diesel and electric locomotives and multiple units used all over the south of England. A change of name (one of many to come) took place when the Works became part of British Railways Workshops, then BR Engineering and finally British Rail Maintenance Limited in 1988. The number of diesel locomotives for overhaul dwindled as BR lost much of its freight traffic to the roads and the Works concentrated more and more on the repair and overhaul of the (mainly) electric commuter trains.
The sectorisation of BR in the 1980s saw a resurgence of work as a more customer lead railway refurbished older rolling stock and introduced new trains. Eastleigh was well placed to win and undertake this work and the order book remained buoyant. Privatisation of the railways in the 1990a was to change all of this.
Once the path of privatisation had been chosen by the government of the day, all aspects of the nationalised BR were frantically prepared for sale including the maintenance functions. As a result the Works was sold on 7th June 1995 to a management buyout called Wessex Traincare. Once it became clear that the incoming Labour government was not going to renationalise the railways large companies moved in and the Works was sold again, this time to GEC Alsthom, the Anglo French engineering giant. A change of name occurred in December 1998 when the company became Alstom, coincidentally announcing 300 redundancies at Eastleigh Works.
One aim of privatisation was the renewal of the ageing slamdoor commuter fleets on the suburban networks serving London. As a trainbuilder Alstom had high hopes of winning the order to build and maintain the new trains serving the lines out of Waterloo and indeed did win one of the first orders with its new 458 fleet. However for reasons that were not clear at the time the Alstom trains received very little support from the builders and consequently never recovered from the poor reliability suffered from the outset by the 458s. The major contracts for new trains were won by Siemens and Bombardier. Siemens were not going to give work to a competitor and so built a traincare depot at Northam on the site of the old LSWR steam depot.
This was a double blow for Eastleigh as not only did they not have the new trains to maintain, but the maintenance required by the other new fleets across the country was much lower than the old slamdoor stock. As a result the Works won fewer contracts with less skilled content.
The long expected axe finally fell in Mid December 2004 when Alstom announced it was shutting Eastleigh Works with the loss of 530 jobs. The final unit to be overhauled at the Works was South West Trains class 455 no 5918 which left the Works in late March 2006. In a wholly apt turn of fate a steam engine no 850 Lord Nelson that had been built on site in 1926 was nearing completion of a long overhaul by a group of enthusiastic employees on site. This was turned out in immaculate Southern Railway and left site in light steam on 17th May 2006, bringing to an end 96 years of railway engineering at the Works.
Or so it was thought…..
In mid 2006 a railway engineer from Essex was contracted to remove some derelict rolling stock from the sidings at the Works. Looking around the Works he realised that the site would make an ideal location for stabling some electric trains that were to be displaced shortly from the Bournemouth services. What happened next is history.