Brief History of the Island Railway by Hana Johnson
At its peak the Isle of Wight had 36 railway stations and a complex 54 mile rail network. The first section of railway to open was between Cowes and Newport. The Isle of Wight Railway Company (IWR) started the service between Ryde St. John’s and Shanklin on 23rd August 1864, which means this year sees the 150th anniversary. The line continuing onto Wroxall and Ventnor, which was only 4 miles in length took a further 2 years to complete due to landowner opposition and a 1,312 yard tunnel construction through St. Boniface Down.
At this time the east coast of the Island was fast developing a reputation for beautiful seaside resorts and the service was a success. Between 1882 and 1900 the Island network was developed extensively with IWR adding a branch line from Brading to Bembridge and other railway companies developing lines around the capital, Newport, and in stages from Newport to Ryde (1875), to Sandown (1875-1880) and Freshwater (1889). Merstone Junction and Ventnor Town (Ventnor West) were added between 1897 and 1900.
Ventnor West Station
It was in 1880 when Ryde St. John’s was linked to meet the Portsmouth ferries at Ryde Pier Head. The service has been provided by horse drawn tramway until the London & South Western and London, Brighton & South Coast Railways joined forces to build the new railway pier head and double track railway.
It was in 1923 that all the railways on the Island were amalgamated as part of Southern Railways. In the summer months the railway was hugely popular despite the advance of the motor car. During this period Southern Railway exploited the Island network to its full potential which included doubling the track between Brading and Sandown.
Nationalised railway began in 1948 and cutbacks to the Island network started in 1952 with the closure of Ventnor West. In 1953 lines to Freshwater and Bembridge were axed and in 1956 the lines between Newport and Sandown were closed.
Freshwater Station 1953
In 1964 there were proposals to close the remaining Island routes, Ryde-Newport-Cowes and Ryde-Shanklin-Ventnor. The fight to save these routes in the 1960’s became one of the most celebrated railway closure battles. The battle was unsuccessful in saving the line between Ryde-Newport-Cowes which closed in February 1966 and the line between Shanklin and Ventnor which closed in April 1966. The 8.25 miles of track between Ryde Pier Head and Shanklin ran steam trains until the end of 1966 when the Southern Region of British Rail electrified the line and began running refurbished former London Underground trains.
Since the 1960’s the line has been improved with the addition of a station at Lake in 1987 and a link to the Steam Railway, which reopened the route Wootton-Havenstreet-Ashey-Smallbrook, at Smallbrook Junction in 1991. Shanklin Railway Station was made a Grade II listed building by English Heritage in 1992 and the second platform has been transformed into a flower garden sponsored by Shanklin Hotel & Accommodation Association and maintained by the Green Towns Project. Today there are 2 trains an hour in and out of Shanklin Railway Station providing a valuable transport route for local residents and visitors.
Lesley Hampshire of the Green Towns Project
"Boat flower Garden" at Shanklin Station
Celebrating 150 years of the Island Railway this year, Shanklin Train Station unveils it's new Mural by local artist Tony Trowbridge
Hana Johnson & her partner Steve Huggins own Brooke House guest house in St Paul’s Avenue nearby to Shanklin Station, telephone 01983 863162.