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Uncomfortable Scavenger Hunt

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Osney: Location 3

Rewley Road Swing Bridge, OX1 2RG

Welcome to the site of Oxford's lost second railway station.

A Tale of Two Stations

View of the Rewley Station Swingbridge from the Sheepwash Channel.

One station was operated by the GWR, and still exists today. The other station on Rewley road is now lost to history. It was located on the Sheepwash Channel between the Thames and the Oxford Canal. To avoid blocking boat navigation, it had the unique feature of a double track swing bridge that could pivot to 90°. 

The Rewley station was designed by the architect of London’s Crystal Palace with similar cast iron components. It was due to open on the first day of the Great Exhibition of 1851. With a few weeks’ delay, a track linking Rewley Road directly to London’s Euston station eventually opened, accompanied by a reduction in ticket prices to attract a different public (the Monday-Thursday ‘shilling days’).

Oxford may have seem like a provincial university town with a modest population, but it once hosted two railway stations side by side.

 

The city played an important role in the history of English rail, because of its strategically central location: it was situated at the intersection of east-west and north-south railroad networks. The Great Western Railway (GWR, east-west) and the London and Birmingham Railway (LBR, later LNWR, north-south) were in direct competition with each other. They used different gauges and could not share tracks, thus prompting the need for two distinct train stations in Oxford.

Oxford Rewley Road station forecourt in 1914 - source http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/

The hand cranking mechanism used to operate the Swingbridge.

The swing bridge itself has an interesting history. It was designed by Robert Stephenson, sole son of George Stephenson, the inventor of the railroad locomotive. The bridge was built in 1850-51, and was used by the London, Midland, and Scottish railway. It was 75ft. long and weighed 85 tons, and turned on a pivot roller path at the centre of the bridge. The Rewley bridge was hand operated, and needed at least two men to operate the hand cranking mechanism. When it was still in operation, the bridge was swung open about six times a day. 

In 1999, the Saïd Business School of the University of Oxford took over the site of the Rewley Road station, with further residential houses on the former coal yard site.

 

The Swingbridge is owned by Network Rail and is now in a very poor state of repair. Historic England listed it in its ‘Heritage At Risk’ Register 2011. The Rewley Road swing bridge is the last hand operated rail swing bridge in Britain, and one of only two moving swing bridges on the Thames - the other being Tower Bridge.

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With friends or family? Discuss the following:

  • What could be done to preserve this piece of heritage?

  • Should the bridge be moved from its current location or kept in situ for people to see?

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Interested in seeing more?

Check out the commemorative plaque in front of the Saïd Business School!

Walk back towards the Said Business School

A small commemorative metal plaque discreetly decorates the pavement in front of the Saïd Business School, on the exact site of the old Rewley Road station.

It depicts the features of the former train terminal, a testimony to  Oxford’s industrial heritage.

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