Villagers’ campaign to save rail yard

It’s a odd scrap of embankment, grass and woodland that when viewed from above looks like an upended boot. But when ‘for sale’ signs went up at the old railway yard in Woodford Halse last week residents were quick to demonstrate their affection for this green space and the wealth of history behind it.

The old rail yard is the final remnant of Woodford’s days as a part of the Great Central Railway line and host to one of Europe’s biggest rail terminals; an early 19th century equivalent of DIRFT transporting freight to London and the west of England.

Around 70 residents turned out on Sunday.

Around 70 residents turned out on Sunday.

Now the 21 acre brownfield site located off Byfield Road is all that remains of this proud heritage and it was put up for auction on April 28 at a guide price of £175,000 to £200,000. The website of auctioneers Howkins and Harrison describes the land as having “development potential”.

But residents are keen to protect their village’s railway heritage and such was the strength feeling around 70 people turned out on Sunday to speak to the Daventry Express.

By Tuesday it became clear the views of villagers were not falling on deaf ears when the site was withdrawn from the auction pending a public meeting due to take place on Thursday, April 9 at 7pm.

Jennifer Hickman-Wright attended the rally with her children Martha, two, Stirling, three, and Xanthe , five.

Around 70 villagers turned out at the rally.

Around 70 villagers turned out at the rally.

She said: “We moved here over 12 months ago. We are first time buyers and Woodford offered us everything we were looking for.

“Our garden backs on to the woods and they are such a huge thing , everybody loves them and they are such an essential part of the village.

“I want my children to grow up and be able to use the woods with their children.”

Paul Denison is chairman of the Woodford Halse Heritage Railway Society. He is still hopeful a deal can be reached with the land owners to not sell the site until the community has the necessary funds to purchase the land.

He said: “We have come here today to make sure this historic embankment is preserved, what we are we are particularly worried about any housing development as the land would be flattened at and then all this area would be lost. What this mean is that this beautiful area the community has enjoyed without interruption for more than 40 years would be lost all of a sudden. It also means the historic links with the Great Central Railway would be wiped out and we have seen too many areas where that has already happened. People wouldn’t dream of doing that with castles so why do that with the railway industry? We have seen too many areas where our industrial heritage has been lost, Why lose another?”

Woodford Halse was once the centre of a thriving rail operation which at its height employed hundreds of people in its freight yard and organised the transportation of goods across the country.

In 1960s the railway was axed as part of the Beeching reforms. Now little remains save for the fragments preserved by Woodford Halse Model Railway Club and village archivists. The sale of the land doesn’t only worry the village’s rail enthusiasts, who want to start a museum on the site. Other residents are equally concerned about the effect on wildlife.

Campaigner Gaz Southall said: “The issue we have today is not with the sale of the property it is more that it is listed as with potential development.

“We are worried as this is such a haven to nature, everything through to buzzards and muntjac deer including crayfish in the nearby river Cherwell which runs adjacent to the woods. This is a place where children of all generations have had some connection to this land, whether it was children 60 years ago who used to cross the tracks to get to school and church or today where children are playing in the woods. This is almost like the village green, just with a lot of trees.”