Illustration from a Graham Bosworth painting showing loco “Hampton” during the line’s heyday.

Water-borne urban plagues were a feature of 19th century urbanisation. Water closets were becoming fashionable and cesspits were simply overflowing. Suddenly it became compulsory to put raw sewage into rain-water drains. Much of this muck eventually found its way into the River Thames. During the summer the smell became appalling, and in the year of The Great Stink even Parliament, being next to the river, could not ignore the problem.

In 1852 the Metropolis Water Act obliged the London water companies to move their intakes upstream. This meant moving above the tidal limit at Teddington, so three major companies established works and pumping stations at Hampton. (Before locks were built the tidal limit might have been as high as Staines.)

In 1902 the three companies at Hampton came under the control of the Metropolitan Water Board.

Coal was unloaded from barges at Hampton Wharf opposite Platt’s Eyot by a steam crane running on standard gauge track. Thames Water offices now occupy this site. In times of flood or lightermen’s strikes, coal could be unloaded from the LSWR at Kempton Park and moved by cart.

In 1912 plans for an industrial railway were compiled, and approved by the Metropolitan Water Board’s directors prior to Christmas 1913. The Deputy Chief Engineer had estimated the cost at £17,000 for a 2ft. gauge railway running over some 3 ½ miles of track. Besides moving the coal more cheaply, it could be used for furnace ash disposal and reservoir work. At the time, the Cornish Beam and Bull engines were burning about 109 tons of coal a day in the six Hampton stations, and a further 38 tons at Kempton Park.

200 tons of 35 lb. flat bottom rail was ordered plus 320 foot of tram rails. Regular track was laid on Baltic Fir creosoted sleepers. Work was completed by 1915. Three locomotives based on M.W.B. engineers’ specifications were ordered from Kerr Stuart and Company of Stoke-on-Trent. They were named Hampton, Kempton and Sunbury, costing about £700 each. Livery was green with an unusual triple striping. Although running on 2ft. track the locomotive width was 6ft., overall length 15ft. with a weight of 10 tons. No examples remain unfortunately. There were about 140 Vee-shaped tipper wagons and some flat trucks. On 15 to 20ft. curves, these would be pushed into the boiler houses by hand. The locomotives were required to cope with 40ft. curves and had re-railing bars fitted at both ends! Only two engines worked on a daily basis, one delivering coal to boiler houses and the other on shunting duty at Hampton Wharf. This meant that signalling was not needed. Expressed simply, the system had three branches.

The first ran south of the Lower Sunbury Road to the Riverdale and Morelands buildings at the Eastern end of the site. Four pumping buildings along the Upper Sunbury Road were served by the second branch. Kempton Park was served by a further two mile branch and that is the section we are currently interested in. Gradients under the Upper Sunbury Road bridge reach 1 in 20. The track bed still exists running in a cutting adjacent to Oldfield Road. It turns left running parallel with the Shepperton line, before sharing an under-bridge with the Staines aqueduct. There used to be a twin track level crossing at Kempton Park Lane. Beyond this point the original track bed has been overtaken by modern workings.

In the 1930s more efficient pumping engines were being introduced and electric-powered pumps.

Some coal was being moved by conveyor belt. The MWB Railway system was finally dismantled in 1947 – a working life of 32 years. Thames Water took over in 1974.

Back in August 1999 proposals for re-instating the railway were put forward at the Hampton Thameside Forum. In 1999/2000, Ian Allan and colleagues had plans to build a 15 inch gauge railway, using the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway as an operating model. Thames Water put forward several objections. Late in 2002 it became clear that other schemes had been shelved.

Initial discussion for setting up what became the “Metropolitan Water Board Railway Society” started in 2002 and our first meeting was held at the White House Community Centre on 21st March 2003. The M.W.B. Railway Society was founded in Hampton on 20th May. It aims are as follows:

  1. To restore and rebuild the railway link on or close to the original MWB track bed based on the original 2ft. industrial gauge with the ultimate aim of running between Hampton Riverside and Kempton.
  2. To operate a passenger carrying railway.
  3. To provide educational opportunities that explain the original purpose of the railway by means of literature, artefacts and a small museum.

For more information on our history, watch our video here.