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Historic England Research Records

Bicester Military Railway

Hob Uid: 1363495
Location :
Oxfordshire
Cherwell
Buckinghamshire
Boarstall, Bicester, Arncott, Piddington, Ambrosden, Chesterton
Grid Ref : SP5800021000
Summary : Britain's largest military railway system, it was the primary mode of transport at the Central Ordnance Depot Bicester. Surveyed 1941, ready for construction 1942. Still extant.
More information : The Bicester Military Railway (BMR) was the primary mode of transport at the Central Ordnance Depot Bicester. Work on surveying the land for the rail system commenced in April 1941 and the 2.6 miles of railway that circled Graven Hill had been pegged out ready for construction by August 1942. Track laying was well underway by the following month. Initially the entire track was to be laid using ‘philplug’ concrete sleepers and the rails were held in place by simple bearing plates and ‘dog’ spikes. These sleepers were found to be unsatisfactory and were replaced by different types of concrete sleeper; including those manufactured by Stent that can still be found at a number of points on the railway, especially within the spurs leading into the storage hangars. Elsewhere on the system, once it was realised that the concrete sleepers were highly visible at night, it was intended to replace them with conventional timber sleepers; however, limitations on the supply of timber dictated that some of the concrete sleepers were retained and these were painted with a thin coat of black bituminous paint to tone them down.
The concrete sleepers that were gathered up after replacement were not wasted and they were put to a number of alternative uses, including the building of passenger platforms. Six passenger platforms were built around the Graven Hill depot – Langford Farm Halt (demolished), E2 Platform (demolished), Westacott Platform (partially demolished), D6 Platform (demolished), Queens Platform (demolished), and Graven Hill Platform. Fragmentary remains of the Westacott Platform can still be found to the west of the level-crossing gates on Westacott Road, and Graven Hill platform adjacent to the running line within the Sorting Sidings complex is the only fully extant example left. In addition to these improvised passenger platforms, a purpose-built ramped two-road loading / unloading bay was built in the gun park for the handling of artillery pieces.
The scale of the operations during the Second World War can be appreciated when it is realised that up to seventeen steam locomotives were working virtually around the clock to receive, sort, deliver, recover, and despatch wagons to the various storage hangars and sidings. During 1944 with the build up to D-Day and the supply of the invasion forces in Europe, 78,623 wagons were received and 77,896 were despatched through the exchange sidings; together with135, 034 internal movements, this gives a grand total of 291,554 wagons being handled during one year.
Initially all train movements were controlled by a manual ‘Regulator’ system, using a block system whereby the drivers of any train had to stop at a phone cabin and ring for permission to advance into the next section, all controlled from the railway control office at Graven Hill and the regulator building at Arncott. Eventually in 1947, two redundant locking lever frames, rodding, and semaphore signals were obtained from the defunct Cairnryan Military Railway and installed at Bicester to control major rail movements on the running lines at Graven Hill and the 2-mile section to Arncott depot that ran through Ambrosden. The lever frames were installed in two new two-storey structures that resembled a civilian signal box called ‘Blockposts’; the example at Graven Hill was called ‘A’ Blockpost and it housed a 16-lever interlocking frame (SP 58417 19846).
In 1960 a two-road locomotive shed with inspection and ash pits was built together with associated locomotive yard sidings at the north western end of the Sorting Sidings. The locomotive shed was designed to hold up to six locomotives and originally this structure had a flat central roof flanked by a row of smoke ventilators over each road, with a single pitch roof dropping to the side walls. This arrangement was to allow the smoke and steam to escape up through the roof. With the withdrawal of steam locomotives and introduction of diesel locomotives in 1965, these vents were removed and replaced by simple electrically driven extraction fans, and the roof was altered to a gabled design.
During the 1980s, the old Romney hut C1 (Carriage and Wagon Shop) at C Site, Arncott was closed and the work was transferred to a new purpose-built two-road Carriage and Wagon Department workshop at Graven Hill. The workshop was constructed against the north eastern corner of the Graven Hill locomotive shed. The shed is a simple rectangular-plan steel framed structure cald with corrugated steel sheeting.
The original railway administrative centre was located at Arncott depot, but it was moved in 1978 to a new two-storey Railway Headquarters (Building D99) over-looking the southern end of the Sorting Sidings (SP 58361 19972).


Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : Site Visit Roger J C Thomas 25-July-2011, also Roger Thomas and Will Holborow 21-Nov-2011. EH:Defence disposals project
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : 20th Century
Display Date : Opened 1941
Monument End Date : 1941
Monument Start Date : 1941
Monument Type : Railway
Evidence : Structure

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : LINEAR 973
External Cross Reference Notes :

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