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To and from Morris Cowley

This station, on the edge of Oxford on what used to the single line branch between Oxford-Thame-Princes Risborough, may appear to be only faintly related to Banbury, but a train used go there every morning at 6am carrying workers for "the factory". Morris Motors started there in 1913 and became a major employer in Oxfordshire, including people from Banbury and Bodicote where I live. The complex included a car body plant originally owned by the Pressed Steel Company and the sidings serving the site developed considerably over the years (about a third of the cars built here were despatched by rail). The first station was named Garsington Bridge Halt which was closed during the Great War and not reopened until 1928 when it was replaced by a proper station named with great flair by the GWR, Morris Cowley. Access to and from the works was by a short lane to the Garsington Road.

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The LNER excursion offered a visit to Oxford town, or two trips on arrival, with beginning a bus (the posh term "Road Motor" is used) to the Morris works at nearby Cowley where a guided tour was provided, and when that was over, a trip by, enticingly called, a "Steamer Restaurant Boat" along the Isis (the name used in Oxford rather than "Thames"), details of which are quoted. Complete with tea on the boat. That part of the trip lasted two hours so presumably travellers could have a late lunch if they wanted. What an excursion! Author's collection.

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Refreshments were available on the train from a RESTAURANT CAR serving LIGHT REFRESHMENTS, a list of which was printed on the other side of the hand bill and is grinning through. This was chosen instead of one of the Section's buffet cars.

Another feature is that the train ran in two parts, from Lowestoft and Chelmsford which were joined at Ipswich, to run westwards via Bury St. Edmunds and Bletchley to Oxford. The destination is not given but I reckon it would have been the LMS station, Rewley Road.

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The Ordnance Survey 25" map from around 1940 with the body plant mislabelled as "Steel Works". The rest of the car works is off to the left, the Garsington Road running diagonally from left to right, under the railway. This is actually a composite from two adjacent sheets with the LHS surveyed/published 1937/41 and the RHS, 1937/43. Unfortunately, the sheets divide right through the station and the RHS shows a long siding added in front of the platform between these dates, hence its apparently abrupt stop. Source: Ordnance Survey, National Library of Scotland.

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Neither of the station views is dated but seem to be sometime in the 1950s or '60s with the wooden platform showing well and the buildings looking immaculate. The siding added c1942 stretches into the distance. Photo: Lens of Sutton 59087.

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I think this view was taken slightly later with perhaps the first weeds appearing. The buildings still look immaculate. Photo: Norman Simmons.

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A return ticket between Morris Cowley and Oxford. It's a Privilege ticket from BR days but undated and clipped - not torn in half as was the fate of most return tickets. Mick Green collection.

Another ticket has come up. It's a GWR return ticket between Morris Cowley and Littlemore, the next station along the line towards Oxford, a distance of barely two miles. Many tickets must have remained unused for this one was issued on 20th October 1960. Mick Green collection.

The 6am from Banbury called at all stations along the way and at Oxford it was combined with a similar train off the Worcester line. I am not sure how this was done in the steam era. These trains may have employed 3-sets behind Prairie tanks but so early in the morning, few photographers were active, even in the summer months when it wasn't dark. By the time that DMUs came along in the 1950s, both trains rolled into the same platform and were coupled together. Occasionally the Worcester line train was late and the Banbury one left by itself, which made the other train and its workers even later and miss the beginning of their shift, which was awkward all round given that industrial shift-work is such a well-knit effort by teams of men.

Workmen's tickets would have been sold and the service had blossomed but, after WW2, more people began to acquire cars and drive in - it would have much easier and quicker - and the rail service suffered. Closure of the line in 1963 is often attributed to Dr. Beeching but his report came out later. Morris Cowley was almost certainly the busiest station on the line with the works employing some 4,000 people but times had changed. Freight traffic lingered until 1968. There has been talk of restarting passenger services over the line but it hasn't happened yet.

Car traffic

For many years cars would have been sent by rail all over the country and the traffic continues to the present day, albeit simpler than before. For example, there used to be a daily working of parts to Longbridge, now just a train of cars for export which leaves daily around 10am for Southampton Eastern Dock. It used to run with two-level car carriers open to the elements - and even to thieves who would get on board to steal car radios and so on. On other lines, quite a few encountered the OHL wires and got fried for their trouble. The carriers were side-screened at first and then converted to single level with roofs and canvas sides, now running in articulated 4-sets under a common name of "cartics". This has become the norm and car carriers today look pretty much the same whatever the service.

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This view from May 1989 just north of Kidlington shows 47212 with the Morris Cowley-Longbridge working, on this occasion led by an early two-level cartic of Maestros and Montegos. Hard to explain why they were being forwarded unless it was for local customers. Photo: Jason Rodhouse.

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It's a modern car carrier captured last year and it's at Oxford, at which point I have to confess that the workings from Morris Cowley don't run through Oxford station: this is actually the empties from Southamton heading for Garston. I hope you get the idea, though.... Photo: Steve Banks

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