Villagers campaign to save historic Great Central Railway rail yard in Woodford Halse

Campaigners Jennifer Hickman-Wright with her children Martha, Stirling, and Xanthe at last week's rally.
Campaigners Jennifer Hickman-Wright with her children Martha, Stirling, and Xanthe at last week's rally.

It’s an 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 was host to one of Europe’s biggest rail terminals.

Now the 21-acre brownfield site located off Byfield Road is all that remains. It was put up for auction on April 28 at a guide price of £175,000 to £200,000 but has since been withdrawn pending a public meeting to be held on April 9, at 7pm, in Woodford Halse memorial hall.

Campaigners, including Paul Denison, chairman of the Woodford Halse Railway Heritage Society, are hoping a deal can be reached with landowners to keep the site away from auction until the necessary funds can be raised to purchase the land.

Mr Denison said: “We have come to the rally to make sure this historic embankment is preserved. What we are particularly worried about is any housing development as the land would be flattened and then all this area would be lost.

“What this means is 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, but in the 1960s, the railway was axed as part of the Beeching reform.

The sale of the land not only worries the village’s rail enthusiasts, who want to start a museum on the site, but other residents who are concerned about the effect on wildlife.

Gaz Southall said: “We are worried as this is such a haven for 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.”