Big Enough But Small Enough

An Unusual Story

Few villages tell such an unusual story as Woodford Halse. It is two historical villages rolled into one (Woodford Halse itself and Hinton), while its decades as a railway town in miniature live on in memory. In recent years it has become a popular commuter community, with large housing estates built to serve this need. Its convenient location between the M1 and the M40 makes it attractive to those whose work involves travel.

Sheep on Ridge & Furrow : Typical of Woodford's Farming History

Sheep on Ridge & Furrow : Typical of Woodford’s Farming History

The parish of Woodford-cum-Membris, with a population of about 3,600, comprises Woodford Halse, Hinton and the separate hamlet of West Farndon. Until the late 19th century, Woodford Halse was a typical agricultural village like those around such as Preston Capes and Eydon. Hinton, down the hill and across the infant River Cherwell, was probably always the smaller place. For example, in 1791 Woodford was said to have 61 houses and Hinton 35 (West Farndon 16). The parish as a whole had a population of 766 in 1821, which by 1891 had dropped to 527. And then came the railway..

Our Railway Heritage

The Great Central Railway was the brainchild of Sir Edward Watkin. He decided to create a brand-new main line into London from the North by linking two railways that he controlled as chairman: the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire and the Metropolitan (now part of London Underground).

A Great Central Locomotive at Woodford Shed

A Great Central Locomotive at Woodford Shed

The “London Extension” – opened in 1899 – left the MSL at Annesley Junction near Nottingham and 92 miles (148 km) later joined the Metropolitan at Quainton Road, Buckinghamshire. Great Central trains then ran over Metropolitan lines until just short of the Marylebone terminus.

The route lay through Woodford Halse which was chosen as the site for locomotive sheds, goods sidings and a wagon repair shop. Woodford became a railway village, with eventual facilities for 50 engines and 1,000 wagons.

Some 240 homes and shops were built to accommodate the railway staff. The brick construction of these houses – in Station Road and streets cascading down the hillside to the Cherwell – give the feel of the industrial West Midlands cheek by jowl with the golden yellow ironstone of the old village. By 1911 the population had trebled to 1,520. With the housing developments of recent decades, it has more than doubled again. The railwaymen and their families gave a fillip to religious worship in Woodford. As well as the parish church, it soon boasted new premises for the Methodists (1902), Moravians (1906) and Roman Catholics (1917).

The Great Central closed in 1966, the most high-profile casualty of the Beeching-era cuts. At a time when few people realised the need to reduce road traffic, the line was seen as duplicating the other routes to the North from King’s Cross, Euston and Paddington.

Two striking memorials remain from the railway era. A pair of massive arched bridges cross the road between Woodford and Hinton at the site of the station. The Woodford Halse Social Club, a huge building in the Tudor half-timbered style, dominates Hinton Green.

Woodford Social ClubThe club building was originally a hotel (The Gorse) catering for hunting enthusiasts brought to the village by train. Perhaps we should mention a third memorial. The expanding industrial estate on the northern edge of the village is on the site of the old railway works.

With car ownership becoming more widespread, Woodford began a new chapter – a village popular with commuters. Three large private housing estates were developed from the 1970s to the 1990s, with their streets named after flowers, birds and trees respectively. Ryefields – the “tree estate” with Ash Way as its principal street – was built by Wilcon in phases and designed for variety. The houses are not placed in straight lines along the streets. They are arranged at angles to each other and are of different sizes and shapes.

Many people say that Woodford Halse is “big enough but small enough”. It has absorbed more dramatic changes than most villages – the coming of the railway, the departure of the railway, the emergence of commuter-friendly housing estates – to produce today’s vibrant community.

What’s In A Name?

The suffix Halse means a neck of land forming a ridge, but it seems not to refer to the ridge overlooking the Cherwell upon which the original Woodford village stands. The antiquary George Baker says in his 1830 county history that the village was so called because it belonged to the manor of Halse (near Brackley).

“Woodford-cum-membris” means “Woodford with members”, an ancient way of indicating that Hinton and West Farndon formed a single ecclesiastical parish with Woodford Halse.

Further Reading

You can download a short history of the village here.

Anscomb, J.W. The Three Hamlets of Woodford cum Membris (1995 – WHL)

Anscomb, J.W. Woodford cum Membris and the Great Central Railway (1996 – WHL)

Baker, George. The History and Antiquities of the County of Northamptonshire (1822-1830 – NHL)

Bridges, John. The History and Antiquities of Northamptonshire (1791 – NHL)

Courtie, Brenda. The Story of Woodford cum Membris (1996 – WHL)

Edwards, Pamela. The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Woodford Halse (2006 – WHL)

Irons, Ruth and Jenkins, Stanley C. Woodford Halse, a Railway Community (Oakwood Press, 1999)

WHL : Available in Woodford Halse Library

NHL : Available in Northampton Central Public Library