MOST writers eagerly look forward to the time when the product of their research and writing is put onto the market. Local author Peter Clarke was awaiting the launch of Parsons and Prawns, the story of Micheldever Station next week, but sadly he died after a short illness on the very day it was delivered from the printers.

His talent as someone for carrying out research and putting it down in an appealing and attractive manner was first demonstrated in 2002 when, responding to a challenge in a pub, he wrote Dever and Down, a history of the villages in and around the valley of the river Dever, to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Queen. It sold out and required another edition in 2011.

Peter’s widow Jane has nonetheless bravely agreed to the launch of Parsons and Prawns going ahead at Micheldever Station. Unlike most rail stations of its kind in the countryside – which have either been surrounded by office blocks and apartments or closed completely – it still thrives. It is now the name of both the station and the village where housing has slowly grown since 1840 when the railway opened.

The Dove Inn (formerly the Western Road Hotel) was built at the same time as the station to service rail traffic and onward passengers by horse and carriage. The few modern developments – Micheldever Tyre and Auto Services, Trailer Tek and Ecological Planning and Research – fit well into the area.

This is music to the ears of those who want to keep it like that, despite repeated efforts by developers to build a new town in the area. It is perhaps amazing that a station ever came to this beautiful part of the county. But it was originally named Andover Road and served the Hampshire town seven miles away via a purpose-built turnpike, the Galliker Way.

There was another reason. The banker Sir Thomas Baring, who was chairman of the London & Southampton Railway that built the line, lived only a couple of miles away at Stratton House. The station was for him the perfect halt – close enough to reach, but far enough away to be unheard.

For such a small station, Micheldever has an amazingly rich story, which is told in the new book, Parsons and Prawns, so-called because an opponent said that it would only be used “to convey parsons and prawns, the one from Winchester, the other from Southampton”.

The pages have been laid out by Winchester freelance book designer Tim Underwood, who has an MA in Book Design from the University of Reading, and printed by Sarsen Press. Local artist Jonathan Chapman has created some stunning illustrations, Maggie Attfield has contributed a map and the book is published with the aid of a grant from the Hampshire Archives Trust.

Building the line was much more difficult than expected and exceeded budget (nothing new there!). The chalk hereabouts was much harder than expected for the thousand or more navvies who descended with spades and wheelbarrows on the area. The original engineer was sacked to make way for another, who finished the job with the the legendary contractor Thomas Brassey.

The opening on May 11, 1840 had some drama. The up train broke down and had to be drawn to Basingstoke by horses. Also a dog got decapitated and the train at Northam broke through the crossing gates.

Soon, however, the station was up to speed and its business was benefiting from new developments, including the Penny Black and the electric telegraph. In 1845 the longest telegraph line in the country was laid through Micheldever. And the village got its post office, which stayed open until 1929.

In the early1900s works to double the width of the line along its length involved quarrying at Micheldever, which gave it space to expand its footprint in various ways. It came into its own during WWI, when thousands of troops were taken to the Continent and the wounded returned to Park Prewett Hospital, Basingstoke, and elsewhere.

Southampton Docks could not cope and congestion was relieved by building new sidings at Micheldever. After the war the station was again pressed into service, when chalk at the rate of 5,000 tons a week was quarried to reclaim land for the Western Docks. It was a two-way traffic: in one month alone 3,200 wagons loaded with bananas passed through Micheldever at the rate of 100 wagons a day!

In a meticulously researched book, story after story is unveiled about this tiny station. In 1895 it gained its place in the history of motoring, as it was from here that the Hon. Evelyn Ellis and a companion made the first authenticated journey in Britain in a motor car. They travelled from Micheldever Station to Datchet in a 3½ HP Panhard-Levassor “horseless carriage” purchased in France.

During the last war the some of the space cleared at Micheldever by quarrying was used to house a major depot for aviation fuel. Thirty 650-tonne tanks were installed with a capacity of seven and a half million gallons, protected by 50 feet of concrete and earth.

It was a particularly key resource during the Battle of Britain commemorated each year on 15 September. In 1981 it became an Elf oil terminal and two years later suffered a major spillage.

Railway publisher and author, Howard Sprenger, Chairman of the Hampshire Industrial Archaeology Society, will formally launch Parsons and Prawns to a distinguished audience at a Covid-safe, by-invitation reception on September 18 at 5 pm in the garden of the Dove Inn.

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Some quarters in Gosport lay claim to Alastair Stewart (Chronicle, August 27), but this is incorrect. He writes: "Lovely piece but I was born in Emsworth, while my father was at RAF Thorney Island. I am a proud Hampshire Hog but an Emsworther not a Gosportite!"