Fleet Pond and the railway

Skating on Fleet PondStill on the subject of railways.

I'm on a quest to find any early timetables or railway posters advertising trips to Fleet Pond. Next year, Fleet will be celebrating the Diamond Jubilee with a ‘Best of British’ themed carnival. I'd love to be able to recreate a poster for this event, based on an original design.

As Secretary of the Fleet Pond Society, I'm aware of the role the pond (actually, Hampshire's largest freshwater lake) and the railway played in the formation of the town of Fleet. The pond was a popular beauty spot that attracted visitors to the area. There's plenty of photographic evidence to show the pond was used for bathing in summer and ice-skating in winter.

Fleet Pond Station opened in 1847. In his book, Fleet: The Photographic Collection, local author Percy Vickery makes the following remark:

The pond froze over every year and annual ice-hockey tournaments were held here, with some teams coming from the London area. From 1847, special trains were arranged at weekends and evenings to bring skaters from London to the pond. From 1847 to 1869 the stop at Fleet was called Fleet Pond station."

The author includes a photograph of an ice-hockey match played on a frozen pond in 1920.

In the book, Fleet and Crookham: A Pictorial History, the following comment is made:

The Pond quickly proved a popular attraction, and the railway company built an additional station named Fleet Pond and provided special excursions from London. The vicinity was ripe for development and a new settlement, at first called Fleet Pond, later Fleet itself, began to grow."

Fleet Pond was a focus for social life in the town. In winter when it froze, sometimes for weeks, hundreds of people gathered there for ice skating and games such as curling or ice hockey. In summer, there were picnics in the Sandhills, games on the beach and bathing where the water was deep enough."

The station was renamed Fleet Station in 1869, and in 1897, the LSWR purchased an area of land from the War Department to allow the widening of the line. By the time the new station at Fleet came in to use in 1904, the population of the town had grown to about 2000 and the first local council was formed in the same year.

In Percy Vickery’s book, Photographs of Fleet, there's a picture showing skaters on Fleet Pond, c. 1905. The author comments:

Most years up to the 1950s the pond froze over for several weeks each winter, and hundreds of people could be seen playing ice hockey or curling or just skating. Until 1929 special trains ran from London to Fleet several times a week when skating was possible. Bonfires were lit on the islands and large parties were held most evenings."

Armed with this local knowledge, I went online and started Googling. Several hours later, I’d found... absolutely nothing. I then trawled through the National Railway Museum’s poster archives, clicking my way through hundreds of images. And still… absolutely nothing.

At this point, I remembered I was a member of the Fleet & Crookham Local History Group and decided to drop the Chairman a line. Maybe they would have studied railway company archives? Their reply was surprising. Records showed no evidence of any planned excursions to Fleet Pond. The Chairman commented that she'd been searching for a number of years, without success, for a railway timetable or advert mentioning Fleet.

Copies of old Fleet News had reports of skating on the Pond, but no clue as to whether the skaters were locals or how they got there. Searches on 19th-century newspapers online find numerous references to Fleet Pond, but no mention of railway excursions to the lake. Does this mean that anecdotes of organised trips to the pond are a myth and that these parties were privately arranged or just made up of locals?

If any pond, rail, or history enthusiasts can shed any light on this mystery, I'd be delighted to hear from you. Please email: michelle@michellesalter.com

Related posts:
Art and the railway
How to write local and family history