IN THE glorious days of steam railways it was smoke from those fire-eating rail giants that hung in the nighttime air over a Hampshire railway station.

But on this particular night 50 years ago it was replaced with a distinct air of nostalgia and emotion as on February 4, 1973 at precisely 8.21 pm the horn was sounded to signal the end of a railway era.

It was like a state occasion as the last British Rail locomotive pulled serenely out of Alresford Station for the last time on the track affectionately known as the Watercress Line.

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Every carriage was heaving with railway spotters and fans armed with tape recorders, determined to capture every precious moment.

The platform was packed with locals, including one of Alresford's most famous residents and legendary cricket commentator John Arlott, bidding a tearful farewell to railway history.

Former Southern Daily Echo journalist Duncan Eaton remembers those dramatic scenes when covering the event and said: “It was an emotional night for rail enthusiasts and for locals in an area where railways were a beloved part of the local landscape.”

Many of the original Watercress Line volunteers who helped to ensure the preservation of the railway after it was closed by British Railways in 1973 have been marking that golden anniversary and recalling their memories of the early restoration activities.

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These accounts will be recorded for the Watercress Line's archives and used at historical events.

Around 50 volunteers gathered at Alresford Station where one of the last locomotives to run on the line, Hampshire Unit no 1125, was showcased on the platform and photographed. The Hampshire Units were one of several classes of Diesel Electric Multiple Unit built by Southern Region of British Railways.

Watercress Line CEO Amanda Squires said: “It was such a pleasure to welcome many of our longest-serving volunteers to the Watercress Line to mark this historic milestone in the railway’s history.

“The enthusiasm and pleasure that these dedicated volunteers still feel for the Watercress Line was very touching. Without their hard work, pulling together to help restore the line and its locomotives to their former glory, we would not have such a wonderful piece of railway heritage to share with present-day visitors and future generations.

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“On behalf of the Watercress Line, I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the restoration of our much-loved railway.”

The crowd-pulling heritage railway line attracts enthusiasts from around the UK and the world.

Watercress Line gets its name from its role in transporting the luscious green crop to London in the early 20th century. It’s Hampshire’s only standard gauge heritage railway, running for 10 miles through the idyllic countryside along the border of the South Downs National Park, between the market towns of Alton and Alresford.

Opened on October 2 1865 as the Alton, Alresford and Winchester Railway, it became part of British Railways until its hotly contested closure in 1973. The line and services were quickly reinstated by a dedicated preservation group and today the Watercress Line is one of the south’s premier visitor attractions.

Daily Echo: Watercress line opening - March 13, 1982.

The railway employs 50 staff and is supported by more than 400 dedicated volunteers without whom it could not function. It is committed to preserving Hampshire’s railway heritage and maintains a fleet of steam and diesel locomotives, rolling stock and infrastructure, creating the essence of a bygone age.

As a living history attraction, it provides a comprehensive steam-hauled train service from March to October and throughout December with standard running days and many special activities including Day Out With Thomas, Wizard Week, Steam Galas and the festive Steam Illuminations. Other popular services include the famous Real Ale Train (RAT) and dining trains for lunch and dinner.

The Watercress Line also has a long record spanning several decades as a versatile set for film, television and photographic productions, ranging from photoshoots, adverts and television dramas to feature films. Past productions include Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast, BBC Countryfile, Great British Railway Journeys, Call The Midwife and The Wrong Mans with James Corden and many historical documentaries.

Dedicated volunteers have made sure that the spirit of the Watercress railway line will never wilt. Find out more about the history of the Watercress Line at .

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