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The Battle of Havant

Disputes between railway companies have occurred since the earliest days of railways. Modern disagreements usually get settled in the courtroom, but in days gone by some disputes resulted in actual violence. One such quarrel in the nineteenth century became known as the Battle of Havant.

The Battle of Havant

The Battle of Havant began in 1858 as a disagreement over a right-of-way between the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) and the London Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR). The L&SWR leased the newly-built Portsmouth Direct Line, which was more direct than either of the two existing routes. Unfortunately, trains to Portsmouth via the new line required access to the LB&SCR line near Havant.

The LB&SCR refused access to the line and the L&SWR retaliated by running a goods train laden with officials, police and a mob of other assorted people. The LB&SCR blocked the line with an old engine and removed some of the pointwork. The goods train managed to gain access Havant, but was halted by a rail being removed and a gang of LB&SCR men. Some sources say a pitched battle ensued, others that a fight started between two railway officials, which ended up in court. Whatever actually happened the L&SWR train and personnel withdrew later that day.

The LS&WR opened Havant New station (GeoHack location) and transferred passengers by horse-drawn bus until the dispute was resolved in 1859. Although the travelling public benefitted from cheap fares during the dispute the main beneficiaries were then as now the lawyers.

Frog Wars

In the US such rail disputes are referred to as Frog Wars, particularly where the track of one company crosses the track of another. A frog is a piece of track that allows railway lines to cross or join.

Possibly the worst frog war incident occurred at the Greater Grand Crossing in Chicago involving the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway and the Illinois Central Railroad. The two companies ran trains through the junction as if the other weren’t there resulting in a crash that killed 18.

US president Abraham Lincoln was involved in a frog war dispute between a railroad and a steamboat when he was still a lawyer. The case, which made Lincoln famous, was won by the railroad company represented by Lincoln.