Exeter Railway (B&ER) was an English railway
company formed to connect
Bristol and Exeter. It was built on the
broad gauge and its engineer was Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It opened in
stages between 1841 and 1844. It was allied with the Great Western
Railway (GWR), which built its main line between London and Bristol,
and in time formed part of a through route between London and
It became involved in the gauge wars, a protracted and expensive
attempt to secure territory against rival companies supported by the
London and South Western Railway
London and South Western Railway (LSWR) which used the narrow gauge,
later referred to as standard gauge.
At first it contracted with the GWR for that company to work the line,
avoiding the expense of acquiring locomotives, but after that
arrangement expired in 1849, the B&ER operated its own line. It
opened a number of branches within the general area it served: to
Clevedon, Cheddar, Wells, Weston-super-Mare, Chard,
The B&ER was financially successful but amalgamated with the GWR
in 1876, the combined company being called the Great Western
Railway.[page needed][page needed]
1.1 Formation and construction
1.2 Opening the main line
1.3 Gauge war: a duplicate route to Exeter
1.4 Gauge war: Crediton and the LSWR
1.5 Independent operation
1.6 Branches and subsidiary routes
1.7 Narrowing the gauge
2 Amalgamation and after
3 Train services
3.1 After amalgamation
4 Engineering features
6 Line and station openings
9 See also
11 Further reading
Formation and construction
Great Western Railway
Great Western Railway to London
Bristol Temple Meads
Bristol Harbour Railway
Portishead Branch Line
Cheddar Valley Railway
Worle (1st station)
Bleadon and Uphill
S&DJR to Wells
River Parrett/Somerset Bridge
Cogload Junction for the Reading to
Creech St Michael Halt
West Somerset Railway
Devon and Somerset Railway
Start of Wellington Bank
White Ball tunnel
Sampford Peverell(now Tiverton Parkway)
Hele and Bradninch
North Devon Railway
Exeter St Davids
South Devon Railway
Great Western Railway
Great Western Railway (GWR) obtained its authorising Act of
Parliament in 1835, to build its line between London and Bristol. The
Bristol were anxious to secure a railway route to Exeter,
an important commercial centre and a port on the English Channel,
giving easier shipping connections to continental Europe. They
Exeter Railway and when they issued a
prospectus on 1 October 1835, they had little difficulty in securing
subscriptions for the £1.5 million scheme.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Isambard Kingdom Brunel was appointed engineer—he was also engineer
to the GWR—and his assistant
William Gravatt surveyed the route,
leading to presentation of a Parliamentary Bill for the 1836 session.
The Bill had an easy passage and was enacted on 19 May 1836. The Act
did not specify the gauge of the track; branches at
Bridgwater and to
Tiverton[page needed] were authorised. Notwithstanding the
apparent family connection to the neighbouring GWR, none of the
B&ER directors was also a GWR director at this time. The GWR
was still under construction.
The early euphoria turned to great difficulty in raising finance for
construction. 4,000 of the 15,000 subscribed shares were forfeited for
non-payment of calls before the line was built. A contract was let for
the first part of the line, from a temporary terminus at Pylle Hill,
west of the New Cut (an arm of the River Avon). The position improved
somewhat in 1838, and indeed the Company obtained Parliamentary powers
for four short branches: of these only one, to Weston-super-Mare, was
It was not until 5 March 1839 that the Company adopted the broad
gauge, having observed the practical results of its use on the GWR.
In the autumn of 1839, the Directors informed the half-yearly meeting
of shareholders that it was now planned to make a priority of forming
the line from Temple Meads (connecting with the GWR there) to
Bridgwater, Somerset, in order to generate some income. Five
locomotives were ordered from Sharp, Roberts & Co for the purpose.
By the end of 1839 the Directors had decided to avoid the capital
outlay by arranging with the GWR—by now in operation—to operate
the line for them. By this time three Directors were also directors of
the GWR, and the alliance was beginning to strengthen. The proposal to
lease the line to the GWR was ratified by shareholders at a special
meeting in September 1841. The lease was to commence on the opening of
a double line from
Bridgwater and Weston-super-Mare, at a
rent of £30,000 annually and a toll of a farthing (i.e. ¼d) per
passenger-mile and per ton-mile of goods and coal (but no toll for
mails, parcels, horses, carriages or cattle). The rent was to increase
proportionally with the completion of the system, and the lease was to
remain in force for five years after completion of the line to
Opening the main line
The first section of the line was opened between
Bridgwater on 14 June 1841,[note 1] just before the GWR completed its
line from London to Bristol.[page needed] It was
33 1⁄2 miles (53.9 km) in length and double track, with a
1 1⁄2-mile (2.4 km) single-line branch to
Weston-super-Mare. There was no B&ER station at Bristol; a
temporary wooden platform at the GWR station was used, and as that
station faced London, a backing movement was necessary to reach the
point of convergence of the GWR line and the B&ER connecting line.
The stations on opening were Nailsea,
Clevedon Road, Banwell, Weston
Junction, Highbridge and
Bridgwater on the main line;
Weston-super-Mare was the only station on its branch, which was
operated by horse traction.[note 2] (The subsequent renaming of
stations is listed below.)
In 1841 money was a little easier to come by, and contracts were let
for the completion of the line, which was opened onward from
Bridgwater in stages:
Taunton on 1 July 1842
Taunton to Beam Bridge (on the
Exeter Turnpike) on 1 May 1844; Beam
Bridge was a temporary terminus, closed when the onward section to
Beam Bridge to
Exeter on 1 May 1844. The
Exeter station was at the
site now known as
Exeter St Davids station.
The opening to
Exeter completed the B&ER main line, and with the
GWR formed a combined broad gauge line from London to
Exeter with a
mileage of 194 miles, far longer than any other line at the time.
The Directors were able to report that the whole construction had been
carried out for the £2 million originally authorised, "a most unusual
experience in those days".[note 3]
On 4 July 1844 the South Devon Railway obtained its authorising Act of
Parliament: the broad gauge would soon be continuous from London to
Gauge war: a duplicate route to Exeter
London and South Western Railway
London and South Western Railway (LSWR) had its main line
from London to Southampton, and was planning to extend to Exeter. The
GWR wished to prevent this by promoting its own lines in the region.
At this period Parliament considered that only one line was
appropriate to serve any particular area, and naturally each company
wished their own allies' lines to be authorised. The LSWR was a narrow
gauge railway (later referred to as standard gauge) and the GWR and
B&ER were broad gauge lines; the intense rivalry to secure
territory was referred to as the gauge wars.
In 1845 the
Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth Railway
Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth Railway (WS&WR) was
promoted by the GWR. The GWR now saw it as the beginning of a line to
Exeter to exclude the LSWR proposal, and as this would harm the
position of the B&ER the GWR offered to purchase the B&ER
company, which it was leasing. This was put to a B&ER
shareholders' meeting and rejected by a considerable majority.[note 4]
Feeling that it had acted in good faith, the GWR now promoted a
modified version of the Wilts, Somerset & Weymouth scheme, and a
line that became called the
Exeter Great Western, from
Crewkerne and Axminster.
The B&ER felt alienated from the GWR. Brunel saw that his position
as Engineer to both companies was compromised, and resigned from the
B&ER at the end of September 1846, being succeeded by Charles
The B&ER naturally opposed these schemes, joining with the LSWR in
doing so, and in the 1846 Parliamentary session they were rejected.
Exeter Great Western proposal was presented again in the 1847
session, and the B&ER again opposed the scheme, itself promoting a
Durston (east of Taunton) to
Castle Cary (on the
Exeter Great Western scheme was again rejected, but
Castle Cary line was approved. However, by now the
financial collapse following the "railway mania"[note 5] had occurred,
and the B&ER never proceeded with that scheme.
The LSWR too had experienced difficulty in making its proposed line to
Exeter, and, in continuation of the struggle to exclude the narrow
gauge company, the GWR and B&ER jointly promoted a line in 1852
from Maiden Newton on the WS&WR line (which was not yet completed)
Axminster to join the B&ER at Stoke Canon. This line was to be
called the Devon and Dorset Railway; the journey from London to Exeter
would have been ten miles longer over it than by the existing line via
This was presented in Parliament in the 1853 session, and became part
of a bitter fight for the so-called coast line: LSWR trains now
reached Dorchester and that company proposed its own line. In
Committee, witnesses for and against the respective lines appeared,
but the B&ER were absent. The proposed broad gauge line was
rejected on 30 June.
Gauge war: Crediton and the LSWR
In 1845 an Act of Parliament authorised the
Exeter and Crediton
Railway (E&CR), a six-mile (10 km) line from Cowley Bridge, a
short distance north of Exeter. A railway had already been authorised
in North Devon: the Taw Vale Railway and Dock, a short line at
Barnstaple. Little had been done there until 1845, when the
proprietors obtained authorisation to revive their powers and build
the line; they hoped to sell their enterprise, now called the Taw Vale
Extension Railway, to another company, the
North Devon Railway
North Devon Railway which
was intending to seek its Act for a
Barnstaple to Crediton line in
Meanwhile, competing proposals were submitted to the 1846 session of
Parliament for railways to connect
Barnstaple to the network. The
B&ER wished to make a line from their (proposed) Tiverton station,
but that was rejected in favour of the Taw Vale Railway Extension and
Dock Company, from
Barnstaple to join the
Exeter and Crediton line at
Crediton. This scheme was supported by the London and South Western
Railway (LSWR), which aspired to expand into Devon.
Exeter and Crediton line and the North Devon line had been
expected to be built on the broad gauge and naturally to fall into the
B&ER camp; lease terms had been provisionally agreed. However, the
London and South Western Railway
London and South Western Railway (LSWR) had designs on entering North
Devon, and encouraged friendly relations with the companies. At an
E&CR shareholders' meeting on 11 January 1847 the provisional
lease was rejected, and this was quickly followed by rejection of the
TVER lease; more favourable leases to the LSWR were negotiated and
ratified by shareholders in January and February 1847. The B&ER
had lost control of the Crediton and
J W Buller of the B&ER was chairman of the E&CR board, and
despite the very large shareholder opinion, he attempted to keep the
E&CR within the B&ER family, and personally signed a two-year
contract with George Hennett to work the line on 7 April 1847. However
at an Extraordinary General Meeting on 12 April 1847, Buller and three
other B&ER directors were removed from office amid angry scenes.
The E&CR had been built on the broad gauge, and when tempers had
cooled, a lease was agreed in February 1851 that the B&ER would
work the line, and install the junction with their own line at Cowley
Bridge; these works would be at the expense of the E&CR. The
E&CR opened on 12 May 1851, for the time being effectively a
branch of the B&ER.[page needed]
On 19 July 1860 the
London and South Western Railway
London and South Western Railway (LSWR) reached
Exeter, after a long struggle. It had its own station, Queen Street,
in a more central location than the B&ER station, and much higher
than it. They already had interests in railways to the west of the
B&ER line, and earlier thoughts had turned to an independent line
crossing the B&ER line to reach the Crediton line, but wiser
counsel prevailed, and an accommodation with the B&ER was reached.
By arrangement, Parliamentary authority was obtained for a connecting
line descending from the LSWR station to St Davids, and the addition
of narrow gauge rails to the line from there to Crediton. The LSWR
service started on 1 February 1862.
Exeter (St Davids) station had been built in a one-sided
arrangement with separate up and down sections. The increase of
traffic and the arrival of LSWR trains made this very difficult to
operate; in 1862 work was started on a new conventionally arranged
station, and this was opened in July 1864.
Taunton station received a
corresponding treatment in August 1868. At Weston-super-Mare, the
terminus was modernised and expanded, and the branch line doubled, in
1866. At Bristol, the project was much more difficult; work started in
March 1871 but was not completed until 1 January 1878, after
amalgamation of the B&ER and the GWR; the new station was joint
with the Midland Railway.
The B&E building at Temple Meads, Bristol
Exeter Railway was a considerable financial success,
and between 1844 and 1874 paid an average annual dividend of 4.5 per
As already described, the
Exeter took over the working
of its line in 1849, and the two companies, B&ER and GWR, were
completely distinct. Through passenger trains operated with shared
rolling stock, and once again there was no common director.
J B Badham was appointed as Secretary and General Superintendent, and
after a false start, James Cresswell Wall was appointed Traffic
Superintendent, transferring to Chief Goods Agent on 1 January 1855;
Henry Dykes succeeded him as Traffic Superintendent. C H Gregory
remained Chief Engineer until the post was abolished in June 1851. In
June 1850 James Pearson took over the locomotive department; at first
his workshops were in Exeter, but they were removed to
the end of 1851. Extensive goods facilities were also provided there
at this time, as well as a roof for the
Bristol "express platform",
earning it the local nickname, the cowshed.
With money now coming in, and in anticipation of independent
operation, the Company had built a carriage works and coke ovens[note
6] at Bridgwater.
George Hennet had arranged to cast pipes there for
the atmospheric system on the South Devon Railway, and the
Exeter Railway simply extended his works. The Hennet name continued to
be linked to
Bridgwater for many years, and was responsible for
producing many wagons for various companies.
In 1852 the Company installed the electric telegraph throughout its
main line, at the time a remarkably progressive investment. It was
the first substantial British railway to operate the block system.
In 1852 the company started construction of a handsome headquarters
building at Temple Meads; it was designed by Samuel Fripp and opened
Branches and subsidiary routes
System map of the B&ER at 1 January 1876
In the early part of 1844, with the main line nearly complete, the
B&ER promoted a branch from near
Yeovil and Weymouth.
At the same time the GWR decided to promote several branches from its
main line, and during the course of 1844 the GWR determined to build a
line from near
Yeovil and Weymouth: this became the
Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth Railway. The B&ER shortened its
intended branch to run to
In the 1845 Parliamentary session, the B&ER obtained authorisation
Yeovil branch, branches to
Clevedon and Tiverton, and a direct
junction line at
Bristol connecting its line with the GWR. Early the
same year the Company had at last constructed its own
(authorised in the original Act); this was at right angles to the GWR
station. The connecting line formed an arc by-passing both Bristol
stations, and an "express platform" was built on it to allow through
passenger trains to make a station call; both directions of trains
used the single platform. The Tiverton branch proved
especially contentious due to the determined opposition of the Grand
Western Canal, which foresaw the end of any income; when the
parliamentary opposition was overcome, the Canal Company offered every
obstruction in the construction of the railway crossing.[note
Clevedon branch (3 1⁄2 miles (5.6 km) from Clevedon
Road, renamed Yatton, was opened to traffic on 28 July 1847, and the
Tiverton branch from Tiverton Road, renamed Tiverton Junction, opened
on 12 June 1848. The Tiverton branch passed under the Grand Western
Canal, and Brunel constructed Halberton aqueduct to carry the canal
over the new line.
Work was also started on the
Yeovil branch from Durston, but due to
the new commitment to expenditure on rolling stock, the work was not
pressed to completion and opening was delayed by several years.
The work was resumed in 1852 and pressed ahead; the whole line to a
Yeovil station at Hendford was opened to passengers on 1 October 1853,
and to goods on 26 October 1853. With the approach of the Wilts,
Somerset and Weymouth line of the GWR, the B&ER branch was
extended from Hendford across
Yeovil to the GWR station at Pen Mill;
this extension opened on 2 February 1857, the same day as the GWR line
from Frome to Yeovil.
West Somerset Railway
West Somerset Railway was authorised in 1857 to make a line from
the B&ER west of
Taunton to Watchet, where there was a small
harbour. There were serious difficulties in raising the necessary
capital (£140,000) and the line finally opened on 31 March 1862 for
passengers; goods traffic was handled from August 1862. The line was
leased to the B&ER in perpetuity. The
West Somerset Railway
West Somerset Railway was
extended to Minehead by the Minehead Railway, opening as a broad gauge
single line on 16 July 1874.It was worked by the B&ER.
On 17 June 1852 the Somerset Central Railway was authorised; it was
friendly to the B&ER, which had subscribed considerable capital to
it. It was to build from Highbridge Wharf, crossing the B&ER main
line there, and running to Glastonbury, mostly along the route of the
Glastonbury Canal. It was a broad gauge single line 12 1⁄2
miles (20.1 km) long; when it opened on 28 August 1854 it was
leased to the B&ER for a seven-year term. While the lease was in
force, it was extended to
Burnham-on-Sea at the north-west end (on 3
May 1858) and to Wells at the south-east end (on 15 March 1859),
making 19 1⁄4 miles (31.0 km) in total.
In 1856 power had been obtained to extend to Bruton, on the GWR; the
Dorset Central Railway, a narrow gauge line, also obtained powers to
join the Somerset Central near Bruton. On 3 February 1862 the lines
were completed and the Somerset Central began operating the entire
line, on the narrow gauge. In August 1862 the two lines joined
together to form the Somerset and Dorset Railway. The junction with
the GWR was never built, and the entire line had abandoned any
allegiance to the B&ER.[note 8]
The Chard and
Taunton Railway obtained authorisation in 1861 but was
unable to raise the capital needed; the B&ER took over the powers
and opened the single line branch to passengers on 11 September 1866,
and to goods in March 1867. The Chard station was joint with the LSWR,
who had a branch from their main line at Chard Junction.
The Portishead branch was built by the
Bristol and Portishead Pier and
Railway Company, and opened on 18 April 1867. The B&ER worked it
but it was maintained by the building company. It was a broad gauge
The Somerset and Dorset Railway proposed a line from Yatton to Wells
in opposing a B&ER scheme for a Wells branch; by negotiation the
B&ER took over the Yatton to Wells scheme, and the broad gauge
line was opened on 3 August 1869 as far as Cheddar, and extended to a
station at Tucker Street in Wells on 5 April 1870. The new line made a
physical connection with the Somerset and Dorset Railway there, but
safety concerns led to a prohibition on through passenger working to
the GWR line to the south. The development of this issue is discussed
in the article Cheddar Valley Line.
Devon and Somerset Railway
Devon and Somerset Railway obtained authorisation to build from
Watchet Junction (later Norton Fitzwarren) to Barnstaple, in 1864. The
company found great difficulty in raising the necessary finance, but
opened to Wiveliscombe on 8 June 1871, and throughout on 1 November
1873. The line was broad gauge and single, with heavy gradients. It
was worked by the B&ER for half the gross receipts.
On 11 March 1872 a short line called the
Bristol Harbour Railway was
opened from the junction of the B&ER and GWR at Temple Meads to
the Floating Harbour in Bristol; it was 3⁄4 mile (1.2 km) long,
and included a tunnel, a long viaduct and an opening bridge. It was
constructed by the GWR and B&ER jointly, with much work being
undertaken at the harbour by the Corporation of Bristol. It was a
single line, and mixed gauge, although neither the GWR nor the
B&ER had narrow gauge trackage in the area. It was soon decided to
extend to Wapping Wharf, where more space was available, and this was
authorised in 1873, but the opening took place after the B&ER
Narrowing the gauge
Apart from the short LSWR running sections at
Exeter and Yeovil, the
B&ER had been exclusively broad gauge. Now in 1866 the Somerset
and Dorset Railway (S&DR) proposed building a
from their line. To head this encroachment off, the B&ER undertook
to lay narrow gauge rails on their own line from Highbridge, where the
S&DR joined it, to
Bridgwater quay, and from there to
Durston (where trains reversed). Narrow gauge passenger and goods
rolling stock was acquired, and with the track works the scheme cost
£125,000. A daily B&ER narrow gauge goods train ran from November
1867, and after resolution of authorisation difficulties with the
LSWR, some narrow gauge passenger trains ran from
Yeovil Pen Mill to
Durston, with some extensions to Highbridge. However, the volume of
traffic was very disappointing, and five of the eight locomotives
purchased for the workings were converted to broad gauge by 1871.
In 1859 the B&ER took over from
Bridgwater Corporation a short
horse tramway between their station and the wharf. Having acquired the
Taunton Canal, the B&ER owned the canal dock, and
the B&ER then converted the tramway for locomotive operation, and
extended it to the dock. It was opened as mixed gauge in November
1867. An opening bridge across the
River Parrett was commissioned in
At Dunball, a coal wharf had long existed, bringing in coal from South
Wales and despatching it to Devon destinations. The B&ER extended
the primitive wharf there and made a mixed gauge branch to it, opening
in November 1869.
If the broad gauge had originally been an asset, the reality by the
1870s was that the narrow gauge of 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in
(1,435 mm) had become the standard gauge, and beyond the Great
Western Railway the vast majority of lines adopted it. As trade
increased, this led to troublesome difficulties at the point of
junction between lines—the break of gauge—where goods had to be
physically transshipped between wagons for onward transit. In July
1874 the Somerset and Dorset Railway completed its Bath extension, and
narrow gauge wagons could reach
Exeter and beyond from the Midlands
over that route and the LSWR.
Responding to the reality, the B&ER started to lay narrow gauge
rails—that is, it installed mixed gauge—on its main line. In
February 1875 the shareholders were informed that the Company was
undertaking the installation throughout the main line; this would
involve a considerable investment in rolling stock. In 1875 an Act was
obtained authorising this work and the raising of capital to pay for
it; and to substitute a loop line at
Weston-super-Mare for the branch
Mixed gauge was installed from
Taunton by 1 June 1875,
enabling the heavy goods and livestock traffic to be accommodated in
narrow gauge trains, and the
Weston-super-Mare branch had already been
dealt with. The line on to
Exeter was completed in November 1875. The
Cheddar Valley line from Yatton to Wells was converted (as opposed to
"mixed") by 18 November 1875. Plans were in hand to deal with the rest
of the system.
Amalgamation and after
During this expensive upheaval, the Directors quickly determined that
amalgamation with another Company with greater financial resources,
was needed. The
Midland Railway was considered, but meaningful
negotiation started with the neighbouring Great Western Railway. The
talks were quickly finalised, and a lease to the GWR from 1 January
1876 was ratified by special shareholders' meetings. The GWR was to
pay 6% on ordinary share capital. Actual amalgamation took place on 1
August 1876. The South Devon Railway amalgamated with the GWR on 1
February 1876, and the GWR now owned the line throughout from London
Under GWR ownership, the train service pattern continued with some
variations. However, towards the end of the nineteenth century it
became increasingly clear that the route form London to
Bristol was inconvenient, and steps were taken to provide a shorter
route. This was built in stages, but on 20 May 1906 the new route was
opened, running via Newbury and Castle Cary, joining the old B&ER
line at Cogload Junction, east of Taunton. The original route section
Cogload Junction was diminished in importance as
most through trains were diverted to the new route, which was 34 miles
(55 km) shorter.[page needed]
The 1906 junction at Cogload was conventional, but increasing traffic
led to delays. Under the Development (Loan Guarantees and Grants) Act
1929, the GWR received Government financial assistance to carry out
improvement works, and the opportunity was taken to provide a
grade-separated junction at Cogload; the Down
Bristol line was carried
Castle Cary lines on a truss bridge. Other improvements to
stations and layout enhancements were carried out between
Exeter, including quadrupling of the line between
Taunton and Norton
Fitzwarren and considerable enlargement of both stations, and
provision of goods-by-pass lines and an enlarged engine shed at
Taunton. These improvements were commissioned progressively between
1931 and 1933.
The ordinary trains of the
Exeter line were not especially
remarkable; attention is given to the through trains between London
and Exeter, over the GWR and the B&E, and of course via Bristol.
Despite the claimed superiority of the broad gauge, train speeds were
not much better than on the standard gauge. Lord Dalhousie was charged
by Parliament to form a committee to comment on the gauge question,
and the committee's report in January 1845 stated, "The actual speed
of trains on the Great Western Railway, [implying broad gauge lines in
general] as shown by the published time-tables and by official
returns, is not so high as upon some narrow gauge Railways ..."
This spurred the GWR and B&ER immediately to accelerate the best
train to Exeter, which would complete the 194 miles (312 km) in
five hours. This was soon further accelerated to 4½ hours, but the
B&ER added two stops—at Weston Junction and Tiverton
Junction—in May 1849, slowing the down train by 15 minutes. The
B&ER section was run from
Bristol Express Platform to
miles (140 km) in 105 minutes in 1846 and 120 minutes in 1849.
The relatively slow speed of the best trains was not considered a
problem until the LSWR put on a fast train on their line, 25 minutes
Exeter and from 1 March 1862 a 4½ hour train was put
Bristol the down train backed into the B&ER terminus for
the station call. These trains were "far and away the fastest in the
world". However, in the succeeding years the timings were slowed once
again. In 1871 the service was again accelerated to 94 minutes
Bristol to Exeter. "Thus the
Exeter Company shared with
the Great Western the distinction of running the fastest trains in the
world. Ordinary trains took three or four hours.
Cheap excursions in the summer were popular: for 1/6d excursionists
could go from
Bristol to Weston and back, and for a shilling from
Bristol to Cheddar or from
Taunton to Watchet. Excursion platforms
were set up at Bedminster, Weston and Clevedon, apparently to
segregate the excursionists from ordinary passengers.
Ticket platforms, of course involving an additional stop, existed from
the earliest days outside
Bristol and Exeter, and from 1870 on either
side of Taunton.
The 1850 Bradshaw shows six down and seven up[note 9] passenger
trains; all called at all stations except two trains each way, which
were probably through trains from and to London. Although the best
Exeter (78 miles (126 km) was two hours,
most trains required up to 3½ hours; it may be that these trains
were mixed and time was spent at stations shunting goods wagons.
On 20 July 1874, while amalgamation was being negotiated, the Somerset
and Dorset Railway—not yet joint—opened its Bath extension. It was
friendly with the
Midland Railway (MR) and the LSWR, and a rival route
from the industrial Midlands and North of England to
created, On 17 May 1876 the LSWR reached Plymouth, using running
powers over the South Devon Railway (SDR), and now the rival route
could carry goods to Plymouth.
In July 1877 a new express passenger train was put on between London
and Plymouth; it was named the Zulu, joining the existing Flying
Dutchman. A further broad gauge express, the Jubilee was put on from
July 1887, but the number of broad gauge passenger trains was
declining. However, another broad gauge express, named The Cornishman,
was started from June 1890, The gauge conversion west of Exeter
enabled through carriages from Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds to be
Bristol by a new narrow gauge express between London and
Torquay, from 1892.
From 20 July 1896, a Newquay portion of the Cornishman ran non stop
from London to Exeter, via the
Bristol Relief Line, running in summer
only until 1899 when it ran all the year round. From July 1904
non-stop expresses ran from London to
Plymouth and back; at first
lightly loaded they were referred to as The Limited, although they
were later branded The Cornish Riviera Express.
The opening in 1906 of the
Castle Cary cut-off enabled the journey
time for these expresses to be reduced, and gradually many (but not
all) of the London to
Plymouth trains transferred to the new route.
Taunton section of the original B&ER thus lost much
of its importance, although trains on the North-and-West Route were
The development of seaside holidays advanced considerably in the
twentieth century, and through trains to Devon and Cornwall were
especially busy in the summer, particularly on Saturdays. Although
London was the dominant originating point, trains ran from
Wolverhampton, and also from Manchester and Bradford, in many cases
over the North-and West Route. The popularity of Minehead and
Ilfracombe put especial pressure on
Taunton and Norton Fitzwarren, and
layout enhancements at those places took place in the 1920s.
Two world wars forced a suspension of development, but holiday towns
gained further in significance in peacetime. The majority of trains
made calls at
Weston-super-Mare (rather than avoiding the town by
running on the original main line) and by 1960 many Paddington to
Bristol expresses continued to Weston-super-Mare. The town had long
been popular as an excursion destination, and a new station there,
primarily for terminating holiday and excursion trains, was opened on
8 April 1914; adjacent to the main station it was simply a development
of the excursion platform at the original terminal (branch) station:
it did not receive a distinct name,
Weston-super-Mare Locking Road,
until 1930. It closed on 6 September 1964. The main station was named
Weston-super-Mare General until 20 September 1953, then reverting to
simply Weston-super-Mare, regaining the suffix from 6 May 1958 until 6
September 1964.[note 11]
Following 1945 holiday traffic to Devon and Cornwall developed
considerably, and working over the B&ER line was congested, with
increasing volumes of traffic from the Midlands and North; but by the
mid-1960s rail travel to holidays in Britain declined rapidly, and the
former heavy workings all but vanished, especially over the
Taunton section. However, since 1994 that route has revived with a
frequent service operated (2014) by Arriva UK Trains under the
CrossCountry trains. West of Cogload junction the London
Weston-super-Mare loop continues in operation for local passenger
traffic, although that volume has declined considerably. Fuller
details are given in the article
Exeter and Crediton line, lost to the B&ER early on, also
remains open as part of a rural branch line; passenger services are
operated under the brand name Tarka Line.
The line formed by the
West Somerset Railway
West Somerset Railway and the Minehead Railway
closed, but reopened as a heritage railway, also using the name the
West Somerset Railway.
Devil's Bridge, Uphill
William Gravatt was resident engineer for the construction between
White Ball (near Wellington, Somerset; usually spelt
Whiteball in railway publications).
William Froude supervised the
section from there to Exeter.
Weston-super-Mare the line crosses the western end of the
Mendip Hills, at Uphill, through a deep cutting spanned by a 115 feet
(35 m) masonry arch bridge, known locally as Devil's Bridge,
which is built into the rock sides. It crosses Bleadon Hill cutting
and was "the best and tallest example of this kind of structure". It
is a Listed Building grade II. The line then runs south across
the Somerset Levels.
Bridgwater a retractable or Telescopic Bridge was built in 1871 to
the design of Sir Francis Fox. It carried a short industrial branch
line over the
River Parrett to the docks, but the bridge had to be
movable, to allow boats to proceed upriver. An 80-foot (24 m)
section of railway track to the east of the bridge could be moved
sideways, so that the main 127-foot (39 m) girders could be
retracted, creating a navigable channel which was 78 feet (24 m)
wide. It was manually operated for the first eight months, and
then powered by a steam engine, reverting to manual operation in 1913,
when the steam engine failed. The bridge was last opened in 1953,
and the traverser section was demolished in 1974, but public outcry at
the action resulted in the bridge being listed as a Scheduled Ancient
Monument, and the rest of the bridge was kept. It was later used
as a road crossing, until the construction of the Chandos road bridge
alongside it, and is now only used by pedestrians. Parts of the steam
engine were moved to
Westonzoyland Pumping Station Museum
Westonzoyland Pumping Station Museum in 1977.
The bridge is now a Grade II* listed building.
The main line crossed the
River Parrett just south of
the Somerset Bridge, with a 100 feet (30 m) span but a rise of 12
feet (3.7 m), half that of the Maidenhead bridge. Work started in
1838 and was completed in 1841. Brunel left the centring in place as
the foundations were still settling, but in 1843 complaints that
navigation was being interfered with had to be responded to. He said
that "although the Arch itself is still perfect, the movement of the
foundations has continued ... and the centres have, in consequence,
been kept in place. [As instructed] by the Directors, measures are
being adopted to enable us to remove these centres immediately, at the
sacrifice of the present arch."
Brunel demolished the brick arch and replaced it with a timber arch,
which was in turn replaced in 1904 by a steel girder bridge.
River Tone was straightened to avoid the need for two
bridges close together. West of
Taunton gradients of 1 in 80 were
needed to cross the
Blackdown Hills and at the summit on the
Somerset-Devon border the 1,092 yards (999 m) Whiteball Tunnel
William Froude, resident engineer for the western section of the main
line, developed an empirical method of setting out track transition
curves and introduced an alternative design to the helicoidal skew
arch bridge at Rewe and Cowley Bridge Junction, near Exeter.[note
After leaving Bristol, the main line was laid on easy curves and
gradients as far as Taunton; there is a slight summit at Flax Bourton
cutting the line is generally level, in part traversing the Somerset
Levels, running north-west of the
Mendip Hills and south-east of the
Quantock Hills. From
Taunton the gradients are more difficult, with
some sharper curvature. The line crosses the flank of the Blackdown
Hills. There is a summit at Whiteball, approached by a ten-mile
(16 km) climb from Taunton, stiffening to typically 1 in 80 in
the final three miles (4.8 km). In the up direction, the climb is
practically continuous from
Exeter to Whiteball, on moderate gradients
as far as Cullompton, then stiffening to 1 in 155 with a final 2 miles
(3.2 km) at 1 in 115.
Line and station openings
Note: openings after the end of independent existence of the B&ER
in 1876 are shown in italic
Main line (Opened to
Bridgwater 1971; to
Taunton 1842; to Beam Bridge
1843; and to
Bristol; superseded by Temple Meads station jointly with the GWR on 6
Bedminster; opened 1871
Parson Street Halt; opened 29 August 1927; renamed Parson Street
Ashton; closed January 1856; reopened as Long Ashton 12 July 1926;
closed 6 October 1941
Bourton; opened 1860; renamed Flax Bourton 1 September 1888; relocated
440 yards (400 m) west on 2 March 1893; closed on 2 December 1963
Nailsea; renamed Nailsea and Backwell 1 May 1905; renamed Nailsea 6
Clevedon Road; renamed Yatton 1847
Banwell; renamed Worle 3 August 1869; renamed Puxton 1 March 1884;
renamed Puxton and Worle 1 March 1922; closed 6 April 1964; reopened a
short distance west in 1990
Weston Junction; closed 1 March 1884
Bleadon and Uphill; opened 1871; renamed Bleadon and
closed 5 October 1964
Brent Knoll; opened 1875; closed 4 January 1971
Dunball; opened 1873; renamed
Dunball Halt 6 November 1961; closed 5
Durston; opened 1 October 1853; closed 5 October 1964
Norton Fitzwarren; opened 1 June 1873; closed 30 October 1961
Wellington; closed 5 October 1964
Beambridge; temporary terminus; closed 1844
Burlescombe; opened 1867; closed 5 October 1964
Sampford Peverell; opened 9 July 1928; closed 5 October 1964; reopened
as Tiverton Parkway on 12 May 1986
Tiverton Road; renamed Tiverton Junction 12 June 1848; closed 11 May
Cullompton; closed 5 October 1964
Hele; renamed Hele and Bradninch 1867; closed 5 October 1964
Silverton; opened 1 November 1867; closed 5 October 1964
Stoke Canon; opened 1860; relocated south 2 July 1894; closed 13 June
Portishead branch (From Portishead Junction; opened 18 April 1867.
Worked by the B&ER.)
Station detail given at Portishead Railway
Clevedon branch(From Yatton; opened 28 July 1847; closed 3 October
Cheddar Valley line (From Yatton; also known as the Strawberry Line.)
Station list given at Cheddar Valley Line
Weston-super-Mare branch (From Weston Junction; opened 14 June 1841;
closed 1 March 1884; superseded by
Weston-super-Mare loop (Opened by GWR on 1 March 1884. (Included here
because of its intimate connection with the B&ER main line.)
Worle; opened 1 March 1884; closed 2 January 1922
Weston Milton Halt; opened 3 July 1933
Yeovil branch (From Durston.)
Station list given at
Chard branch (From Creech St Michael. Opened to passengers 11
September 1866, and to goods in March 1867. Closed to passengers in
1962, and to goods traffic in 1966.)
Station list given at Chard Branch Line.
Tiverton branch (From Tiverton Junction. Opened on 12 June 1848.
Closed on 5 October 1964.)
Halberton Halt; opened 5 December 1927
Minehead branch (From
Watchet Junction, later Norton Fitzwarren;
Watchet 31 March 1862 and extended to Minehead on 16 July
1874. Worked by B&ER. Closed in 1971 and reopened in 1976 as a
Station list given at West Somerset Railway.
Barnstaple branch (From
Watchet Junction; opened to Wiveliscombe 8
June 1871, and on to
Barnstaple 1 November 1873. Worked by B&ER.
Closed in 1966.)
Station list given at Devon and Somerset Railway.
Pearson 4-2-4T at
Exeter in 1876
Exeter Railway locomotives
Locomotives for the railway were provided by the Great Western Railway
until its working arrangement finished on 1 May 1849, after which the
Exeter provided its own locomotives. Engine sheds were
provided at major stations and on some branches, and workshops were
Bristol in September 1854.
Charles Hutton Gregory
Charles Hutton Gregory was responsible for the locomotives until May
1850, when James Pearson was appointed as Locomotive Engineer. He
designed several classes of tank engines, including his distinctive
large 4-2-4T locomotives, the first of which were introduced in
^ The Company had intended to open on 31 May but the Board of Trade
Inspecting officer found deficiencies in the permanent way and refused
permission; a private train for the Directors and shareholders ran on
^ Except for the first up and last down train, horse traction
continued until 1 April 1851.
^ £1.5 million in share capital and £500 thousand in debenture
loans; because of the lease to the GWR the Company had not had to
purchase locomotives and rolling stock, and the Tiverton branch and
Bristol station had not been attempted.
^ MacDermot, writing in 1931, says that the B&ER "shareholders,
with an exaggerated notion of the value of their railway, foolishly
rejected [the lease terms] by a large majority".
^ The "railway mania" was a period in which there was a frenzy of
promoting railway schemes and investing in them; many of them were
bordering on the impractical and some were almost bogus; when it
ended, it became impossible to raise finance for railway schemes for
some considerable time.
^ For locomotive fuel; coal was imported from South Wales by steamer.
^ The B&ER leased the canal for £2,000 a year from 1852, and
purchased it outright for £30,000 in 1863.
^ A daily broad gauge goods train ran from
Bristol to Wells via
Highbridge until the end of 1868; it carried passengers for a time.
^ Down trains were from the London and
Bristol direction, and up
trains were towards London.
^ The North and West Route was the route between Chester and Bristol
via Shrewsbury, Hereford and the Severn Tunnel.
^ Oakley indicates that the Locking Road station had been in existence
since 1866, operated as part of the branch terminus station, and then
as part of the later loop line station. He says (page 132) that the
General station had been so named "since its opening", i.e. 1 March
^ Brick and masonry arches constructed on heavy skews had been built
with the course joints parallel to the abutments. Froude's system was
to lay the arch rings on a helix so that the line of thrust was normal
to the courses; this avoided primary shear forces in the joints but
required more skilled workmanship.
^ There is reason to believe that the station was simply called Exeter
at first, but it was located in the St Davids district of
contemporary and modern writers use the specifier without necessarily
stating that it was in use. SDR timetables shown in Kay use Exeter,
and Kay states (footnote 2, page 18) that he uses it descriptively
only. Oakley uses St Davids throughout. Bradshaw 1850 uses Exeter.
MacDermot never refers to St Davids until volume II page 284, when
contrasting the station with St Thomas. A report in The Times (London)
newspaper dated 2 May 1860 refers to "the St Davids station" in
connection with the planned LSWR line. The LSWR reached
Exeter on 19
July 1860 and opened their own station, called
Exeter Queen Street.
Kay's timetable reprints show
Exeter in 1874 and
Exeter St Davids in
1891 (page 51), and the renaming would appear to have been in that
The Great Western Mail Robbery 1849
^ MacDermot 1927.
^ MacDermot 1931.
^ a b Owen 1985.
^ MacDermot 1931, pp. 125-ff.
^ MacDermot 1927, pp. 151 and 162.
^ a b c MacDermot 1931, pp. 130-ff.
^ MacDermot 1927, p. 130.
^ Sekon 2012.
^ Awdry 1990, p. 18.
^ MacDermot 1927, p. 190.
^ MacDermot 1931, pp. 140-142.
^ MacDermot 1931, p. 143.
^ MacDermot 1931, p. 144.
^ a b MacDermot 1927, pp. 289-ff.
^ Nicholas & Reeve 2008.
^ MacDermot 1931, pp. 146-ff.
^ MacDermot 1931, pp. 159-160.
^ MacDermot 1931, p. 165.
^ a b Simmons & Biddle 1998, p. 53.
^ MacDermot 1931, pp. 154-155.
^ MacDermot 1927, p. 318.
^ MacDermot 1931, p. 155.
^ MacDermot 1931, p. 142.
^ MacDermot 1927, p. 145.
^ MacDermot 1927, p. 302.
^ a b MacDermot 1931, p. 152.
^ Otter 1994, p. 83.
^ Awdry 1990, p. 237.
^ MacDermot 1931, p. 162.
^ MacDermot 1931, p. 175.
^ Maggs 1982.
^ Tourret 2003, p. 135.
^ Report to Board of Trade, January 1845, quoted in MacDermot, volume
I, page 221
^ MacDermot 1927, pp. 642-657.
^ MacDermot 1931, pp. 186-187.
^ Bradshaw's General Monthly Railway and Steam Navigation Guide. 1
March 1850. reprinted as Bradshaw's Rail Times. Midhurst:
Middleton Press. 2012. ISBN 978-1-908174-13-0.
^ MacDermot 1931, pp. 465-490.
^ Semmens 1990, p. 73.
^ Oakley 2002, p. 132.
^ a b Otter 1994, p. 105.
^ Biddle & Nock 1983, p. 234.
^ Otter 1994, pp. 96-97.
Bridgwater Town Trail".
Bridgwater Heritage. Retrieved 22 December
2009. (registration required)
^ "Rail bridge over River Parrett, Bridgwater". Somerset Historic
Environment Record. Somerset County Council. Retrieved 21 December
^ Otter 1994, pp. 99-100.
^ Biddle & Nock 1983, p. 235.
^ "Telescopic rail bridge over the River Parrett". Images of England.
English Heritage. Retrieved 28 February 2010.
^ Brunel's report to the Directors, August 1843, reproduced in
MacDermot, volume II, pages 136 and 137; engravings of the brick arch
and the timber replacement are shown on page 137
^ MacDermot 1931, pp. 135-ff.
^ Otter 1994, p. 106.
^ Simmons & Biddle 1998, p. 47.
^ Brown 2006, p. 26.
^ Sheppard 2008, p. 41.
^ Sheppard 2008, pp. 41-50.
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Brown, David K. (2006). The Way of a Ship in the Midst of the Sea: The
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MacDermot, E.T. (1931). History of the Great Western Railway. Vol II.
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