- Southern Railway routes west of Salisbury
This article describes the history and operation of the railway routes west of
Salisburythat ultimately became part of the Southern Railway in the United Kingdom. Salisbury forms a natural boundary between the Southern Railway core routes in the counties surrounding London, and the long route connecting with the Devonand Cornwalllines.
The Southern Railway started railway operation on
1 January 1923as part of the grouping of railways in Britain, forced by Act of Parliament. There were three major constituent companies, of which the London and South Western Railway(L&SWR) operated services from Waterloo stationin London, to Devon and Cornwall. The L&SWR had constructed a good network of routes and the Southern Railway did not much extend the route mileage, seeing its task as consolidating the services offered and enhancing their appeal to the public.
The Southern Railway, and the L&SWR before it, engaged in bitter competition with the
Great Western Railway(GWR) for traffic from London to Devon and Cornwall. The L&SWR routes were generally more difficult operationally and served somewhat less important centres of manufacturing and (later) seaside recreation. The GWR also had the advantage of an easier connection with the Midlands and the North through Bristol.
Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway, running from Bournemouthto Bath, and forming an important communications link with the Midlands, had been jointly owned by the L&SWR and the Midland Railway; its ownership was, from 1923, jointly between the Southern Railway and the new London, Midland and Scottish Railway(LMS).
Some minor independent railways also formed constituents of the new Southern Railway.
From Salisbury the main line westward, followed a difficult switchback route to Exeter Central station, through
Dorsetand Devon. Never running close to the coast, it supported several short branch lines to coastal resorts and to important towns adjacent to itselves route. At Templecombeit, connected with the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway.
At Exeter the main line turned north and skirted the northern margin of
Dartmoor, before turning south to reach the important city of Plymouth. This main line supported several secondary routes, serving North Devon and North Cornwall coastal towns, from Ilfracombe, Barnstapleand Bideford, to Budeand to Padstow.
History of Construction: L&SWR Routes
alisbury to Exeter
The L&SWR had reached Salisbury in 1847 with a line from Bishopstoke (now known as Eastleigh) to a station at Milford, at the south-eastern edge of the city. The L&SWR wanted to open up territory to the west of Salisbury as part of the rush to secure areas for itself, in competition with the
Great Western Railway; over a long period this competition is characterised as the gauge wars, because the GWR and its allies had adopted Brunel's broad gauge, and the gauge of an independently promoted railway implied its friendship with other railways of the same gauge.
The L&SWR looked towards Exeter as an important destination, and several attempts were made to get parliamentary approval for a line to reach the city. The independent Southampton & Dorchester Railway was proposed for extension to Exeter (and Dorchester station was aligned appropriately) but first attempts were rejected.
The L&SWR company had given an undertaking (to secure passage of the act for another line) to complete a direct railway from Basingstoke to Salisbury, and it grudgingly complied, opening, also to Milford, on 1st May 1857Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain, volume 2 - Southern England; White, H P; Phoenix House, London; 1961] .
However the first step westwards was built by the Salisbury and Yeovil Railway which got an Act of Parliament on
7 August 1854, and it opened its first section from Salisbury to Gillingham on 2 May 1859. The Salisbury station was a new station at Fisherton Street, immediately south of the GWR station that had opened on 20 June 1856, serving its line from Westbury. On the same day the L&SWR opened connecting lines from the Bishopstoke and Basingstoke lines to Fisherton Street, and closed the Milford station to passengers.
The Salisbury & Yeovil company extended its line to Sherborne on
7 May 1860and from there to Yeovil on 1 June 1860.
With the approval of the Salisbury & Yeovil railway, the course of the L&SWR route to Exeter was clear, and they now easily got an Act for their line on
21 July 1856, opening throughout from Yeovil to Exeter Queen Street on 19 July 1860. The Bristol & Exeter Railway, a broad gauge company, had reached Exeter 16 years previously.
Exeter and North Devon
Seeing a strategic advantage in developing territory in Devon, the L&SWR took a great interest in local railways being promoted between Exeter and North Devon. When the Taw Vale Extension Railway was promoted and obtained its Act of Parliament for construction in 1846, the L&SWR bought shares in the adjacent Exeter & Crediton railway, and in 1847 the L&SWR concluded a lease of the TVE which itself leased the E&CR. When the lines finally opened on
1 August 1854the L&SWR had control of a railway from Exeter to Fremington, just beyond Barnstaple. However these had been required by the Board of Trade to be on the broad gauge, so for the time being the L&SWR had to arrange for the Bristol & Exeter Railway to work its trains for it. After the L&SWR reached Exeter, an arbitration award required the Bristol & Exeter to lay mixed gauge track from Exeter St Davids to Cowley Bridge Junction, and permitted the L&SWR to run standard gauge trains to Crediton from 1862 and throughout to Fremington from 1863.
The Bideford Extension Railway built a line from Fremington to Bideford, opened in 1855, worked by the L&SWR on the broad gauge with B&E trains until 1863.
The L&SWR extended the Bideford line to Torrington, after local pressure to fulfill an earlier undertaking, opening in 1872.
These developments are more fully described in the article
North Devon Railway.
Extension of the line from Barnstaple to Ilfracombe took place in 1874. The route was very difficult and involved steep gradients and sharp curves.
Into Cornwall and to Plymouth
Seeking further westward expansion, the L&SWR encouraged an independent company, the Devon & Cornwall Railway to promote a line from Coleford Junction, north-west of Crediton, to Lydford round the northern edge of Dartmoor. At Lydford the line made a junction with the South Devon & Tavistock Railway, a broad gauge company that had reached there in 1865, and running powers were obtained to continue to Plymouth. The D&CR line was opened slowly in stages between 1865 and 1874, and the completion was accompanied by the opening of the L&SWR's own terminus station at Devonport; its trains ran through Plymouth from Tavistock Junction, making a Plymouth call at Mutley station and later North Road station, then continuing to the Devonport station.
The L&SWR enhanced its own goods and dock facilities at Plymouth, and later built its own line from Lydford to Devonport, now entering the former terminus station from the west, so that L&SWR trains from Exeter now ran from west to east, calling at Devonport and North Road, and then terminating at a new passenger terminal at Friary, to the east of Plymouth city centre.
These developments are more fully described in the article
Exeter to Plymouth railway of the LSWR.
The Lydford line enabled the L&SWR to launch a railway to Holsworthy, and important market town, in 1879, extending that line to the Cornish harbour town of Bude in 1898. This route is described in the article
Okehampton to Bude Line.
Branch Lines between Salisbury and Exeter
The challenging terrain between Salisbury and Exeter made it difficult for the main line as constructed to serve several important towns near its path. This resulted in several important branch lines being constructed to serve them, in many cases promoted by local interests. Most of the branch lines made a junction with the main line at a place other than a town, reducing the commercial effectivenness of the route.
Even the Salisbury and Yeovil Railway served Yeovil itself by a branch from Bradford Abbas, a fact which lost it much initial support in Yeovil when it became known at the promotion stage.
When the Yeovil branch opened, on the same day as the S&YR main line on
1 June 1860, the Yeovil station was not ready and the trains continued on the Bristol & Exeter line to Hendford, the B&ER station on the western limits of the town. The B&ER laid mixed gauge track for the purpose, having reached there in 1857 connecting with the GWR at Pen Mill. The magnificent Yeovil joint station opened on 1 June 1861, jointly operated by the B&ER, the GWR and the L&SWR, and the L&SWR trains ceased running through to Hendford.
Chard was served by a railway promoted by the Chard Railway company; when construction was partly complete the L&SWR purchased the railway on
1 January 1863and the line opened on 8 May 1863, from Chard Road to Chard Town. When the Bristol & Exeter Railway reached Chard from Taunton in 1866, the L&SWR line was extended, by-passing the original station and running to a new Joint station, called New Chard or "Chard Joint", opened in 26 November 1866. The original station remained open, but was reduced to goods-only status in 1917.
Lyme Regis was the last of the intermediate branches to be built after several earlier schemes from 1864 failed; the
Lyme Regis branch lineran from Axminster station with 1 in 40 gradients and sharp curves, opening on 24 August 1903. Constructed and worked by the Axminster & Lyme Regis Light Railway, it was absorbed by the L&SWR on 1 January 1907. Although a southwards branch, it ranm from the up (north) side of Axminster station and crossed over the main line. There was a spur to the down sidings at Axminster station.
The Seaton branch was constructed by the Seaton and Beer Railway; it opened on
16 March 1868from Colyton Junction (later Seaton Junction) with intermediate stations at Colyton Town, Colyford and Seaton. The line was leased by the L&SWR from 1 January 1880and absorbed by it on 1 January 1888.
The Sidmouth Railway got its act of parliament on
29 June 1871and opened its line on 6 July 1874from Feniton, with intermediate stations at Tipton and Ottery St Mary. The Sidmouth station was somewhat short of the town itself. Feniton had been renamed Ottery Road in 1861, but was renamed Sidmouth Junction when the Sidmouth line opened. (After closure of the branch line it reverted to Feniton in 1971.
A light railway called the Budleigh Salterton Railway got its act on
20 July 1894and opened its line in 1897 from Tipton St Johns (the earlier Tipton station, renamed in 1881) to Salterton, with an intermediate station at Budleigh. In 1898 it renamed Salterton to be called Budleigh Salterton; Budleigh was renamed East Budleigh, and a new station was opened at Newton Poppleford.
The L&SWR already operated an Exmouth branch, and it filled in the gap by opening its Exmouth & Salterton Railway from Budleigh Salterton to Exmouth, with an intermediate station at Littleham, on
1 June 1903.
Much earlier, the Exeter & Exmouth Railway had opened its line from the L&SWR at Exmouth Junction on
1 May 1861; it was woprked from the outset by the L&SWR.
*Lynton & Barnstaple
*Torrington - Halwill
The Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway
Somerset & Dorset Joint Railwayformed a most important connecting line for the L&SWR, intersecting at Templecombe. The line had originally been promoted by a local line, the Dorset Central Railway, which had made a connection with the L&SWR at Templecombe in 1862. At the same time, the line amalgamated with the Somerset Central Railway to form the Somerset & Dorset Railway, at this stage only aspiring to connect Poole with Highbridge and Burnham on the Bristol Channel. However the little company completed its extension to Bath in 1874, there connecting with the Midland railway, and instantly forming an important through route to the Midlands and the North, avoiding dependence on the Great Western Railway.
However the capital expenditure in building the Bath extension ruined the S&DR and it leased its line to the L&SWR and Midland Railway companies in 1876; they operated the line as the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway, with the Midland company providing the engine power and rolling stock, and the L&SWR providing infrastructure and operations staff.
The Joint line connected with other L&SWR routes at Poole and Bournemouth, and that was the most important passenger flow, with a lower usage of the Templecombe connection with the Salisbury - Exeter line. However freight traffic interchange at Templecombe was considerable.
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