Diana Bowerman , News Editor
Saturday, January 14, 2012
Train buffs will enjoy informative read in ‘The Branch Lines of Devon’
RAIL enthusiasts will enjoy the first of a two-part book – The Branch Lines of Devon* – published by Colin G Maggs, a highly respected authority on railways.
It covers Exeter, South, Central and East Devon, including Sidmouth Branch line, which ran from Sidmouth through Tipton St John and Ottery St Mary to Feniton (Sidmouth Junction).
Sidmouth’s first railway was an independent line that carried stone used to construct two jetties.
A tunnel was cut into Salcombe Cliffs and, writes Colin: “In 1837 a steam locomotive was delivered by sea to Exmouth and drawn by horses to Sidmouth.”
However, it proved too large for the tunnel and, not to waste money, was coupled to two wagons and used to give people pleasure rides along the Esplanade.
The act for building the eight-and-a-quarter mile long Sidmouth Railway was passed in June 1871 and the branch opened in 1874.
“The first train left Sidmouth Junction at 6.50am on July 6. No official opening ceremony was held that day, but 200 people gathered to see the inaugural, train leave.”
In 1900 early one January morning, Falkner, the stationmaster, who lived in the nearby station house, summoned his staff to help him put out a blaze at the small timber engine shed, but a gale fanned the flames and the building was destroyed.
The engine inside went to work the following day with its paint burnt off.
“The shed was rebuilt in brick, but closed a few years before the Second World War,” writes Colin.
In 1935 the SR general manager reported the bookings and parcels office at Sidmouth station was “quite inadequate for dealing with the summer traffic, and is also very dark”.
A sketch showed how the office could be enlarged and it was also considered there should be a footpath leading from the station entrance to the junction of the two main roads.
Pre-Second World War Sidmouth received 1,500 goods wagons a year.
The West Country class engine Sidmouth, had its naming ceremony at the line in 1946, but usually these type of engines never used the line.
“Guests at the naming ceremony were entertained to tea in a restaurant car.”
The branch was dieselised in 1963, the same year the Beeching Report threatened the line with closure and Sidmouth’s hoteliers and shopkeepers formed Sidmouth Railway Committee to keep it open.
“In 1964…some 900 passengers used Sidmouth station on a summer Saturday and 30-40 daily in winter,” writes Colin. “The annual total was 175,000 and Tipton and Ottery St Mary together accounted for a further 115,000.”
However, the committee’s efforts were in vain and the last train on the branch was the 18.57 Sidmouth Junction to Sidmouth on March 6, 1967.
* The Branch Lines of Devon is available at Paragon Books, Sidmouth, priced £16.99 or from publishers Amberley Publishing.