Bristol and Exeter Railway
|Bristol and Exeter Railway|
Exeter in 1844. William Spreat's print shows the original Exeter station before the South Devon Railway was opened.
|Dates of operation||1844–1876|
|Successor||Great Western Railway|
|Track gauge||7 ft 1⁄4 in (2,140 mm)|
The company's head office was situated outside their Bristol station. Designed by Samuel Fripp, it was opened in 1854.
In addition to the mainline from Bristol to Exeter (Devon), branches were opened to Clevedon, Cheddar and Wells, Weston-super-Mare, Chard, and Yeovil in Somerset, and to Tiverton, Devon. The Bristol & Exeter also worked a number of small independent railways: the Bristol and Portishead Port and Pier Railway, the Somerset Central Railway, the West Somerset Railway and Minehead Railway, the Devon and Somerset Railway, and the Exeter and Crediton Railway.
The Bristol & Exeter Railway was authorised by act of Parliament in 1836, following quickly on the 1835 act for construction of the Great Western Railway. Bristol merchants were anxious to secure a railway route to Exeter, which was an important commercial centre, and which had a harbour on the south coast, in the English Channel. Coastal shipping from the South coast and from continental Europe making for Bristol needed to navigate the hazardous north Cornwall coast after negotiating the waters round Land's End.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel was appointed engineer, and his assistant William Gravatt surveyed the route in 1835 and was resident engineer for the section between Bristol and White Ball with William Froude supervising the section from Whiteball to Exeter. He 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. The first 7 ft 1⁄4 in (2,140 mm), broad gauge, section of the line was completed to Bridgwater on 14 June 1841, and the extension to Taunton in July 1842 – both using trains leased from the Great Western. The line was completed to Exeter and opened on 1 May 1844.
At first the railway was worked by the Great Western Railway, but the Bristol & Exeter took over its own working in 1849. It built a carriage works at Bridgwater, which already had a railway engineering industry. George Hennet obtained permission in the town to cast atmospheric pipes for the South Devon Railway, the Bristol and 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.
The Bristol & Exeter Railway was a considerable financial success and between 1844 and 1874, paying an average annual dividend of 4.5 per cent. The city fathers of Exeter refused the railway access to the dock of the Exeter Canal until 35 years after it entered the city in 1844.
South of 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 then runs south across the Somerset Levels.
At Bridgwater a retractable 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 in 1977. The bridge is now a Grade II* listed building.
The main line crosses the River Parrett just south of Bridgwater on the Somerset Bridge, with a 100 feet (30 m) span but a rise of just 12 feet (3.7 m). Work started in 1838 and was completed in 1841. Brunel left the centring scaffold in place as the foundations were still settling but was forced to remove it in 1843 to reopen the river for navigation. Brunel demolished the brick arch and had replaced it with a timber arch within six months without interrupting the traffic on the railway. This was in turn replaced in 1904 by a steel girder bridge.
At Taunton the 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 was constructed.
- Ashton (1841 or 1852–1856)
- Flax Bourton (1860)
- Nailsea (1841)
- Clevedon Road (1841, renamed Yatton 1847)
- Banwell (1841, later renamed Puxton and Worle)
- Weston Junction (1841)
- Bleadon and Uphill (1871)
- Brent Knoll (1875)
- Highbridge (1841)
- Dunball (1873)
- Bridgwater (1841)
- Durston (1853)
- Taunton (1842)
- Norton Fitzwarren (1873)
- Wellington (1843)
- Beambridge (temporary station 1843–1844)
- Clevedon branch from Yatton
- Clevedon (1847)
- Cheddar Valley Railway from Yatton (also known as The Strawberry Line)
- Weston branch (from Weston Junction)
- Weston (1841)
- Yeovil branch (joined before Durston)
- Chard branch
- Tiverton branch
- Tiverton (1848)
Main article Bristol and 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 Bristol and Exeter provided its own locomotives. Engine sheds were provided at major stations and on some branches, and workshops were established at Bristol in September 1854.
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 1854.
- 1836 Bristol and Exeter Railway authorised by Act of Parliament
- 1841 Opened from Bristol to Bridgwater, also Weston branch
- 1842 Extended from Bridgwater to Taunton
- 1843 Extended to temporary terminus at Beam Bridge
- 1844 Main line completed to Exeter
- 1845 Independent Exeter station opened at Bristol
- 1847 Clevedon branch opened
- 1848 Tiverton branch opened
- 1849 Lease to Great Western Railway expires
- 1853 Yeovil branch opened
- 1854 Operation of Somerset Central Railway
- 1857 Yeovil branch extended to junction with Great Western Railway Weymouth line
- 1862 Exeter and Crediton Railway opened, operated by Bristol and Exeter Railway
- 1862 West Somerset Railway opened and leased to Bristol and Exeter Railway
- 1864 Exeter station rebuilt
- 1865 Grand Western Canal purchased
- 1866 Chard branch opened; Weston station rebuilt
- 1867 Bridgwater and Taunton Canal purchased
- 1868 Taunton station rebuilt
- 1869 Branch opened from Yatton to Cheddar
- 1870 Branch extended from Cheddar to Wells
- 1871 Devon and Somerset Railway opened to Wiveliscombe, worked by Bristol and Exeter Railway
- 1872 Bristol Harbour Railway opened, jointly owned with the Great Western Railway
- 1873 Devon and Somerset Railway completed to Barnstaple
- 1874 Minehead Railway opened, operated by Bristol and Exeter Railway
- 1875 Bristol to Taunton, Weston and Yeovil branches converted to mixed gauge; Wells branch converted to standard gauge
- 1876 Amalgamated with Great Western Railway
- MacDermot, E T (1931). History of the Great Western Railway. 2 (1863–1921) (1 ed.). London: Great Western Railway.
- Otter, R.A. (1994). Civil Engineering Heritage: Southern England. London: Thomas Telford Ltd. pp. 105–107. ISBN 978-0-7277-1971-3.
- Simmons, Jack; Biddle, Gordon (1997). "Bridges and Viaducts". The Oxford Companion to British Railway History. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 47. ISBN 0-19-211697-5.
- Brown, David K. (2006). The Way of a Ship in the Midst of the Sea: The Life and Work of William Froude. Penzance: Periscope Publishing. p. 26. ISBN 1-904381-40-5.
- "Bridgwater Town Trail". Bridgwater Heritage. Retrieved 22 December 2009.
- "Rail bridge over River Parrett, Bridgwater". Somerset Historic Environment Record. Somerset County Council. Retrieved 21 December 2009.
- "Telescopic rail bridge over the River Parrett". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 28 February 2010.
- MacDermot, E.T. (1931). History of the Great Western Railway, vol. II: 1863–1921. Paddington: Great Western Railway. pp. 135–137.
- Sheppard, Geof (2008). Broad Gauge Locomotives. Southampton: Noodle Books. ISBN 978-1-906419-09-7.
- George Measom (1860), Official Illustrated Guide to the Bristol and Exeter, North and South Devon, Cornwall, and South Wales Railways, London: Richard Griffin and Co.