Yeovil to Taunton Line
The Yeovil to Taunton Line was a railway line in the UK built by the Bristol and Exeter Railway (B&ER) to connect the important town of Yeovil to its network. It was the first railway to serve Yeovil, opening in 1853, using the broad gauge of 7ft 0¼in.
Geographically the branch ran from a junction with the B&ER at Durston to Yeovil; in latter years passenger trains on the line ran between Taunton and Yeovil, using the B&ER main line from Taunton to Durston, and it is convenient to consider the route as from Taunton.
The Great Western Railway (GWR) absorbed the B&ER[note 1] in 1876, and when towards the end of the nineteenth century the GWR wanted to shorten its circuitous route to the West of England, part of the Yeovil line was incorporated into the new line.
The local passenger train service was discontinued in 1964 and only the section incorporated into the West of England route remains open.
- 1 Background
- 2 Construction
- 3 Extension to Pen Mill
- 4 Salisbury and Yeovil Railway
- 5 More narrow gauge encroachment
- 6 Montacute
- 7 Gauge conversion
- 8 A shorter route from London to Taunton
- 9 Later openings
- 10 Closure
- 11 Present
- 12 Stations
- 13 Notes
- 14 References
The Bristol and Exeter Railway was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1836, following quickly on the 1835 Act for the construction of the GWR between London and Bristol. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was appointed engineer, and the two companies worked in collaboration, the GWR undertaking the operation of the B&ER for a period. Both lines adopted Brunel's broad gauge of 7ft 0¼in.
The B&ER line was opened to Taunton on 1 July 1842, using trains leased from the Great Western. It was extended to Exeter, opening on 1 May 1844.
In 1844 the Railway Mania was at its height, and the B&ER was induced to propose a branch to Yeovil, hitherto not served by any railway. In 1845, the B&ER obtained the necessary Act of Parliament; The B&ER obtained parliamentary authority for its branch line to Yeovil in 1845; it was to run from a junction at Durston, about six miles east of Taunton.
Early in 1847 the B&ER let a contract for construction between Yeovil and Martock, a distance of six miles, and comprising the only heavy earthworks on the line, and this was completed two years later.
However, in view of the new expenditure on rolling stock (connected with the B&ER decision to work the main line itself), the Directors decided to suspend operations and nothing more was done until 1852.
Work on the remaining thirteen miles from Martock to Durston was begun in June 1852 and despite heavy flooding that winter, it was opened for passenger traffic on 1 October 1853, and for goods on 26 October 1853. The line was single throughout (from Durston).
The Yeovil station was on the west side of the town, at Hendford, in the angle between Hendford Hill and the present-day Lysander Way. The station is often described as being on the "outskirts" of Yeovil; the distance from there to Yeovil High Street was about 500 m (550 yd).
Later maps (made after the extension to the Town station) show Hendford as forming a broad Y shape, with its stem facing west; the goods yard is on the northern arm and the single platform passenger station on the southern arm, close to Hendford Hill.
At this time the Taunton station consisted of two separate platforms, both on the south side of the line, one for Up trains and one for Down trains; Brunel more famously adopted a similar arrangement at Reading, Slough and Exeter. Speller says that because this seriously constrained capacity there, the Yeovil passenger trains ran from Yeovil to Durston only, with onward passengers changing trains there. The "arrangement continued until 1895, when the GWR provided some additional bay platforms allowing the Yeovil branch train to run into Taunton".
In 1868 Taunton station was adapted into a more conventional two-platform configuration, with a centre through road. The Ordnance Survey Town Plan for 1888 shows that, with what might be a bay platform on the Up side, but this was probably a carriage dock. In 1895 the platforms were lengthened (becoming the longest on the GWR system), and bay platforms were provided at each end.
Extension to Pen Mill
By the time the line was opened, the Wilts Somerset and Weymouth Railway (WS&WR) was being promoted, and was to include a line from Frome to Weymouth. This line was taken over by the GWR and reached Yeovil from Frome on 1 September 1856. However its Yeovil station was planned to be at Pen Mill, on the east side of the town, and the B&ER extended its branch to meet the GWR's WS&WR line at the Pen Mill station.
The extension continued from the Hendford passenger station, crossing under Hendford Hill. Hendford was retained as a "goods depôt" retaining the shed over one siding.
This extension opened on 2 February 1857, the same day as the opening of the line from Frome. The WS&WR line was opened from Yeovil to Weymouth on 20 January 1957.
Salisbury and Yeovil Railway
The London and South Western Railway had for many years been trying to extend its line to Exeter, and had experienced many setbacks. At length an independent company, the Salisbury and Yeovil Railway (S&YR) obtained authorisation for a line, and it reached Yeovil, opening on 1 June 1859, at a temporary terminus at Hendford. It was to be worked by the L&SWR, and that company was actively promoting its own line from Yeovil to Exeter.
The through Salisbury to Exeter line, which was to be formed by the S&YR and the L&SWR together, was to pass east-west somewhat south of Yeovil, but the S&YR was to approach Yeovil itself by a northward spur at its termination, joining the Hendford – Pen Mill line on the south side of the town. At this time, the stations in Yeovil were Pen Mill, on the GWR's Wilts Somerset and Weymouth line, and the Hendford terminus of the B&ER. This was a terminus, facing Taunton, and by-passed by the B&ER through line to Pen Mill.
In anticipation of the opening of the S&YR, the B&ER agreed to the construction of a new joint station at the point of junction. This became Yeovil Town. Pending its completion they agreed to accommodate S&YR traffic at Hendford, and for the purpose they laid an independent (i.e. separate second) narrow-gauge[note 2] track alongside their own single line, and to lay mixed gauge track in Hendford station yard.
This was used by S&YR passenger and goods trains from 1 June 1860 until the new Yeovil Town station was completed on 1 June 1861. It was an impressive building, with two platforms for the L&SWR and one for the GWR; each company has its own Station Master and booking office.
Hendford passenger station closed on the same day, and the mixed gauge at Hendford yard was only used by transfer goods trains until the abolition of broad gauge on the branch, after which it became an ordinary goods yard.
More narrow gauge encroachment
In 1867 the Somerset and Dorset Railway (S&DR) sought parliamentary powers to extend from their line at Shapwick to Bridgwater, then a significant port. To defeat this proposal in Parliament, the B&ER undertook to lay mixed gauge on their main line from Highbridge (where the S&DR and the B&ER lines crossed) to Bridgwater to the quays there, and on to Durston and from Durston to Yeovil, and to work a service of narrow gauge trains on that route.
The sum of £125,000 was spent on the track works and rolling stock for passengers and goods, and a daily narrow gauge goods train started running on the route from Yeovil to Bridgwater Docks in November 1867.
Speller says that
As a result, the B&ER purchased six standard gauge 0-6-0 locomotives for running trains over these lines, but traffic proved so sparse that they were converted to broad gauge. The line was converted to standard gauge in 1874 at the same time as the Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth Railway, which resulted in the re-conversion of the six locomotives to standard gauge."
However the passenger service on the route did not start, and in response to a shareholder's question, it was stated that the L&SWR had declined through working or other facilities. It may be that through goods from remote parts of the L&SWR system was lucrative, but permitting the B&ER access to that network was the thin end of a wedge.
The shareholder was informed that this incurred a dead loss of five or six thousand [pounds] a year, but that when the narrow gauge rail was laid between the Yeovil Joint [i.e. Town] station and Pen Mill, the narrow gauge stock would be used on the branch.
A new station called Montacute was opened in 1882; it was located about half way between Martock and Hendford.
In August 1878 the GWR chairman told the board that the time had come to consider gauge conversion on the branch lines. By this time there was only one daily goods train from Taunton to Hendford and back. At the end of June 1879 the broad gauge operation on the line was terminated.
A shorter route from London to Taunton
From 1895, the GWR set about a programme of constructing new lines to shorten a number of circuitous routes. The route between Reading and Taunton was via Bath and Bridgwater, and a more direct route could be formed, making use of some existing sections of line as well as new construction. As well as improvements further east, a new line was to be built between Castle Cary and a new Cogload Junction, between Durston and Taunton, referred to as the "Castle Cary and Langport Line".
It was to use four miles of the Taunton to Yeovil line between Curry Rivel Junction and Athelney. Langport was just to the east of the new junction, and a new Langport East station was built on the new line; the old Langport station was renamed Langport West. The junction at Athelney was just west of the River Parrett on the Somerset Levels. At Athelney there would be a cut-off to join the former B&ER main line at Cogload. The chosen route would further reduce the length of the journey from London to Penzance by 20¼ miles.
The original line had experienced flooding on the Somerset Levels, and the opportunity was taken to raise the level of the route as part of the upgrading work, as well as doubling the track. The new through route was opened for goods trains on 11 June 1906 and for passenger trains on 2 July 1906, and the route was then the main line for express passenger trains to Devon and Cornwall.
Lyng Halt was opened on 24 September 1928 between Durston and Athelney, on the section that had been by-passed for through trains in 1906. It consisted of a basic sleeper-faced platform and a small wooden shelter.
A halt called Yeovil Hendford opened on 2 May 1932, a little to the west of the earlier Hendford station, (opposite Forest Hill) to serve the growing industrial area west of the town.
Apart from trains using the Castle Cary and Langport route after 1906, the branch was operated as a rural line. In the mid twentieth century, passenger services generally worked by a single GWR Pannier tank 0-6-0PT with two slam-door carriages, and later an auto trailer powered by a 14XX Class 0-4-2T locomotive. Heavier trains and the majority of goods services were worked by 45XX 2-6-2T locomorives.
In the 1950s, with the continuing rise of the motor bus and the private car, traffic fell dramatically. As a result, the line fell victim to the Beeching Axe, and was proposed for closure. Passenger services ceased on 6 July 1964, with Durston station remaining open until 5 October 1964. The only section which remains open today is that either side of the site of the former Athelney railway station across the Somerset Levels, serving the Reading to Taunton Line.
After closure, Somerset County Council acquired the trackbed of part of the former route; they constructed what became the present A3088 road from Yeovil (just west of Westland Helicopters) to the junction with the A303 road at Stoke-sub-Hamdon. Today some of the old railway bridges over the road remain.
The initial Yeovil terminus of the line on opening. In 1857 the line was extended through the town to connect with the GWR line at Yeovil Pen Mill, and in 1860 trains were extended to terminate at the new joint B&ER/L&SWR Yeovil Town. Hendford from this point onward became a halt.
Totally destroyed by construction of the A3088, there are today no signs of the former station.
Thorney and Kingsbury Halt
The former station site has been totally destroyed and buried by new housing and industrial development.
The original building was on the north side of the single track. With the addition of the junctions either side of the station for the Langport and Castle Cary Railway in 1906, and expansion programme was agreed. A second platform was added and a large wooden building was sited on this which then became the main offices. A signal box dating from 1881 on the north side of the line was replaced at the same time by one on the south side, which remained in use until 5 April 1986 to control a level crossing. It has since been rebuilt at Staverton on the South Devon Railway. The station remained open until 15 June 1964.
Today the station master's house and some railwaymen's houses still stand at Athelney. The main station building was moved to Stoke St Gregory Playing field and is now the Cricket and Tennis Pavilion.
An additional station was opened on the old Yeovil branch on 24 September 1928. It was a single platform with a wooden waiting hut situated on the north side of the line in a cutting near the villages of East Lyng and West Lyng. It closed on 15 June 1964.
The Bristol and Exeter opened its Yeovil Branch Line on 1 October 1853 from a new station situated at the north end of the cutting at Durston.
Despite the Langport and Castle Cary Railway opening in 1906, which effectively left Durston and Lyng Halt on a loop line from Cogload Junction, the station continued to serve the branch. The locomotive turntable was taken out of use on 21 September 1952 and the branch closed on 15 June 1964, with Durston station remaining open only until 5 October 1964. The only remains today are the Station Hotel and the trackbed of the old branch running off across the moors towards Athelney.
- Strictly speaking, leased from 1 January 1876, amalgamated 1 July 1876
- That is, standard gauge of 4ft 8½in
- Otter, R.A. (1994). Civil Engineering Heritage: Southern England. London: Thomas Telford Ltd. pp. 105–107. ISBN 978-0-7277-1971-3.
- E T MacDermot, History of the Great Western Railway, Volume 1, Published by the Great Western Railway, London, 1931
- E T MacDermot, History of the Great Western Railway, Volume 2, Published by the Great Western Railway, London, 1931
- Col M H Cobb, The Railways of Great Britain – A Historical Atlas, Ian Allan Publishing Limited, Shepperton
- Mike Oakley, Somerset Railway Stations, Dovecote Press, Wimborne, 2002, ISBN 1 904349 09 9
- "Yeovil Branch". John Speller. Retrieved 21 June 2012.
- Ordnance Survey, Town Plan of Taunton, 1:500 Scale, 1888
- Ordnance Survey 1:2500 plans, 1889, 1903, 1928 and 1964
- At the Half-Yearly Shareholders' Meeting, August 1868, quoted in MacDermot volume 2
- "A3088 Yeovil to Stoke-sub-Hamdon (A303), Somerset". sabre-roads.org.uk. Retrieved 21 June 2012.
- The Signal Box – Athelney
- "Tennis Club". Stoke St Gregory Tennis club. Retrieved 14 November 2010.