Sidmouth Railway

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Sidmouth & Budleigh
Salterton Railways
West of England Main Line
Sidmouth Junction
West of England Main Line
Ottery St Mary
Tipton St Johns
Newton Poppleford
Colaton Raleigh siding
East Budleigh
Budleigh Salterton
Avocet Line

Sidmouth Railway: this article describes a temporary railway to build a pier at Sidmouth Harbour, and the later railway branch lines that connected Sidmouth and Exmouth to the main line network at Sidmouth Junction.

Sidmouth had been a fashionable resort and a small port. It was proposed to build a harbour protected by stone piers, and a temporary railway was built to bring stone from a nearby coastal rocky area.

The Sidmouth Railway was a railway branch line that ran from a junction at Feniton to Sidmouth, connecting the resort to the main line network.

The Budleigh Salterton Railway was a branch line that ran from Tipton St John to Budleigh Salterton, soon extended by the Exmouth and Salterton Railway to Exmouth.

All these railway lines are now closed.

A first railway for the construction of piers[edit]

In the early years of the nineteenth century Sidmouth had been a popular watering place, but its popularity was declining; at the same time the small, exposed harbour was shoaling badly, and local promoters considered building a properly protected harbour, by the construction of two stone piers at the Chit Rocks, at the western end of Sidmouth sea front. Plentiful supplies of suitable stone were available at Hook Ebb, a location on the coast 1¾ miles to the east.

An Act of Parliament for the work was obtained in 1836, and the railway was duly laid. Foundation stones for each of the two piers were formally laid amid considerable ceremony, befitting the intended dedication of the piers to, respectively, Her Imperial Highness The Grand Duchess Helena of Russia, and Princess Victoria (later to become Queen Victoria).

The railway ran parallel to the sea front, and along the esplanade at Sidmouth itself, but there was a tunnel about a third of a mile long through Salcombe Hill. The line ended on the shingle beach, crossing the River Sid on a small viaduct. The railway seems to have been of 3 ft 6in gauge, with track consisting of longitudinal wooden beams 6½ by 4 inches with a ⅜ inch plate on the top. In the shingle the railway was fixed in place by vertical timber piles.

A local blacksmith constructed a machine to pull the wagons loaded with the stone; the machine relied on human muscle power and was found to be inadequate. Apparently[note 1] a locomotive was now ordered, and brought by coastal ship to the shore at Sidmouth; however there was no craneage available to unload it, so the ship was taken to Exmouth, where the locomotive was unloaded and brought to Sidmouth by horse and cart.

On placing the locomotive on the track at Sidmouth, it was discovered that it was too large to pass through the tunnel, and the scheme to use it was abandoned. Afterwards, it seems to have been used to give novelty pleasure rides for a period.

By 1838 the locomotive was removed, as was also the viaduct at Sidmouth. By this time £12,000 of the £15,000 projected cost of building the harbour had been expended, and nothing further was done, the subscribers having nothing to show for their investment. The tunnel remains in place, and during 1966-1967 storm action exposed a considerable length of the piles of the railway.[1][2]

A connection to the main line[edit]

The London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) opened a main line from Yeovil to Exeter on 18 July 1860, giving a through route from London. The rugged terrain of the south-east Devon coastline meant that the railway passed some distance to the north of Sidmouth; the nearest station was Feniton, nine miles away. There had been a number of railway schemes put forward over the previous decade or so to serve Sidmouth directly but they had come to nothing.

On 18 December 1861, London promoters held a meeting for the purpose of forming a Company to build a railway branch line to Sidmouth and a harbour there. The "Sidmouth Railway and Harbour Company" obtained an Act of Parliament on 7 August 1862 with a share capital of £120,000 and authorised loan capital of £40,000. Subscriptions were slow to be taken up, and the contractor Shrimpton complained that he was unable to make progress, as the engineer, H H Bird, had not supplied adequate plans. Further difficulties arose when it emerged that the Company had secretly divided the share issue into two classes, and calls were only being made to one of the classes. Finally it was shown that the Company had unsupported liabilities of £20,000, over three-quarters of which were due to the contractor Shrimpton.[3]

Undertakings were given to resolve the matter, but the Company foundered in 1869.[2]

The trustees of the Balfour family now launched a scheme for a Sidmouth Railway, and this got its Act of Parliament on 29 June 1871, with share capital of £66,000 and borrowing powers of £22,000. The line was to be constructed under the arrangements for a Light Railway, and an agreement was made with the L&SWR for 50% of receipts if over £4,000, with an option for the L&SWR to purchase the railway.

The share issue was successful and a tender for construction of the line was awarded to R T Relf of Okehampton for £35,000. Possibly learning from the delays encountered in constructing the neighbouring Seaton Branch Line, there was a penalty clause for late completion of the work. Nonetheless Relf got into difficulties, asking the company for extra payment as he found that he had under-priced the station work, designs for which had not been completed at the time of tendering. The directors made a small allowance to him, and he sued for the balance, but he lost his case. However the railway was complete by July 1874. Col F H Rich of the Railway Inspectorate of the Board of Trade duly made the inspection and passed the line for opening. It opened on Monday 6 July 1874.[2]

The Sidmouth Railway in operation[edit]

On the opening day there was no formal ceremony to mark the event, although celebrations took place through the first week.

The branch was single track. The junction station on the main line at Feniton had been called Ottery Road[note 2] immediately prior to the opening, but the name was changed to Sidmouth Junction on the day of opening of the branch line. Sidmouth trains used a bay platform on the down (south) side of the station, and they left the bay in an eastwards direction. On leaving the station, the line curved round to the south falling at 1 in 110 and then 1 in 53, followed by flattish gradients to Ottery St Mary, 2 miles 78 chains from Sidmouth Junction; there was a crossing loop. Just before the next station the line crossed the river Otter on a 55-yard viaduct, then entering Tipton, at 5 miles 8 chains, also equipped with a crossing loop. The name was changed to Tipton St John on 1 February 1881.[3]

Leaving Tipton the line now climbed at 1 in 45 for two miles to Bowd Summit, then falling at 1 in 54 for a mile to Sidmouth station, at 8 miles 23 chains. The station was some considerable distance from the sea front.[2]

When the line opened, the passenger train service comprised seven trains each way six days a week, taking 28 to 30 minutes for the journey. After the opening of the Budleigh Salterton line (see below) the train frequency on the northern half of the original Sidmouth railway naturally increased. By 1909 the service had approximately doubled, with trains on Sundays also. Sidmouth was not an industrial town, so goods services mainly brought inwards agricultural supplies, building materials and coal for domestic purposes and for the gasworks at Sidmouth.

The branch was worked by staff and ticket at first, with Tyers electric train tablet system being introduced in 1904. The very steep gradients meant that special precautions had to be imposed for the operation of goods trains over the line.

Locomotive power initially was restricted to those suitable for use on light railways, and this is thought to include Beattie 2-4-0 well tanks. In later years the M7 0-4-4T class came to dominate. When the West Country light pacific 21C110 was to receive its name Sidmouth at a naming ceremony, it visited Sidmouth for the purpose on 27 June 1946, but the class was normally banned until after 1951.[2]

Tipton was renamed Tipton St John's on 1 February 1881.

Attempted takeover[edit]

In 1894 the L&SWR, which was operating the line, offered to purchase it outright for £70,050 but this was refused by the Company. However, in 1922, just before the Grouping of the railways in Great Britain, a share swap was arranged, effectively ending the independent existence of the Sidmouth Railway company.[2]

The Budleigh Salterton Railway[edit]

From the beginning of the proposals for the Sidmouth Railway, promoters in the town of Budleigh Salterton had been putting forward schemes for an extension from Tipton or from Sidmouth itself, and also from Exmouth, to their town. Exmouth had its own railway, direct from Exeter, in 1861. One such scheme was put forward to extend from a junction at Tipton to Budleigh Salterton and through to Exmouth, getting an Act of Parliament in 1863, although Sidmouth itself had not got a railway at that date. The scheme came to nothing, and a number of abortive schemes followed. In one case in 1893 the Exmouth Dock Company opposed the bill on the basis that they derived £500 annual income from the conveyance of goods (by coastal shipping) from Exmouth to Budleigh Salterton.

Finally the Budleigh Salterton Railway was incorporated on 20 July 1894, with powers to build a line from Tipton (later Tipton St Johns) on the Sidmouth Railway to Budleigh. The connection at Tipton gave access to the L&SWR's London to Exeter main line at Sidmouth Junction, and no direct connection towards Exmouth was included in the proposals, perhaps in response to the Dock Company's opposition.[3]

The L&SWR was to operate the line, taking 60% of receipts (plus certain minor fixed costs). The contractors Lucas and Aird proceeded with the construction, and notwithstanding the loss of two temporary bridges when the River Otter was in flood during 1896, construction was completed early. Major F Marindin of the Railway Inspectorate passed the line for opening when he visited on 10 April 1897.

The line was constructed to full main line standards (not as a Light Railway line like the Sidmouth Railway) with 82 lb/yd steel rails and creosoted softwood sleepers. Signalling was only provided at Salterton, the terminus, and by the Sidmouth Railway company at the junction at Tipton.

The line accordingly opened on 15 May 1897, with stations at Budleigh and Salterton. There were eight passenger trains each way, one of them mixed, and one goods train.

Budleigh was renamed East Budleigh, and Salterton was renamed Budleigh Salterton on 27 April 1898. Newton Poppleford station opened on 1 June 1899.[3]

The Exmouth and Salterton Railway[edit]

While the Budleigh Salterton Railway was being built, trustees of the former landowner proposed a railway to connect Budleigh Salterton to Exmouth. However the detail of the proposals generated considerable antagonism, particularly due to the route through Exmouth, which would have bisected the town. The opposition forced a reconsideration, and eventually a more northerly route was adopted, leaving the existing Exmouth station in a northerly direction and then curving eastwards on a 352-yard viaduct, and involving heavy earthworks. When built the line cost £111,378.

The promoters got their act for the Exmouth and Salterton Railway as part of an L&SWR Act on 25 July 1898. The contractors were Henry Lovatt & Sons and the engineer was J W Jacomb-Hood of the L&SWR.

The L&SWR considered at this stage making the junction at Exmouth a triangle, enabling a through Exeter - Exmouth - Budleigh Salterton service, but this was dropped on grounds of cost.

There was one intermediate station at Littleham, with a passing loop, and the line made an end-on junction at Budleigh Salterton. At Exmouth the existing two-face platform was extended. The line passed its inspection and opened on 1 June 1903.[3]

After 1903[edit]

Exmouth & Sidmouth 1908

From the opening of the Exmouth and Salterton section, the L&SWR was now operating the small network served from Sidmouth Junction: to Sidmouth and to Exmouth, forking at Tipton. The L&SWR later purchased the Budleigh Salterton line, and this became effective on 1 January 1911.

The section from Sidmouth Junction to Sidmouth has been described above; from Tipton St John's towards Exmouth the line fell at 1 in 50—the contrary gradients viewed from Tipton platform looking south were startling—then easing to 1 in 360 and then level beyond Newton Poppleford, falling again at 1 in 100 for a while. Moderate gradients followed as far as East Budleigh (originally plain Budleigh) after which the line climbed at 1 in 50 for 1½ miles, then after Knowle cutting falling again at 1 in 50 until the Salterton Road overbridge approaching Exmouth.[3]

The lines became very busy in the first decades of the twentieth century, with ten trains each way on the Budleigh Salterton line. Matters were especially busy at Tipton St John's where Waterloo trains divided and joined (for Sidmouth and Exmouth respectively), with as many as 50 train movements per day.

From 1914 a number of Waterloo to Exmouth express trains were routed via Tipton. From 1927 a service from Nottingham via the Somerset and Dorset line and Templecombe.

In the summer of 1938 there were eleven trains each way daily between Sidmouth and Sidmouth Junction and five each way between Sidmouth and Tipton St Johns; and five trains between Tipton St Johns and Exmouth, three of which originated from or ran to Sidmouth, and the other two to or from Sidmouth Junction. Three trains each way ran through to or from Exeter. There were three trains with through coaches from or to Waterloo (four more on Saturdays, with a Derby train as well).[3]

Through coaches were discontinued in 1964 except on summer Saturdays, as the local trains were diesel multiple units.

The lines closed to passenger traffic on 6 March 1967 and to freight on 8 May that year.[3]


  1. ^ Messenger makes it clear that he regards the locomotive story as highly dubious; Maggs, writing three years later seems to have accepted the story as factual
  2. ^ The station had had several different names since opening


  1. ^ M J Messenger, The Sidmouth Harbour Company of 1836, The Industrial Railway Record No. 55, pp282-285, August 1974, available online at [1]
  2. ^ a b c d e f C Maggs and P Paye, The Sidmouth, Seaton & Lyme Regis Branches, Oakwood Press, Blandford, 1977
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Derek Phillips, From Salisbury to Exeter: The Branch Lines, Oxford Publishing Company, Shepperton, 2000, ISBN 0 86093 546 9

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