Tetbury branch line
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|Tetbury Branch Line|
The Tetbury branch line was a seven and a half mile long single track branch railway line that ran from Kemble railway station on the Great Western Railway's Golden Valley Line to Tetbury via five intermediate stations, Jackament's Bridge Halt, Rodmarton Platform, Church's Hill Halt, Culkerton Halt, and Trouble House Halt.
In 1843 the Cheltenham and Great Western Union Railway opened between Swindon and Cheltenham providing a station at "Tetbury Road" (close to the present Thames Head Inn) but this was 7 miles from Tetbury and there was local concern that the town was missing out on the opportunities that its own station would bring. In 1845 the Wiltshire & Gloucestershire Junction Railway deposited plans for a Tetbury branch and in 1863 this company was authorised to construct a line from Stroud to Christian Malford Halt through Tetbury and Malmesbury and work started on 1 June 1865. Due to disagreements between the two major shareholders, the Midland Railway and the Great Western Railway (GWR), work was stalled, and in 1871 the company was wound up. Further proposals in 1871 by the South Midlands Railway and in 1879 by the South Wales and Southampton Railway also failed to bring a line to Tetbury. Finally a proposal by the GWR to build a branch line from Kemble to Tetbury, was authorised by Parliament in 1884 although it was not until March 1887 that tenders for construction were invited. The contract for building the line was awarded to John Harrison & Son of Brighton and in November 1887 the first sod was turned without ceremony. In 1888 tenders were invited for the construction of Tetbury station and alterations at Kemble. Harrison’s bid being considered too high, the contract was awarded to Claridge & Bloxham of Banbury at a value of £1,719, but a little later Harrison & Son were awarded the contract for the goods shed, the engine shed and the cattle pens. The building of the line progressed smoothly if, in the opinion of Owlpen in the Tetbury Advertiser, "at a snail’s pace." The major work was the rock cutting into the spur of land at Tetbury to provide a flat area for the goods yard. In March 1889 the "Son" of Harrison and Son died and on 3 Apr 1889 Mr Harrison Senior handed over all his contracts to Charles Reed and Charles Blaber, both of Brighton. Reed managed the completion of the line and the building of the goods shed receiving his final payment on completion of the contract in August 1890. The line opened with great celebration on 2 December 1889. On opening the line had only one intermediate station, at Culkerton.
Specifications of branch line as built
Length: 7 miles, 16.5 chains. Gauge: 4 ft 8½ in. Rails: Vignoles rail, 80 lb per linear yard. Fixing: Fang bolts to wooden sleepers laid 2 feet apart. Sleepers: 9 ft x 10" x 5". Stations: Kemble Junction, Culkerton and Tetbury. Sharpest Curve: radius 11 chains. Ruling Gradient: 1:66. Overbridges: 2 brick and one wrought iron. Underbridges: 1 brick and 10 wrought iron girder with brick abutments. Signalling: Kemble - 29 working levers and 4 spares; Culkerton - none (siding locked by key on train staff); Tetbury - 8 working levers and 3 spares (all interlocked; line worked by a train staff in conjunction with the Block Telegraph.
Additions and alterations
There was originally only a single intermediate station on the line, at Culkerton, but another, Rodmarton Platform, was added on 1 September 1904. The original Tetbury station was built of wood in case there should be occasion to extend the branch to the Great Western main line at a later date, however, by 1916 the station was in such poor condition that a brick replacement had to be built. In 1926, in a cost-saving measure, all the signals except the Kemble up and down were removed and replaced with ground frames; the Tetbury signal box was closed and sold. An additional wooden-platformed halt was added at Jackaments Bridge in July 1939 to serve the nearby RAF aerodrome but this closed after the war in September 1948. Due to low usage, Culkerton station was closed on 5 March 1956 but it was re-opened and two further stops, Church's Hill Halt and Trouble House Halt, were created in 1959 when a diesel railcar service was introduced.
Engines and rolling stock
For most of its existence the daily routine on the branch line was the running of 8 trains per day up and down the line pulled by steam tank engines. The passenger service usually consisted of two or three carriages and any freight wagons were added to the passenger train. As there was only ever one engine in steam on the line any shunting had to be done either with the passenger carriages attached, as at Culkerton, or, at Kemble and Tetbury, in the short time between scheduled services. Auto-trains were run on the line but not favoured because of the time involved in coupling and decoupling for shunting operations. Engines were initially 0-4-2 side tanks such as the 517 Class and later the 48XX and 58XX Classes. Towards the end the more ubiquitous 0-6-0 pannier tanks such as the 1600 Class predominated and there was the occasional appearance of a 45XX prairie tank. In a further attempt to save costs the last scheduled steam-pulled passenger service ran on 31 January 1959 and on 2 February the passenger service was taken over by diesel railcars (made by AC Cars Ltd with 150 hp AEC engines.)
The first death on the line occurred on 9 October 1891 when an 85-year-old man, Mr William Russell, who was partially deaf, was hit at the Larkhill crossing by the 5.20 from Kemble "literally cutting him to pieces, scattering his members about the line in horrible dissection". Later that year a man was crushed to death by a 4-ton stone boulder while trimming back the rock cutting in Tetbury station yard. In June 1900 Miss Olive Mitchell, the proprietress of a Tetbury grocer’s shop, while returning from a stay in Gloucester Lunatic Asylum, threw herself in front of a goods train at Kemble. Soon after World War II when there were still enough servicemen in the area to warrant the use of a NAAFI wagon to deliver supplies to Tetbury one such wagon was pushed through the Goods Shed doors by its unattended engine. Until replaced by a sliding corrugated-iron door some time later, repairs were temporarily effected with a tarpaulin sheet.
Following the Beeching Report of 1963 the line was earmarked for closure. The goods and parcels operation closed in July 1963 and the engine shed by the end of the year. The last scheduled train ran on 4 April 1964. The final train was a steam-hauled special on 5 April 1964 organised by the Gloucester Railway Society. In July contractors began lifting the track and by the autumn everything metal or saleable had been removed. In the early 70s the station and engine shed were demolished. Only the goods shed and livestock loading pens remained and are now the only buildings from its railway history left standing in the town. British Rail hung on to the land they owned in Tetbury and its approaches after they had stripped out all other assets and sold the rest of the branch line’s track bed to adjacent landowners. The goods shed was rented out and used as a warehouse by coal merchants and a tyre company, until it was sold off by British Rail in the mid-90s in the run up to privatisation and bought by Tetbury Town Council. In 2017 the goods shed was converted into an arts centre and is now expanding in popularity. A cafe has been added and this includes a Finnish railway carriage which provides an additional dining area.
- Randolph, Steve (1985). The Tetbury Branch. Wild Swan.