Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Eltham Well Hall 1985


The replacement Eltham station in the distance.

(All 13.2.1985 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

Eltham Well Hall station opened on 1 May 1895. 

Eltham Well Hall was one of two Eltham stations (the other being Eltham Park) which were both closed on 17 March 1985 when the new Eltham station opened, slightly to the east of Eltham Well Hall.

Eltham Well Hall opened on 1 May 1895. There are no traces of the station left.

I visited the station just five weeks before closure on a bitterly cold day with snow on the ground. Work on the new station had progressed well, the new station being immediately to the east of Well Hall. Unfortunately no trains passed through whilst I was there!

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Exeter to Exmouth branch

(Pics sourced from internet and acknowledged at end of article)

The Exmouth branch (now branded the Avocet Line) connects Exeter to Exmouth in Devon. It offers a very useful commuter service to the city. The line follows the edge of the Exe Estuary from just south of Topsham right into Exmouth, the keen eyed traveller can spot the main Great Western route through Starcross and on to Dawlish across the estuary along the opposite bank.

The line opened in 1861. The route included a branch to Topsham Quay (freight only), a 700 yard long route which closed in 1957. Another line connected to a dock was constructed at Exmouth, just 40 chains long, freight only. The line to the dock closed in 1967.

The line has a good number of stations for a short line - Polsloe Bridge, Digby and Sowton, Newcourt, Topsham, Exton, Lympstone Commando, Lympstone Village and Exmouth. Exmouth is currently the fifth busiest station in Devon. Three of these stations have opened since 1976, the latest (Newcourt) in 2015. The line is an excellent example of a branch line expanding in step with increases in traffic.

There is a group which supports the development of this line -
Trip along the line (video)

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Betchworth 1977


(All 20.5.1977 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

When I lived in Littlehampton we made regular trips to relatives in Battersea, by car of course. The route was reasonably scenic with a little rail interest - the closed station at Fittleworth (my dad for some reason always went via Fittleworth rather than the main A29), under the bridge at Deepdene with glimpses of the station at Dorking North and the line up to Boxhill on the left, and of course a good few lines as we approached London.

On one trip we were diverted around Dorking as the main road was shut for some reason. I have a very strong image of reaching an old style level crossing and seeing a quaint station on a non-electric line through the darkness. I was hoping the gates would close and a steam train would come through! I also clearly remember Gilbert O'Sullivan's 'Nothing Rhymed' as we crossed it, which dates this to October 1970 or just after, so the steam train was a forlorn hope, five years too late.

A few years later, well into railways and armed with a camera I sought out the mystery station. It was clearly Betchworth on the Reading to Tonbridge cross country line. Little had changed since my previous encounter. I managed to get the above three shots but sadly no trains came through whilst I was there. The line was diesel worked and had a slight air of dereliction. Of course now it's a major route but back then lines were still closing!

Saturday, 4 February 2017

East Sussex rural idyll


(All pics 18.4.1976 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

The Kent and East Sussex Railway had quite a struggle to survive. The original line closed to passengers in 1954, with the section north from Tenterden to Headcorn closing completely, the rest of the line followed in 1961. Track remained in situ though and the line was eventually opened in stages from Tenterden westwards, but only after an epic struggle with the Minister of Transport, who refused the line permission to cross the main A22 with a level crossing just short of its junction with the main Tonbridge-Hastings line at Robertsbridge. This section is now being restored by the Rother Valley Railway which plans to make an end-on junction with the KESR in the future.

This was all in the air when I visited in 1976. What I found was a rather ramshackle station at Bodiam which hasn't seen any public trains since 1961. It had a real air of Colonel Stephens (which I imagine is lost now) and was set in pleasant countryside. It's currently the terminus for trains from Tenterden, the nearby castle being a big draw for passengers.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Bishop's Castle Railway

Lydham Heath

Horderley 1935

Stretford Bridge junction

Bishop's Castle in 1939

Bishop's Castle in 1905

(All pics sourced via Google)

One of the UK's less well known minor railways was the Bishop's Castle Railway. It had a troubled history and was always in financial difficulties.

Building of the line commenced in 1861, well before the Light Railway Act, though it shared many light railway characteristics - poverty, second hand locos and a general run down feel. The line was planned as a through route from Craven Arms to Montgomery, with a short branch from Lydham Heath to Bishop's Castle. In the end the Lydham Heath to Montgomery section was never built, making the completed route Craven Arms to Bishop's Castle with a  reversal at Lydham Heath. The line was completed and opened for traffic (in its truncated form) in 1865 and was sold into receivership in 1867, remaining in this situation until closure in 1935. Bus services on adjacent roads commenced as early as 1900 putting further pressure on the line, but it struggled on loyally supported by locals, staff and management for another 35 years.

A major issue was that the land on which the line ran had never been paid for, and when the agreement was changed to a rental basis the rent wasn't paid either!

The line closed completely on 20 April 1935 and the line had been lifted by 1937, the steel being used in the building of HMS Prince of Wales.

The line had stations at Stretford Bridge Junction (halt), Horderley, Plowden, Eaton, Lydham Heath and Bishop's Castle.

The line was worked purely by steam, seven locos were used in all. The most famous was 'Carlisle', an 1868 built 0-6-0 tender engine.

Much of the line is still traceable (2017) and the easternmost section has been incorporated into the Onny Trail. The whole route run for ten and a half miles through lovely countryside.

The Bishop's Castle Railway and Transport Museum, which celebrates the line, opened in 1989. This is staffed by volunteers from the Bishop's Castle Railway Society.

Source and more info

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Cooksbridge in 1977


(All 4.7.1977 Copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

Back in 1977 I was often out on my motorbike visiting the more obscure parts of the railway network in Sussex, Hampshire and Dorset.

A strange little line (to me at least) is the line that runs from Keymer Junction down to Lewes, stopping at Cooksbridge and Plumpton. This was a line I simply wouldn't use living in Littlehampton. It gives a (sort of) direct route from Eastbourne to London (now the Cuckoo Line is closed), but seemed like a bit of a backwater with few trains stopping at the stations outside of rush hour.

This was Cooksbridge in 1977. It still had the old style target nameplates (I can't remember seeing this anywhere else), a signalbox and classic station buildings. I even managed to catch a train coming through whilst I was there ...

Friday, 20 January 2017

Down the Line




(All pics 1970s copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

Over the last few years The Rail Thing has expanded from a single Facebook group into over 500, there is of course also a website and this blog. But alongside the Rail Thing groups I've also built about 50 Flashback groups, which look at various aspects of social history and places. Two of these groups have over 5000 members, others are a lot smaller.

I've decided to try to combine these two interests and Down the Line - Oxted to Lewes is the first. The idea is to set the railway within a social history framework, and vice versa. Railways were - and soon will be again - the very centre of social life and history, so it seems a logical development.

If successful (and I'm sure it will be!) this will be rolled out over many different rail routes (Littlehampton to Portsmouth Harbour will be next) over the next year or so.

What I'm looking for is both railway pictures and pictures of the towns and villages through which the line runs or ran. These can be recent or older of course, as history never stops. It may even get some civilians interested in railways, or even get railfans interested in more than just railways! And it may bring out some really interesting and unseen pics linking the two!