the railways in yeovil

railways

The coming of the railways to Yeovil

 

The coming of the railways to Yeovil revolutionised the town’s transport and communication with the world beyond and changed forever its industry as new markets became viable. As early as 1847 John Batten called a public meeting to discuss rival plans for bringing the railway to the town.

The first line to reach Yeovil was the Bristol and Exeter Railway, as a branch line from Taunton via Langport and Martock. It had a terminus at Hendford.

Daniel Vickery described this tumultuous event thus “On Saturday, October 1, 1853, the Yeovil Branch of the Bristol and Exeter Railway was opened with great ceremony. A procession was formed, consisting of the Yeovil Brass Band; the members of the Yeovil Guardian Friendly Society, with banners; Sergeant-at-mace, in full uniform; the Portreeve and Burgesses; and a numerous attendance of the authorities and the tradesmen of the town. The Chairman and Directors having arrived by train were received by Thomas Binford Esq., the Portreeve, who addressed them in the following words: "Gentlemen, I am happy to see you. I have no robe of office, neither have I a written address; but I have brought you that which is far better, thousands of warm hearts and happy faces." Mr Buller, the Chairman, responded to these few hearty words of welcome in corresponding terms and the Directors having joined the procession, all returned, in the order in which they came, to the Mermaid Inn. A dinner was provided by Mr Watts, at the Town Hall, which was presided over by the Portreeve. Several loyal and local toasts were given and responded to and the company did not retire (with the exception of the Directors, who were compelled to leave earlier) till a late hour. And so was inaugurated the Bristol and Exeter Railway to Yeovil.

There are omnibuses to and from every train. Mr Bowles, the attentive Superintendent of the Yeovil branch, has kindly furnished particulars of last year's passenger traffic. The number actually booked from Yeovil was 29,939; but adding free passes the number exceeded 30,000. There are at present six passenger trains which arrive and depart daily, (except Sundays, when there are only four,) in addition to several luggage trains, a large traffic being now carried on in coal, timber, &c. The Telegraph Company have also a station from which messages can be transferred to all parts of the United Kingdom.” (Vickery, 1856)

In 1856 the Wilts., Somerset and Weymouth line reached Pen Mill with a branch to Hendford completed the following year.

 


Commencement of the Central Line
of the South-Western Railway

The Illustrated London News
12 April 1856


The first turf of the South-Western Central Line was turned on the 3rd instant, at Gillingham, under the most encouraging auspices. Notwithstanding the heavy rain, which began at an early hour and continued without the slightest intermission all day, the town of Gillingham saw a very great influx of visitors on the occasion.

The turf was turned in a field belonging to Mr Kaines, situated at a convenient distance from the town of Gillingham. At the entrance a substantial triumphal arch had been erected, above which floated the the national colours of England, France, Sardinia and Turkey. The ceremony of turning the first turf was performed by Miss Seymour, sister of the hon. member for Poole, the Chairman of the Company. A very elegant barrow and spade were prepared for the occasion, by Mr Burt, CE. The barrow is formed of walnut; the shafts terminating in griffins' heads, and the spokes are fashioned as sheaves of corn. It bears the arms of the South-Western Company, the Salisbury and Yeovil Company, the Seymour family, of Mr Locke, and of the contractor; and the sides are of silver lattice-work. The spade, of solid silver, is beautifully engraved and ornamented, displaying the arms of the South-Western and the Salisbury and Yeovil Railway Companies on one side and on the other an inscription stating that it was presented to the Hon. Miss Seymour.

 

 

 


In 1860 the Salisbury and Exeter line opened a station at Yeovil Junction with an extension to Hendford and the new Town Station the following year and a goods line connected Yeovil Junction with Pen Mill in 1864.

 

The tracks to Pen Mill and Yeovil Junction seen from Newton Road bridge (looking east). Photographed in 1968.


Industrial businesses developed in the area around the Hendford railway goods station to such a degree that Hendford Halt was opened on 2 May 1932 for passengers.

The "Beeching Cuts" refer to the reduction of route network and restructuring of the British railway system outlined in two reports, The Reshaping of British Railways (1963) and The Development of the Major Railway Trunk Routes (1965), written by Dr Richard Beeching and published by the British Railways Board. The first report identified 2,363 stations and 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of railway line for closure, 55% of stations and 30% of route miles, with an objective of stemming the large losses being incurred during a period of increasing competition from road transport; the second identified a small number of major routes for significant investment.

National protests resulted in the saving of some stations and lines, but the majority were closed as planned and Beeching's name is, even today, associated with the mass closure of railways and the loss of many local services in the period that followed. First of Yeovil's stations to go was Hendford Halt which was closed on 15 June 1964 along with the line to Taunton, then Yeovil Town station closed to passenger traffic on 3 October 1966 but freight and parcels traffic continued to use the station until 9 October 1967 when these services were also withdrawn. Long-distance trains from Pen Mill had ceased in September 1961 leaving only Yeovil Junction with a service to London. The service between Yeovil Junction and Pen Mill was also withdrawn from 5 May 1968.

The route between Yeovil Town Station and Pen Mill Station has been incorporated into the National Cycle Network and is known as Railway Walk. Much of the Taunton-Yeovil route formed the basis of the A3088 Cartgate Link, constructed in the early 1980's.

 


From my collection

Yeovil Town station seen from Newton Road bridge (looking west). Photographed in 1968.

 

Sketch plan of Yeovil's somewhat complex railway network showing the relative locations of Yeovil Town, Pen Mill and Junction stations, Hendford terminus and Hendford Halt. Click on any station name to open its page.

 

See also West Country Class steam locomotive - No 34004 'Yeovil'

For Railway Accidents in Yeovil - click here