Recollections of the Yate - Tytherington - Thornbury Branch Line


Yate to Thornbury Railway

Thornbury – Tytherington- Yate Railway Branch Line


On 22nd January 1987 Tytherington villager Ted Oakey gave a talk to the Local History Group.

“I don’t think I can follow Ambrose (Johnson) in quite the same way and vein as what he has.  I have written all mine down so as I shan’t forget anything of interest.  I have just covered more or less the physical side of the railway building, there are one or two mentions of people but mostly it’s the physical side of the railway.

On September 2nd 1872 Thornbury was in festive mood. Before daybreak the townsfolk are preparing and erecting arches, flags and bunting.  Across the double frontage house of Mr Michael, who was a wine and spirit merchant, a banner read ‘ Science still her march keeps on’ while many other bore the word ‘Welcome’.  Children from all the schools in Thornbury, including those from the Workhouse, were going to enjoy such a treat that none of had experienced before.  The bells of the parish church rang out as daylight came, Tockington Band in their splendid uniform, starting from the Swan Hotel, marched up the High Street followed by a large crowd to the railway station.  For there was expected at 10 o’clock the first train from Yate on the new line.

Yes, Thornbury was now in touch by rail with the outside world.  No longer coal needed to be hauled by horse transport from Patchway, nor cattle driven along the dusty A38 to Berkeley Road.  Several thousand thronged the platform and its surrounding area.  As the train arrived the band struck up a lively air and from among the hundreds of passengers out stepped Mr John Crowther Gwynn, who was Mayor of Thornbury, to be greeted by Mr R. Scarlet, Steward of the Manor of Thornbury.  Their horse carriage was then drawn by townsfolk  down the High Street to the Swan Hotel preceded by the band playing ‘See the conquering hero comes’ where the Mayor acknowledged the greetings of the crowd and made a speech.  “Fellow townsmen” said the Mayor, “this is a red letter day in the annals of Thornbury.  This town is the centre of a large, wealthy, agricultural district and I do not doubt that the markets will be greatly increased and before very long we shall have connection with South Wales”.

A luncheon was provided at which no directors of the Midland railway was present so missed a splendid lunch.  By the way Mr Gwynn and Mr Scarlet they were practising solicitors together and they had their office where Mr Excell used to have his footwear shop and which was taken over by Ford’s and there was another new shop there.

From the threatening clouds of the morning the sun shone through for the rest of the day.  All the shops closed at 11.30 in the morning and between 12 and 1 o’clock 700 children marched to the station for a free trip to Yate.  I believe Mr Charlie Livall from the village is said to have been on that trip, his daughter Mrs Olive Vowles lives at Itchington Road.  People from our village and Iron Acton cheered as the 18 coaches went by.  Arriving at Yate the children were let loose in the field for a short time.  I suppose they still treated them like cattle then, then back to Thornbury for a splendid feast of tea and cake provided by Mr Vowles, a baker of Thornbury.  The day ended with sports and a firework display.  The fireworks were provided by Mr Penley of Wotton-under-Edge.

Reflecting on the rejoicings of Thornbury they were more than tinged with hope that the town would soon be on the mainline to South Wales, as the Mayor had said in his speech, but the promise was never fulfilled and although an Act of Parliament was obtained in 1865 for the purpose of building a great rail bridge over the Severn with an immense steel span in the middle, the project was abandoned owing to monetary depression, which is still with us today.

It is perhaps idle to speculate how Thornbury would have developed had it been on a busy line.  However, it was some ten years before, celebrations on that September day when the branch line was first being mooted.  What steps have to be taken when a new line is being mooted?  What steps have to Thornbury Construction Committee of the Midland Railway are particularly comprehensive in this respect.  The books not only indicate the stages involved in completing the Thornbury line but also illustrate from that example those steps that are necessary in all such ventures if such a line were built today.

The first meeting of the newly appointed Mangotsfield and Bath and Yate and Thornbury Construction Company took place on the 2nd November 1864 when a report was presented by the engineer, Mr J.S. Crossley indicating that the manager and lessee of mines at Iron Acton were anxious for a branch line to be built as soon as possible.  At that meeting it was agreed that the route of the line should be surveyed together with the proposed further branch line from Iron Acton westwards to the iron stone mines at Frampton Cotterell.  Hence the first practical steps towards the line’s construction were taken.

By June 1865 it was stated that the surveys had been completed and that arrangements had been made for staking out the route as soon as possible.  Messrs’ Ashmeads of Bristol were invited to act as land valuers for the Company and intimation was received of their acceptance and offer.  However, this stage of the work was to be considerably delayed due to the concentration of effort on the more important line then being built from Mangotsfield to Bath and no major further action was taken for twelve months.  On 3rd July 1866 the committee authorised the invitation of tenders for the construction of the branch line which the engineer had estimated would cost £59,652 and T. Fairbank and T. Rumbold submitted quotations in the sum of £76,810 3s 4d and £85,837 10s respectively.  Fresh tenders were therefore invited and the lowest of three received, namely Eckersley and Bayliss the contractors engaged on the Bath extension and amounting to £69,907 was accepted.

Little was done however until April of the following year, 1867, when the Committee instructed its solicitors to take steps to obtain by compulsory purchase land required for the line where possession was refused and I believe the Squire gave several acres to the railway in that connection.  A month later 1.5 miles of the route was available and handed over to the contractor.  By July three cuttings had been commenced and arrangements made for fencing the railway property.  The foundations for the bridge over the River Frome on the Frampton branch had been started.

It so happened that, owing to the availability of land, construction of the line from Yate through to Iron Acton to Frampton Cotterell was undertaken first and this was estimated that this section would be ready for use on February 14th, 1868.  Accordingly preparations were made with this in view – a weighing machine was ordered for use at Yate and two or three extra sidings were laid there ready for the new traffic.  The branch line together with the section of the Thornbury line east to Iron Acton approximately 1 mile and 7 chains was actually brought into operation in May 1868.

Photograph below shows the Station Master's house pictured in 1990.   Attention was now firmly focused on the completion of the main branch.  The bridge over the Ladden Brook south of Tytherington was commenced and also the extensive cutting north of the village.  The engineer thought it would be more desirable for the line to tunnel through the high ground at this point rather than the rise and fall of a gradient of 1 in 60 as originally envisaged and an appropriate approach was made to the Board Trade.  As a result two tunnels were subsequently bored known as Tytherington and Grovesend respectively.  The cost was estimated at £15 a yard.

By mid-1869 the Bath extension was ready and track laying on the branch had been completed as far as Tytherington.  Considerable discussion now ensued regarding the location of the two immediate stations.  It was felt that the proposed site for Iron Acton should be nearer the village than the present position but this situation was finally agreed on account of the location of the sidings for the Frampton line being at this point.

In July 1871 tenders were received for the following work and that of Edwin Niblet of Gloucester accepted.  Thornbury Station buildings £405, engine table foundation £192, Grovesend Station £368, Tytherington Station £368, Frampton Cotterell £368, Iron Acton cottage £125, Acton Court cottage £125.  The following October it was agreed that the telegraph should be erected.  Tenders for the erection of station masters houses were submitted in February 1872 and that of S Robertson accepted – the sum of £288 10s each for the houses at Tytherington and Thornbury, and £644 13s for the goods warehouse and terminus at Thornbury. 

The Minute Book of the Yate and Thornbury Construction Committee concludes with a meeting on March 5th 1872 when the position at that date was stated to be that the works permanent way had been completed, the level crossing keeper’s cottage at Latteridge needed a roof, Thornbury Station was ready save for a roof,, Tytherington Station would be finished in a fortnight and the Iron Acton Station just needed a coat of paint.

From this point the story is taken up by the Way, the Works and the Traffic Committees and their decisions throw further light on steps necessary in building a branch line.  On March 9th 1872 it was decided to provide an engine turntable and to alter the sidings at Yate and to erect a water tower and lay on water supply at Thornbury.  On April 30th it was agreed that Thornbury Station should be fitted with gas lighting at the cost of £70 13s.

On August 22nd 1872 the Traffic Committee were informed that the Thornbury branch had been inspected by the Board of Trade official and that formal approval for its opening would soon be received.  After the passenger service had been introduced further measures were found to be necessary as a result of experience.  An additional midday train was operated from September 17th and it was agreed a temporary shed should be erected as cheaply as possible to house the branch line engine, a siding for coal wagons and a furnace for lighting fires was provided at Thornbury.  A goods siding at Tytherington and a gateman’s cottage at Iron Acton was adapted and enlarged for the accommodation of the station master at a cost of £90.

Thus after more than eight years of actual negotiation and constructional work the Thornbury branch was opened to the general public.  To confirm this fact a timetable of the new service duly appeared in the first available edition of Bradshaw dated January 1873.

The date of closure of the section from Iron Acton to Frampton Cotterell is uncertain but the rails were authorised to be taken up on April 15th 1878 and were in fact removed during 1892 except for a short section immediately adjoining the junction.  (Photo left shows a train passing Tytherington Station)

The last passenger train left Thornbury for Yate at 5 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon in June 1944.  There was no Mayor to bid farewell, the office had gone, no band to play Auld Lang Syne, fog detonators on the line fired the funeral shots and signalled its passing as the engine with a laurel wreath attached to the lamp bracket on its boiler door pulled the last four coaches out of the station.  The train was met at Tytherington station by a group of villagers headed by Roy Livall carrying a black flag, and the last I heard of Roy is that he is now living in Australia. 

One weekday freight train continued to travel up and down the line carrying coal for Tytherington and Thornbury besides calling at Grovesend Quarry with trucks for railway ballast and also, of course, there was an American hospital train which used to travel taking the wounded from the beaches in France, in the first days of the second front, to Torthworth Hospital, now called Leyhill.

Then in the mid 1960’s the inevitable doom of the branch line appeared to be imminent when the complete track was taken up, the tunnel ends of both Tytherington and Grovesend tunnels were bricked up and the stations demolished.

In 1972 the branch line was resurrected when Amey Roadstone Corporation decided to reduce road haulage, in  the interests of economy and the environment with British Rail to provide a rail track at Grovesend Quarry to enable limestone to be supplied using high capacity trains of 1000 tons to distant markets in Redditch, Oxford, Appleford, Woolverton, Hendon, Southend and Ipswich.  With the strengthening of the two bridges in Tytherington and one in Yate the laying of the tracks and ballast, which was supplied by the quarry, was laid in under two months with the rails and sleepers attached, laid in sections.

Due to the new Iron Acton bypass, which had been completed after the former track had been taken up, a new level crossing had to be constructed and because of the now high volume of commuter traffic the use of the crossing was restricted to trains between 8-9am and in the evening between 5-6pm.

With the quarry producing 1.5 million tons of stone each year and with automatic train loading equipment which is rated at 1,500 tons per hour a vast amount of stone has travelled down the line since the first train left at 11am on July 3rd 1972.

The Tytherington Stone Social Club now runs a day trip each summer to a seaside resort carrying approximately 600 passengers.  Special permission is granted because the line is not maintained to passenger requirements.  A special platform is erected in the quarry for the passengers to board the train.  Now we wonder will the new metro line come and one may recall the message on the banner in Thornbury on that first opening day ‘Science still her march keeps on’.  (By 2014 the metro line was no nearer!)

I’ve got a few appendix which might be of interest.

Station Masters at Tytherington – first we recall (this is only my recollections)  Mr Beighton (1903-1930) who was also the choir master at the Baptist Chapel and one of his daughters was the first to be married at the Chapel.  There was Mr Lloyd Beaton as porter.  Then there was Mr Arthur Pearce and last of all Mr Austin Livall.  Those did not have the status of a station master and, of course, we also remember later that Mr Travell lived at the Station House and was in charge of the rail section between Yate and Thornbury.  At Thornbury we remember Mr Phillip Cooper and two more followed him whose names escape me, and last of all Sammy Collins was in charge.

The timetables at Tytherington from Thornbury the train arrived at 8 o’clock, 11am, 5pm and from Yate 10am, 4pm and 7pm, and then there was a period when on Saturdays a train to Bristol at 5pm returning at 10pm.  A freight train from Yate at 12 mid-day returning between 1 and 2pm.

We recall the train drivers Mr Short and Mr Whiteman of Thornbury.  We always knew when Mr Whiteman was driving because of the speed at which he drove the train.  There is still one guard alive in Thornbury and he made the journey on the train only last summer from Tytherington when they went on their outing.

As for the environment – the bridges – there are two farmers’ field to field bridges in Thornbury, one footbridge at Siblands, one road bridge Grovesend to Tytherington, two rail bridges in Tytherington, one farmers field to field in Tytherington, one rail bridge over the Ladden Brook, one road bridge at Yate Stover Road, one rail bridge over Yate North Road.  Level crossings – there appears to be a farmer’s field to field at Thornbury, the road crossing at Tytherington West Street, farmers field to field at Tytherington, the road crossing at Latteridge, the road crossing at Iron Acton, and a road crossing at Iron Acton bypass which was constructed in 1972.  There is one aqueduct on the Tytherington side of the Grovesend tunnel, two tunnels, of course, Tytherington and Grovesend, one plate layers hut at Thornbury and one at Grovesend.  One small points cabin at Grovesend Quarry and one culvert near the north of the Ladden Brook under the railway, one loop line north of the Ladden Brook approximately 1 to 0.75 miles.  Footpath across the railway with notice just below Tytherington Station, one air shaft in the Tytherington tunnel, one mile post giving distance from Yate and also gradient gauge signs as well.

As for Tytherington environs themselves the Station consisted one booking office, one waiting room, one ladies waiting room, one store room, one gents toilet, two seats, two lamp posts, oil lighting, the station itself was lit by oil lamps, one Nestles chocolate machine, the usual enamel advertising signs, three fire buckets were hung on the village side of the station, two Tytherington Stations signs on the platform, there were flower gardens with fir trees which are still there.  The drive up the station is still there and beside the big gate at the bottom there was also a wicket gate for passengers made in the typical rail paling design.

We remember that Mr & Mrs Frank Sansum catching the 11 o’clock train for their honeymoon after their wedding nearly missed it because the wicket gate was tied at the bottom much to the disgust of the ladies who were present.

The Station’s last function was as Headquarters for the Scouts and Cubs when the Scout Master was Dave Constance and Cub Mistress Beryl (Fisher).  Part of the platform still remains today.

As regards the goods yard it contained a coal yard, a coal merchants office, space for unloading trucks, vans, containers such as fertilisers, machinery etc. for loading sugar beet etc.  It also had a loading gauge, a small points cabin, a buffer stop, a plate layer’s hut on the north side of Itchington railroad bridge and the sidings.  There were sidings in West Street Quarry and to the Church Quarry and the slab sheds with level crossings across Stowell Hill Road at what is where we now call the Crossings.  There was an engine shed half way between the crossing and the main line and the sidings into Grovesend Quarry which is still in constant use.

And the huts – these were built to house the men on the construction of the line and later acquired by the quarry to house their employees and their families.  Mr Tom Pitt and the Lamberts were the last in there and the Squire was so impressed with their construction that he had two bungalows built of similar design.  One was where the Jays are now and the other Mr J Twaites house, Woodleaze, up the New Road.”