Watch YouTube video showing train journey from Bridport to Maiden Newton in 1975 by clicking on this link. Note: film is silent
WORK may start before Christmas on plans to turn the old Bridport to Maiden Newton railway line into a Trailway for walkers, cyclists and wheelchair users.
The Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty partnership has given £5,000 towards the scheme, which is being promoted by the sustainable transport charity Sustrans.
Maiden Newton Runners have also donated £500 of funds raised through their annual NewTen Madness event.
Sustrans is also organising a raffle, with prizes including a £2,000 bike.
The Bridport line opened in November 1857, as an offshoot of the main line going up through Maiden Newton from Weymouth to Yeovil. Five trains a day ran from Bridport; it took six hours to get to London. In 1884 the line was extended to Bridport Harbour – or West Bay as it became known when the railway arrived.
The railway company thought that West Bay was a more appealing name than Bridport Harbour; a harbour was popularly supposed to be a place where “the scum of a town was to be found” (I’m quoting – from memory – a statement I once read about the name-change from 1884, or thereabouts…) Anyway, scum wasn’t the image that property developers at the time wanted to convey; their aim was to make West Bay into the Bournemouth of West Dorset.
Circus animals used sometimes to be carried right down to West Bay; elephants would be allowed on to the beach to splash around in the sea, after their long journey in wagons.
The branch line became a well-loved part of the local landscape. Poet and author Sylvia Townsend Warner, who lived in Frome Vauchurch just outside Maiden Newton, described the locomotive as trotting obediently under the shadow of Eggardon Hill like a little horse. She also wrote of the train’s “marmalade” light.
Nevertheless, the Bridport Railway closed in 1975. John Giles-Townsend and his brother Neil boarded one of the last trains ever to run, and they made the film I’ve posted extracts from on YouTube (with the generous permission of John Giles-Townsend; his brother died in 2001).
So what does Mr Giles-Townsend make of plans to turn the old railway into a Trailway? He thinks it will be difficult. When the line closed, land was parcelled up and sold to individuals, farms, private companies and other arms of the state. (Bridport’s East Street station site is now covered by a roundabout…)
Mr Giles-Townsend, a former chairman of Bradpole Parish Council, said: “I think it would have been a marvellous idea when they closed the railway if Dorset County Council or whoever had bought the whole track, it would have been fantastic.
“But I think now it’s too late. Bits of land have been reclaimed, and I can’t see some of the owners selling up.”
But Sustrans are optimistic. They believe that over the next three or four years a lot can be achieved. To read their take on developments, you can click here.
Or for cyclists’ take on developments, you can read more by clicking on this link.
ARTICLE UPDATED on November 26, and again on December 5.
Note: Historian Richard Sims prepared a guide about the Bridport branch line, and sites associated with it, for Bridport Museum. Highly recommended, and it’s only 50p.