Axminster branch railway’s express deliveries - via ‘airmail’!

Lyme Regis railway station in 1907.

Lyme Regis railway station in 1907. - Credit: Archant

Steam train drivers would throw newspapers to residents as they travelled from Lyme Regis into Devon

The late Percy Bird with the affectionately named steam train Puffing Billy. Picture SUBMITTED

The late Percy Bird with the affectionately named steam train Puffing Billy. Picture SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

Puffing Billy, the much loved steam train, was also a bearer of hot news as it chugged its way into East Devon.

Enterprising drivers on the picturesque branch railway line used to pick up newspapers from the W.H Smith shop on Lyme Regis railway station before leaving for Axminster and drop off copies at some of the more isolated spots.

Workers building the Cannington Viaduct at Uplyme

Workers building the Cannington Viaduct at Uplyme - Credit: Archant

None was more enterprising than the late Percy Bird who, in the mid 1950s, used to package a paper and “airmail” it almost 100 ft from Uplyme’s Cannington Viaduct, to the field below for the Collier family.

The late Mr Bird’s surviving daughter, Joan Hart, who lives in Lyme with her daughter Julie, told the Herald: “Dad just loved being one of the drivers on our bluebell line, relishing every moment until he retired though ill health.”

Puffing Billy crossing the Cannington Viaduct at Uplyme

Puffing Billy crossing the Cannington Viaduct at Uplyme - Credit: Archant


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The viaduct, comprising 10 elliptical arches and standing 92ft high, was commissioned by Axminster and Lyme Regis Light Railway in 1900 and is a grade 2 listed building.

The first such construction of its kind, it was the earliest to be built in the United Kingdom entirely of concrete.

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But before the six mile track could be opened for business in1903, engineers were forced to strengthen one of the arches because of subsidence problems.

The practice of personal deliveries of newspapers to remote areas began almost immediately.

Margaret Garrett, of Merton Park, recalls that her late grandfather, Mordecai Gale, used to receive his newspaper, dropped in a field at his Hartgrove Farm, Musbury, after the train had crossed the 203 yard long viaduct as it continued on its six mile journey to the carpet town.

The branch was very important to Lyme and its businesses as the holiday trade expanded greatly after the Second World War.

It was with great sadness when it was deemed unviable and became a victim of the Beeching Axe, closing in 1965.

All efforts to save it were thwarted, and several proposed schemes to re- open the line came to nothing.

The Lyme station buildings were dismantled in 1976 and re-erected at Arlesford on the Mid Hants Line.

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