Branch lines from the golden age of steam

Treat for train buffs.

TWO long-lamented Axe Valley branch lines, from the golden age of steam, are remembered in a new book for train buffs.

Axminster’s one-time railway links with both Seaton and Lyme Regis are prominently featured the new work by historian Colin G Maggs.

The Branch Lines of Devon provides a marvellously wide-ranging view of over 160 years of rail travel in the county and begins with a history of the famous Bluebell line between Axminster and Lyme Regis. The author tells how work on the track began in 1900 but the engineers soon encountered some tricky problems along the way.

He writes: “The principal engineering work was the ten arch Cannington Viaduct.

“This was one of the first viaducts to be constructed in concrete and when built it was the second highest of its kind in England.

“Still in situ today, it has a maximum height of 893 ft and a total length of 203 yards.

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“To save costs, a cableway was used instead of scaffolding. Unfortunately, one of the arches started slipping a fortnight before the line was due to open which delayed the inauguration and caused additional expense.

“The first train left Lyme Regis, in rain, on August 24, 1903, at 9.40am but by noon the sun had come out and hundreds of onlookers gathered to watch the departure of the 12.25 – a train of no less than 13 coaches.”

And the book recalls how people also turned out in force for the last train before the Beeching Axe fell on the steeply-twisting line on November 29, 1965.

The same fate also befell the Axminster to Seaton branch line, which the author recalls was opened in March 1868 – unusually without public celebrations.

The line was well used by holidaymakers – in August 1959, for instance, 3,500 tickets were issued and even in 1964 about 1,200 passengers used the station each Saturday in the summer.

However, Seaton and Colyton Town closed to goods on February 3 in 1964 and passenger traffic was withdrawn on March 7, 1966, with less than a dozen passengers making the final trip.

The Branch Lines of Devon is an absorbing and well researched book packed with black and white photographs celebrating the golden age of the railways, as well as featuring the continuing success story of the Seaton Electric Tramway which continues to carry thousands of passengers along the tracks.

It is available in paperback, priced �16.99.

Colin Maggs is a highly respected authority on railways, having written more than 80 books about them. He has also appeared on radio and TV and in 1993 he received the MBE for services to railway history.