A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
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The earliest traceable proposal for a railway involving the county was published in December 1824 and resulted in the formation of the London and Bristol Rail-Road Co. (fn. 1) The route, through Mangotsfield, Marshfield, Wootton Bassett, and the Vale of White Horse to Wantage and Wallingford, was surveyed by John Loudon Macadam the famous road engineer. Although the plan was adopted, the scheme got no further. A General Junction Railroad from London to Bristol suffered the same fate. In October 1825 a plan was deposited for a railway or tramroad from the Severn at Berkeley Pill to Wootton-under-Edge, passing through Kingswood, then in a detached portion of the county, but this was abortive. (fn. 2)
Success in construction and operation of railways in the north, particularly the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, renewed a general interest in similar projects between other large towns, and a Bristol & London Railway appeared in May 1832. Financial backing was not forthcoming but the idea was not dropped altogether and may well have inspired the promoters of the Great Western Railway who were destined to bring the scheme to fruition.
As a result of patient work by four prominent Bristol merchants who had enlisted the support of the Corporation, the Society of Merchant Venturers, the Bristol Dock Co., the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, and the Bristol & Gloucestershire Railway, a public meeting was held in Bristol on 30 July 1833. Here the company was launched and the machinery for obtaining parliamentary powers set in motion. I. K. Brunel, then only 27 years old, was selected as engineer and recommended a route, surveyed by George Hennet, through Chippenham and Swindon in preference to Bradford, Devizes, and Newbury, at an estimated cost of £2,805,330. The title 'Great Western Railway' was adopted in August 1833. In October 1833 the directors stated it was their intention to seek powers for the London-Reading and Bath-Bristol sections only, a further application to be made to Parliament in 1835 for the intermediate portion.
The Bill was introduced into the House of Commons in March 1834. The hearing lasted 57 days, during which the promoters laid great stress on the delays on the competing Kennet & Avon Canal (fn. 3) due to frost, floods, and droughts, and the landowners of Middlesex, Bucks., and Berks., voiced their strong disapproval. Opposition also came from the promoters of the London & Southampton Railway who proposed making a branch from their line to serve Bath and Bristol. Although passed by the Commons, the Bill was thrown out in the Lords by 47 votes to 30, being dubbed neither 'Great' nor 'Western'. (fn. 4)
The G.W.R. promoters were undaunted and at once set about preparations for bringing in a new Bill for the whole line at the next session. Although most of the previous opposition had been conciliated, there were strong, and sometimes ludicrous, objections to the proposed Box Tunnel. Despite this the Bill passed both Houses and received the Royal Assent in August 1835. (fn. 5) The Act incorporated the G.W.R. Co. and empowered them to raise a capital of £2,500,000 for construction of a railway from London to Bristol through the parishes of Box, Ditteridge, Corsham, Lacock, Chippenham, Hardenhuish, Langley Burrell, Kington St. Michael, Draycot Cerne, Sutton Benger, Christian Malford, Bremhill, Foxham, Dauntsey, Brinkworth, Wootton Bassett, Wroughton, Lydiard Tregoze, Swindon, Stratton St. Margaret, Stanton Fitzwarren, Highworth, and South Marston. Branches were authorized from Thingley to a point near the gas-works in Trowbridge and thence from Holt to Kingston Farm, near Bradford.
On Brunel's recommendation, the directors decided in October 1835 to make their railway on the broad gauge of 7 ft. ¼ in. Although carefully weighed, this momentous decision was to have far-reaching effects, not the least of which were the enormous additional expense and unpleasant friction with other companies. It should be noted that the county was merely an intermediate area so far as the railway was concerned. Its needs were not mentioned or catered for in the prospectus and little interest seems to have been shown by the inhabitants. Indeed, this was the position in respect of all the railways passing through the county. It was not until the Wilts., Somerset & Weymouth Railway from Thingley to Salisbury and Weymouth was promoted in 1844 that any interest was evident in a railway to serve local needs. Such promotion as originated from within the county was of small account and was merely concerned with making branch lines to towns which had been by-passed by the main routes.
The portion of the G.W.R. in Wiltshire, extending from 1 m. 30 ch. west of Shrivenham to 1 m. 20 ch. west of Box station, includes the heaviest engineering works on the whole of the original main line. A gradual fall from Swindon, the summit of the line, is followed by a rapid descent at 1 in 100 between Wootton Bassett and Chippenham and again at the same inclination through Box Tunnel. The earthworks are extensive, deep cuttings and long embankments, nearly all of which, from the nature of the ground, have given trouble by slipping and settling, a process which has been continuous since the line was opened.
Box Tunnel, the longest in the country when made, is 1 m. 1,452 yds. long cut through Bath stone and lias limestone. Sinking of trial shafts to obtain information as to the nature of the ground was begun in February 1836. Contracts for the actual work of construction were let two years later to George Burge of Herne Bay and two local men, Messrs. Lewis and Brewer, the former taking two-thirds of the length from the east end, and the remainder being divided between the two latter. A total of about 247,000 cu. yds. of material, 174,000 of it freestone and marl, was removed through 11 shafts, the deepest of which was 293 ft. below ground level. (fn. 6)
Meantime, construction of the line from the London end was being carried forward. It was opened from the half-way point at Steventon to Faringdon Road (now Challow) on 20 July 1840 and extended to a temporary station at Hay Lane, officially known as Wootton Bassett Road, near the present 80¼ mp. on 17 December. The difficult section between Hay Lane and Chippenham was completed on 31 May 1841 and celebrated by a public breakfast at Chippenham attended by the mayor, railway directors, and officials.
The final section from Chippenham to Bath, delayed by trouble with water in Box Tunnel, was brought into use without ceremony on 30 June 1841, thereby completing the entire line. The Bath-Bristol portion had been opened on 31 August 1840 with some local jubilation.
As soon as the G.W.R. Act had been passed, some enterprising residents of Cheltenham produced a scheme for making a connecting line from Swindon to their town. Although a rival promotion for a direct railway from Cheltenham to Tring was spon sored by the London & Birmingham Railway, the Cheltenham & Great Western Union Railway Act, warmly supported by the G.W.R., received the Royal Assent in June 1836. (fn. 7) It was opened, on the broad gauge, as far as Kemble and Cirencester on 31 May 1841 and completed through to Cheltenham on 12 May 1845. Initially the line was leased to the G.W.R. for seven years at a fixed rent of £17,000 a year, but the lease was cancelled and the Cheltenham & Great Western Union Railway became G.W.R. property from 10 May 1844. (fn. 8) With the partial opening of the South Wales Railway on 19 June 1850 this line became the main route to South and West Wales; through trains from London to Swansea began running on 19 July 1852. Stations were provided at Purton and Minety; (fn. 9) a halt at Oaksey was added on 18 February 1929.
The volume of traffic carried over the original G.W.R. main line was steadily mounting. Its extension westward, although in the hands of separate but closely allied companies, reached Taunton in 1842, Exeter in 1844, and Plymouth in 1848. Further connecting lines were under construction which would swell the traffic still further.
Meantime, in 1844, conflict had broken out with the London & South Western Railway over the question of that company's proposed line from Basingstoke through Newbury to Swindon. The G.W.R. countered with Reading-Hungerford and ThingleySalisbury lines and branches to Devizes and Bradford; a short Frome branch was later added by extension to Yeovil and Weymouth. In addition, the L. & S.W.R. proposed a cross-country link from their main line near Winchester to their Bishopstoke-Salisbury branch near Dunbridge with the ostensible objects of shortening the London-Salisbury route and providing a spring-board for invasion of the west country, an area which the G.W.R and its associates were determined to keep to themselves.
In December 1844 the recently established Railway Department of the Board of Trade gave its decision entirely in favour of the G.W.R. schemes, whereat the two companies signed an agreement in January 1845, pledging themselves to an end of hostilities. The G.W.R. was now free to go ahead with its Reading-Hungerford and Thingley—Salisbury lines. In accordance with the normal practice of the time, these railways were promoted through nominally independent companies with strong parental backing. The Berks. & Hants Railway Act of June 1845 (fn. 10) authorized construction from the G.W.R. at Reading to Hungerford, and the Wilts., Somerset & Weymouth Railway Act of the same date (fn. 11) from Thingley to Salisbury and Upton Scudamore to Weymouth with sundry branches, including those to Devizes and Bradford. A subsequent Act (fn. 12) altered the junction point of the two main lines from Upton Scudamore to Westbury and that of the Devizes branch from near Melksham to Holt.
The Berks. & Hants line was easy construction and its opening to Hungerford took place on 21 December 1847, but the Wilts., Somerset & Weymouth Railway was soon in trouble. The difficulty of raising money on anything like reasonable terms was practically impossible in the slump following the 'Railway Mania' and the company were only able to complete and open the Thingley-Westbury section, which they did on 5 September 1848. Alarmed by the near-collapse of their protegé and the possibility of the territory being usurped by the L. & S.W.R., the G.W.R. stepped in and secured a transfer of the local company to themselves from 14 March 1850. The acquisition was legalized in July 1851. (fn. 13)
The G.W.R. immediately set about the completion of the more important sections of the Wilts., Somerset & Weymouth line. The first stretch of the Weymouth line, from Westbury to Frome, was opened on 7 October 1850 and the main line between Westbury and Warminster on 9 September 1851; both these lengths were single track only. The Warminster-Salisbury section, also single line and terminating at a separate station adjacent to the site selected for the new L. & S.W.R. station, was brought into use on 30 June 1856. Parts of this main line remained single until 1901. The Wylye-Wishford portion was doubled in March and Wishford-Wilton in April that year.
The Bradford and Devizes branches, the former left uncompleted by the Wilts., Somerset & Weymouth Railway, were not dealt with at once. So far as the Bradford line was concerned, the original powers were modified by an Act in July 1854 (fn. 14) to cover construction from Bradford Junction, near Trowbridge, to Bathampton. Both were single track and opened in 1857, the Bathampton section on 2 February and the Devizes branch on 1 July; the former was doubled in May 1885, but the latter remains single line. The curve at Bradford Junction, completing the triangle there and giving a direct run from Holt towards Bradford as originally planned by the Wilts., Somerset & Weymouth Railway, was not opened until 10 March 1895.
New railways authorized in 1845, the first year of the 'Railway Mania' period, were confined to the Berks. & Hants and Wilts., Somerset & Weymouth Railways, but proposals for 1846 presented a very different picture although little construction was actually undertaken. The schemes fell into two distinct groups, north-south and eastwest. The former comprised the Manchester & Southampton Railway, a narrow-gauge line from the Birmingham & Gloucester Railway at Cheltenham through Cirencester, Swindon, Marlborough, and Andover, following substantially the Midland & South Western Junction route of later years, and the Manchester & Poole Railway taking the same course as far as Marlborough where it diverged down the Avon valley to Salisbury. The Poole scheme was withdrawn in committee after severe L. & S.W.R. and G.W.R. opposition; the Southampton Bill was rejected by the Lords on a pledge by the G.W.R. to make a narrow-gauge line from Basingstoke to Oxford. A large and representative public meeting at Marlborough in August 1845 had supported and endorsed the Southampton line (fn. 15) and 'thus the Upper House rejected a line desired by all the adjoining inhabitants on the ground that public interests would be equally well served by a line about 20 miles farther away'. (fn. 16)
Another projected line designed to afford independent access to Southampton was the Wilts., Somerset & Southampton Junction Railway which proposed to extend the Wilts., Somerset & Weymouth Railway from Salisbury to the port via Downton and Redbridge. (fn. 17) This was launched in July 1845 and followed in September by a further scheme to eliminate the Chippenham detour by a direct line from Salisbury to Swindon using the Avon valley. (fn. 18) The same valley was to be used by a South & Midlands Junction Railway from Bicester through Swindon, Marlborough, and Salisbury to Southampton. (fn. 19) Connexion from the Midlands into the last-named line was given by a West Midland, Manchester & Southampton Railway whose proposed route strode over the Cotswolds from Birmingham through Moreton-in-Marsh, Stow-on-the-Wold, Northleach, and Fairford to a junction at Swindon. (fn. 20) All these high-flown projects were abortive.
Although floated by nominally independent companies, the east-west schemes were, in reality, a revival of L. & S.W.R. and G.W.R. antagonism. The only proposal which even noticed the existence of the county and the possibility of attracting traffic to and from its towns was the Bristol & Dover Direct Junction Railway sponsored by the L. & S.W.R. This was to follow a natural route which had been mooted several times before via Bath, Bradford, Trowbridge, Devizes, and the Vale of Pewsey to Silchester where it forked to Weybridge for London traffic and to Reigate for the South-Eastern Railway to Dover. The Wiltshire cloth towns were specifically mentioned in the prospectus and a complicated network of junctions with all the railways it intended to intersect was expected to bring much revenue, particularly to and from the north by the Manchester & Southampton Railway. (fn. 21)
A Dover & Bristol Railway, initiated at Bristol, proposed to follow a similar route, although running direct from Bradford to Bristol, leaving Bath on a branch. (fn. 22)
The Berks. & Hants Railway to Hungerford was to be used by several projects and extended in various directions; the Brighton & Cheltenham Direct Railway proposed to extend it to Swindon to join the Manchester & Southampton Railway which would give the northern counties a new continental route via Brighton to Dieppe. (fn. 23) The Cheltenham, Oxford & Brighton Junction Railway intended making an extension to Marlborough for the same purpose. (fn. 24) Possibly the most important use of the Berks. & Hants Railway was proposed by the G.W.R.'s Direct Western Railway which visualized an independent extension as far as the packet station of Falmouth, passing through Marlborough, Devizes, Trowbridge (where a branch to Bradford and Bath was thrown off), Westbury, Frome, Wells, and Glastonbury. (fn. 25) This somewhat ambitious proposal alarmed the Kennet & Avon Canal Co. who anticipated a loss of tolls from a railway nearly parallel with their water-way and they proposed a line from Newbury to Bath in opposition, but it was rejected in Committee. (fn. 26)
Another important proposed use of the Berks. & Hants Railway was as a means of communication with South Wales, taking a route through Marlborough, Calne, Chippenham, Chipping Sodbury, and Aust with a bridge over the Severn. This London, Bristol & South Wales Direct Railway was to be engineered by Francis Giles, which suggests possible support by the L. & S.W.R. (fn. 27)
Direct access between London and Salisbury had been considered as early as 1837 when, with George Stephenson as engineer, an independent company had promoted the South-Western Railway from the London & Southampton line (fn. 28) near Basingstoke to Yeovil and Taunton. This would have approached Salisbury through West Dean and, by means of a short tunnel 410 yds. long, would have avoided the steepish descents into the city which characterize both existing lines. An alternative route, shorter and cheaper, left the London & Southampton line at Kings Worthy and joined the Basingstoke line near Kings Somborne. (fn. 29) The company was dissolved, being unable to raise the capital required. (fn. 30)
The Kings Worthy-Salisbury scheme reappeared as the London & Salisbury Junction Railway in 1838, but although enthusiastically received (fn. 31) it was not proceeded with. Salisbury's first railway was a L. & S.W.R. branch from their main line at Bishopstoke (fn. 32) to a terminus at Milford on the south side of the city. This was authorized in 1844 (fn. 33) and opened on 27 January 1847 for goods and on 1 March for passengers. (fn. 34)
A more direct route to Salisbury, saving ten miles on that through Bishopstoke, was sanctioned in 1848. (fn. 35) This left the L. & S.W.R. near Basingstoke and followed a course slightly west of Stephenson's 1837 route through Andover and Grateley to join the Bishopstoke branch just outside Milford station. The final section, from Andover to Salisbury, was opened on 1 May 1857.
Although the post-'Railway Mania' slump prevented work being started on the Basingstoke-Salisbury line, the L. & S.W.R. went ahead with plans for extensions westward. In 1848 Acts were passed authorizing construction from Salisbury to Yeovil (fn. 36) whence an independent company, the Exeter, Yeovil & Dorchester Railway with considerable L. & S.W.R. support, was to make the line to Exeter. (fn. 37) The powers of both Acts were, however, allowed to lapse.
Ostensibly to shorten the distance from London to Dorchester and Weymouth, a proposal was made in 1860 to connect the L. & S.W.R. Bishopstoke-Salisbury line with the circuitous Southampton & Dorchester Railway. This was promoted by a separate Salisbury & Dorset Junction Railway company whose Act received the Royal Assent in July 1861. (fn. 38) It authorized a line from Alderbury to West Moors near Wimborne, and arrangements for the L. & S.W.R. to work the undertaking for 45 per cent. of the gross receipts. Opening took place on 19 December 1866 (fn. 39) but the company soon encountered financial difficulties which prevented acquisition by the L. & S.W.R. until 1 January 1883. (fn. 40) This arrangement was confirmed by the L. &. S.W.R. Act of August 1883. (fn. 41)
The opening from Basingstoke to Andover on 3 July 1854 gave fresh urgency to the desirability of completing a through route to Exeter, but people on the line of route, annoyed at the L. & S.W.R.'s failure to construct the Salisbury and Yeovil line, were not prepared to allow a repetition of that company's laxity in meeting its obligations. A local company was formed and an Act obtained in August 1854. (fn. 42)
The approaching completion of the Wilts., Somerset & Weymouth Railway as far as their own station at Salisbury and the selection of an adjoining site in Fisherton for the Salisbury & Yeovil Railway terminus compelled the L. & S.W.R. to consider the difficulties which would arise from having three separate termini in the city. They decided to use the Salisbury & Yeovil Railway station at Fisherton and, concurrently with the opening of that line to Gillingham on 2 May 1859, closed Milford to passengers and diverted their Bishopstoke and Andover trains to a new connecting line through a tunnel of 443 yds. (fn. 43) This line had been authorized in 1855. (fn. 44) The Salisbury & Yeovil Railway reached Yeovil on 1 June 1860 and, by an extension built by the L. & S.W.R. who worked the smaller company, the throughout route from Salisbury to Exeter was brought into use on 19 July. The Salisbury & Yeovil Railway was a prosperous concern. Its dividend had reached 12½ per cent. by the time it was vested in the L. & S.W.R. in January 1878. It was originally a single track, but doubling was completed to Exeter in July 1870.
The extension of the Berks. & Hants Railway from Hungerford, which had been a prominent feature of the various proposals made in 1846, was left in abeyance until 1859. In that year an independent company, the Berks. & Hants Extension Railway, of which the Marquess of Ailesbury was chairman, obtained powers to make the line along the Kennet and Pewsey valleys to a junction with the G.W.R. at their Devizes station. (fn. 45) It was worked for the owners by the G.W.R. under an agreement of June 1861 and vested in that company from July 1882. (fn. 46) Formal opening took place on 4 November 1862; public traffic began a week later. The stations on this broad-gauge single line were at Bedwyn, Savernake, Pewsey, and Woodborough.
The four railways now already at or approaching Salisbury were expected to bring in considerable extra produce to the ancient market there, but, owing to lack of suitable accommodation, the citizens, who owned the market rights, thought dealers might desert them for more convenient centres. Accordingly in 1856 they secured an Act incorporating the Salisbury Railway & Market House Co. (fn. 47) to make ¼ mile of line from the L. & S.W.R. at Fisherton to their premises and an extension of the market and warehouses. They arranged with the L. & S.W.R. to take an initial lease of the railway at £225 a year. The venture was highly successful and the capital was increased in 1864 (fn. 48) to provide additional facilities.
The Salisbury Railway & Market House Railway was brought into use early in May 1859, the event being celebrated on 24 May. (fn. 49) The original lease to the L. & S.W.R. was renewed periodically and has been continued by the Southern Railway and British Transport Commission. The present lease runs for ten years from 1 July 1954 at £150 a year.
Apart from the diminutive Salisbury Railway & Market House Railway just mentioned, the first railway in the county to be built purely as a local venture to serve local needs was the branch from Chippenham to Calne. The Calne Railway Co. was incorporated by an Act of May 1860 (fn. 50) with a capital of £35,000, more than half subscribed by four members of the Harris family, three of whom were directors for many years. The 5¼-mile broad-gauge line was engineered by James Baird Burke and opened on 3 November 1863. Under an agreement of May 1862 it was worked by the G.W.R. for 55 per cent. of the gross receipts. In June 1892 (fn. 51) the Calne Railway was vested in the G.W.R. from July that year. The only intermediate station was a private one at Black Dog on the edge of the Bowood estate, provided and paid for by the Marquess of Lansdowne; it was made a public stopping place from 15 September 1952. The branch conveys a considerable amount of parcels and goods traffic and some 2,000 vans of parcels, mainly bacon, sausages, and cooked meats are dispatched annually to all parts of the country. (fn. 52) Calne was linked with Marlborough by a G.W.R. bus service introduced in October 1904.
The need for provision of communication between the more important towns whose geographical situation had excluded them from positions on the main lines was exemplified by the promotion of the Marlborough Railway in 1860. A number of local people led by the Marquess of Ailesbury launched a company to construct a 5½-mile branch to the Berks. & Hants Extension Railway at Savernake. The Act of incorporation received the Royal Assent in July 1861. (fn. 53) It authorized the G.W.R. to subscribe up to £20,000 of the £45,000 capital required, but the amount actually so invested was £10,000. The company's capital was increased to £51,000 in 1868. The line was formally opened on 30 March 1864 (fn. 54) and for public traffic on 14 April. (fn. 55) Except for 200 yds. of Marlborough College property, the line was built on land belonging to the Marquess of Ailesbury. It was worked by the G.W.R. under an agreement of December 1860 and was vested in that company in July 1896. (fn. 56) Although conceived as a branch, it later became an integral part of the Midland & South-Western Junction Railway, northsouth route.
By 1870 the inconvenience arising from the adoption of Brunel's broad gauge on the G.W.R. and its subsidiaries had become serious, and the proper working of traffic between the company's lines and the now extensive narrow-gauge systems of its neighbours was causing the directors great concern. In 1871 the decision was taken to convert a large mileage to 'mixed' gauge by provision of a third rail which would allow trains of both gauges to use the tracks. A start was made in February 1872 with the DidcotSwindon section in connexion with the alteration of the whole of the South Wales lines direct to narrow gauge; this was done in May. The main line as far as Thingley, thence to Salisbury, together with the Bradford Junction-Bathampton, Hungerford-Holt sections and the Marlborough and Calne branches, was altered between June and August 1874. The remaining portion of the main line, from Thingley to Bathampton was changed over in March 1875. In practice, the broad gauge was little used; it was finally abolished from the G.W.R. system on 20 May 1892. (fn. 57)
The first railway scheme to mention Malmesbury was the Wiltshire & Gloucestershire Railway authorized in July 1864. (fn. 58) This was sponsored by the Midland Railway in an attempt to invade G.W.R. territory with a line from Nailsworth to Christian Malford, but its designs were frustrated in 1864 by a Board of Trade arbitration on appeal from that company. (fn. 59) An extension of this line to a junction with the L. & S.W.R. near Salisbury was to be made by the North & South Wiltshire Junction Railway (Christian Malford to Basingstoke) and the Wiltshire Railway (Pewsey to Idmiston) both of which secured Acts in July 1865. (fn. 60) All three companies allowed their powers to lapse and were wound up.
In the event, Malmesbury secured connexion with the main line by the Malmesbury Railway promoted in 1871 and incorporated in July 1872 (fn. 61) to make a 6½-mile branch from Dauntsey. The G.W.R., which worked the line under agreement of June 1872, was empowered to and did subscribe one-half of the £60,000 capital. (fn. 62) It was opened on 18 December 1877 and vested in the G.W.R. in July 1880. (fn. 63) A goods depot was added at the intermediate station of Somerford on 1 January 1879.
As a measure of economy, the branch was shortened by abandonment of the Dauntsey-Kingsmead Mill Level Crossing section and a short spur put in from the latter point to connect with the Bristol & South Wales Direct Railway at Little Somerford station. The service from Little Somerford began on 16 July 1933. Passenger services were withdrawn from September 1951 but the branch continues to handle goods traffic.
The first sod of a 5 ½-mile branch from Swindon serving the agricultural district north of the town and terminating at Highworth was cut on 20 March 1879. (fn. 64) The line was brought into use on 9 May 1883. This had been originated by an independent company by Act in July 1875 (fn. 65) and was amalgamated with the G.W.R. in July 1882. (fn. 66) Severe gradients, the steepest 1 in 40, and sharp curves as low as 10 ch. radius were permitted by adoption of the cheap construction allowed to a 'light railway'. The public passenger service on this branch was taken off in March 1953, but goods traffic is still handled at Stratton and Highworth stations.
The only remaining major construction works by the G.W.R. consisted of two important cut-offs. A shortening of the old route between London and the west of England through Bristol was started in 1900 with the opening of 14 miles of line from a new station at Patney and Chirton on the old Berks. & Hants Extension Railway to Westbury. This was brought into use for goods traffic on 29 July and passengers on 1 October. With completion of the Castle Cary-Langport line on 2 July 1906, this became the G.W.R.'s main line to Taunton and beyond, reducing the distance by 20¼ miles.
At the same time work was proceeding on another direct route to South Wales avoiding the long detours via Gloucester or Bristol. Although it would eventually have been inevitable because of the traffic congestion on the Bristol route, construction was expedited as a reply to a London & South Wales Railway promoted in 1895. (fn. 67) Powers were obtained by the G.W.R. in August 1896 (fn. 68) to make a new main line from Wootton Bassett to Patchway on the Bristol & South Wales Union line. This was opened as far as Badminton, for goods traffic on 1 January 1903 and throughout for passengers on 1 July, from which date the express trains to and from South Wales via the Severn Tunnel ceased to travel by Bristol.
North-south communication across the county had been dropped with the abandonment of the Manchester & Southampton Railway in 1846 and was not revived in similar form. What was later to become part of a minor trunk route covering the same ground took shape early in 1872 when some local landowners and residents headed by Lord Ernest Bruce and Ambrose Lethbridge Goddard decided to promote a railway to link Swindon and Marlborough with the L. &. S.W.R. main line at Andover and the port of Southampton. Their Bill was introduced in 1873 and received the Royal Assent in July. (fn. 69) The first sod was turned at Marlborough on 28 July 1875 and after two Acts extending the time-limit for construction had been obtained (fn. 70) the first section from Marlborough (fn. 71) to Swindon was opened on 2 February 1881; the extension to a junction with the G.W.R. at Rushey Platt (Swindon) was brought into use on 6 February 1882, but the station there was not used until 1 December 1883.
Meantime the southern end of this line was nearing completion, although the short piece from the G.W.R. line at Wolfhall Junction to Grafton had been delayed by work on the bridge over the Kennet & Avon Canal. The Grafton-Andover section was opened to traffic on 1 May 1882 and the connexion at Wolfhall made on 5 February 1883. From that date Swindon, Marlborough & Andover Railway trains, worked by the company's own second-hand locomotives and rolling stock, were able to run throughout from Swindon G.W.R. station to Andover, using the Marlborough Railway and G.W.R. main line as far as Wolfhall Junction.
Before the first portion was ready, the company decided to extend northwards to Cheltenham and had even surveyed a line from Grafton through Chippenham to Bristol. (fn. 72) Under the title Swindon & Cheltenham Extension Railway, a separate company was formed and an Act secured in July 1881 (fn. 73) to build a railway over the Cotswolds from Rushey Platt through Cirencester to join the Banbury & Cheltenham Direct Railway near Andoversford. It was opened to Cirencester on 18 December 1883 (fn. 74) and completed to Andoversford in 1891. Passenger trains from Cheltenham to Southampton began running on 1 August that year; goods traffic had started on 16 March.
The Swindon, Marlborough & Andover Railway and the Swindon & Cheltenham Extension Railway were both in financial difficulties from the autumn of 1883, but plans went ahead for their amalgamation. The requisite Act received the Royal Assent in June 1884 (fn. 75) by which a new company, the Midland & South Western Junction Railway, was incorporated and the two old companies vested in it from that date. Failure to pay interest on its debenture stock (£300,000) and a petition by creditors, chief of whom was their engineer J. R. Shopland who was owed £13,360, brought the new company to the verge of bankruptcy. An order by the Court of Chancery was made in December 1884 appointing the deputy-chairman, Lt.-Col. Grey, Receiver. After friction with his colleagues he resigned in 1893 and was succeeded by Sam Fay, the general manager, who continued until the company's finances were stabilized. He was discharged by Court Order in November 1897. Great efforts were made by Fay to build up the line as a through route from the north to Southampton and a period of comparative prosperity resulted. Delays to trains using the G.W.R. station at Savernake (fn. 76) and the section of main line between it and Wolfhall Junction were overcome by construction of a new line from Marlborough passing over the G.W.R. and rejoining the old line before Grafton. This was made by a nominally independent company, the Marlborough & Grafton Railway, (fn. 77) and opened on 26 June 1898. The Midland & South-Western Junction Railway occupied this as tenants and acquired it in August 1899. (fn. 78) A connecting curve from the G.W.R. at Wolfhall giving a direct run from Bedwyn towards Grafton was made by that company and opened on 6 September 1905. It is used only for military and other special trains.
The remaining line associated with the Midland & South-Western Junction Railway was the Tidworth Camp Railway. This was built by the War Department under an agreement of November 1900 between the Secretary of State for War and the Midland & South Western Junction Railway and operated by the company. It was opened for military movements in July 1901 and for public passenger traffic on 1 July 1902. This arrangement was continued by the G.W.R. when it absorbed the Midland & South Western Junction Railway in July 1923, (fn. 79) but was terminated by the British Transport Commission on 24 November 1955. (fn. 80) The public passenger service was withdrawn from 19 September 1955 and from 25 November that year all traffic has been operated by the War Department.
A decision of the War Office in 1895 to purchase a large area of Salisbury Plain for manæuvres and to set up a large permanent establishment there naturally produced proposals for railways into a district hitherto served by lines on the fringes only. Advantage was taken of the Light Railways Act of 1896 (fn. 81) to apply for powers to construct and operate lines more cheaply than otherwise allowed. An application by the G.W.R. resulted in sanction for a line connecting their Berks. & Hants Extension Railway near Pewsey with the Salisbury branch just outside the city, much of it using the Avon valley. (fn. 82) This was not made. The Midland & South-Western Junction Railway's application for a branch from Ludgershall to Amesbury and Bulford was rejected by the Light Railway Commissioners after an inquiry held at Andover in June 1898 because 'the route was at no point more than 3 miles from an existing or sanctioned station'. (fn. 83)
On the south side of the Plain, the L. &. S.W.R. secured powers for a railway from their main line at Grateley to Amesbury and Shrewton. (fn. 84) The AmesburyShrewton portion was abandoned (fn. 85) but a 2¾-mile extension to Bulford and Bulford Camp was authorized in 1903. (fn. 86) Public traffic on the Grateley-Amesbury line began on 2 June 1902; the Bulford Extension was opened on 1 June 1906. Connecting curves between the light railway and main line at Newton Tony were brought into use in December 1904 with a service between Salisbury and Bulford. This service was withdrawn from June 1952, although section 4 of the 1903 Order requires the maintenance of a public passenger and goods station at Bulford.
By 1903 the railway map of Wiltshire was virtually completed and no further lines were necessary except very short sections forming parts of schemes for improving traffic-handling facilities or as economy measures. But a large number of new halts and platforms were opened by the G.W.R. in two distinct phases. The success of the selfcontained steam railcar introduced in the Stroud valley was followed by a decision to use it in other selected areas. It made its appearance on the Chippenham-Westbury, Holt-Devizes, and Chippenham-Calne lines early in 1905, calling at the existing stations and new cheaply constructed wooden halts serving various villages. In that year halts were opened at Stanley Bridge in Bremhill, on 3 April, Lacock and Staverton on 16 October, Beanacre and Broughton Gifford on 29 October. Bromham and Rowde, where a siding was also provided, came into use on 22 February 1909.
The second phase was an attempt to combat loss of traffic caused by bus competition. It was a system-wide policy of opening passenger halts to serve areas where the existing stations were inconveniently situated. These differed from the earlier halts in having platforms about 250 ft. long so that they might be used by ordinary trains in addition to the push-and-pull cars which had replaced the railcars. The first of these was opened on the main line at Christian Malford on 18 October 1926; it was followed by Wootton Rivers on 24 September 1928. In 1929 Pans Lane (Devizes) and Oaksey were opened on 4 March and 18 February respectively. Box (Mill Lane) and Chisledon Camp were opened in 1930, on 31 March and 1 December respectively. In 1932 there were two additions, Collingbourne Kingston on 1 April and Manningford on 20 June. Stratton Park, serving a new housing estate, dates from 20 November 1933 and Dilton Marsh from 1 June 1937. (fn. 87)
The First World War had a considerable effect on the railways of the county as they served a district of major military importance. Not only were existing lines and equipment taxed to their maximum capacity but many new facilities had to be provided for the War Department. Most of this work was at stations bordering Salisbury Plain. New sidings and loading platforms were constructed at Westbury, Warminster, Heytesbury, Codford, Wylye, Wishford, Lavington, and Calne. At Codford a new military platform and sidings were ready for use in October 1914. A loop line thence to a new signal box at Sherrington was opened on 30 December 1914; this was retained until 21 February 1923. In November of the same year (1923) military sidings at Upton Lovell and Lavington became available.
In addition to heavy movements of military personnel, stores, ambulance, and coal trains on the trunk routes, a large number of trains were dispatched and received at stations in the Westbury area. In July 1916 the movement of the 60th (London) Division from camps near Warminster, Heytesbury, and Codford to Southampton involved the running of 88 special trains from those stations. The Codford Camp Railway, 2¾ miles long, and the Heytesbury-Sutton Veny Camp Railway, 3½ miles long, were built by the War Department and operated by them up to May 1918 when the G.W.R. took over at the request of the Government.
Munitions factories at Swindon and Stratton required provision of many miles of extra sidings and the erection of four temporary platforms in the goods yard at Swindon. A junction line to the Stratton establishment was made on 18 December 1917 and remained in use until 28 July 1919. On the Midland & South-Western Junction Railway new sidings at Tidworth were laid by the G.W.R. and platform facilities provided at Chisledon Camp, the demobilization centre for Southern Command. (fn. 88)
With the exception of the Swindon-Kemble line the whole of the traffic working on the G.W.R. was controlled from their divisional office at Bristol. In order to maintain closer liaison on the spot, an assistant superintendent had been located at Westbury from July 1906 to April 1910. As Westbury was the natural centre for all movements in the Salisbury Plain area, this office was reopened in January 1915. A fully equipped traffic control office was added in May 1916. The sub-office was closed in January 1922 but the control organization has been retained and expanded to meet current needs.
Post-war developments were mainly directed towards provision of additional sidings and running loops to facilitate the handling of the greatly increased goods traffic. At Swindon an additional down bay platform was brought into use in May 1919: a new up goods loop line between Rushey Platt and Rodbourne Lane was opened on 15 June 1921 and extended to Swindon West signal box on 5 December 1932. Four new down side carriage sidings were added in March 1923. A new loop line at Westbury, enabling west of England main line trains to avoid the congested station, was opened to goods traffic on 2 January 1933 and used by passenger trains from the end of March. (fn. 89)
Economies, too, were made. The shed at Box which had housed the bank engine required to assist heavy goods trains on the steep gradient through the tunnel was closed in February 1919 and the engine transferred to Chippenham. The shed at Trowbridge was shut down in June 1923, the stud being removed to Westbury. As the majority of G.W.R. trains on the Salisbury branch worked to and from Southampton, Portsmouth, or Brighton, it was possible to close the original Wilts., Somerset & Weymouth Railway terminus at Salisbury and use the S.R. station there: this arrangement came into force on 12 September 1932.
Absorption of the Midland & South Western Junction Railway in 1923 enabled the G.W.R. to make substantial savings. The headquarters at Swindon was closed and members of the staff dispersed to various offices and stations. At Marlborough and Savernake, where both companies had separate establishments, the work was combined and put in charge of a single station master at each place. This came into effect in July 1924 and July 1925 respectively.
The greatest economy, however, was achieved by conversion of the former Midland & South Western Junction Railway line between Marlborough (Low Level) and Wolfhall (M. & S.W.J.R.) from double to single line, and diversion of the old Marlborough G.W.R. branch to join the original up line about 2½ miles from Marlborough. From the point of diversion to within a short distance of Marlborough (High Level) the branch line was removed. Access to the High Level station was obtained by using the original M. & S.W.J.R.-G.W.R. junction which had been removed on 26 June 1898 when the Marlborough & Grafton Railway made it redundant. This was restored on 23 November 1926. The whole of these extensive track alterations were brought into use on 6 March 1933. Their effect was to restore the layout and traffic working to much the same position as existed before the opening of the Marlborough & Grafton Railway. (fn. 90)
Although the volume of traffic handled in the Second World War was very large, existing facilities were generally adequate and no large additional works were required. A military depot at Thingley was brought into use in January 1937 and tank loading platforms at Warminster in 1939. At Westbury the Hawkeridge Curve, permitting a direct run from Trowbridge towards Reading, was first used for traffic on 30 July 1942, saving a reversal in the station and avoiding the severely graded route through Devizes. (fn. 91) A halt at Idmiston was opened by the S.R. on 4 January 1943.
Apart from the closing of Langford (between Wylye and Wishford) in October 1857 and Rushey Platt on 1 October 1905, the county was affected little by the policy of withdrawal of rail facilities from individual unremunerative stations which had taken effect elsewhere from 1929 onwards. The G.W.R. closed Blunsdon on 1 August 1937 and Pans Lane Halt on 6 October 1941, although trains continued to call at Pans Lane when required. Under the British Transport Commission, Edington and Bratton ceased to deal with passengers from 3 November 1952 and Beanacre and Broughton Gifford halts were closed from 7 February 1955. The closure to passengers of all the former G.W.R. stations between Heytesbury and Wilton inclusive was carried out from 19 September 1955.