Branch Lines of Gloucestershire by Colin G Maggs with dust jacket
Branch Lines of Gloucestershire by Colin G Maggs with dust jacket

Branch Lines of Gloucestershire by Colin G Maggs with dust jacket

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Branch Lines of Gloucestershire by Colin G Maggs with dust jacket
Branch Lines of Gloucestershire by Colin G Maggs with dust jacket  Copyright 1991 147 pages
The first line in the county was the nine-mile-long Bristol and Gloucestershire Railway opened in 1835 from Coalpit Heath. A purely mineral line, it was worked by horses, though approaching Bristol gravitation was used down an incline of 1 in 55. In 1835 a Bond and Winwood locomotive was tried, but unfortunately few details have survived -other than the fact that it exploded after being modified to make two trips daily instead of one.
With the development of railways, an extension to Gloucester was called for, and the 'shire' dropped from the company's title. Only twenty-one and a half miles of new line was needed as the Bristol and Gloucester Railway (BGR) planned to share Cheltenham and Great Western xxxxxxx Union Railway (CGWUR) metals between Standish Junction and Gloucester. The opening of the BGR in 1844 completed the chain of rail communication between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Exeter. It was also the first mixed gauge line in the country. As the Bristol and Gloucester was broad gauge, and the Avon and Gloucestershire Railway, which had running powers over the section between Coalpit Heath and Mangotsfield, standard gauge, the latter's rails were laid between those of the BGR. Furthermore, this length was particularly interesting as the AGR used horse traction, and the BGR steam locomotives. There was no risk of collision, however, as Major-General Pasley, the Board of Trade Inspecting Officer remarked that 'Railway trains drawn by horses seldom or never travel slower than the rate of 3 miles an hour. Hence as the Bristol & Gloucester Railway Company proposed to run six passenger trains on week-days, at intervals of not less than two hours and twenty minutes between succeeding trains, it is impossible that collision can take place, provided that the Avon & Gloucestershire Railway trains shall be so arranged as always to follow one of the Bristol & Gloucester passenger trains in a short time after the latter shall have passed on the junctions, whether travelling northwards or southwards.'
The line which carried passengers northwards from Gloucester was the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway. At first it was decided to take a direct route avoiding Droitwich, Worcester, Tewkesbury and Cheltenham, but residents of the latter town created such an uproar that the line was diverted to include it. The other towns had be be content with being served by a branch line. The line was opened between Gloucester and Camp Hill, Birmingham in 1840. In 1845 the Bristol and Birmingham companies were taken over by the Midland Railway (MR).
Closely allied with the Bristol and Gloucester was the Cheltenham and Great Western xxxxxxxxxx Union Railway. This left the London to Bristol main line at Swindon and cut through the Cotswolds to Stroud, Gloucester and Cheltenham, sharing, as mentioned above, its Standish to Gloucester length with the BGR, though in the event, as the CGWUR construction got behind schedule the BGR built this section. The Great Western Railway took over the CGWUR in 1844, completed the line and opened it to Gloucester in 1845 and onwards to Cheltenham two years later.
Gloucester had now become an important rail centre - significant in its own right as the chief town in the region, and also as a centre of routes due to its situation at the lowest point at which the River Severn could be conveniently crossed. The Severn railway bridge near Sharpness was not opened until 1879 and the tunnel in 1886.
The next main line in the county was the South Wales Railway (SWR) which carried trains from Gloucester to South Wales. Although nominally independent, it was entirely a Great Western project planned to work in conjunction with the line from Swindon. Although there was little opposition to the course of the line west of Newport, east of that town the route was disputed, some urging that the line be carried via Monmouth rather than follow a direct route along the coast. This debate delayed construction so that although the line from Chepstow to Swansea was opened in 1850, it was not until the following year that the line from Gloucester to Chepstow was ready. Even then the two sections of the SWR were not quite linked. Due to work on the bridge across the River Wye having fallen behind schedule, passengers from Gloucester were decanted at a temporary terminus a mile east of Chepstow and conveyed by road in horse buses to the permanent station on the west bank of the Wye. Through-running from Gloucester to South Wales eventually began in 1852.
The GWR cast covetous eyes at the Midland Railway's line between Gloucester and Birmingham and wondered whether it could take a share of this lucrative traffic. The Great Western already owned a line from Birmingham through Stratford-upon-Avon as far as Honeybourne, and towards the end of the nineteenth century traders and fruit growers of Broadway and Winchcombe pressed for a railway to serve their district. For the cost of a line a mere twenty and three-quarter miles in length between Honeybourne and Cheltenham, the GWR was able to create a new route to Birmingham. This opened throughout in 1906.
The line, the only main route in Gloucestershire not to have any branches, developed its potential in providing a direct Great Western route from Birmingham to Bristol and the West of England, and also South Wales, while apart from through trains, it generated a fair amount of traffic from the area particularly during the fruit-picking season. In the British Railways era it still continued to provide a parallel to the Gloucester to Birmingham route up the Lickey Incline. Then, following the derailment of a coal train which damaged the track at Winchcombe on 25 August 1976, it was considered uneconomic to repair and so the line was officially closed on 1 November 1976, since when it has been partially re-opened by the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway Society.
Although the inauguration of the South Wales line gave rail communication between South West England and South Wales, the route was hardly direct. As the crow flies Bristol is only twenty-five miles from Cardiff, but the rail route involved a distance of no less than ninety-three miles.
Technology in the 1840s was incapable of producing a suitable tunnel or bridge to reach the other side of the Severn, but a ferry was feasible. In 1858 construction of the Bristol and South Wales Union Railway (BSWUR) began from South Wales junction, a quarter of a mile east of Bristol Temple Meads, to New Passage Pier where paddle-steamers crossed two miles of water to Portskewett Pier. Here a short branch linked with the main SWR at Portskewett station. The BSWUR opened in 1863 and was the only main line in Gloucestershire, apart from that from Filton to Wootton Bassett, which did not serve the county town.
Although trains ran to the end of each pier, the route was no use for goods and mineral traffic, and unreliable for passengers as bad weather could bring the ferry to a halt. It is said that one nervous lady asked a seaman: 'Do people often drown on this crossing?' to which she received the reply, 'Only once ma'am, only once.'
It was Charles Richardson (who had also been responsible for building the Cheltenham and Great Western xxxxxxx Union Railway), who when engaged on building the ferry piers, was led to consider constructing a tunnel under the Severn. In 1872 the Great Western obtained an Act to carry out his plan. Many problems had to be surmounted before it was eventually opened to goods traffic on 1 September 1886 and to local passenger trains three months later. London to South Wales expresses were not diverted through the tunnel, instead of via Gloucester, until 1 July 1887 by which time teething problems had been overcome.
Trains from South Wales to Swindon had to travel a rather circuitous route via Bristol and Bath, so a direct line was planned from Filton to Wootton Bassett. The railway was laid out for ease of running, no gradient being steeper than 1 in 300 and no curve sharper than one mile radius. Considering that the line had to cross the Cotswolds, this was a fine achievement. It opened in 1903.

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