A look at the Southern’s branch lines in south Devon

Published Mon, 2015-06-29 10:14

Continuing the theme of these features of looking at elements within the first DVD to be issued by unseen shortly, the section on the Southern Region’s branches in the 1960s also looks at those lines that operated to the east of Exeter.


Ex-LSWR Adams '0415' class 4-4-2T on pictured on a rail Tour at Exmouth. It is seen here at Exmouth, during the elaborate Wessex Rail Tour of 12 April 1953 organised by Ian Allan. © Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons License

The easternmost of these lines to be featured is that to Lyme Regis. Although the London & South Western Railway opened its main line through Axminster on 19 July 1860, it was not until the end of the 19th century and the passing of the Light Railway Act that a meaningful project to link the town of Lyme Regis came to fruition. Promoted by the Axminster & Lyme Regis Light Railway and backed by the LSWR, the line from Axminster to Lyme Regis received its Light Railway Order on 15 June 1899. Construction of the 6¾-mile long branch commenced on 19 June 1900 but delays in construction, partly the result of problems in the building of Cannington Viaduct, resulted in the cost of the line increasing and it not being opened throughout until 24 August 1903. Operated by the LSWR from the start, the line was not a financial success and was taken over by the LSWR on 1 January 1907. The branch survived through until the 1960s; listed for closure by Beeching in March 1963, passenger services ceased on 29 November 1965 when the line was closed completely (freight over the branch having ceased on 3 February 1964). Some years after closure, the wooden station building at Lyme Regis was dismantled and re-erected at Alresford on the Mid-Hants Railway.
The branch from Seaton Junction to Seaton was another line that was promoted following the opening of the LSWR line from Yeovil to Exeter in 1860. The Seaton & Beer Railway was authorised on 13 July 1863 to build the 4½-mile long branch to Seaton. Work commenced the following year but construction was protracted and money was tight. As a result opening of the branch with its two intermediate stations was delayed until 16 March 1878. The line was operated by the LSWR from the outset although the following year the Seaton & Beer Railway sought potential interest from the Great Western. This proved unsatisfactory with the result that the LSWR continued to provide locomotives and rolling stock. The LSWR took over the smaller railway on 1 January 1888.
The Seaton branch was also listed for closure by Dr Beeching in March 1963 and passenger services were withdrawn on 7 March 1966. The closure also resulted in the withdrawal of services from Seaton Junction. Following closure, the section of line from Seaton to Colyton was acquired for use as a narrow gauge tramway by Claude Lane, who had previously operated a tramway at Eastbourne. The first section of the 2ft 9in gauge tramway opened on 28 August 1970.
The next branch westwards on the LSWR main line between Yeovil and Exeter was that serving Sidmouth. Promoted by the independent Sidmouth Railway, the 8¼-mile long branch opened throughout on 6 July 1874. Although operated from the outset by the LSWR, the Sidmouth Railway retained its independence until incorporated within the Southern Railway at the Grouping in 1923.
There were two intermediate stations on the Sidmouth branch — Ottery St Mary and Tipton St Johns. From the latter, the Budleigh Salterton Railway operated a 6½-mile long branch to Budleigh Salterton. This had been authorised on 20 July 1894 and the line opened on 15 May 1897. Again operated by the LSWR, the Budleigh Salterton Railway was formally absorbed by the LSWR following an Act of 18 August 1911. There were two intermediate stations on the line: Newton Poppleford, which opened on 1 June 1899, and East Budleigh, which opened with the line as simply Budleigh with the suffix ‘East’ being added on 27 April 1898. Between the two intermediate stations there was also Colaton Raleigh siding; this was to close on 1 February 1953. 
The LSWR itself promoted an extension from Budleigh Salterton through to a junction with the Exmouth branch just to the north of Exmouth station. The 4¾-mile long branch section, with its one intermediate station at Littleham, was opened throughout on 1 June 1903. The Exmouth branch was promoted by the Exeter & Exmouth Railway. Although originally conceived as a broad gauge branch, the LSWR persuaded the promoters to construct the line to standard gauge in exchange for access to the LSWR’s Exeter Queen Street station. The line was authorised on 2 July 1855. The 10½-mile (from Queen Street) branch opened throughout on 1 May 1861. In addition to the passenger line, there was a short branch from Topsham serving Topsham Quay and an extension beyond the passenger terminus at Exmouth to serve the harbour there.
Of the routes that formed the Exmouth, Sidmouth and Budleigh Salterton corridor, all were proposed for closure under the Beeching report in March 1965. The lines from Sidmouth Junction to Sidmouth and from Tipton St Johns to Exmouth via Budleigh Salterton both lost their passenger services on 6 March 1967. The line through Budleigh Salterton was to close completely from the same date; freight services over the line to Sidmouth survived slightly longer, not finally being finally withdrawn until 8 May 1967. Sidmouth Junction station closed with the branch; however, the closure was to be relative shortlived as the station reopened as Feniton on 3 May 1971.
The line between Exmouth Junction and Exmouth remains open for passenger services and, since being threatened with closure, the number of stations serving the line has actually increased with, from the north, Digby & Sowton station opening on 29 May 1995 (located slightly to the south of Clyst St Mary & Digby Halt , which opened on 1 June 1908 and closed on 27 September 1948), Newcourt (which opened on 4 June 2015) and  Lympstone Commando (which opened on 3 May 1976). The original passenger station at Exmouth was closed on 2 May 1976 when a new station was opened slightly to the north. The freight spur serving the quay at Topsham closed in 1957 whilst the line from Exmouth to Exmouth harbour closed on 4 December 1967; this was also the date when the final freight services over the branch operated.