Some Early Lines – The Lyme Regis Branch

Some Early Lines

The Lyme Regis Branch Line

 The Lyme Regis branch line was a branch line off the West of England Main Line in the south west of England, opened on 24 August 1903. It ran from Axminster in East Devon, via the hamlet of Combpyne and through the village of Uplyme where the line crossed a large bridge known as “The Cannington Viaduct” and crossed the Devon county border to the Dorset port and seaside resort of Lyme Regis.PicAndy Fish – Cannington viaduct, near Uplyme, showing concrete reinforcing arch after subsidence

The Axminster and Lyme Regis Light Railway

Several attempts were made during the Victorian era to connect the seaside resort of Lyme Regis with the main line of the London & South Western Railway at Axminster. In August 1871 the Lyme Regis Railway Corporation gained parliamentary approval, and on 29 September 1874 a local public holiday was declared to celebrate the cutting of the first sod for the new line. However, funds were not forthcoming, and the powers were allowed to lapse in 1876.

Despite petitions and approaches made to the L&SWR, it was not until 15 June 1899 that the Light Railway Commissioners finally granted powers to the Axminster and Lyme Regis Light Railway for construction of the line.

The line was constructed by the independent engineer and promoter Arthur C Pain. Work began on 19 June 1900, but the difficult terrain and delays caused by bad weather meant that three years passed before the 6¾ miles branch was completed. A Board of Trade inspection arranged for 18 May 1903 had to be postponed because heavy rains had caused damage to the Cannington Viaduct.

The line finally opened on 24 August 1903. A special train carrying local dignitaries and 200 lucky schoolchildren left Lyme Regis at 12.25 p.m.

Working the line

There were significant twists and gradients, such that the L&SWR, which from July 1906 took over and operated the line, had significant difficulty finding suitable locomotives. Eventually the Adams ‘Radial’ Tank 4-4-2T locomotive was identified as capable of negotiating the route, three being assigned to the line from their normal suburban duties. They worked the branch on rotation almost uniquely until its closure, outlasting the rest of their class significantly, and ensuring one (number 30583) was preserved in service, currently on the “Bluebell Line” in Sussex, and another as a static exhibit in the national collection. This situation has parallels with the Bodmin & Wadebridge Railway, both having developed a following because of the attractive, older locomotives working the scenic routes.A famous Dorset branch line (Though its mainline connection, at Axminster, was actually in Devon) served Lyme Regis.  Opened as an independent concern in 1903 after a lengthy gestation period, it was soon in difficulties and in 1906 was absorbed by the LSWR.  It closed in November, 1965, but not before it had made its name among enthusiasts as one of the last habitats of that late Victorian classic, the Adams radial tank locomotive.  Paul Atterbury.

Closure

This branch line was closed on the 29 November 1965, as part of the ‘Beeching Axe’, a period of numerous line closures following the Beeching Report, which identified unprofitable routes on the network, and resulted in their closure. Whilst the line was exceptionally busy with tourists and holidaymakers in summer, this could not sustain it for the rest of the year, particularly with ever increasing car ownership.30583, built in 1885, arrives at Lyme Regis with the branch train from Axminster on 10th June 1957.   The branch line closed long ago, but 30583 lives on at the Bluebell Railway in Sussex.  robertdarlaston.co.uk

Lyme Regis station has been dismantled and reconstructed at New Alresford, on the Watercress Line, in Hampshire. The Cannington Viaduct is a Grade II listed structure. Although subject to subsidence after its construction it still stands, notable for the significant masonry reinforcement within one of the arches giving it a distinctive silhouette.Bridge over a farm access on the old Lyme Regis branch line.      

  © Copyright Sarah Charlesworth and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence   

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2 responses to “Some Early Lines – The Lyme Regis Branch

  1. Thanks.
    I didn’t manage to see the Adams tanks, but I did manage to see the Lyme Regis branch in the summer of 1965 at the age of 13. I bought a half fare day return from Seaton station, and made the journey from Seaton to Lyme Regis and back, changing at Seaton Junction and Axminster in both directions. By that time, much to my disappointment, it was all diesel, with a two car DMU on the Seaton branch and a single unit on the Lyme branch. I think it was a DMU on the main line too on the outward journey, but I got hauled by a Western Region warship on the return. I was immensely disappointed that it wasn’t a Bullied pacific, and I certainly didn’t bother to note the name or the number of the warship! It turned out it was the only warship I ever rode behind! They were all gone before I got anywhere near the south west again. What a short working life compared to the Adams tanks! I do remember the delightfui station at Combpyne with milk churns on thec platform. Three years earlier, and it would have been all steam including the Adams tanks. 7 months later it was all gone. All the stations except Axminster were closed along with both branches, and the main line was being reduced to single line. In some ways the railways were a very depressing place in the 60’s – they seemed to be in terminal decline. But I’m glad I saw these two branches, just before they closed.

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