Thornbury and District Museum: Thornbury's railway line – the early years

January 23 2020
Thornbury and District Museum: Thornbury's railway line – the early years

THORNBURY'S railway line did not get off to the best of starts.

Services to and from Yate via Tytherington started in 1872, nine years after a public meeting had been called to raise support for the line.

The first timetable was described as experimental, starting with two trains a day running between Bristol and Thornbury, morning and evening. The trains would have accommodation for first, second and third class passengers.

The first services ran on September 2 1872 but newspaper reports show that there were problems with the railway line from its earliest days. On November 2, two months after the line opened, there was an article about a land slip in the cutting between Thornbury and Tytherington stations. The land slip was said to be very extensive and so, although upwards of 150 men were reportedly working day and night, it was likely to have been at least a fortnight before services could resume. Another smaller landslip was reported on December 7 of the same year.

In November 1884 a minor accident was reported on the train which had left Thornbury for Yate the morning before. Part of the train was derailed but no one was hurt.

Services never seemed to be adequate. There are many newspaper reports of dissatisfaction, including one in November 15 1899 in which the council was said to have voted to ask the Midland Railway Company to run an extra train from Thornbury between 1pm and 2pm. This request seems to have gone unheeded. It was never very convenient to travel from Thornbury to Bristol via Yate.



Thornbury railway station platform in its heyday, with well-tended flower bed and gas lamps. Picture courtesy of Gill Watts.

The competition which would eventually spell the end for the trains came with motor buses. In 1904 Alveston Parish Council asked the Great Western Railway company to provide a motor car service between Thornbury and Patchway. The first motor bus service from Thornbury, provided by the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company, began in February 1906. It ran to Horfield, where the Bristol trams ended. A year later the bus service terminated at Filton, for the trams had been extended to that growing suburb. Some buses ran through Thornbury to Berkeley.

But as late as 1918, the Gazette was still suggesting that there could be a bright future for the railway line. An article in March said: “A large staff of engineers are at present at Thornbury planning out a light railway in continuation of the Midland Railway from Yate to the River Severn, for the purpose of conveying stone from the huge quarries at Tytherington…to the banks of the River Severn at Littleton.”

The extension never came.

Despite these problems, the railway survived to reach its golden jubilee and the main picture shows railway employees assembled for a 50th anniversary celebration in September 1922.