John Speller's Web Pages Devizes

John Speller's Web Pages - GWR Broad Gauge

On 31 July 1854 the Wilts, Somerset & Weymouth Railway obtained an Act for a branch line from Holt Junction, a mile south of Melksham on their main line, to the market town of Devizes in Wiltshire. The single track broad gauge line opened on 1 July 1857.

On 22 July 1848 an Act was passed for what was originally known as the London, Newbury & Bath Direct Railway and was later renamed the Berks & Hants Extension Railway, but the powers were allowed to lapse and it was not until 13 August 1859 that another Act was obtained for the line from Hungerford via Pewsey to Devizes, which was opened on 4 November 1862. The major engineering work on the line was the Castle Hill Tunnel, 190 yards long, just to the east of Devizes station. The line was broad gauge and single-tracked, and provided the shortest a through route from Paddington to Bristol, though being heavily graded it was far from being the fastest. The line was converted from broad to narrow gauge in the summer of 1874. Although worked by the Great Western Railway the Berks & Hants Extension Railway remained nominally independent until vested in the GWR on 10 August 1882.

As early as 28 June 1866 an Act was passed for what became known as the Sturt & Westbury Loop, a six-mile chord between Patney & Chirton station and Westbury, which provided the GWR with a shorter route to Weymouth. Because of lack of funds the line was not proceeded with, and was abandoned by an Act of 1870. The scheme was revived at the end of the nineteenth century and the new line finally opened on 29 July 1900. As well as shortening the route to Weymouth, the loop took on an additional importance as part of the main line to the West of England with the opening of the chord between Castle Cary and Curry Rivel Junction near Langport in 1906.

So far as Devizes is concerned, the opening of the Sturt & Westbury Loop in 1900 left what had been a major route as a mere 13-mile branch line from Holt to Patney. Steam railmotor service was introduced on the line on 1 October 1905. Pans Lane Halt, chiefly serving an isolation hospital on the southern edge of Devizes, opened 4 March 1929 but closed 6 October 1941. Nevertheless, there continued to be some trains between Paddington and Bristol using the Devizes line, and there were still three each way daily as late as 1959, though they had all gone by the early 1960s. The Devizes branch closed to goods traffic on 19 May 1964 and to passengers on 18 April 1966.
Map showing the rail network around Devizes
The west portal of Castle Hill Tunnel, Devizes, in a postcard view of around 1905
11.20 a.m. Bristol to Reading via Devizes train at Bristol Temple Meads behind Hawksworth "County" Class 4-6-0 No. 1028 "County of Warwick" on 15 March 1955. Image copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License
A London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads via Devizes express emerging from Castle Hill Tunnel behind a Churchward "City" Class 4-4-0 in around 1914
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