Avon Valley Railway

Introduction

For over one hundred years, from 1869 to 1966, the rail service from Bitton to Bristol or Bath was the lifeline for passengers and for the shipment of local goods. But by 1974 the railway had reopened thanks to volunteers who preserved the line in order to operate trains for leisure and to educate, stimulate and encourage interest in railway preservation.

 

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The Route

The Bath branch ran from the junction at Mangotsfield south-east through Warmley, swinging south-west to Oldland and then south east again to cross the Rivers Boyd and Avon beyond Bitton at Saltford. Continuing alongside the Avon, past Kelston Park, the line had to cross the river a further four times before terminating in Bath on the north bank.

From Mangotsfield the Bath branch curved sharply southwards and joined the third side of the triangle, which permitted through running from Bath to Gloucester. The railway signaled the end of life for the Dramway, which opened in 1830, connecting Coal Pit Heath with the Avon at Bitton and Londonderry wharf at Willsbridge.

Between Oldland Common and Bitton Station the line passed through a deep rock cutting. The pennant rock from this area yielded the fine building stone for most of the bridges. Nearly 250,000 cu yds had to be excavated. Also, in the cutting, the line ran over the former tramway tunnel which when bored was unlined, but was later lined for 90 ft by the Midland to bear the weight of the branch.

 

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Oldland Halt

Public demand saw the opening a station at Oldland Common in 1935. Although mentioned in various publications that “this was the only station on the line to have electric lighting”, the explanation was that there was no gas main in North Street at the time.

The end of the line for LMS

During the period 1933 to 1939 the whole of the line was upgraded to take the heavier axle loads of the larger locomotives then being built by the London Midland & Scottish Railways for express and freight traffic.

The line continued to flourish until the 1950s when cheaper road transport became more popular – until in July 1965 Bitton Yard was closed and notice of closure for the withdrawal of passenger services declared 3rd January 1966 as the fateful day. Difficulties with the replacement bus service delayed matters until 7th March 1966. Coal traffic to Bath Gas Works continued until July 1971, after which time the line was not used by any regular traffic.

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Origins

The local railway started life when the Midland Railway opened a branch line from Mangotsfield to Bath in 1869. Messrs. Eckersley and Bayliss of Westminster built the line, a Mr Robertson of Bristol the roadside stations and the Derby firm of Handyside were responsible for the wrought iron bridges. Bath Chronicle records the opening as “engineering features of considerable interest … and cuttings … long and deep”. The Midland Railway became part of the London, Midland, and Scottish Railway in 1923. In1948, the line became part of the newly-created “British Railways”.

 

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The Pines Express

In 1910, a regular through express passenger train was introduced between

Manchester and Bournemouth, later this train was given the name “The Pines Express”. The last service was in 1962. In 2012 the service between Manchester and Bournemouth was remembered with affection with an event at the Avon Valley Railway at Bitton.

 

Passenger Services

Stopping trains gave local people the opportunity to commute to work in Bristol or Bath, although a number had employment at the Carsons chocolate factory at Mangotsfield. Pupils could travel by train to Warmley and walk to Kingswood Grammar School. It was considered diplomatic, if not essential, to travel at the opposite end of the train to those teachers who made the same journey.

 

Services that used the line were a mixture of stopping passenger trains, through goods trains conveying coal from the Somerset coalfield and other general merchandise, and stopping goods trains (usually referred to as the “pick-up”) which daily collected or delivered a few wagons to or from Warmley and Bitton. The Northbound and Southbound ”Pines Express”, which, although not stopping, gave an unusual service to the local community by its very passage The progress of the Northbound train at about 12.15pm was the signal to a significant number of mothers to dish up the meal as husbands or children would be in for lunch in a few minutes. Similarly, at about 2.45pm, the Bournemouth bound train would give parents of younger children the prompt to walk to school to collect them.