Polsloe Bridge

This was one of a series of halts commissioned in the Exeter suburbs in the early 1900s to capture – or, in some cases, hold on to – local, short-distance traffic. Shortly after the turn of the 20th Century, tramway systems had started to eat into those receipts the pre-Grouping railway companies in Southern England had hitherto enjoyed from city suburban services, particularly those in the capital. For the London & South Western (LSWR) and South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SE&CR) companies, the solution to this was the advent of the “railmotor”. This was essentially a combined engine and carriage on a common chassis, designed to serve sets of timber platforms situated in fairly close proximity to each other, which would otherwise have been uneconomical to operate with standard locomotive-hauled trains. For the London Brighton & South Coast Railway, the answer was overhead electrification, commencing with their South London Line route between Victoria and London Bridge.

In the local press, the LSWR advertised their impending new local services in Exeter’s suburbs:

Opening of Halts.

At “Polsloe Bridge” and “Clyst St Mary and Digby”, between Exeter and Topsham.

On Monday, 1st June, a passenger rail motor car service (1st and 3rd Class) will be inaugurated between Exeter (Queen Street) and Topsham, and, until further notice, the Service will be as follows: -

From Queen Street to Topsham:

Leave Queen Street, on week-days at 8.38 a.m., 9.55, 11.5, 12,20 p.m., 2.35, 4.0, 5.50, 7.28, 8.30, and 9.25. On Sundays at 10.5 a.m., 12.50 p.m., 2.15, 5.42, and 8.30.

From Topsham to Queen Street:

Leave Topsham, on week-days, at 9.18 a.m., 10.35, 11.55, 12.48 p.m., 3.5, 5.5, 6.36, 8.3, 8.53, and 9.47. On Sundays at 10.45 a.m., 1.25 p.m., 4.0, 7.15, and 9.0 p.m., calling at Lion’s Holt, Mount Pleasant Road, Polsloe Bridge, and Clyst St Mary and Digby Halts in both directions.

For full particulars of service see special bills.

Chas. J. Owens, General Manager.

[Devon and Exeter Daily Gazette, Saturday, 30th May 1908]

The commissioning of the two halts mentioned was done in conjunction with doubling of the Exmouth branch line north of Topsham, two-track running on this section also commencing on 1st June 1908. Polsloe Bridge Halt comprised a pair of wooden platforms perched upon an embankment, each side hosting a waiting shelter constructed from the same material. Polsloe is an eastern suburb of Exeter, and after the advent of the Exmouth branch in 1861, that area immediately beside the line acquired the suffix “Bridge”, after where the railway crossed over Pinhoe Road.

Indeed, based on newspaper reports from the time, the first day of railmotor service was buoyant:

By Motor to Topsham

The L. and S. W. Rail motor-car service between Queen-street, Exeter and Topsham was started under very favourable conditions yesterday, and the number of passengers who have so far patronised the motors is considered by the Company in every way satisfactory. The ordinary Exmouth traffic on Sunday was run over the new double line as far as Topsham in order to make sure things were in thorough working order.

The Company intend the primary purpose of the service to be the linking up of four Halts. Lion’s Holt, Mount Pleasant, Polsloe Bridge, and Clyst St Mary, with Exmouth, the time-table being so arranged that passengers journeying by rail to Topsham have only a short time to wait there for the Exmouth trains. [The Western Times, Tuesday 2nd June 1908]

Clyst St Mary Halt, also a two-platform timber affair which formed part of the 1908 scheme, was situated about 1¾-miles south of Polsloe Bridge. Lion’s Holt (latterly St James’ Park) and Mount Pleasant Halts had been commissioned over two years previously, on 26th January 1906; they had been part of an earlier railmotor service which ran between Exeter Queen Street and Honiton.

By 1921, Exeter Council had raised concerns about Polsloe Bridge Halt, suggesting that the LSWR should upgrade the site:

Polsloe Bridge Halt.

Mr. Britton moved that the attention of the London and South-Western Railway Co. be drawn to the altogether inadequate provision for passengers at the Polsloe Bridge Halt, and that the Company be requested, for the convenience of the public, to stop more trains at the Halt and to provide proper accommodation. He said the number of trains that topped at the Halt was quite insufficient, bearing in mind the large population resident in that part of the city. Of 14 trains running from Exmouth each day only four stopped at the Halt. The motion was carried. [Devon & Exeter Daily Gazette, 2nd February 1921]

However, no works at the site were forthcoming, and it was not until after the Grouping that new station structures were provided. In 1927, the Southern Railway rebuilt the entire station in ferro-concrete, not a plank of the original halt of 1908 remaining, from components manufactured at the nearby works at Exmouth Junction. As part of the same scheme, Mount Pleasant Halt, situated about 300-yards west of the junction with the branch, was closed from 1st January 1928. The then recently rebuilt halt’s construction was noted in the January 1928 edition of The Railway Magazine:

...the reinforced concrete slabbing forming the surface of the platforms rests on direct concrete brackets, which are particularly light and simple in design, and that by extending the back legs of these brackets up above platform level they have been made to serve in addition as the posts for the fencing along the back of the platforms.

The railway at the halt is on a high embankment, and the design in question was adopted on that account. Access to the platforms from the public road below is gained by concrete staircases; there is a small combined shelter and booking office, also in concrete with asbestos roofing, on the down platform, and a concrete name board with white concrete letters on a black background is provided on each platform.

The whole of the component parts required in the construction of the halt were pre-cast in the company’s large concrete construction depot nearby, and erected under the supervision of the Western Divisional Engineer, Mr. W. H. Shortt, M. Inst. C. E.

The good fortunes of the halt continued; in 1931 it was announced that the Southern Railway was now able to handle parcels traffic at Polsloe Bridge, for onward travel by train:

Parcels traffic is now being accepted daily at Polsloe Bridge Halt, Exeter, for prompt dispatch between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and this arrangement will continue until the 19th September next. It should provide most useful to the large number of residents in and about the higher part of the City and at Whipton. [The Devon and Exeter Daily Gazette, Saturday 1st August 1931]

It seems that even a humble halt cannot escape severe rationalisation. Having escaped the closure recommended in Beeching’s 1963 report, economies eventually caught up with the Exmouth branch. These included singling the branch north of Topsham, save for a short stretch immediately beside the junction with the main line, effective in service from 5th February 1973. As part of these works, the “down” platform at Polsloe Bridge was taken out of use, along with the adjacent track; the structure was not demolished, however, and it was left to be engulfed in vegetation.

5th June 2021

Roughly looking eastward, the station's namesake is seen spanning Pinhoe Road. This particular span presumably dates from 1908, when the line was doubled and the halt opened. © David Glasspool

5th June 2021

The station is situated on the southern side of Pinhoe Road, adjacent to the bridge span seen in the previous picture. The prefabricated concrete staircase and platform date from the Southern Railway's rebuild of 1927. © David Glasspool

5th June 2021

A north westward view towards Exmouth Junction shows the former "down" platform, on the right, still standing but in the grip of nature. The "down" platform of the SR's rebuild started life with a single concrete waiting shelter, beside the staircase; a second shelter, situated about 160-feet south east of the original, later opened. © David Glasspool

5th June 2021

The signal box at Exmouth Junction is visible from the Exeter end of the remaining operational platform; the surface is 640-feet in length, including ramps. The waiting shelter here was not evident when the rebuild was commissioned in 1927. © David Glasspool