Sidmouth Junction

Once an important interchange point on the Waterloo to Exeter main line, this site is a mere shadow of its former self. We can take solace in the fact that a [reopened] station still exists in the East Devon parish of Feniton, but the grandeur bestowed on the locality in the earliest years has long since gone. Disused brick remains of a platform surface, backed at the rear by housing, is now all that exists of the London & South Western Railway’s (LSWR) Sidmouth Junction station.

As recounted in the Broad Clyst section, a single-track line between Salisbury and Gillingham (Dorset) opened to public traffic on Monday, 2nd May 1859, under the auspices of the “Salisbury and Yeovil Railway”. In the following year, extensions to Sherborne and Yeovil came into regular use on 7th May and 1st June respectively. The line was worked throughout by the LSWR and an Act dated 5th July 1865 provided the necessary powers for that company to amalgamate with the Salisbury and Yeovil Railway (ref: Bradshaw's Railway Manual, Shareholders' Guide, and Official Directory, 1866). The completion of an extension from Yeovil to Exeter by the LSWR, again single track, was quick to follow, a ceremonial opening taking place on Wednesday, 18th July 1860 (ref: The Western Times, Exeter, 21st July 1860). Scheduled passenger traffic commenced the following day.

A station by the name of “Feniton” came into use with the Yeovil to Exeter extension, being situated twelve-route-miles east of the latter. The name “Feniton” was a point of contention from the outset; during the line’s construction, the station had been referred to as “Ottery Road”, and the town of Ottery had expended £300 (£30,000 at 2021 prices) improving the road between Sidmouth and the station (ref: The Western Times, Exeter, 21st July 1860). The LSWR’s Chairman attended the opening of the line with company Directors and, when their train drew into Feniton, he was asked by one Sir John Kennaway if the station’s name could be altered to “Ottery” or “Ottery and Sidmouth Road”. It was remarked that the population of the village of Feniton was slight, whilst Ottery had 5,000 inhabitants and the parish extended to near the station. The Chairman agreed that the subject should receive attention when the Directors returned to London (ref: The Western Times, Exeter, 21st July 1860). Clearly, the company heeded the local advice, for on 1st July 1861 the station became “Ottery Road” (ref: Clinker’s Register, 1980).

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

In August 1866, the LSWR reported that double-track from Yeovil to Exeter was completed and that two lines of rail between Salisbury and Yeovil would be ready by the end of that year (ref: The Bath Chronicle, 16th August 1866).

Two platforms were commissioned at Feniton station from the outset, situated either side of what was initially a passing loop, directly opposite each other. The main building was situated on the “down” platform and was a handsome two-storey-high red-brick Gothic structure designed by the LSWR’s architect, William Tite. Buildings of this type, with a handful of exceptions, became standard along the Yeovil to Exeter line; although that example once in use at Feniton has since been demolished, the architecture still remains at the likes of Axminster, Whimple, and the closed Seaton Junction. The main building was equipped with the same style of flat-roofed platform canopy that came into use at neighbouring stations such as Honiton and Broad Clyst. The “up” platform was host to a commodious single-storey brick-built waiting shelter, built in harmony with the main building. The shelter had a Gothic flavour, in addition to sporting a symmetrical twin pitched-roof facade. It is likely that passengers walked between platforms on the level in the earliest years.

Your author has found it difficult to ascertain the early track plan of Ottery Road, in the era prior to the advent of the Sidmouth branch line. It is clear that goods facilities existed on the “down” side from the outset, behind the platform; a brick-built goods shed was provided here, through which a single track passed. The goods shed was built to a standard design that appeared at other stations along the line, and demonstrated the same brickwork and stone lining as the main building. The plan on this page shows the scenario post-branch line opening.

On 29th June 1871, the “Sidmouth Railway” was incorporated by an Act of Parliament to construct a single-track light railway, 8¼-miles in length, from the LSWR at Feniton to Sidmouth (ref: Bradshaw's Railway Manual, Shareholders' Guide and Official Directory, 1894). Bradshaw’s (1894) remarks that arrangements were made with the LSWR to work the line, and traffic commenced on 6th July 1874 along the branch. As of that date, “Ottery Road” station became “Sidmouth Junction”.

Locomotive and wagon turntables had disappeared by 1930, but little else had changed since the 1905 plan. Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

The Sidmouth branch approached the LSWR main line from the southeast and made a single trailing connection with the “down” track. In the fork of the junction between main and branch lines was installed a turntable for tank engines working the latter. A spacious layout of sidings was controlled from a three-storey-high LSWR “Type 1” signal box situated on the “up” side of the line, south east of the station. Rather than your author describing the range of tracks, these can be observed on the accompanying diagram. An additional pitched roof canopy with spiked timber valance was installed on the “down” platform, as an extension of that affixed to Tite’s main building. The canopy lengths became a favoured location for nesting swallows (ref: The Western Times (Devon), 4th August 1903). Your author suspects that it was at this time that a roofed lattice footbridge was provided between the platforms. Three platform faces were available at this time, one of which was a London-facing bay for branch line trains from Sidmouth.

By the 1905 Ordnance Survey edition, a gate box had appeared adjacent to the level crossing at the station’s northwestern end, on the Exeter side of the road, on the “up” side of the line. By 1930, the turntable had been removed and its approach track converted into a siding. In that year, it was also announced that telegraph and telephone call office facilities were available to the public at Sidmouth Junction. It was reported that the services available were the sending of telegrams, telephone express services, local and trunk calls, and emergency services for police, ambulance, and Fire Brigade (ref: The Devon and Exeter Gazette, 17th January 1930).

On 20th June 1947, the SR introduced the summer-only “Devon Belle” all-Pullman train, which used carriages reconditioned for the service (ref: The Railway Magazine, September and October 1947). The train’s first advertised stop was Sidmouth Junction (a necessary pause was made at Wilton to change engines), to make a connection with the branch line, and separate portions were detached at Exeter Central for onward travel to Ilfracombe and Plymouth. The latter portion ceased from 1950 (ref: The Railway Magazine, May 1952), and the “Devon Belle” last ran in 1954, the decision being taken not to reintroduce the service for the 1955 season (ref: The Railway Gazette, 18th March 1955).

Based on your author’s photographic observations, the brickwork of Tite’s original station structures between Yeovil and Exeter was painted over during the 1950s in a cream shade. In addition to this, the main building at Sidmouth Junction received modifications to the gables, where the slate tiling was extended beyond the roof line to create an overhang. Additionally, the latterly-added pitched roof section of platform canopy received a simplified valance. In April 1959, a gate box was opened on the “up” side of the line, adjacent to the level crossing, replacing an earlier one that sat directly opposite on the “down” side (ref: Volume 4, Southern Railway Register, Section M4: Salisbury West to Exeter West, Signal Record Society).

25th October 1963

An Exeter-bound view captures BR Standard Tank 2-6-4 No. 80037 at platform 1 with two Maunsell carriages in tow, forming a local stopping train. Local services transitioned to Western Region diesel multiple units the month after this photograph was taken. The carriages on the left, in the bay platform (No. 3), are those of the branch line train to Sidmouth. Also on the left, in the background, can be seen Tite’s main station building, the brickwork of which had been painted over in a cream colour in the 1950s. The canopy in view was a later addition, as was the roofed lattice footbridge in the background. The concrete bracket lampposts dated from the 1950s, having replaced earlier Southern Railway examples of the same material. © David Glasspool Collection

Now onto the years of decline. Effective 1st January 1963, lines west of Salisbury came under the control of British Railways’ Western Region. In March of the same year was published the infamous report titled “The Reshaping of British Railways”, which listed the Sidmouth branch and Sidmouth Junction station for closure. In the February 1966 edition of The Railway Magazine, it was reported that the Minister of Transport had approved closure of Sidmouth Junction station and the branch line to Sidmouth; however, it was stipulated that this should not take place before 1st October 1966. Local services had already been withdrawn, this being effective from 7th March 1966 — diesel multiple units had been introduced on these and the branch lines in later years in an attempt to reduce operating costs. Closure of Sidmouth Junction station and the branch line was effective from 6th March 1967 (ref: Branch Line News No. 76, Branch Line Society, 22nd February 1967). Goods traffic had earlier been withdrawn from Sidmouth Junction from 6th September 1965 (ref: Clinker’s Register, 1980).

The 31-lever signal box at Sidmouth Junction remained in use for a short time after passenger services ceased, being closed on 21st May 1967 (ref: Volume 4, Southern Railway Register, Section M4: Salisbury West to Exeter West, Signal Record Society). On singling of the Chard Junction to Pinhoe section of the line, effective 11th June 1967 (ref: The West Country, David St John Thomas, 1988), the connection between main and branch lines at Sidmouth Junction was severed. By early 1970, the footbridge at Sidmouth Junction# had been taken down — save for the substantial brick staircases — the canopies removed, the “up” side waiting shelter demolished, and all track bar the single running line lifted. However, Tite’s main building on the “down” side remained standing, as did the goods shed of the same vintage.

In January 1971, it was reported in the press that Sidmouth Junction station was to reopen in May of that year in response to local housing development, but under the original name of “Feniton” (ref: Western Daily Press (Bristol), 6th January 1971). This involved rebuilding a short section of the former “down” platform (the rest of which was removed); sadly, however, Tite’s main building that dated from the line’s construction was demolished, as was the former goods shed. The single platform of the then new “Feniton” station opened on 3rd May 1971, being served by local trains catering for morning and evening commuter traffic to and from Exeter, excluding Sundays (ref: The Railway Magazine, March 1971). The gate box of 1959 origin remained to control traditional level crossing gates, until being replaced by a control room on the platform from 9th June 1974 (ref: Volume 4, Southern Railway Register, Section M4: Salisbury West to Exeter West, Signal Record Society), when automatic lifting barriers were commissioned. The village of Feniton had regained its station, but the halcyon days of branch line connections to Sidmouth and the Atlantic Coast Express were gone forever.

25th October 1963

Merchant Navy Pacific No. 35004 “Cunard White Star” is seen passing over the level crossing that still exists today, London-bound. The presence of the canopy and footbridge necessitated the tall double-arm signal post, due to obscuring drivers’ views. On the left can be seen the “down” side gate box that had come into use in 1959, replacing one on the opposite side of the rails. A Vauxhall Velox is seen stopped at the crossing. © David Glasspool Collection