First train into Weston was horse drawn

The upper end of Alexandra Parade opposite the Victoria Hotel, recently much changed by the new traffic scheme, was for many

The upper end of Alexandra Parade opposite the Victoria Hotel, recently much changed by the new traffic scheme, was for many years known as Old Station Square. It was the site of Weston's first railway station, into which horses drew carriages detached from trains at the main line junction.The coming of the railway in 1841 gave great impetus to the growth and prosperity of Weston as a seaside resort.The Great Western Railway Act provided for laying down a line between London and Bristol, and this was completed in 1840. Bristol was then the terminus of the GWR so that Weston had no link at the time.It was while the London to Bristol line was being laid that the Bristol and Exeter Railway came into being. It provided for a broad gauge line from Bristol to Exeter. The line from Bristol to Bridgwater was opened on June 14, 1841.My grandfather, interviewed by the Mercury in 1912, told how he remembered being taken by his mother to the railway bridge at Worle to see the gaily decorated train pass under it on its maiden run. What impressed him was the lack of public interest shown by residents.There was only a small knot of people on the bridge to raise a cheer. The extension of the line from Bridgwater to Taunton was opened in 1842, and Exeter was linked with Bristol in 1844. The Bristol and Exeter line was sold to the GWR in 1876.When the Bristol to Bridgwater section of the line was opened in 1841 Weston was connected to the main line by a single-track branch line.Originally the carriages were unroofed, with hard, toast rack seats, and they were hauled to and from the junction on Hutton Moor by horses. There was only a small waiting room and ticket office on the Moor - little more than a cowshed. It stood just about where the water tower stands, and the branch line followed the route of old Junction Road by the side of the Gas Works, now Winterstoke road.The station buildings in Weston were equally primitive. They were in Alexandra Parade, adjoining the Railway Hotel, which, incidentally, was only renamed the Anchor Hotel two or three years ago, presumably because it was realised that a change was desirable as it had ceased to be anywhere near the railway station for many years.It is said that the company's first intention was to carry the main line through Weston and Uphill, going round the hill with a bridge over the River Axe, but that local landowners were so obstructive and so money-grabbing in their terms that it was decided to lay the line across the open moor, and to cut through the hill. The old road to Bleadon and the south, which wound its way over Bleadon Hill, had to be preserved. This meant the construction of a bridge, which is said to be the highest and widest single span brick bridge in the country.We know it as Devil's Bridge, and an amusing story is told of how it got its name. Years ago there lived at the Grange, the big house on the hill at Uphill, the family of Paynes. One of them, because of his cantankerous temperament, was known as 'Devil' Payne. He was a big landowner, and refused to let the company have the land over which the main and loop lines meet at Uphill.He knew the company must have the land, and held out for a very high price, even managing to get them to include a station for his private use as part of the bargain.The station was constructed and the trains began to run, but none ever stopped at 'Devil' Payne's station. It is said he was infuriated at being hoodwinked and took his case to the courts, but lost far more in legal fees than he got for the land.Uphill's Devil's Bridge was designed by the great Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was responsible for the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Box Tunnel, and many other notable feats of engineering.During the building of Devil's Bridge he lived at Swiss Cottage, a large picturesque house in Locking Road, of which only the lodge survives today at the corner of Swiss Road. It was for many years the home of Sir John Eardley-Wilmot, one of the prime movers in the ill-fated Brean Down Harbour scheme. An army of tough navvies descended on Weston to build the railway, and one day an ugly situation arose over wages. Brunel appealed to the men in vain. There were 200 or 300 of them, and as a riotous situation was developing, Brunel sent for the nearest magistrate, Thomas Tutton Knyfton, of Uphill.An account says: "Without loss of time Mr Knyfton started for the scene of action, and taking the Riot Act in his hand, passed into the thick of the crowd, where he was greeted with menacing language and uplifted pick-axes.With calmness he talked to the men, telling them the law was stronger than force, and that all would be well if they acted in the spirit of their contract; if otherwise, a troop of cavalry from Horfield Barracks would probably be marching on Uphill.The navvies grew calmer, and by the tact, good temper, and resolution on the part of this ruler of the district, peace prevailed, and the frightened village shopkeepers were reassured.Another story of Brunel's stay at Weston is that he was fond of performing amateurish conjuring tricks. One day, before his children at Uphill, he threw a half sovereign in the air and was in the act of making various passes, when he collapsed in a choking condition. The coin had slipped down the back of this throat. Fortunately help was at hand and the coin was freed as he was going black in the face.There were many complaints about Weston's horse-drawn trains. The horses often succumbed en route, or were involved in accidents. There was, for instance, the paragraph that appeared in The Westonian, the forerunner of the Weston Mercury, in 1847: "On Wednesday evening last, as the last train was proceeding along the branch line from Weston to the junction of the Great Western Railway to meet the two o'clock down train and the halfpast five up train, at a quarter of a mile from the station one of the horses, suffering from a diseased heart, fell upon the rails and the carriages passed over it causing immediate death. The train was thrown off the line and the passengers finished the journey on foot."When the horses had to pull against the wind the journey from the junction took fully half an hour, and many passengers preferred to walk down the line as it was quicker.After a while a little asthmatic engine, which always seemed to be suffering from some internal complaint, replaced the horses.On April 2, 1865 at the Weston junction the down country express ran into the short train from Weston, and several people were severely injured. The little shed that served as a waiting room was demolished in the crash. In an interview with The Mercury many years ago William T Dominy, an ex-Mayor and a station-master at Chard, who lived to be 104, recalled this crash. He came to Weston in 1860 as a porter, and later served at Cheddar.He said that in the main line collision between the express and the Weston train the roof of the last coach of the main line train was thrown on to the funnel of the other engine.When news of the crash reached Weston there was a stampede to the spot, and a large crowd rushed on to a special train sent out, few of the passengers who crowded aboard paying fares.The accident was chiefly due to the absence of telegraphic communication between Puxton Station and the Weston Junction. The short train to Weston had overstayed its time on the main line owing to a mechanical defect.Mr Dominy described Weston's first station on Alexandra Parade as a small but neat stone-built structure, with a little clock-turret facing the Victoria Hotel. It had an excursion platform, but there was no waiting room or refreshment room facilities attached.'Shilling excursions' from Bristol were very popular, and the town was sometimes packed with visitors from the city and the surrounding countryside.Mr Dominy said the trippers were often noisy and disorderly, and free fights seemed essential to the day's enjoyment. For some reason or other the Weston cabmen were unpopular, and it seemed an accepted thing that visitors should come to blows with them while waiting for their trains.Old time songs were sung or rather screeched by the waiting crowd, and some folk would take to dancing, especially when banjo, mouth-organ, or squeeze-box was brought into play.This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on November 24, 1967.


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