- PART 45
Michael L Roach
As so often seems to be the case one finishes a piece of writing and sends it off to an editor or web master and within a day or two more information comes to light that would have been very useful to have included in the article. Such was the case with Part 44 about Exeter St. Davids and the broad gauge engine no. 16 being laid aside with the end of the broad gauge in 1892.
Exeter St. Davids was designed by Brunel and was one of his single-sided stations, with one long platform, which he used where most of the town being served was on one side of the line. There were similar stations at Gloucester, Reading, Slough and Taunton. All these stations were on double lines, and as traffic and the number of trains increased, the conflict between trains arriving and departing from opposite directions became intolerable and a second platform was added, with more added later. It is believed that the last station serving a major town or city to remain with just one long single through platform was Cambridge which did not get a second through platform until 2011 although there are still a very few stations on double track railways with only a single platform used by trains in both directions. However the only one that comes to mind is Maryport on the Cumbrian Coast which we visited in 2012 travelling there by train via London, Newcastle and Carlisle all to avoid being tilted on the WCML. We were at Maryport to research family history because one of my great grandfathers was born there in 1842. There is another type of long single platform serving trains in both directions where the station also acts as a crossing point on a single line. This relatively rare layout obviates the need for a second platform and a footbridge. One of the best examples of this layout is Penryn on the Falmouth Branch created in 2009 when the single platform was extended to a length of 238 metres. Wikipedia explains the modus operandi at Penryn in detail. There is more about Brunel's one-sided stations in the attached short article.
In Part 44 I related how the 2-4-0 engine no. 16 was laid aside with the end of the broad gauge. In anticipation of the end the Great Western Railway built three fans of temporary sidings at Swindon to receive the redundant rolling stock – one each for engines, passenger coaches and goods wagons. The first narrow gauge train had entered Paddington Station in 1861 and from then on the writing was on the wall for the broad gauge. Many broad gauge lines had been converted to narrow gauge over the previous twenty years leaving just the line from Paddington to Penzance operating broad gauge trains by the start of 1892. Even here there was mixed gauge track in places leaving 171 miles of purely broad gauge running line and branch line to be converted over the weekend of Saturday and Sunday 21/22 May 1892. Of the 171 miles 42 miles were double track making a single mileage of 213. There is no doubt that that weekend in 1892 was one of the major landmarks in the history of the Great Western Railway and of railways serving the West of England. The only other major landmark that might compete (certainly for us here in Cornwall) was the opening of the Royal Albert Bridge and the Cornwall Railway main line to Truro in May 1859. The second image shows the large numbers of broad gauge engines dumped at Swindon in 1892.
The last through broad gauge train to Penzance departed Paddington at 10.15am on Friday 20 May 1892 to much fanfare. The Directors and officials of the GWR turned out in force to witness this momentous occasion which was captured for posterity by the official photographer. The train carried the name “The Cornishman” because this was twelve years before the name “Cornish Riviera Express” was adopted. However the 10.15am was not the last broad gauge train to leave Paddington as that honour fell to the 5.00pm to Plymouth on 20 May. The last broad gauge train arrived at Paddington at 5.30am the next day, Saturday 21 May. There is much more to read on this subject, and on the history of the Great Western Railway generally, in the GWR Magazine for September 1935, which was a special “Centenary Number.” There are several copies for sale on Ebay at the moment at prices from £2.00 upwards plus postage; good value for 104 pages and highly recommended.
MLR / 2 October 2023
Redruth to Penzance
and the Kennet and Avon Canal