The Railway to Maiden Newton

The branch line from Maiden Newton to Bridport was opened on November 11th, 1857, after two and a half years work on its construction at an estimated cost of £65,000. J. Spencer Gilks tells the story in an article in the Railway Magazine for November 1957 on the occasion of the centenary. In 1845 Parliament sanctioned the construction of a line from Southampton to Dorchester, and of the Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth railway, from Thingley Junction (near Chippenham) to Salisbury and Weymouth under the auspices of the London and South Western and the Great Western, and thus made provision for the first rail communication to the county of Dorset. The two big railway companies mentioned were in opposition over the construction of lines to Exeter via Dorchester and Yeovil, and from Exeter to Maiden Newton via Sidmouth, Honiton and Bridport, linking up with Southampton. Bridport people were afraid that they would be side-tracked whatever plans were made by the big companies; so in 1854, Henry J. Wylie, the engineer, submitted a report on branch lines in Scotland and elsewhere in support of a project to provide a branch line from Maiden Newton to Bridport. In the following year the directors of the new company met in Bridport at the house of Mr. E. Flight, who became secretary and rented his premises in East Street for £400 p.a. In 1857 an agreement was made with the Great Western Railway to run the Bridport line at cost price for at least two years from its opening, and to provide the necessary staff, locomotives, carriages and movable plant. The branch line from Maiden Newton to Bridport and West Bay was eventually purchased entirely by the Great Western Company, in fact, on July 1st, 1901. In 1857 too, the Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth line was extended from Yeovil to Weymouth and Maiden Newton became a junction.

The Bridport Branch, which is now long gone, used to start from a covered bay on the upside of the main line at Maiden Newton station and is connected with the down main line only. There is no run-round loop, and so the engine pushed the train up a gravity siding which rises behind the water tower and retreats to the branch approach, while the coaches roll back onto the platform. The line passes through a steep cutting and turns through a right angle to a south-westerly direction. As a result of a decision made in 1855 the bridges are wide enough only to take one track, so that at Toller and Powerstock the stations only had one platform being rightly called ‘Halts’. Toller at one time handled a considerable traffic in watercress for Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Bolton, as well as boxes for the Kentish fruit markets, railway sleepers and wood for collieries, from the saw mills.

The time-table issued for the opening of the Maiden Newton-Bridport line shows that there were to be five return trips (weekdays only), two trains calling at Powerstock (Poorstock until 1860) in each direction, and one (the 8.15 a.m. from Bridport and the 8 a.m. from Maiden Newton) carrying first, second and third class accommodation. In February 1858 however, the service was limited to four return workings, though calling at Powerstock on all journeys, connections being advertised to London, Bristol, Dorchester, Weymouth and (though no times were given) Salisbury. Bradshaw’s Railway Guide for 1844 (July to December) shows that four trains then operated from Maiden Newton over the next extension to West Bay, while three others ran to the old terminus at Bridport. Six return workings to West Bay were advertised in the summer of 1910, and a similar number were still running when the service was withdrawn, a total of nine trains remaining to serve the original branch thereafter.

In recent years, both the station and the signal box have been designated as ‘Listed Buildings’.