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Railways

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

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Britannia at Bradford station

BR 70000 Britannia running through Bradford on Avon with an excursion train

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Bradford had been promised a branch line in the original Great Western Railway (GWR) Act of 1835, terminating at Kingston Farm next to The Hall, but it was not built when the main line between London and Bristol was completed in 1841.

Again, a branch line to Bradford was included in the Wilts, Somerset & Weymouth Railway (WSWR) Act of 1845, partly to block the London & South Western Railway (LSWR)’s ambitions for a line to Bristol. The LSWR had proposed in 1845 an ambitious scheme for a connection between Bristol and Dover, which would have run through Bradford.

In 1846 there  a proposal for a London, Newbury and Bath (Direct) Railway that would have been built mostly over the Kennet & Avon Canal, so would have passed through Bradford and the Limpley Stoke valley to Bath, but the Bill was not approved by Parliament.

The WSWR line was to go from Thingley on the main line west of Chippenham, through Melksham, Holt, Trowbridge, Westbury, then splitting to Salisbury and to Frome, Yeovil and Weymouth. At Bradford only the tunnel, station and goods shed were built, but no rails had been laid when the WSWR reached Westbury in 1848 and ran out of cash. The GWR had taken it over by 1851 and got on with reaching Salisbury and Weymouth, ignoring the Bradford branch. The prospect of renewed activity by the LSWR and local action to obtain a writ of mandamus from Parliament in 1852, extended two years later, forced the GWR to get another Act in 1854 allowing the line to go onward from Bradford, following the River Avon to Bathampton, rejoining the main line east of Bath. It was not until 1857 that the line to Bradford and on to Bathampton was completed, as well as a branch to Devizes from Holt. Because the junction with the WSWR faced south towards Trowbridge, it was not possible to take a direct train from Bradford to Holt until a north curve was made at Bradford Junctions in 1895.

As part of the GWR network, the line through Bradford was laid to the company’s broad gauge of 7 feet and ¼ inch, 2.140m between rails. At first it was just a single track, but it was doubled in 1882. The line was converted to mixed gauge by adding a third rail between June and August 1874 to allow the running of standard gauge (4 feet 8½ inches, 1.435m) as well as broad gauge trains and was further converted to remove the broad gauge rail in 1892.

At first, all the bridges on the Bradford to Bathampton line were constructed from timber and gradually replaced with brick or steel structures. Engineering features were a tunnel under St Margaret’s Hill in Bradford, bridges over the River Avon at Bradford Weir, Barton Farm and Freshford, over the road at Limpley Stoke and under the Kennet & Avon Canal at Avoncliff and Dundas Aqueducts.

Stations were built at Bradford, Holt, Freshford and Limpley Stoke, followed by halts at Avoncliff (1906) and Broughton Gifford (1905-1955). The Camerton branch of the GWR’s North Somerset Railway was extended in 1910, for its coal trade, to join the WSWR and for passenger trains to terminate at Limpley Stoke. Sidings were provided between Limpley Stoke and Freshford for reversing coal trains. This line became famous as the setting for the film “The Titfield Thunderbolt” in 1953.

The Beeching cuts of the early 1960s resulted in the closure of Limpley Stoke and Holt Junction stations and of the Camerton line from Limpley Stoke to Radstock and the line through Devizes from Holt to the Reading-Westbury line. The original WSWR line from Thingley to Bradford Junction was made single track and passenger services were withdrawn and the north curve at the junction removed. The goods yard at Bradford also closed, in 1966.

A proposal in the 1990s to reduce the Bradford-Bathampton line to single track was not followed through. Since then, passenger and freight traffic has grown and passenger services again pass through the site of Holt Junction station and Broughton Gifford Halt.