FEATURE: Reverse Beeching: Portishead Gets Ready

“A kiss awaited conductor Ray Mitchell as he drove the 0645 Bristol-Portishead train into the north Somerset seaside town on Saturday. It was planted on his cheek by Mrs Edith Hunt.

So wrote Geoffrey Thornton of the Bristol Evening Post in his edition of September 7, 1964. It was Monday, the beginning of the first week without passenger rail service to Portishead for almost a century.

Mrs. Hunt was part of the crowd that had come to greet the last arriving train. After a quick detour, he set off again for Bristol Temple Meads, rammed by some 150 enthusiasts, who cheered as detonators went off at every station along the line. A typical ending to a long story, which had started with a need and ended with redundancy.

Back then, no one (we suppose) could have foreseen a time when Portishead would become a commuter town for Bristol, with a road between the two often failing to cope with the volume of passenger traffic.

As the 19th century matured and ships became larger, the location of Bristol Harbor in the center of the city, together with the problems of negotiating the Avon Valley to reach it, placed increasing restrictions on development. .

At first it seemed that the honor of the expansion would fall to Portbury, as the Portbury Pier & Railway Company gained authority to build a floating pier and railway connecting it to the city in 1846. In the event of these schemes, funds could not collected and the company was soon dissolved.

Plans of various merits continued to be submitted until, in July 1862, authorization was obtained by the Bristol Port Railway & Pier Company for a line on the east side of the Avon, between Hotwells and Avonmouth. This opened in March 1865 and would later transform into the Severn Beach branch we know today.

However, those who saw more benefit in a port on the opposite side of the river lobbied and formed another plan for Portbury, with a branch to serve it from the Bristol and Exeter Railway (which had been fully open since 1844). Chaired by Alderman James Ford, Director of the Taff Vale Railway, the Bristol and Portishead Pier and Railway Company (BPPR) received Royal Assent in June 1863. Construction began just before Easter the following year.

Built to Brunel’s gauge, work continued at such a pace that the first section, from the junction to Rownham near Clifton Bridge, was completed in the early months of 1865.

Various changes were made to the planned route as work progressed, most notably the replacement of the proposed pier at Portbury with a pier at Portishead itself. The former would have been exposed to westerly winds and had limited accommodation for boats. In 1866 a new Law was approved that authorized these works.

Read this feature in its entirety in RAIL issue 979 here

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