The Axminster & Lyme Regis Light Railway
The publication of this book coincides with the 50th anniversary of the closure of the Axminster & Lyme Regis Light Railway linking Axminster on the LSWR main line in Devon to Lyme Regis in Dorset.
For centuries Lyme Regis was noted for its beautiful setting, and continues as ‘a gem of the Dorset coast’. Millions since have enjoyed the charms of Lyme Regis and the Jurassic Coast and, although not the easiest of places to access by road in the 19th and early 20th century, for 62 years many took the opportunity to travel to the coast by rail on the branch line from Axminster. Whilst the majority were attracted by the natural beauty of the area, its coastline, sea and sand, on the border of the counties of Devon and Dorset, for the railway enthusiast the appeal was to travel behind veteran Adams ‘Radial’ locomotives, which had been used on the branch for five decades.
The curvature and steep gradients encountered on the light railway presented difficulties with motive power and after early trials and tribulations the London & South Western Railway and later Southern Railway and British Railways found the Adams ‘415’ class 4-4-2 tank locomotives dating from 1882, suitably modified to satisfy the weight restrictions imposed by the respective civil engineers, suitable for the task. The sound of their ‘throaty pant’ as they tackled the gradients will live in the memory of many. Only at the last were they beyond redemption and replaced by more modern motive power.
After the opening of the Salisbury to Exeter line in 1860 local factions pressed for a rail connection to the Dorset coast. Failure to connect with the expanding railway network led to the threat of economic stagnation. It was not until 1899 when a Light Railway Order was obtained and, with the ‘blessing and backing of the LSWR’, progress was assured.
The works included the spanning of the Cannington valley by a viaduct, constructed chiefly of concrete and one of the earliest such structures in the country. The railway opened with great celebration in August 1903 and it served its purpose by lifting the depression from the area for the regular flow of local traffic was supplemented by the arrival and departure of holidaymakers in high summer, when through coaches were worked to and from London Waterloo.
Although summer Saturdays provided encouraging passenger receipts, winter services were poorly patronised.
The Beeching Report of 1963 stated that closure was under consideration. Objections to the line’s closure were overruled and the last trains ran on 28th November, 1965.
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Updated: 1 June 2020