|The Chard Branches
of the GWR and L&SWR
This page describes the outline history and signalling of the separate railway branch lines to Chard of the Great Western Railway (GWR) and the London & South Western Railway (L&SWR). Some of the sources used for reference have contained conflicting information and it is regretted therefore that complete accuracy can not be guaranteed. A small bibliography is provided.
A standard-gauge (4'8½") branch of the London & South Western Railway was opened to Chard on 8-May-1863 and this was the first railway to reach that town. This branch left the main Salisbury - Exeter line of the L&SWR at Chard Junction station (previously known as Chard Road) and ran to a new terminus at Chard Town station. This line was promoted by the independent Chard Railway company, but after construction had started they sold out in 1861 to the L&SWR, who worked the branch from the outset and finally dissolved the local company in 1864. Passenger services were essentially in the form of a shuttle between the Junction and Town stations.
The Bristol & Exeter Railway (later a part of the Great Western Railway from 1876) opened their own branch three years later on 11-Sep-1866 and this line was built to the 7'0¼" broad gauge. The line had been promoted originally by the Chard & Taunton Railway company under an Act of Parliament of 1861, but the B&ER took control of the company in 1863 and started construction in 1864. This branch line left the main Bristol - Exeter line of the B&ER at Creech Junction (east of Taunton) and ran south through stations at Hatch (Beauchamp) and Ilminster to a separate terminus in Chard about half a mile north of the L&SWR station. A further station was opened in 1871 at Thorn (later Thornfalcon) and in 1928 two halts were opened at Ilton and Donyatt, either side of Ilminster. B&ER/GWR passenger services ran to and from their main station at Taunton. The GWR branch was converted from broad gauge to standard gauge (4'8½") in July 1891.
On 26-Nov-1866 the L&SWR opened a spur line to link the two separate termini in Chard. At Chard Town this spur diverged from the L&SWR branch at the approach to the station, thereby by-passing it, so at first all L&SWR trains which called at Chard Town had to reverse back out in order to continue their journey to the B&ER station (now renamed Chard Joint). However in 1871 the L&SWR constructed an extra platform on the new line behind their original station in order to serve those trains which now ran direct from Chard Junction to Chard Joint. At Chard Joint (re-named again as Chard Central in 1949) the L&SWR made an end-on junction with the B&ER, although through working was not possible until the broad gauge was converted on the GWR branch in 1891. The layout at Chard Joint became one long main platform, situated on what in effect was the main through line, with a bay platform at each end, the GWR using the north bay (Taunton end) and the L&SWR using the south bay (Chard Junction end).
At the first the L&SWR and GWR ran their two lines completely independently of each other, even to the extent of each company having their own station-master and staff at Chard Joint. Any hapless passengers wishing to travel the whole way from Taunton to Chard Junction would have to change trains at Chard Joint. However after the gauge conversion in 1891 the two companies began to work together and in 1896 the L&SWR station at Chard Town was placed under the control of the GWR stationmaster at Chard Joint, although the L&SWR still provided their own booking clerk.
At the end of 1916 the L&SWR closed their station at Chard Town to passengers (including the second platform on the spur line) and from 1-January-1917 all passenger traffic at Chard was concentrated at the Joint station. The L&SWR withdrew their locomotives and coaching stock and thereafter the passenger service from Chard Joint to Chard Junction was worked by the GWR. At first this continued as a separate service from that over the GWR branch to Taunton, but in due course the GWR worked their Taunton trains right through to Chard Junction. Even so it was still not uncommon for the timetable to include a long wait at Chard Joint before the train resumed its journey along the branch.
The GWR branch from Creech Junction to Chard Joint was one of the many single-track lines on which the GWR used their 'Economic' method of permanent-way (PW) maintenance. This name arose because it used the GWR's Occupation Key system to avoid the need to have dedicated look-out men provided to protect the PW gang during work on the track, thereby reducing the size of the work-force. The system also became known as the 'Motor Trolley' system, because of the small motorised rail trolleys provided to the PW gangs to enable them to travel along the line to their work locations.
By the late-1940s the maintenance of the GWR Branch was under the control of a Ganger based at Chard, assisted by two Sub-Gangers in charge of separate PW gangs based at Hatch and Chard. The Hatch gang maintained the line from Creech Junction to a point roughly mid-way between Hatch and Ilminster (6 miles 68½ chains from Creech Junction), whilst the Chard gang maintained the rest of the line to a point just short of Chard Town (13m 8c). It is presumed that the rest of the line to Chard Junction was the responsibility of the Southern Railway.
When British Railways was formed in 1948 the original L&SWR and GWR lines were allocated to the Southern Region and Western Region respectively, but the Western Region operated the whole line as had been done previously by the GWR. Chard Joint station was renamed Chard Central on 26-September-1949. In 1950 the Southern Region gained control of the whole branch from Thornfalcon southwards, although operation remained with the Western Region and one visible result in due course was the renewal of some ex-GWR lower-quadrant signals by upper-quadrant arms on rail-built posts of the Southern style. It is believed also - although as yet unproven - that the Southern Region was responsible for the renewal of Ilton halt as a precast concrete structure.
During a national fuel crisis in 1951 the line was closed temporarily on 3rd February and it did not re-open again until 7th May that year. On 23-September-1956 the goods loop and signal-box at Hatch station were taken out of use. As a result of the infamous Beeching Report passenger traffic ceased on the whole branch on 10-Sep-1962. Two years later on 6-July-1964 the line north of Chard Central was closed completely, all goods traffic then being worked from the Chard Junction end. All sidings at the former Chard Town station were taken out of use on 28-July-1874 and thereafter all goods traffic was concentrated at Chard Central. The remainder of the branch was closed completely on 3-Oct-1966 and all the rails were lifted by December 1967. The first railway line to Chard - the ex-L&SWR line from Chard Junction - therefore became the last part to be closed.
There was no station originally at Creech Junction. In 1928 the GWR opened a halt on their main line, but this was located east of the junction and therefore was not served by Chard branch trains. During its lifetime Creech Junction had three different signal-boxes, the third one (the largest, with 78 levers) being opened in 1931 when the main line was quadrupled. From here the branch line was regarded as being 'Up' to Chard Junction. A short distance up the branch there was a connection into Sommerville's private siding and, after the line to Chard was closed in 1964, a short part of the former branch was retained to serve this siding until 1966.
Thorn station was opened in 1871 and renamed Thornfalcon on 1-Jan-1902. This was a simple station with a single platform and a siding that looped around the back of the platform to serve the small goods yard. The layout was controlled by a small signal-box on the platform, but this was an early victim of economy measures and it was closed circa-1912. All signals were removed and the signal-box was replaced by two ground-frames (Thornfalcon North and Thornfalcon South), one at each end of the loop siding on the Up side of the line. Each GF had 2 levers and was unlocked by the train staff. At the South GF lever 1 worked the facing point lock (FPL) and lever 2 the points, but the functions were reversed at the North GF - at both locations a 'point disc' was provided for the trap-point at the exit from the siding.
Hatch station was situated just to the south of the 152-yard Hatch tunnel, which had been built to accommodate double-track. The station had a single platform on the Down side, with a goods loop opposite it on the Up side. This type of layout was not designed for two passenger trains to cross, as the loop was not signalled for use by trains carrying passengers. However it was possible to cross two goods trains, or one passenger train and one goods train, provided that the passenger train always used the main (platform) line. The signal-box at Hatch contained 29 levers and was built on the Up side of the goods loop about half-way along opposite the Chard end of the platform. About 1912 this signal-box was provided with 'switching out' facilities, enabling it to be closed during quiet periods, at which times Creech Junction to Ilminster would be worked as a single 'long' section. The signal-box was closed in 1956 and the goods loop removed, access to the remaining sidings being controlled by a new ground-frame at the south end.
About 2½ miles south of Hatch there was a level-crossing over a minor road at Spekes Wood. This crossing was equipped with a pair of hand-operated gates and protected by Up and Down Distant signals, all controlled from a 3-lever ground-frame sited on the Up side of the line on the Chard side of the crossing. The lever functions and signal distances from the GF are listed on the right.
Ilton and Donyatt halts were opened on either side of Ilminster in 1928, on 26th May and 5th May respectively. Ilton comprised a single platform located on the up side of the line 7 miles 39 chains from the junction at Creech, whilst the platform at Donyatt was on the down side at 9 miles 44 chains. Photographs from the British Railways era show Donyatt to have been a simple construction of a timber front wall with earth infill behind, whereas Ilton was a more modern-looking structure made entirely of pre-cast concrete sections. Although no firm evidence has emerged, it is suspected that Ilton was originally similar to Donyatt and that the concrete version was a later replacement by the Southern Region. There was a simple wooden shelter at Donyatt, but none at Ilton (at least in later years).
At Ilminster station the basic layout was similar to the arrangements at Hatch, in that there was only a single platform and a goods-only loop, so the same restrictions applied concerning the crossing of trains. However the platform at Ilminster was on the Up side, with the loop on the Down side and several sidings connected to it. The signal-box stood in the yard about mid-way along the loop and, unlike Hatch, remained in use until the line was closed north of Chard in 1964.
At Chard Joint there was a passing loop at the approach to the north end of the station that could be used by two passenger trains. The main platform was on the Down side of the line and originally had bays at either end. The north bay was used by GWR trains and was signalled for departure only. The bay at the south end was used by the L&SWR, but it is probable that it ceased to be used for passenger traffic in 1917 and it was removed altogether in 1927. A loop siding ran the length of the station on the Up side and this gave access to a turntable, which originally was mixed-gauge and used by both the GWR and L&SWR engines. The GWR also had their own engine-shed at the north end of the station on the Up side, but this was closed on 14-July-1924 and its siding taken out of use eventually in1933.
The GWR built signal-boxes at both ends of the station - Chard North was opened in 1892 and Chard South in 1896. It is possible that the South box had replaced an earlier L&SWR signal-box at that end, but no details have come to light yet about the signalling arrangements at the south end. Chard South signal-box was closed on 1-Jan-1917 and thereafter the North box worked the whole station. Two new ground-frames were opened at the south end of the station to replace the former South box, but at least one of them was taken out of use in 1927.
The L&SWR terminus at Chard Town had a single platform, a small goods yard with goods shed, an engine shed and a signal-box. After the opening of the link line to Chard Joint a second platform was built behind the station on the link line in 1871. Both the original station and the new platform were closed to all passenger traffic on a date given variously as 30-Dec-1916 or 1-Jan-1917 and thereafter the station was retained for goods traffic only. The signal-box was closed on 30-Dec-1916 and replaced by a 2-lever ground-frame to work the connection between the station area and the link line, which now became the main single line between Chard Junction and Chard Joint. All the points in the station area were converted to hand-operation and all the signals removed. The old engine shed was taken out of use about 1920 and removed in November 1929, while the siding layout was altered during the 1930s.
At Chard Junction the branch had its own separate platform at the back of the main station and also its own ground-level signal-box in addition to another signal-box which controlled the L&SWR main line. The physical connection between the main and branch lines was achieved through the goods yard and was not used for normal passenger traffic, although occasionally some excursions were shunted that way. The branch signal-box was reduced to ground-frame status on 5-March-1935, when the signals were removed and the block working on the single-line section to Chard Joint was reduced to One-Engine-in-Steam working.
The information about block working on the two branches is incomplete and it is not known what happened on the GWR line prior to the opening of the various signal-boxes. However by the end of the 19th Century the GWR line from Creech Junction to Chard Joint was divided into a number of single-line block sections controlled by the Train Staff & Ticket (TS&T) system - certainly some surviving equipment provides evidence of a Creech Junction - Ilminster TS&T section using a round red wooden staff (click for pictures of the train staff and its ticket box and also the key which unlocked the ticket box).
By the early part of the 20th Century the TS&T method had been replaced on the GWR branch by Electric Train Staff (ETS) equipment. No exact date is known for this change, but circumstantial evidence suggests that this occurred about 1912. The L&SWR branch was equipped with the Electric Train Tablet (ETT) system. About 1912 also the signal-box at Hatch was fitted with 'switching out' facilities, providing for a new 'long section' from Creech Junction to Ilminster. This 'long section' became one of the rare GWR locations to be equipped with ETT working (using the Tyers No 7 pattern), but this was replaced by Electric Key Token (EKT) circa-1935.
By about 1920 therefore the block sections were as follows:
|Creech Junction - Hatch||Electric Train Staff||Short Section|
|Hatch - Ilminster||Electric Train Staff||Short Section|
|Creech Junction - Ilminster||Electric Train Tablet||Long Section
|Ilminster - Chard (North)||Electric Train Staff||Config 'A'|
|Chard Town - Chard Junction||Electric Train Tablet||
When Hatch signal-box was closed in 1956 the two 'short sections' and their ETS equipment were taken out of use.
Nothing is known about the working between the North and South Boxes at Chard Joint, nor between Chard South and Chard Town. After the closure of Chard South and Chard Town boxes ETT working continued on the L&SWR line between Chard (North) and Chard Junction (branch box) - this was recorded in 1923 as being Tyers No 6 pattern, although it is possible that the No 3 type had been used at an earlier date. In 1935 the ETT equipment was superseded by One-Engine-in-Steam working, with the train staff being kept at Chard Joint signal-box. This 'staff' took the form of a large metal key, which for ease of handling was put in a hooped pouch similar to that used with the GWR automatic token exchange apparatus on the nearby Barnstaple and Minehead branches. Curiously the staff bore only the name "Chard Junc" on both sides of the handle with no mention of Chard Joint as the other end of the block section.
Under the GWR Occupation Key system a single-track line was divided into a numbers of sections which usually - but not always - corresponded with the staff or token section for block working. A number of Occupation Key Instruments would be installed at various locations through the section, including usually one in the signal-box at each end. All these Key Instruments would be connected together electrically and also to a single Occupation Control Instrument in the signal-box at one end of the section only.
For each group of Key Instruments there would be a single Occupation Key, which could be inserted into any of the Key Instruments - this key normally resided in whichever Key Instrument was most convenient to the Permanent Way 'ganger'. By the late-1940s the Chard Branch was divided into three Occupation Key groups as follows:-
|Group 1||Creech Junction - Hatch||7 Key Boxes|
|Group 2||Hatch - Ilminster||7 Key Boxes|
|Group 3||Ilminster - Chard||6 Key Boxes|
Each Group was controlled by a Control Instrument in the first-named signal-box, but when Hatch signal-box was 'switched-out' then control of Group 2 passed to Creech Junction. The illustration (click for a larger image (70KB)) shows an Occupation Key from the Chard - Ilminster group, note that it is sufficiently old enough to refer to Chard North.
When the PW ganger needed to have occupation of the line between trains in order to carry out maintenance work, then he would ask the relevant signalman to operate the Control Instrument so that he could remove the Occupation Key from whichever Key Instrument it happened to be in. The operation of the Control Instrument locked-up the ETS/EKT equipment for that block section, thereby preventing the signalman from withdrawing a staff or token for a train. As long as the PW ganger was in possession of the Occupation Key no train could enter the section, so therefore it was safe for the PW workmen to be on the track without the need for 'look-out' men. When the PW work was complete, or the signalman needed to clear the line for a train, then the Occupation Key could be replaced by the ganger into the nearest convenient Key Instrument without the need for him to go all the way back to the signal-box. The signalman then would reset the Control Instrument, thereby locking the Occupation Key inside the Key Instrument and releasing the ETS/EKT instruments for the block section.
|Thorn||Opened 1892, closed circa-1912. GWR Type 5 platform-level box 161x 11. 15-Lever frame, non-block post. Renamed Thornfalcon 1-Jan-1902. Replaced by North and South' 2-lever GFs, unlocked by ETS/ETT.|
|Hatch||GWR Type 5 opened 1892, closed 23-Sep-1956. 203x116x8. 29-Lever frame. Closing switch provided circa-1912.|
|Ilminster||GWR Type 5 ordered May-1891, closed 6-July-1964. 186x12x11. 25-Lever 5.1/4 DT frame.|
|Chard (North)||GWR Type 5 opened 1892, closed 28-July-1964. 255x12x106. Originally 36 levers, frame replaced 1916 by 33-lever 5.1/4 3-bar HT frame (second-hand). Box renamed Chard 9-July-1923 and 'Chard Central' in 1950.|
|Chard South||GWR Type 5 opened 1896, closed 1-Jan-1917. 251x12. 25 levers. There is a possibility that this box survived until a later date, perhaps circa-1927 before closure. It is said that this box replaced an earlier L&SWR box, but nothing is known about that.|
|Chard Town||Box details unknown. Box closed 30-Dec-1916 and replaced by 2-lever GF working connection from branch into former Town station yard. GF unlocked by ETT (later OES staff).|
|Chard Junction (Branch)||L&SWR ground-level box with 14-lever frame. Reduced to GF status 5-Mar-1935 and closed 28-July-1964.|
|Chard Junction (Main Line)||L&SWR Type 1, with 15-lever
Stevens 4.1/8" pattern frame. Box closed 11-Sep-1982 and demolished, to be
replaced by a panel
in a modern box built
on the same site and opened 11-Dec-1982. A temporary box and panel were used in the
interim period. The new box is still open.
(NOTE: The main line box was not involved with the operation of the branch, but these details have been included for information.)
© CJL Osment 2002.
Single-line equipment photographs by courtesy of David Hayball.