A Warship Class diesel hauls a long passenger train into Devizes station
Moves are afoot to reopen Devizes station, hopefully later this year.
On the 11th July 2015, The Wiltshire Gazette & Herald published an article by Rachel Barr, entitled the "Recollections of a Trainspotter" in which she publishes the memories of Tony Painter who spent many happy years trainspotting on the station. Great Western Star is pleased to reproduce those memories, courtesy of the Editor of the Gazette & Herald, Mr Pete Gavan.
Recollections of a Trainspotter
AFTER reading the article in the Gazette about Devizes railway, Tony Painter got in touch to share his memories of trainspotting at the station when he was growing up.
Mr Painter who now lives in Camberley, Surrey, spent many hours at the station in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the start of a passion for trainspotting that lasted until the demise of steam engines in the late 1960s.
He said: “When I discovered the station and the steaming, occasionally gleaming, but usually smelly and grimy monsters that passed through it I was captured. Most of all it was the variety of engines and their numbers and names, the Western Region or old GWR, created a romance by its generous naming of engines – the proud express classes, the Castles and Kings, and the more numerous workaday Halls, Counties and Granges. All the locomotives in each region were listed in a series of two and sixpenny pocket books so that you could underline the ones you had seen.” According to Mr Painter Devizes it had one major disadvantage for trainspotting: very few trains. He said: “The few that did pass through were of a regularity that we knew by heart; the thrills of watching the twenty-to-five burst through the castle tunnel in a cloud of smoke or the drawn-out suspense of the struggle up the 1 in 60 of Caen Hill were unsurpassed.” Along with watching trains in Devizes Mr Painter also watched mainline expresses pass through at Lydeway Bridge, Patney and Chirton. He also went to Salisbury where the trains run by Southern had completely different names and numbers. He said: “Swindon was the most exciting as every Wednesday afternoon in summer the railway works were opened to the public attracting hundreds of spotters. Amazingly, in those less safety-conscious days, boys would wander at will around the works, irrespective of the dangerous engineering work going on, recording numbers of locomotives under repair or construction.” The most memorable event for Mr Painter was in August 1961 when subsidence at Lavington forced all the mainline trains through Devizes for several weeks. He said: “No doubt this was a tedious diversion for the passengers but a bonanza time for the youth of the town and the chance to see famous expresses such as the Mayflower, Royal Duchy and Cornish Riviera. It raised the profile of the line to the extent that the station master was quoted as saying that it would ensure that the line would always remain open.” Of course this was not to be the case. Steam engines were already being replaced by diesels and within five years had disappeared from the west altogether. In 1966 the station, along with Chirton and Patney, also disappeared and became a car park, with only a name to remind people of its history.
Back to the Present!
Long-awaited plans for the return of rail to Devizes have taken a major step forward with the backing of £34,000. The team behind plans for the Devizes Gateway station are pulling together an ambitious business case to be submitted by the end of this year - which will determine the rail future for the town.
Investigations by Atkins are underway into the current transport challenges facing the town and how a station could combat them, but also into whether the currently proposed location for the station, in Lydeway near Urchfont, is the most practical site.
The station will bring a “game-changing transformation” and economic growth to the town, say the Devizes Development Partnership (DDP) however, they have stressed this will not change the fabric of town that is often referred to as the hidden gem in Wiltshire’s crown.
“We’re not going to turn Devizes into a metropolitan hub,” explained Catharine Symington of the Devizes Development Partnership. “The station fits with the Government’s Levelling Up Agenda and helps us to take advantage of the tourism opportunities coming. After the pandemic, there will be a lot more emphasis on staycations, and Wiltshire is one of those countries that people might have just driven through on their way to places like Dorset and Cornwall. We want people to take advantage of the wonderful countryside and world heritage sites we have here, and Devizes sits at the centre of that. We want people staying here overnight, using the hospitality and restaurants.”
The current business case into the feasibility of the station will be handed in at the end of the year and, if accepted, major works will begin as soon as possible to bring the station into reality. Devizes Gateway is poised for a 2025 opening if all things go to plan.
Devizes Town Council, in their recent full council meeting, decided to commit £34,000 towards the station’s business case. Mayor Chris Gay referred to the plans as “superb” while councillor Ian Hopkins, with an unconscious pun added: “The business case is a big hurdle to overcome if we are to be successful further down the line.”
Extension of the railway line through Devizes is something that many outwith the town have also long yearned for. Frome Town Council are also firm backers of the project, as extension to the line could improve transport opportunities in their own town.
The DDP’s Tamara Reay added: “People in Hungerford, Marlborough, Bedwyn and Pewsey are keen to see services going West, and a Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) study undertaken estimated an additional economic benefit of £2.5 million per annum for doing that. We expect that element to be a key part of the business case too.”
The Devizes Gateway Station - Where?
The current proposed site is next to the Clock Inn in Lydeway and preferred as the track there is flat and straight. It’s where the former branch line diverges from the main line.
Much of the branch line has been built over in Devizes itself, which is why the centre of town has been deemed unlikely.
With a population of around 31,000, Devizes is the largest town in Wiltshire not to be serviced by rail. Significant employers within Wiltshire have told the DDP that having a railway station would significantly help them to both conduct business and attract new talent.
They say it would also help local students access courses at universities and colleges in Bristol, Bath, Reading and Newbury.
There are two options for the direction of services.
The first is the extension of the Bedwyn service. There is currently an hourly service which terminates at Bedwyn, and Bedwyn and Pewsey rail groups have lobbied for a long time for improved Westward connections. However, this option could put pressure on the rail service in Westbury, described as a “bit of a bottleneck for the rail network.”
The second option is to make the Devizes Gateway station a stop on the existing Exeter semi-fast route, which stops at Pewsey and Westbury. It would ideally make an hourly stop at Devizes.
What Happens Next?
If the DDP’s business case is approved, then there will be future engagement with the local community before further details - such as concept design and car parking facilities - are ironed out.