The first railway to connect with Highbridge in 1842 was the Bristol & Exeter Railway. Initially built as a broad gauge railway. Many said this would have been more efficient, and arguably would have provided more comfort for passengers but would have been more expensive. Finance prevailed and the narrower gauge system we know today was introduced in the early 1890’s.
The station buildings were erected from a design that was believed to have been by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, he had had a large influence on the construction of the railway and of the station buildings. By 1902 the railway had become the G.W.R. (Great Western Railway). Little had changed in the overall shape of the station, which comprised two platforms, between its origins and its demise. The up platform had a goods office with a rear entrance for the delivering and receiving of goods, a booking office for ticket sales. There was a ladies toilet in the waiting room (this had a well-kept coal fire in the early days) a gent’s toilet was at the end of the building and a porter’s room at the end of the platform, near Walrow Bridge. On the down platform was a slightly smaller building with a waiting room, ladies and gents toilets and an office for the Station Masters.
In its early days the platforms were wooden and a canopy covered the footbridge between platforms, in those days it was a very busy station. Apart from large numbers of passengers, large quantities of goods of all descriptions went in and out of the station, there being a pick up and delivery service available. It must be remembered the town was growing fast, a typical market centre.
Between the station approach and the River Brue, which passed under the southern end of the station, the Station Masters house was built in an area that has recently become a housing development. The Station Masters house was the last of the original buildings to disappear, surviving some years after the station was demolished. Also on the station approach in the late 1890’s could be found a G.W.R. horse drawn carriage, which would provide transport between
Highbridge and Burnham. An imposing signal box was set apart from the station building, and was sited opposite the entrance to the main station. This box controlled the Western line, also the crossover from the Somerset & Dorset Line, which ran behind it under Walrow Bridge and on towards Church Street.
At the southern end of the up platform, near the River Brue was a siding, and on the northern side of the down line, another siding that ran from Walrow Bridge to Springfield Road footpath crossing. This at one time had a spur running into the brickwork’s, which lay, on the opposite side of the tracks, at the end of Grange Avenue. The station provided the normal passenger services, special price excursions trains to the south coast seaside towns or to London.
After the Second World War the character of rail travel started to change, the introduction of more car ownership meant less passengers, and more and more goods were being transported by road.
A highlight for the station and Highbridge was the arrival of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on December 5th 1983 for her visit to the Maritime Radio Station in Worston Road. The station façade was transformed; the whole frontage was covered with large quantities of fabric and enhanced by ornamental trees, providing just the one entrance to the station
There had been many changes by now; the G.W.R. had been overtaken by the Nationalisation of the Railways. British Rail had taken its place, passengers and freight continued to decline, and then on one Sunday in November 1983, the 27th to be precise, the end; certainly for the station buildings came suddenly. The buildings were demolished on that Sunday morning, just a few local people knew about the demise of their station, a move which some felt, was far too hasty.
What a sad end to a station that once had life and character, a station remembered by many for all sorts of reasons, a station soon to be modernised – whatever that is!
The Highbridge station is still in operation with two platforms and a footbridge, small open fronted shelters on both platforms. It became just a halt station on the main line to and from the South West.
Also linked to the station at the end of the Recreation field was a goods yard with a couple of sidings alongside the main line north out of the station. Here large goods were dealt with, the yard was reached by a roadway at the bottom of Walrow Bridge in Market Street. Part of this is still visible alongside the Kwik Save Supermarket. A level crossing was needed here because the road crossed the S. & D. Line, which had itself, crossed the Western line and continued on towards Burnham, after the level crossing the goods yard opened out into a large area where any heavy goods could be received or loaded ready for despatch.
During the war, live cattle for transportation to other parts of the country were received and penned before loading; they had been driven through Market Street from the cattle market. On at least one occasion, when there was a shortage of pigs for the Bacon Factory in Huntspill Road, the problems were solved by a delivery of pigs at the goods yard from Ireland. These too were driven through Market Street over the River Brue Bridge and on to the factory.
On the north bound track a short distance from the station was a footpath crossing at the bottom of Springfield Road, and here at around 6.00 p.m. on weekday evenings, children would gather to watch the Royal Mail train ‘pick up and drop’ as it sped past. On the mail carriage was a net that was positioned to pick up a mail bag hung from a platform at the crossing and, from a lever positioned low down on the carriage was hung the bag for dropping into a large rope net positioned at the crossing. The ‘pick and drop’ would be simultaneous and over in seconds as the train roared past. Mail from this and many other ‘pick up’ points on the line would be sorted on route, this system was discontinued during the 1960’s.
“Roast Beef by Rail”
On a Friday night in April 1940 a train carrying the meat ration for the families of Plymouth was passing through Highbridge when smoke was seen coming from the goods van. The train driver shouted to the signal box operator as they passed his box and by the time the train pulled into Highbridge the staff were ready.
The van was uncoupled and the fire was attacked with fire extinguishers, luckily the insulating material in the van protected the contents. With the fire extinguished the van was re-coupled and the meat was on the way to Plymouth, the Sunday joints had been saved!
Also, in 1948 a Tile worker aged 37 from Grange Avenue, Highbridge. Was, at a Burnham Magistrate Court was fined 5s for trespassing on the railway line near Highbridge Station. The Detective Inspector said that when stopped the defendant said he did not realise he was committing an offence, by crossing the line he could get to working in less than 2 minutes, whereas it was 1 mile round by the road. It was a great temptation to cross by the line.
(Burnham Gazette & Highbridge Express Reports)