Seaton Junction, situated 3 miles west of Axminster and 7 miles east of Honiton, is a railway station – now closed – on the West of England Main Line from London Waterloo to Exeter. Originally named “Colyton for Seaton”, the single line station with its William Tite station house, with accommodation for the station master and his family and the booking office, opened on 19th of July 1860 on completion of the Exeter Extension of the London and South Western Railway from Yeovil Junction to Exeter Central which was actually called Exeter Queen Street until July 1933 when the Southern Railway completed the rebuilding of the station and renamed it. The line was doubled on 31st July of the same year.
With the opening of the Seaton & Beer Railway in 1868, the name was changed to “Colyton Junction”, before finally becoming “Seaton Junction” on 18th of July 1869. The very first signal box was built around 1875 and the first foot bridge opened in 1889.
The Seaton branch was constructed by the Seaton and Beer Railway Company. It opened on 16th of March 1868 – unusually without celebrations – from Colyton (Seaton) Junction, with intermediate stations at Colyton Town, Colyford and Seaton. The line was leased by the London & South Western Railway from 1st of January 1880 and absorbed by it on 1st of January 1888, as goods traffic declined in favour of tourism. The LSWR was incorporated into the Southern Railway in 1923, and in its heyday the line’s motive power was provided by M7 Tank locomotives, with through coaches coupled to Waterloo-bound trains at Seaton Junction.
Originally trains arriving from the Seaton branch had to reverse into the “down” (westbound) platform. However the station was reconstructed in 1928 with two through tracks on the main line and loops to the newly extended platforms, and new footbridges were also built. At the same time a new branch line platform was added, set at an angle of 45° to the main line, on the down side. The large Express Dairies enterprise, which opened in 1934 with a milk cooling plant, handling 0ver 70 churns of milk a day, meant that there was much traffic on the railway. In 1935 a 5 mile long 3″ pipe line was built to take water from springs right up near Honiton Tunnel to Seaton Junction. This water also supplied the station – imagine how relieved the poor porters were not having to pump water by hand for hours! Electricity was brought in in 1938 so the original oil lamps were now redundant. Express Dairies also added an egg packing station on their Seaton Junction site at about this time. Eggs, milk and other dairy products were sent to London and other areas.
The location of the station created a major problem for westbound trains stopping at Seaton Junction since it was situated at the start of a six miles climb (at 1 in 80) to the summit of the line at Honiton tunnel, a very straight tunnel which, at 1,345 yds long, was the longest on the LSWR. It now takes trains about 2 minutes and 20 seconds to pass through it. Only one man – crushed to death by a fall of rock – was killed in its construction. It took nearly 12 million bricks to line this tunnel!
This is a photo of the Shute Arms Hotel in about 1898, just after it was built. The photo was taken from Seaton Junction.( Some of the photos can be enlarged by left clicking on them once.) In 1902, Seaton Junction was part of the village of Shute ( population in 1891 of 444). Between 1925 and 1928, the station was substantially enlarged and with 4 tracks, it meant that through trains could pass trains which had stopped.
The branch line platform curved away sharply from the station buildings, under the concrete footbridge that spanned the whole station site. There were extensive sidings on the up side serving a milk depot and more sidings on the down side where, on Summer Saturdays, light engines could be seen awaiting a path to Exmouth Junction for servicing.
(from a painting by Barry J. Freeman GRA “Heavyweights at Seaton” featuring the impressive Southern Railway ‘Merchant Navy’ class ‘Pacifics’ of Oliver Bulleid (from 1941) in both original and rebuilt (late 1950′s) form. Rebuilt locomotive No.35016, Elders Fyffes, is pictured storming through Seaton Junction with the ‘Atlantic Coast Express’. Un-rebuilt locomotive (or ‘Spam Can’) No. 35019, French Line CGT is stationery in the adjacent platform heading an eastbound parcels train.)
One of the prominent features of Seaton Junction was the height of the signals on the up platforms. Due to the curvature of the line through the station the view for drivers of up trains was restricted so the up starting signals were elevated on high in order that they could be seen from a distance above the station buildings. For the benefit of drivers whose trains stopped in the station, co-acting arms were placed lower down on the signal posts.
(Also from a watercolour painting by Frederick Lea featuring
35006 “Peninsular & Oriental S.N. Co.” facing towards Exeter). Our thanks to F. Lea for his permission to feature these 2 paintings.
( photograph by Stephen Hughes, courtesy of Terry Heeley -of the Seaton pull ‘n’ push train in the branch platform during the 1950s.)
The Seaton to Seaton Junction branch line flourished, showing a profit for both its owners and the LSWR who leased it for the first twenty years until, on 3rd of January 1888, the latter bought the smaller company. 76 years and 1 month later, on 3rd of February 1964, goods traffic was withdrawn.
Nurse Pearse who was a nurse and midwife in Shute for 25 years, recalls:
” At Seaton Junction there used to be 3 platforms there and there was a little cafe on the station where you could nip over the bridge and go in and have a cup of coffee. There was a train down to Seaton – part of the station at the side was for the little train to Seaton which used to go through 2 or 3 times a day. It was all double lines in those days. And then, of course, you had the Express Dairy there at Seaton Junction, where all the eggs and the milk came in. Seaton Junction was quite a station – all the main line trains stopped there and the old station master lived in the house down there.The station always had beautiful flowers – he was a great gardner.” ( From Brian Vaughton’s Life … As it was)
In the 30′s, passenger numbers continued to increase especially when in 1935 Warners built a holiday camp in Seaton next to the station. During the second world war, this camp was used to hold detainees.
The branch line’s terminus at Seaton was a station which had been described as “more in keeping with a farmhouse rather than a railway terminus”! It was replaced in 1936 by a modern art deco style building.
The steady decline in holiday traffic, resulting from increased car ownership in the 1960s, led to a gradual run down of services and the branch line and junction station closed on 7th of March 1966, despite still handling considerable traffic. The goods yards were closed to public traffic on April 18th 1966 and to coal traffic on May 8th 1967. After the removal of passenger services, the signal-box was closed and the line was singled from 11th of June 1967 . All the track on the down side was recovered. Lines on the up side were retained to serve the Express Dairies creamery and these connected to the single line at the Exeter end. These were closed in June 1973.
The following photos can be seen in the book “Main Line to the West – The Southern Railway Route between Basingstoke & Exeter – Part Three: YEOVIL to EXETER” by John Nicholas and George Reeve – published in 2009 by Irwell Press Limited. My thanks to them for their permission to use them here. Left click once on photo and then left click again for enlargement.
A full plan of Seaton Junction in 1928 and 1960 and much detail can be seen in the book as well.
Most branch line trains terminated at the junction station, though some did run through to Exeter and there were, of course, through coaches to and from Waterloo attached to and detached from the branch train.
On the 28th August 1970, the Seaton & District Electric Tramway Company opened a 2’9″ gauge line to Bobsworth Bridge, offering a scenic ride alongside the Axe estuary. Seven months later , the line was extended to the level crossing at Colyford and overhead power was used in 1973. In 1975, the line was extended at Seaton to the Harbour Rd car park. The line as it is today – ie as far north as Colyton, was opened on the 8th of March 1980.
What is Seaton Tramway and where does it run? A narrow gauge electric tramway, running for three miles between Seaton, Colyford and Colyton in East Devon’s glorious Axe Valley. The journey takes 25 minutes from end to end. Open toppers or enclosed saloons operate according to the weather conditions. The track runs adjacent to the River Axe, noted for birds such as Heron, Kingfisher, Egret, Lapwing, Canada Goose and Oystercatcher, to name just a few!
How did the Tramway get started? The late Claude Lane’s portable 15″ gauge system of 1949 evolved into the 2′ gauge Eastbourne Tramway (1954 – 1969). In 1970 the company moved to Seaton and opened the first section of a new 2’9″ gauge line, laid on the route of the former Southern Railway branch railway, which ran from Seaton to Seaton Junction between 1868 and 1966. Most of the fleet is purpose built to traditional designs but there are also three originals, specially restored and adapted for use at Seaton.
What scale is the Seaton Tramway, compared to the trams that ran in towns and cities? The Seaton Trams are 1/2 – 2/3 scale, depending on which one you compare. The Eastbourne Tramway was 2ft gauge, which is why the open toppers look smaller than the single deckers, which were built or rebuilt here at Seaton, where we run on 2ft 9 inch gauge. The old town and city tramways were either 3’6″ or 4’81/2“, which is standard gauge (i.e. the same as main line railways).
How do the trams get their power? The trams draw power from the overhead cable, which is carrying a supply of 110 volts. The driver operates the tram with the power controller (the handle in the driver’s left hand); as he moves the controller handle round, this takes resistance out of the electrical circuit, which increase the flow of electrical current to the traction motors, which are mounted on the wheel sets underneath. The motors in turn are turning gears mounted on the axles, which then turn the wheels. The people sitting upstairs cannot get an electric shock, even if they are silly enough to try and touch the wire! This is because the wire is positively charged, whilst the track acts as the negative. Therefore, to get a shock, you would have to touch the wire and the track at the same time!
Why aren’t there more tramways in Britain? Between 1900 and the 1930, the supremacy was challenged firstly by the rise of the motor bus, and then by the explosion in private car ownership. When the time came to renew tramway systems, many local authorities changed to buses, rather than incur the expense of renewing track, overhead wire and the purchase of newer, more comfortable trams. With this attitude, the tram came to be seen as old fashioned, whereas buses were seen as ultra modern whilst being cheap to run. Apart from Blackpool, which is the only original tramway system to have survived, the last major British tramway to close was Glasgow in 1962.
Are trams ever likely to make a comeback in Britain? They already are! Brand new systems are already operating in Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham/Wolverhampton, and trams have returned to the streets of Croydon. In the decades since the old trams were scrapped, petrol and diesel engines have been identified as a major source of environmental pollution, and most governments are looking for ways of getting people to use cleaner and more sustainable forms of transport. Modern trams are being seen as a way of achieving this, although they do cost millions of pounds to install from scratch. Perhaps Britain should have followed the idea of many other European countries; instead of scrapping their tramways, they have gradually modernised them over many years, without the need to invest a huge one-off lump sum simply to build from scratch. Although modern trams look hugely different to the trams of old, the principles are much the same, and so it is that a previously forgotten mode of transport is now making a remarkable comeback.
(Information courtesy of Seaton Tramway)