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Pictures: a look back at the Tetbury and Cirencester line

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Historian Ian Thomas looks back at the history of the Tetbury and Cirencester Branch Line.

Tetbury Branch: The Cheltenham & Great Western Union Railway company reached Kemble with their line on May 31st 1841 and continued on to Cirencester. From there, a horse drawn road coach conveyed passengers onward to Cheltenham. The reason being that the C&GWUR ran out of money and did not continue beyond Kemble.

The company was eventually bought out by the GWR in 1843 and the extension beyond Kemble to Gloucester and Cheltenham was built and opened on May 12th 1845. The route was built to broad gauge but converted to standard gauge in 1872. Later in 1884, a parliamentary act was passed to construct a branch line from Kemble to Tetbury, and work commenced in 1887. The line was opened on December 2nd 1889 and was 7 miles 6 chains in length, at a cost of £68,000, train services amounted to six trains a day by the 1920s , with no Sunday service.

Tetbury1959 | Pictures: a look back at the Tetbury and Cirencester line
The route in 1959.

Some trains ran as mixed formations with both goods and passenger vehicles. As the 20th century passed, traffic declined except for a short intensive spell after WW2. The line was signalled from early days with the boxes at Tetbury and Kemble controlling it thus. Locomotives tended to be the GWR Pannier tanks and 0-4-2 tank locos. With a decline in passenger use during the 1950s, it was decided to introduce the four wheeled railbuses from 1959. This brought an increase in use with up to 13,000 passengers a year, but was not enough to prevent closure.

Kemble Branch Poster 1959 | Pictures: a look back at the Tetbury and Cirencester line
Kemble Branch Poster 1959.

The Beeching Report was published on March 27th 1963 and sadly, this branch along with the Cirencester branch line were victims of this. The last day of service was on Saturday April 4th 1964, 60 years ago, and the following day, the Gloucestershire Railway Society (GRS) ran a tour covering both the Tetbury and Cirencester branch lines. GWR 0-4-2T No 1472 was the motive power for the day , bringing to an end, 74 years of service.

Cirencester Branch: As noted previously the C&GWUR was very keen to get a route through from Swindon to Cheltenham at whatever cost . And so the railway was built to Kemble and then by means of a five mile branch line from there to Cirencester, opening on May 31st 1841. Cheltenham and Gloucester passengers were then conveyed on by horse-drawn stagecoach. In reality, this was seen as an inconvenient method for those travelling between London and Cheltenham and a bill was passed for extending the mainline from Kemble to Gloucester/Cheltenham via Stroud and Standish offering a through service without changing trains.

1472.Tetbury April 5th 1964 | Pictures: a look back at the Tetbury and Cirencester line
1472 Tetbury, April 5th 1964.

The above company was bought out by the GWR  which enabled the extension financially and the line opened on May 12th 1845. From then on, the line to Cirencester effectively became a branch line in its own right. Conversion from broad gauge to standard gauge took place in 1872 and the Cirencester branch  continued thus into the 20th century. Cirencester station was renamed Cirencester Town on July 1st 1924 , simply to avoid confusion with Cirencester Watermoor station on the MSWJR The summer 1932 timetable shows eleven trains a day in either direction and five on Sundays. The Sunday service was really provided for military personnel returning to and from the capital. Like the Tetbury branch line, passenger numbers dropped away and the diesel railbuses replaced steam traction in 1959. In the steam era, trains were normally operated  by GWR 0-6-0 pannier tanks and the diminutive 0-4-2 tank locomotives.

I believe that GWR 2-6-2 tanks made appearances from time to time. With the arrival of the diesel railbuses, new stations were opened at Chesterton Lane Halt on February 2nd 1959 and Park Leaze on January 4th 1960. All this did not improve costs and the line, just like the Tebury branch line, succumbed to the Beeching cuts and the last trains ran on Sunday April 5th 1964. On that same day, the GRS ran a farewell tour over both lines featuring 0-4-2T No 1472 and two auto trailer coaches.

Fast forward 60 years and Cirencester would benefit from a railway station as the town can become clogged with road traffic. There is talk (now and again) of a Light Railway for passengers only running over part of this ex branch line. Lets see what the future brings!

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