[Source: Nick Catford]

Date opened: 2 February 1959
Location: North side of Chesterton Lane
Company on opening: British Railways (Western Region)
Date closed to passengers: 6 April 1964
Date closed completely: 6 April 1964
Company on closing: British Railways (Western Region)
Present state: Demolished
County: Gloucestershire
OS Grid Ref: SP024011
Date of visit: Not visited

Notes: Chesterton Lane Halt on the GWR branch line between Kemble & Cirencester in Gloucestershire (1959 - 64), opened in 1959 with the start of a diesel railbus service with a view to boost passenger usage. The short low platform built of sleepers was reached by a path on the north side of Chesterton Lane. Apart from a name board and a wooden rail around three sides of the platform the halt was devoid of any fixtures and fittings. Sadly despite some initial success the branch line did not survive the Beeching report and was closed to passenger services in April 1964 and fully closed in January 1966. The track through the site of the halt is now occupied by Meadow Road. After many years a recent proposal to reopen the branch line has been put forward but due to modern construction obliterating the original course of the line it will have to find a different route from the edge of Cirencester into any station in the town so Chesterton Lane Halt will never reopen.

BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CIRENCESTER BRANCH. The Great Western Railway opened its main line between London and Bristol in 1841. During the construction period, an independent company called the Cheltenham and Great Western Union Railway obtained authorisation on 21 June 1836 to make a line from the GWR at Swindon, to Cheltenham by way of Stroud and Gloucester. As well as the main line between Swindon and Cheltenham, there was to be a branch to Cirencester, terminating at a place there referred to as Botany Bay. A landowner at Kemble, named Robert Gordon, was evidently hostile to the railway, and he secured clauses in the authorising Act requiring a tunnel, not needed for engineering purposes, near Kemble. Moreover the railway was forbidden to open a public station on Gordon's estate. The new line was to be on the broad gauge.

The money market was extremely depressed in the period following authorisation of the line, and subscriptions could not be secured to make material progress on construction. In desperation, the directors determined to construct between Swindon and Cirencester only for the time being, for that would give the best chance of getting an income that would pay a dividend on the outlay. The company arranged a provisional lease with the Great Western Railway, in which the GWR would pay £17,000 annually for the use of the (as yet not built) line.

The Bristol and Gloucester Railway was relying on timely completion of the C&GWUR at the Gloucester and Cheltenham end of the line, and obtained Parliamentary clauses in C&GWUR Acts pressuring the Cheltenham company to complete at the Gloucester end of the line, and the emphasis on early construction passed to that area. In November 1840 even that work proved impossible to finance, and attention reverted to the Swindon end of the line.

Progress was eventually made, and the line opened between Swindon and Cirencester on 31 May 1841. It was a single broad gauge line; stations were at Purton, Minety and Cirencester, so there was no intermediate station on what was to be the branch line. The line was leased to the GWR as arranged, for a period of seven years. In 1842 the C&GWUR obtained Parliamentary authorisation to sell their line to the GWR. The main line company was not yet ready to purchase, but after a delay the transfer was agreed in January 1843. The actual amalgamation took place on 1 July 1843; the GWR spent £230,000 in the acquisition of the line, which so far had cost the C&GWUR £600,000 to construct.

The GWR did not hasten to complete the line, but it opened from Kemble to Standish Junction, joining the Bristol line there, on 12 May 1845. Kemble thus became the junction station for what was now the Cirencester branch. Robert Gordon's restrictive clauses prevented the opening of a public station there, and the GWR contented itself with an exchange station, not accessible for joining and leaving passengers or goods.

The Cirencester branch had been opened as a broad gauge line. The GWR undertook a widespread conversion to narrow (standard) gauge in the general area in 1872, and the Cirencester branch was closed on 22 May for the conversion work and reopened as a standard gauge line on 27 May. Passengers were conveyed by omnibus to and from Tetbury Road station during the closure. In 1922, there were ten trains daily, but no Sunday service.

British Railways ordered 22 passenger railbuses as an attempt to cut operating costs on rural railways and avoid closure. They started operating on the Cirencester line in February 1959. Of those, AC Cars Ltd of Thames Ditton, better known for their upmarket motor cars and the Southend pier railway rolling stock of 1949, won a contract for five railbuses which BR numbered W79975 - 8 and SC79979. AC Cars sensibly chose to install broadly the same equipment as used on the bulk of BR's diesel-mechanical multiple-units; the AEC A220 engine set to develop 150bhp at 1800rpm; fluid flywheel with freewheel; Self-Changing Gears Ltd R14 epicyclic gearbox; axle mounted reverse/final drive unit. Driving controls were of the Sharps type. There were, however, a number of major differences. There were engine controls for, of course, only a single engine and no provision for multiple-unit operation while braking was by compressed air rather than vacuum. Maximum road speed was 57½mph, hardly high speed but perfectly adequate for branch lines. The railbus body seated 46 passengers in two saloons with a central vestibule and as with all BR railbuses there was no separate area for the guard. Entrance doors were sliding, power operated by the driver. On the Cirencester and Tetbury branches it was originally intended to run through services to/from Swindon but this plan was abandoned, where passenger services were concerned, when it was found the railbuses could not be relied upon to operate track circuits. Railbuses did operate in service over main lines on other regions but a special set of strict regulations applied which the Western Region found too disruptive, especially in the vicinity of Swindon. Railbuses stabled overnight at Cirencester and Tetbury, initially running each day empty to Swindon for refuelling. This arrangement was soon altered to a cyclic diagram requiring just one railbus to return to Swindon each day, but as a precaution an emergency fuel supply was set up at Cirencester Town consisting of a 50 gallon drum elevated upon a wooden frame. It is visible in several photographs, opposite the end of the station platform.

Following the introduction of railbuses train service was increased to fourteen trains per day and halts were opened at Chesterton Lane and, in January 1960, at Park Leaze. Results were encouraging: 130,000 passengers yearly, an average of about 13 per train. Particularly on Saturdays, the railbus was overcrowded.

Nevertheless, despite the initial success, the passenger service was not financially viable, and it was withdrawn on 6 April 1964. Goods traffic was withdrawn on 4 October 1965.

With closure of the branches from Kemble the railbuses spread their wings to Yeovil, for the shuttle to Yeovil Town, and to the Bodmin area. Eventually all the AC Cars vehicles migrated to Scotland with what by then had become SC79978 going on the become the last 'first generation' BR diesel railbus in passenger service, being officially withdrawn on 3 February 1968 following closure of the Falkirk Grahamston - Grangemouth service on 29 January. SC79976/7 were also officially withdrawn on the same day, this pair had by then been operating in Ayrshire but, it is thought, they had been out of use for some time. On the Cirencester branch in particular the railbuses encouraged an increase in traffic, but probably due to the initial novelty value as the increased usage was not sustained. All the BR railbuses were a brave attempt to save branch lines by cutting operating costs. In this they succeeded but costs could not or would not be cut in other ways, for example the loss-making branch goods train still had to operate. It was said of the railbuses that they were "Too little, too light and too late" which sums up the situation rather well.

Tickets from Michael Stewart. Route map drawn by Alan Young.


To See also Cirencester Watermoor

The simple construction of Chesterton Lane halt is apparent in this view from Chesterton Lane c1960.
Copyright photo from Stations UK

Chesterton Lane Halt looking south from a passing railcar c1960.
Photo from John Mann collection

On an unknown date an AC Cars diesel railbus approaches Chesterton Lane Halt where a solitary passenger waits, she having made her way with high-heeled shoes down the cinder path from the road. On what was clearly a very pleasant day, the buildings of Cirencester can be seen in the background. Tickets from the halts were issued by the guard, using the once-very-familiar Setright ticket machines (see example above). Chesterton Lane Halt was a half mile from Cirencester Town station and a mere quarter mile from the town's other station, Watermoor, which the branch from Kemble was destined to outlive.
Photo from Steve Bartlett collection

On an unknown date an AC Cars diesel railbus pauses at Chesterton Lane Halt whilst on its way to Cirencester Town. Although the number of the railbus is by no means clear it appears to be W79978, which was destined to be one of two of this type to survive into preservation. The body of a third, SC79979, also survived for many years but was subsequently disposed of. The object on the roof above the driver's cab, far left corner, is the engine exhaust outlet while the boldly painted handrails at the door are part of the retractable steps arrangement for use at halts such as Chesterton Lane.
Photo from Steve Bartlett collection

In August 1963 an AC Cars diesel railbus poses for the camera at Chesterton Lane while on its way to Cirencester Town. The retractable steps of the railbus are not deployed and the presence of the bicycle suggests this photograph was deliberately posed, perhaps by earlier arrangement with the crew. The basic structure of the halt is evident; a path down the side of the cutting; some railings; a nameboard; a low platform made from old sleepers. A similar arrangement existed at Park Leaze Halt. Both halts were provided for the railbuses and although the halts were crude, to put it mildly, they were adequate. Chesterton Lane crossed the railway on the brick bridge in the background. At the time the road was narrow, on a dogleg where it crossed the railway and was controlled by traffic signals. For this reason a pedestrian footbridge was provided alongside the road bridge, it being clearly seen behind the railbus. At the time of writing no information on this bridge had come to light, but it was a prefabricated, probably wrought iron, structure. Somewhat elaborate for its purpose at Chesterton Lane, it was possibly of military origin. Perhaps needless to say, after the railway closed this nuisance arrangement was quickly swept away with the dogleg removed and the road widened
Photo from John Mann collection

In this undated view of Chesterton Lane Halt the basic construction of the halt is apparent.
Photo from John Mann and Steve Bartlett collection

An AC Cars diesel railbus poses approaches Chesterton Lane Halt and then on to Cirencester Town circa early 1960s.
Photo from John Mann and Steve Bartlett collections

The site of Chesterton Lane Halt looking south a few years after closure. The cutting is in the process of being filled in. Although the wooden halt has been removed the path down from the road can still be seen, now strewn with rubble. The road bridge was still in place at this time but the adjacent footbridge has been demolished-name
Photo from John Mann and Steve Bartlett collections

Looking north from Chesterton Lane bridge a few years after closure. The track bed is in the process of being prepared for a anew road.
Photo from John Mann and Steve Bartlett collections

Meadow Road now occupies the site of Chesterton Lane Halt although at a slightly higher level to bring the road up to the level of Chesterton Lane. The houses on the right are seen on several of the old pictures. With the removal of Chesterton Lane bridge the awkward dogleg in the road was also removed.
Photo by Stella Marame




[Source: Nick Catford]

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