Closed: 1930 (passengers), 1962 (goods)
The 19th Century saw the rise of the seaside resort, which pretty much occurred with the spread of railways. They had become fashionable with the rich initially, but the railways enabled the less well off to enjoy this new form of leisure, transporting them faster and more cheaply than had ever been managed before.
One of the most popular stretches of coastline lay between Bournemouth and Exeter on the south coast of England. There were many resorts dotted along the coast, and all but one was the sole domain of one company, The London and South Western Railway. Weymouth was the sole exception to this, being the domain of The Great Western Railway, although even then it was also served by The LSWR. Swanage, Lyme Regis, Seaton, Sidmouth, Budleigh Salterton and Exmouth were all eventually served by LSWR branch lines, and thriving resorts.
At the time the railway to West Bay was planned, the Bridport Railway was the nearest to a seaside line the GWR operated, aside from the Weymouth terminus. Opened as a nominally independent line in 1857, it branched off of the GWR Weymouth line at Maiden Newton, threading a sinuous path to the town. Bridport lay a mile and a half inland, having been a port due to the navigable estuary of the river Brit, but this had silted up centuries previous. This had led to the improvement of the Harbour at West Bay, which became known for shipbuilding. This was however in decline, and the two most prominent landowners in the area - Lieutenant-General Augustus Pitt-Rivers and Henry Edward Fox-Strangways, the 5th Earl of Ilchester had other plans, forming the West Bay Land & Building Company, with the intention of creating a resort to attract business to the area.
The railway arrived in West Bay in 1884, which followed the maxim that building a railway would generate traffic where previously there was little. Heading south from the original Bridport station, the railway crossed East Street via a level crossing, immediately south of which stood Bridport East Street station, somewhat closer to the town centre and most notable for the use of an already existing cottage as the station building for many years. The line then continued on to the terminus at West Bay, a small but neat and characteristically GWR designed station.
|Edwardian postcard of West Bay station.|
Stimulated by the railway, properties, an esplanade and a pavilion sprung up around the juvenile resort, but it appears that the line was in a catch 22 situation; until more holiday accommodation was built around West Bay, traffic would never be heavy, but as a late starter as a resort compared to its neighbours it lacked amenities, and speculators wishing to develop hotels and such would be more inclined to choose a better established resort in which to establish their business.
By 1901, the Bridport Railway had been absorbed into the GWR, but after the grouping of 1923, it became increasingly evident that the small resort was unlikely to expand further. After the summer season of 1930, on 22nd September, the line between Bridport and West Bay was closed to passenger traffic, with trains terminating at the original Bridport station once again.
As was often the case, some freight traffic continued after cessation of passenger services; these trains were finally withdrawn in 1962. The following year, The Beeching Report recommended closure of the remaining section of the Bridport Railway to Maiden Newton, but services lingered on until 1975, due to concerns about substitute buses being operated on the narrow lanes east of Bridport, making it one of the final Beeching sanctioned railway closures in the country.
Today, much of the northern section of the Bridport - West Bay railway has vanished completely under the eastern section of the Bridport bypass, with the level crossing on East Street replaced by a roundabout. The line first becomes recognisable near the junction of Burton Road and Marsh gate, where a dog-leg bridge over the line once carried road traffic, and it has been converted to a footpath running down to the coast. West Bay station has survived intact after spending many years as a boat yard, and the pretty little station building now functions as a tea room. Since the railway closed, West Bay has been further expanded, but it remains a small community, although Bridport has expanded far south enough to almost turn the village into a suburb.
West Bay website page on the railway