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From "The Exeter Flying Post"

2 May 1844 - the day following the opening of the Bristol and Exeter Railway.

Courtesy: Devon County Council


"The Bristol and Exeter railway from its point of junction with the Great Western Railway at Bristol to the terminus at Exeter is 76 miles in length, and in the latter part of its course, more especially, for many miles runs through a country not to be surpassed for beauty, fertility and picturesque effect as it approaches this city. The scenery to the eye of the stranger, must stand unrivalled.



Isambard Kingdom Brunel
The engineer under whom it has been constructed, I. K. Brunel Esq, F. R. S, in his construction of the Great Western Railway, boldly cast aside all prejudices and previous methods and like a wise man, profiting by experience, laid down a plan for himself. This method. he has also adopted on the Bristol and Exeter line. We can well recollect the strong and hostile feeling at the time was manifested to the system of proceedings recommended by Mr Brunel, but, happily, the Broad Gauge triumphed and the line of railway from London to Exeter, is not surpassed in the world.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel


Bristol and Exeter Tank Engine
And here, we must interrupt the flow of this reporter and state that in his book, "A History of the Great Western Railway" published in the 1890s, George Augustus Nokes, who wrote under the pen-name of G. A. Sekon, and who was founder of The Railway magazine and all-round railway expert of the 19th century says very firmly that James Pearson, who was appointed to the Bristol and Exeter Railway as Locomotive Engineer, made the Broad Gauge decision.  This is one of his 9 feet single tank engines built in Bolton by Rothwell & Co. It had 9ft. driving wheels, and leading and trailing  bogies each with wheels 4 ft in diameter. It's great asset was that it was very economical to run (only 21 ¾ lbs of coke per mile!)


A newspaper is not the publication best calculated for entering into dry details and descriptions, relative to the formation and mechanism of a railway, but it may be observed, shortly, that the prepared timbers are laid down longitudinally, on which are fastened the rails by screws. Under the rail, however, is placed felt, or a thin layer of pieces of hard wood, and we observe that in the immediate neighbourhood of this city, to the one line of rail is attached felt, and to the other, pieces of hardwood. The beams of timber, to which the rails are thus attached, are tied together by cross pieces at certain intervals called transoms, which are strongly bolted to the longitudinal timbers. By these methods, a degree of stability is given to the structure, and a speed has been attained such as has produced unqualified astonishment in all who have witnessed it, and we are entitled to say, that among the many benefits that mankind have derived from the combination of the discoveries of Science and the resources of Art, the facility and rapidity of intercommunication between distant centres of population and industry by the application of steam power on railways, stands out in prominent relief.



The most formidable work on the line from Bristol to Exeter, has been the Tunnel at White Ball Hill, 21 miles from Exeter. This is 5/8 of a mile in length, and, as is well known – to the Bristol side of the tunnel;- (the station at Beam Bridge) to which the line of the railway has for some time been completed. From that point through the tunnel to Exeter, the first engine, drawing trucks and heavily laden with timber, iron etc, came down on the afternoon of 17 April, and continued making trips daily from Beam Bridge to Exeter, to the afternoon of the 24th instant, when Major General Pasley, Inspector General of railways, met Mr Brunel, Dr Miller of this city, one of the directors, and other gentlemen officially connected with the line, at Beam Bridge and immediately proceeded to the inspection of the tunnel and the line thence to Exeter.


The inspection of the tunnel was by torchlight, and most minute, and we understand the Inspector General expressed his approbation of the manner in which this extraordinary work, by means of energy and skill, and considerable outlay, has been performed. The inspection of the line was equally minute. The earthworks which in some parts are rather extensive – as in the neighbourhood of Rewe for instance – were examined with great attention; as also the various erections of masonry and brickwork and likewise, the several bridges, culverts and drains. Stafford bridge, between Stoke, Canon and Exeter, being the point of junction of the rivers Exe and Culm was minutely inspected, and we understand, that by the engineers generally, an expression of its perfect adequacy and safety was pronounced.


At Cowley Bridge, the road from Exeter to Crediton, and North Devon is carried over the railway there by means of a Skew bridge. This has a remarkable appearance, communication being intercepted by the railway at an oblique angle. The ease and smoothness of the entire line of road from Beam Bridge to Exeter was the theme of general admiration and approbation.

But to return. The line of railway passing the Tiverton station Willand and Cullompton, with easy gradients continues throughout the remainder of its course to Exeter. At Bradninch, the line passes close to the extensive paper manufactory of Mr John Dewdney at Hele so celebrated in that trade. Thence, running nearly parallel with the River Culm, it passes a similar manufactory known as Bridge Mills, the property of Messrs Matthews and Martyn; and  is at this point is itself crossed by Ellerhayes bridge, forming the road from Broadclyst and the eastern side of the county to Silverton, Thorverton etc..

The scenery here puts adequate description at defiance. On the right is Silverton Park, the seat and extensive grounds of the Earl of Egremont, while on the left, rises boldly, the richly wooded grounds and Park of Killerton, the seat of Sir Thomas Acland. Passing onwards through a rich and most lovely country, is seen the residence of the Rev. H.F. Strangeways, at Rewe; and then proceeding through the village of Stoke Canon, on the right, opens to the view of the traveller, the richly wooded scenery and grounds at Pynes, the seat of Sir Stafford Northcot; and Cowley House and grounds, the beautiful residence of Mrs Wells. On the left is the paper manufacturing of Messrs Richard and William Dewdney, above which towers Stoke Hill and Marypoleshead,  until finally, in the distance and before the traveller  rise majestically the heights of Haldon.

The Traveller has now reached the City of Exeter, having for about the last 2 miles had close on either hand, the line of railway running parallel with the River Exe on the right and the road from Exeter to Crediton on the left.

At the terminus are extensive ranges of buildings covering a very large area, the first of these at which the traveller arrives, on his left being  the Departure Station, which is a parallelogram about 144 feet in length - a structure presenting considerable neatness in appearance, covered with slate and zinc. It is divided with every attention to the comfort and convenience of the public, and officers of the company, with all other necessary offices. The Superintendent's room is next, with the Parcel Room adjoining and then is a spacious entrance way to the building. The Booking Office, a spacious and well arranged room adjoins this and next is the Ladies' Waiting Room and the  other requisite offices which occupy this range. These rooms all open into a spacious gallery the roof of which is carried over the line of rails, being supported in front by pillars and having a span of about 40 feet. Underneath this, the trains run, and  passengers enter the several carriages from the gallery, which is parallel with the floors of the carriages. In line with this building is the situation of the two carriage sheds, each of which is about 100 feet in length; the roofs of which are plank, with a covering of tarpaulin, and between these sheds is placed the turntable, a most ingenious and curious piece of mechanism on which are turned the several carriages. Further on, and in line with these buildings is the Return Station, being a range of buildings, equal in extent to the Departure Station just described, with the booking office, etc, but not containing so many rooms.  Within this area is a reservoir, the water requisite for which is supplied by the Exeter Water Company and a tank for the engines is in the course of erection. The station, offices etc are lit with gas, supplied by the Exeter gas company.

On the right of the station is a vast building called the Goods Shed. This is 140 feet in length and 66 feet in width, having four windows on either side, and being roofed over with large slate. Lines of rail are here also carried through.

(There follows a description of a grand gala banquet, which took place that day. There are detailed descriptions of the menu and reports of the speeches made by the dignitaries present. The banquet took place in the goods warehouse which, on this occasion accommodated no less than 800 people.)

The whole of these buildings have been erected by Messrs Hooper of this city and it is universally conceded that great credit is due to that highly respectable firm for the manner in which the work has been executed.

The reporters have much pleasure in thanking the directors of the Bristol and Exeter railway for kindly affording them a trip to and from Bristol on this memorable occasion. "


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