The Origins of Our Station
Planning the railway
In November 1851, the Mayor of Honiton, Edmund Stamp, called a public meeting, attended by many of the principal residents, to call for a railway through the town. As a result, a delegation met the directors of what was later to become the London and South Western Railway Company. The delegation was led by Sir John Kennaway, the owner of Escot, and the town’s M.P. Joseph Locke, who was a distinguished railway engineer.
After a great deal of campaigning and many delays, plans were finally drawn up for a railway through Honiton in 1856. An earlier proposal for a direct line from Southampton to Exeter had long since been abandoned.
This would have seen trains running to the south of the line we see today, passing Dorchester, Bridport and Charmouth, before entering Exeter from Topsham. Towns such as Honiton and Axminster would not have been on the main line at all, and been served only by branch lines.
Building the line
The first train left Yeovil at noon on Wednesday July 18th 1860. Three locomotives hauled 20 carriages through the pouring rain on the first journey to Exeter, reaching Queen Street at 3 p.m. Rather ominously, as the train reached Honiton, there was a partial eclipse of the sun.
Although the full service began as planned on July 19th, the ill omens proved well founded, and the new service quickly suffered its first accident. On July 29th, a train was partially derailed between Honiton and Feniton, causing damage to an embankment which closed the line for two weeks.
Initially a single track, the line was doubled for almost its entire length within a year. Branch lines opened from Exmouth Junction to Exmouth in 1861, from Seaton Junction to Seaton in 1868 and from Feniton (also known as Sidmouth Junction) to Sidmouth in 1874. The branch line from Axminster to Lyme Regis was opened in 1903.
A free illustrated booklet on the history of the station will be available from the Allhallows Museum shop and from Honiton Library when lockdown restrictions allow.
Honiton Tunnel cost £70,000 to build, and was lined with eleven million bricks.
Honiton’s original station building was designed by William Tite, who also designed London’s Royal Exchange. He was the M.P. for Bath at the time.
The station’s first signal box was constructed in 1875. A replacement, containing 22 levers, was built in 1957 and remained in use until signalling was transferred to a new Rail Operations Centre in Basingstoke in 2012.
The first footbridge at the station costing £210 was built in 1885, using girders from an old railway viaduct at Hamworthy.
The station once included a goods shed, goods yard and several sidings, which could accommodate 150 wagons.
Records show a wide range of products passing through Honiton’s goods yards, including coal, meat and fish, livestock, animal feed, fertiliser and agricultural machinery.
Much of the output of Honiton Pottery left by train, carefully wrapped in straw.
In the 1920s and early 1930s, 200 000 gallons of milk a year was sent by train from Honiton to the Ambrosia dairy at Lapford in North Devon.
In the 1940s as many as 22 people worked at the station.
Much of the material used by George Wimpey to construct the World War Two Dunkeswell airbase was brought in by train.