It was on Friday, June 28th 1968, that the old Dursley Donkey pulled out of the towns railway station at the bottom of Long Street for the last time.
The little train made the journey to Coaley Junction filling the valley with the sound of the 'cuckoo'. For many years the engine drivers had delighted local residents with the train's novel cuckoo sounding whistle.
That final journey in 1968 was a consequence of the Beeching Axe that signalled the end of many small railway stations throughout the country.
Now there remains little evidence of the old railway line that had been built in 1856. The station area has been redeveloped by R. A. Lister and Co. and there is no visible sign of the old track within the Dursley parish. In Cam parish the trackway is overgrown and unused except by blackberry pickers.
The railway had a somewhat chequered history.
Before it was built, the nearest railway station to Dursley was at Berkeley Road. Conveyances met there to bring passengers to the Old Bell and Castle Inns at Dursley.
The town's principal inhabitants formed a company to build a line and three stations - at Dursley, Cam, and Coaley Junction to link up with the Bristol and Gloucester Railway. The venture was not a great success and the company was taken over by the Midland Railway Company ' for a song' in 1861. The original shareholders lost almost all of their money. Ironically it was later to become one of the Midland's most prosperous lines.
With the boom in road traffic in the 1950's the branch railway lost passengers and became totally uneconomic.
Now the Dursley Donkey is but a memory.
- Centenary Supplement October 1978
IT hardly seems that long ago the trains ran from Coaley Junction to Dursley but September 8 marks the 40th anniversary of the last 'Dursley Donkey'.
So I will look back now nostalgically at the Dursley branch line through time.
By the mid-19th century the woollen mills and other industries of the Cam Valley were booming and they needed an efficient method of transport to move their goods from the area.
The Bristol and Gloucester Railway Company had already opened its route along the flat Severn Vale in 1844 but, to the annoyance of the mill owners, provided no station or goods facilities locally.
So then, after much local initiative took over, the Dursley and Midland Junction Railway Company was formed. Soon after this construction of the line began and at a cost of around £7,000 per mile was eventually opened to goods traffic on August 25 1856. Passenger trains began running on September 18 1856, serving Dursley, Cam and Coaley Junction on the main line.
The line did not really see any prosperity in the early years and inevitably sold out to the Midland Railway Company during 1861. Initially the branch trains were worked by the contractors locomotive as the D&MJR had no money to purchase its own but, under Midland ownership, things improved with better coaches and locomotives.
The line remained under Midland Railway ownership until 1923 when it was absorbed into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway and remained that way until nationalisation on January 1 1948. British Railways (London Midland region) at first, then finally transferring to the Western region in the late 1950s.
There was very little change during MR and LMS ownership with the Johnson 1F 0-6-0 tank locos working all traffic until the Western region change. Locomotive numbers 1720, 1727 and 1748 probably the best known as well as 1742 at one stage.
Several changes took place under the Western region as regards locomotives. With the withdrawal of the 1F tanks, other Midland types such as 2F, 3F and 4F 0-6-0s could be seen working.
Also the famous GWR 0-6-0 pannier tanks appeared along with the double whistles which when sounded one after the other was rather like a cuckoo call
In the 1960s BR standard locos took over until steam finally bowed out during Christmas week 1965. Dieselisation in 1966 saw the class 22 B0-B0 and D9500 0-6-0 diesel hydraulic types. On the odd occasion a class 08 shunter appeared but in reality was too slow, especially on the main line.
The train service, known with affection as the 'Dursley Donkey', showed eight trains in either direction on weekdays and nine on Saturdays during the 1950s. There was no Sunday service.
The weekday service was usually just the one coach but was increased to two on Saturday's mainly for shoppers off to Gloucester and holidaymakers to the seaside resorts.
Sunday school excursions of ten or more coaches ran on summer Sundays to places as exotic as Barry (South Wales) or Weston-Super-Mare (locking with a loco at either end of the train as far as Coaley Junction). This must have been quite a sight as they crossed Station Road and Box Road level crossings.
It was quite common for the booking offices at Cam and Dursley to take hundreds of pounds in ticket sales on summer Saturday mornings.
A visit to the branch by the Stephenson Locomotive Society was made in Septembe, 1956 to commemorate the lines 'centenary' and it included the Nailsworth and Thornbury branch lines in its itinerary. The RCTS ran a Gloucestershire branch line tour similar to the centenary train on Saturday, July 21 1963. A further tour operated over the line in March 1969 featuring a diesel multiple unit (DMU).
Passenger numbers declined rapidly during the late 1950s and early 1960s and closure was inevitable.
The last 'Donkey' left Coaley Junction for Dursley at 7.40pm on Saturday, September , 1962 with detonators exploding, hundreds of people aboard paying their farewells and a bunch of carrots tied to the smokebox of BR Ivatt Class 2 46527. Strangely enough the Beeching Axe came six months later in March, 1963.
Goods services carried on until July, 1970 when an accident involving a lorry damaging the low road bridge at Littlecombe finally sealed its fate and the line closed officially on Monday, July 13, 1970.
I remember the branch in its 'goods only' days of the 1960s as I was only seven years old when the passenger services ceased. I well remember the afternoon goods struggling along the valley on a very foggy, damp day in the autumn of 1964. The loco was slipping on the damp rails and getting nowhere and making a great sound effect from the exhaust.
Besides the final day of passenger services between Coaley Junction and Dursley there were two long-distance express trains running for the last time via their traditional routes on the main line through Coaley on Friday, September 7.
The 0900 Wolverhampton-to-Penzance and the 1030 Penzance-to-Wolverhampton, entitled The Cornishman, made their final journeys via Cheltenham Malvern Road, Stratford, and on to and from Birmingham Snow Hill and Wolverhampton Low Level. From the following Monday The Cornishman was rerouted via Birminghham New Street and extended to Derby and Sheffield.
The second train which altered its routing was The Pines Express and made its last run as the Manchester-to-Bournemouth West service via Bath and over the long-closed Somerset and Dorset line on September 8. Like The Cornishman, The Pines was rerouted - via Basingstoke and Oxford and on to Birmingham and the North-West.
One or two amusing stories surround the life of any branch line in Britain and the Dursley branch was no exception. One day in February 1961 the 'Donkey' ran out of water at Coaley Junction (this made the national press) and a human chain helped fill the tanks with buckets. After 50 or so buckets full, there was enough water to enable the loco to make a speedy trip to Dursley to fill its tanks and then return to Coaley to pick up its coach. Three passengers were in a hurry and were taken to Dursley on the footplate. Talk about health and safety!
One busy day in the Coaley signal box, the signalman forgot to give the special key to the train crew to enable them to unlock the points at Dursley yard, so the train had to return to Coaley Junction to pick up the special key, with much embarrassment all round.
Thirty years on and very little remains of the course of the Dursley branch. The concrete bridge at the back of Draycott Business Park is still in place and the Gallows bridge along Everlands is still there but too unsafe to use. The Railway Inn at Cam is the only real reminder to people of the existence of the Dursley branch line in the Cam valley.
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