Look into the history of our railways at Yate exhibition

ON and Off the Rails is a brand new exhibition put together by individual members of the South Gloucestershire Museums Group.

The display charts the history of local railways from the early history of rail in the 1830s to the issues of the 2020s. 

Naturally, with a variety of local museums involved, the project threw up a wealth of new information on a host of different subjects, from the working lives of rail staff and past stations to passenger holidays and transporting freight.

Tytherington stone quarries. Picture: South Gloucestershire Museums Group

It is almost impossible to overemphasise the importance of railways to the history of our area.

Rail freight tells us as much about our modern industrial history as almost any other subject.

As an industrial area, South Gloucestershire freight trains carried a wide range of material from numerous sites.

Rail dominated freight transport before larger lorries and motorways emerged in the 1960s.

During the later 19th and early 20th century, coal was exported from the county by rail, mainly from collieries at Parkfield and Coalpit Heath.

Coal came into the area as fuel to make bricks, clay drainpipes and supply gasworks.

Most stations, such as Chipping Sodbury, housed their own domestic coal merchant.

Stacked bricks, drainpipes, tiles and stone were also common sights on rail lines. 

Before the mid 1960s, many stations dealt with farm produce.

Fertilisers and machinery entered South Gloucestershire, while grain and farm animals went out. Most stations transported milk.

Parkfield Colliery, near what is now Lyde Green, in 1895. Picture: South Gloucestershire Museums Group

Yate was as much a freight station as a passenger one. On market days, farm livestock and produce was transported from the station following sales at the former Yate Market on Station Road. Horses for fox hunting were part of seasonal traffic to Badminton and Chipping Sodbury stations.

In the 1960s, rail lost almost all local freight following the Beeching report.

For many local boys, this signalled the end of hours of happy train spotting. Freight trains had always been a significant part of this pastime. By the mid 1960s only express trains sped through most of South Gloucestershire. 

However, by the 1970s freight traffic began to increase again. Tytherington quarry re-opened for stone traffic. Today, there is a fuel terminal at Westerleigh Sidings, and long trains of fuel tankers arrive there several times a week.  

On and Off the Rails is on at Yate Heritage Centre until November 18.

The display is funded by South Gloucestershire Council and supported by Yate Town Council.

The display will travel to Frenchay Museum, Warmley Signal Box, Kingswood Heritage Museum and Thornbury Museum in 2024.

David Hardill

Diary dates

Until November 18: On and Off the Rails – Railways of South Gloucestershire.

November 14, 7.30pm: Yate Lecture Series – Unbuilt Bristol. Eugene Byrne looks at the ideas the Bristol planning authority had for changing the city that were never used. £2, free for Friends of YHC. Booking essential.

November 28, 7.30pm: Yate Lecture Series – Shot at Dawn. John Reid investigates the punishments meted out to soldiers during the Great War and their consequences. £2, free for Friends of YHC. Booking essential.

November 23-December 10: Yate Academy art exhibition.

Top picture: Siding at Shortwood brickworks. Photo courtesy of South Gloucestershire Museums Group