Axminster and Lyme Regis Light Railway Book of Deeds 1904
In earlier times, Lyme Regis had been a busy sea port, but as larger vessels came into use, its business declined. In the nineteenth century, railway travel gained importance, and a number of schemes to construct a railway were promoted; these included a line from Bridgwater (on the Bristol Channel) to Lyme Regis, and another connecting Bridport and Axminster or Chard Junction, serving Lyme Regis on route.
On 19 July 1860 the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) opened its main line between Yeovil and Exeter, giving the area rail transport to London; a horse bus operated between Lyme Regis and Axminster. Over the following years, a Lyme Regis Railway company got as far as cutting the first sod on 29 September 1874, but got no further due to lack of funds.
The hilly terrain and sparse population militated against the financial viability of these projects, and a petition in 1898 with 1,630 names inviting the LSWR to build a branch line to Lyme Regis prompted no result.
The Light Railway Act came into force in 1896, encouraging the development of more modest—and cheaper—railway schemes, and on 15 June 1899 local promoters, now encouraged by the LSWR obtained a Light Railway Order, and Arthur C Pain was appointed engineer of the new company, called the Axminster and Lyme Regis Light Railway.
The Act authorised a share capital of £55,000, supplemented by £24,000 in loans. A contract for the construction of the railway was let to Baldrey and Yerburgh of Westminster, for a tender price of £36,542; Arthur C Pain was appointed the company's engineer.
The LSWR subscribed £25,000 to the cost of the construction, and agreed to manage and work the line in perpetuity. It was to take up to 55% of receipts for expenses, plus 4% on the cost of works it provided; the owning company would take the balance unless that proved inadequate to pay 4% on the shareholders' £55,000, in which case the LSWR would rebate 10% on through traffic.
Construction began on 19 June 1900. The line generally followed contours, and there was only one major structure, the Cannington Viaduct. During its construction the west abutment and the adjacent pier slipped badly, delaying the opening. Other difficulties during construction resulted in delay and an extension of twelve months was authorised, and an application had to be made to the Board of Trade for an additional £10,000 in share capital and £3,000 in loans.
A special train was run on 22 January 1903 with VIP passengers to inspect the nearly-complete line, but difficulties with the Cannington Viaduct prevented the planned opening at Whitsun. The LSWR arranged a horse bus connection from Axminster to Lyme Regis in the intervening period.
The line eventually opened on 24 August 1903; the first train left Lyme Regis at 9.40 a.m., and at 12.25 p.m. a special train for dignitaries left Lyme, also carrying 200 children whose fare had been paid for by public subscription; the train returned at 1.15 pm.
The railway was operated from the outset by the London and South Western Railway (LSW), and was well-used but financially unsuccessful, and the owning company asked the LSW to take it over, which it did, effective on 1 January 1907.
Passenger use declined in the years following the Second World War, and only summer weekends remained busy. When the report The Reshaping of British Railways report was produced, the line was included for closure, and this was implemented on 29 November 1965.
The main station building at Lyme Regis was wooden, and after closure it was dismantled and re-erected at Alresford station, on the Mid Hants. preserved Railway in Hampshire. The imposing Cannington Viaduct is a Grade II listed structure.