Page added 17 November 2008
When the Exmouth line opened from Exeter, Queen Street in May 1861, it was natural that Topsham would receive a railway station as the track skirted the east of the town. The route, now known as the Avocet line, has double track at Topsham to allow the passing of trains, on an otherwise single track line.
From the moment that agreement was made to build the Exmouth line and include a station at Topsham, local adverts for houses for sale in the town would mention "The property also is within a few minutes' walk of the proposed Topsham Station of the Exeter and Exmouth Railway." Even a property at Clyst St George suddenly became more desirable as it was "... one Mile from the projected Topsham Railway Station."
The line was opened on the 1 May 1861 by the London and Southwestern Railway. The line was built between Exeter, Queen Street and Topsham by the LSWR, and from Topsham to Exmouth by the Exeter & Exmouth Railway. This arrangement caused problems in the early years for the two companies as disputes about the declaration of dividends would arise at shareholders meetings.
The station has twin platforms, with a station building on the up side, designed by Sir William Tite. The building is a two storey, brick construction and was originally, a station master's house with a canopy over the platform to protect waiting passengers. The down platform had a small timber shelter and canopy. The platforms were lengthened in 1909, to accommodate the growing number of holiday specials heading towards Exmouth. At the height of the railway's popularity, as many as forty trains a day would pass through Topsham. The station master employed eight staff in the 1920's, when as many as a 100,000 tickets would be collected, and 88,000 issued, per year. By the mid 1930's passenger traffic had fallen by 40%.
Topsham was coming to the end of its ship building era, but the port was still busy enough for the railway to build a 700 yard (640 metres) branch line, that opened on 23 September 1861. The track dropped down from the station to emerge by the Lighter Inn at the quay on the Exe. It could only take a single engine hauling eight loaded wagons on a 1 in 38 incline. Guano would be unloaded at the quay and transported by the railway to the customer. Sprats were also unloaded at the quay to be transported inland. The station also supported a small goods yard, with a goods shed, cattle pens and a crane. Topsham had a healthy market garden trade and soft fruit and flowers, including orchids, were handled from the yard, with timber and coal coming in, use in the town. The branch was closed in 1957 and can now be traced as Holman Way, while the goods yard closed in December 1967.
An early example of railway vandalism occurred in January 1866 when a stone was thrown at the 9.16, Saturday night, train as it passed through Topsham Station. The stone passed through a window and hit a female passenger causing a severe wound. Two years later, and John Hodge Rattenbury, landlord of the Ship Inn, Goldsmith Street, Exeter was summoned for smoking in a railway carriage and obstructing officials at the Topsham Station, an offence which he admitted and for which he was charged costs of 15s.
In 1875 a signal box was installed by the level crossing. The gates were replaced by rising barriers on 20 May 1973 and the box closed on 30 January 1988 when colour signalling was introduced on the line, controlled by Exmouth Junction box.
The Avocet line is now run by First Great Western and along with the ExeRail Partnership of Devon County Council, East Devon Council and Exeter City Council, improvements have been made to the line and stations, including Topsham. The old station buildings are now privately owned and fenced off from the platform, while vandal-proof shelters and lighting have been installed.
The station master's house on the up line at Topsham Station is now privately owned.
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