Dursley is a small market town located in the Cotswold Hills of South Gloucestershire, South-West England. Today it is a quiet suburban off-shoot of its near city neighbours Gloucester and Bristol but for over two centuries, it was an independent township with its own rural customs, rich community celebrations and highly successful woollen trade.
With the coming of the railways to Bristol and Birmingham in the 1820s, the town’s dominance in the cloth industry began to wane as other towns and cities in the UK were able to take advantage of a rail connection, allowing them to operate with lower overheads as raw materials became cheaper to import.
At the risk of losing their livelihoods, mill-owners and businessmen around Dursley — a town somewhat isolated in the initial 1840’s railway gold-rush — decided to bring their own rail connection from the main Bristol to Gloucester route directly into the heart of the community.
The four mile route was surveyed and planned in 1854 and was opened to the public in September 1856. Initially, it was a privately run affair having been financed entirely from public subscription; however, within a year the line fell into trading difficulties and the Midland Railway Company — who had already lent a large amount of money to the Dursleyians to fund its construction costs — bought the railway, its line and infrastructure outright.
For the following hundred years, the line was run by a variety of national railway companies. As government policy towards the railways changed and smaller companies were brought into privatisation, the Dursley Railway was run by the Midland Railway, the London, Midland & Scottish Railway company and then the Western Region of British Railways — each of who brought their own rather distinctive influence on how the line was administered.
As freight and passenger traffic dried up under the national shift to road transport, the Dursley branch struggled to survive; eventually, in the merge that occurred a few years prior to the implementation of the Beeching cuts in 1963/4, the branch was closed to passenger traffic. Freight services to the world-renowned R A Lister factory in the heart of Dursley continued until July 1970. The line’s fate was finally sealed when the only road bridge on the line was hit by a lorry and damaged beyond repair.
Today, very few signs that the railway ever existed can be seen – just a few remains of its infrastructure hidden in the encroaching undergrowth.
However, the line and its little black locos are still fondly remembered by locals who once relied upon the railway to get around and to explore the wider world.