Brunel Trail Part 3: Oldfield Park to Bath Station

(1.5 miles)

This walk forms part of a waymarked trail from Keynsham to Box, devised as part of the celebrations for Brunel 200. Originally published in April 2006 as an appendix to The Ringing Grooves of Change: Brunel and the Coming of the Railway to Bath, this downloadable version will enable walkers to explore all or part of the trail without having to carry the book along with them.
Maps are not included as part of the trail because the Ordnance Survey produce much better ones than we could possibly hope to. OS Explorer Maps 155 and 156 are recommended; alternatively, small sections of these maps can be downloaded for free at www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/getamap/

Starting at the bridge spanning the tracks at the west end of Oldfield Park station, take the footpath alongside the platform on the left. At the end of the footpath, cross the road and look over the bridge parapet. This bridge originally had a Tudor arch, but it was rebuilt when an extra line was added. Looking towards Bath, the sidings on the right, which originally served a stone yard, are now used to ship out Bath’s sole remaining railborne cargo — rubbish. Fifty thousand tonnes of the stuff leaves here every year, bound for a landfill site at Calvert in Buckinghamshire.

Walk down the hill to the bottom of Brougham Hayes, and turn right along the Lower Bristol Road. Take the second right up Westmoreland Street and go through the foot tunnel under the railway. As you leave the tunnel, turn left. At the end of the road, turn left again and go under the bridge. At the bottom of the road, turn right at the Green Park Tavern and walk along the Lower Bristol Road.

Just before Pickford’s depot, the old stone-built railway goods shed — now home to the Cramer Technology Centre — can be seen up by the line. The building on the other side of the Lower Bristol Road is the old Stothert & Pitt factory, dating from 1857.

Take the next right up Oak Street to see how the railway sliced through this part of Bath. Just before the bridge, turn left into Wood Street. Here you can see how, when the line was widened, different material was used to extend the arches.

Follow the road as it curves back to the Lower Bristol Road and turn right. Just past the sole surviving building on Angel Place, cross the road at the pelican crossing and carry on towards Churchill Road Bridge. Cross Churchill Bridge and then cross the road at the zebra crossings. From here there is a good view of Skew Bridge and the castellated viaduct. The two road bridges (one now disused) originally had Tudor-style arches. These disappeared in 1911 when they were rebuilt to carry heavier locomotives. The smaller arches have seen a variety of uses — a police station, a greengrocer’s, even a mortuary for bodies dragged from the river.

It is not known why Brunel chose such an elaborate design for this section of the viaduct. True, it could be seen from Southgate Street, and would have appeared, standing as it did on the far side of the Old Bridge, like a medieval city gate. Even so, it seems an extravagant gesture. Possibly, it was intended to mollify the inhabitants of Widcombe, who had risen en masse to object to the proposed tunnelisation of Claverton Street (not to mention the nasty things he said about them at the parliamentary enquiry). Although the planned demolition of buildings went ahead, Brunel had to abandon the tunnel scheme, and rerouted Claverton Street through the viaduct in an inverted S shape. Although the castellated viaduct he subsequently built provided a grand entrance to the street, however, its south face was far less imposing, even before the inferior Bath stone he used for it was replaced by brick.

The Skew Bridge on the left, originally built of wood, crosses the river at such an oblique angle that, although the river is only 80 feet wide, the bridge is 164 feet long. Not everyone was in favour of the bridges Brunel built at Bath. In a Guide to Bath published in 1864, Rev GN Wright declared that “the railway bridges at Bath display great but unnecessary ingenuity, and show how a simple and inexpensive object has been effected by meads both complicated and costly.”

A 200-yard walk along Dorchester Street brings you to Bath station.

Part 3a: Bath Station

Bath station deserves a section to itself, but two things need to be borne in mind. First, it is scheduled for redevelopment as part of the scheme for the new Southgate, so any observations are likely to be overtaken by events. Second, although there is public access to most of the station, it is Network Rail property and, apart from the route under the station and across the Halfpenny Bridge, there are no automatic rights of way. Access to the platforms is also ticket controlled.

Bath station’s most significant drawback — the lack of scope for expansion — is also its most fascinating feature. Space restrictions have hampered its development, ensuring that it has changed far less than most major early Victorian stations. However, although redevelopment proposals ensure the integrity of the main structure, other features dating from the opening of the line are earmarked for removal.

From the outside, the station looks much as it did when Brunel designed it. Inside, however, the wooden roof which covered the tracks and platforms disappeared as long ago as 1897. Another feature which has disappeared is a footbridge which crossed from the station to the Royal Hotel. One unusual feature of the station is that, although the viaduct carrying the lines runs obliquely across the bottom of Manvers Street, the station is at right angles to it. The station frontage is thus at an angle of about 25 degrees to the viaduct.

The platforms were originally much shorter than they are today. At the east end of the station there was an engine shed and sidings to the north of the line; south of the line were more sidings, with a wagon turntable, and small buildings housing engineer’s offices and a blacksmith’s shop. This cared for horses shunting wagons in the yard as well as those delivering goods in the city. The last shunting horse at Bath station retired in 1959. The engine shed has long gone, as have the sidings, but an engineer’s office has survived at the right-hand side of the ramp leading up from Halfpenny Bridge. It is understood that this may be demolished as part of the redevelopment of the area.

The large level area at the west end of the station, on the north side, was originally occupied by a goods shed. Because of space limitations, this was at right angles to the running lines. Wagons were shunted into the southern end of the shed, where turntables gave access to loading bays. No trace remains of the goods shed, which was superseded by a new shed at Westmoreland Road in 1877 and demolished around 1891. The sidings survived and, when the electricity works opened next door in 1895, chutes were installed so that coal could be delivered directly. The sidings were removed in 1960 when the platforms were extended. Now all that remains as a reminder of the original goods yard are the masonry walls which once supported it. A recent structural engineering survey of the site concluded that there had been “virtually no disturbance of the retaining walls or of the viaduct arches,” making them “of considerable interest, dating as they do from the original construction.” It is understood that, as part of the Southgate Redevelopment, the ramp leading to the goods yard, which dates from the early days of the railway in Bath, and was probably designed by Brunel, will be demolished. The fate of the goods yard is unclear.

To continue the trail, go to the next section.