I realise, of course, that although the perusal of dry old historical documents can be fascinating, even a lot of fun, it isn't for everyone. So if train timetables are not your ruling passion in life then please - I entreat you - don't read further. Wait for the next post, on something quite different.
Still with me? Stout fellow! Brave lady!
Shippea Hill first, in 2018 the least-used railway station in the country, primarily because it has such a meagre train service. But it was not always so. An Eastern Region timetable, covering April 1966 to March 1967 - which I found on little-visited shelves in the Melford Hall Study - tells the truth. As ever, click on any of these pictures to see the detail.
That's a lovely colour, isn't it? Table 42 inside is the one showing the service at Shippea Hill.
Looking at just the weekday service, it was excellent for such an out-of-the-way station. Most trains shuttled between Ely and Norwich, but there were some surprising exceptions.
0049 (0102 on Mondays) Cambridge to Norwich
0703 London to Norwich
0743 Norwich to Cambridge
0835 Cambridge to Norwich
0913 Yarmouth to Birmingham
0944 Norwich to Ely
1030 Ely to Norwich
1153 Norwich to Ely
1230 Ely to Norwich
1353 Norwich to Ely
1405 York to Yarmouth
1431 Ely to Norwich
1554 Norwich to Ely
1630 Ely to Norwich
1742 Norwich to Ely
1745 Cambridge to Norwich
1810 Norwich to Peterborough
1835 Ely to Norwich
1840 Norwich to Cambridge
1913 Norwich to Ely
1931 Birmingham to Yarmouth
2035 Ely to Norwich
2141 Ely to Norwich
2204 Norwich to Cambridge
0015 Norwich to London
Compared to today:
0727 Cambridge to Norwich
1927 Norwich to Cambridge
What happened? What changed? The 1966/67 service was arguably over-generous, but it has been totally slaughtered.
Pilning's case is similar, except that it never had trains to major distant cities. But like Shippea Hill, it once had a much better local service. I possess the evidence.
The Library at Melford Hall is reputed to have once been been part of an old abbey. It's a gloomy place really. With no illumination, save that from a shaft of pale moonlight from a narrow window high up in the soaring east wall, I discovered this ancient tome - a copy of the Western Region timetable covering 18th June to 9th September 1962. It had been left inside an open tomb. Prising it from the skeleton fingers of a noble ancestor, and clearing away the cobwebs and bat-droppings, I took it away for study.
There were two Pilning stations then - High Level (the present station) and Low Level (very close by). They both appear on the top edge of this 1931 Ordnance Survey map.
The Low Level station was on a short section of line that looped westwards then southwards, to connect to the line from Avonmouth at Severn Beach. The route is clear on this 1967 map, although by then the Low Level station was closed.
In present times the whole area has been criss-crossed with new roads, and has become much more built-up, obliterating much of that loop. And you'd look in vain for clear traces of the Low Level station at Pilning.
As for the train service back in 1962, I'll confine my review to the eastbound trains at Pilning High Level, since you can only travel eastwards nowadays. They were all Bristol-bound. The information was in tables 77 and 104...
...from which the service eastwards from Pilning High Level (i.e. towards Bristol) can be deduced:
2006 (2010 on Fridays)
This was a fairly reasonable service for a country station.
But that wasn't all I found. In the fitful light of a sputtering candle, and with the help of chattering mice and a wise old raven, I ventured into the Melford Hall Catacombs. And there, in the spooky darkness - with only the mummified remains of old monks (and the odd abbot) for company - I stumbled upon this. Blowing away the dust, and shooing off spiders, I saw it was the long-lost Western Region timetable covering 6th March 1967 to 5th May 1968. This too I took away for examination in a better light.
Welsh Dragon red, I believe. And within, table 3 revealed its awful secrets. The ones Network Rail wants you to forget...
Ha! A decentish daily eastbound service had survived as late as 1967! By then, British Rail (yes, BR: this was still long time before privatisation) had tidied it up, so that, in between the morning and evening peak periods, the trains departed regularly at 16 minutes past the hour, every two hours - and not just at odd moments.
1816 (1823 during the summer of 1967)
Why had it been reduced to this?
1534 (Saturday only; eastbound only)
For a train to leave, it must first arrive. Could one presently do a round trip to Pilning on Saturdays? One could.
This is how. You catch the Newport train from Bristol Temple Meads at 1421, fly past Pilning (no westbound platform now), experience the long Seven Tunnel, and then alight at Seven Tunnel Junction in Wales, arriving 1448. Now you twiddle your thumbs and contemplate the infinite cosmos. Stars are born and die while you wait. Eventually, at 1526, you catch a Bristol-bound train from Seven Tunnel Junction. Once more the Seven Tunnel, and then, very soon after you emerge on the English side, you finally reach Pilning and alight. Or you could stay on the train and continue back to Bristol (because the train is now that 1534 departure!), arriving there at 1554.
It's a way of doing a rather pointless (but still intriguing) journey to Pilning and back from Bristol.
Is it a conventional return journey, requiring a return fare? I'm not completely sure about that. There is certainly an 'easement' in force - a legal departure from normal rules - because the demolition of the westbound platform at Pilning means that to get to Pilning you have to go all the way to Seven Tunnel Junction, and then come back to the eastbound platform at Pilning. A massive palaver, most inconvenient, and only for the most determined. Recognising that they must ameliorate this, Network Rail regard Bristol/Seven Tunnel Junction/Pilning as one continuous journey, even though two trains are involved and you must change at Severn Tunnel Junction.
And if you stay on the train? And go the few extra miles back to Bristol again? Does that turn it into a 'return journey'? Would the train company (First Great Western) want extra for the Pilning to Bristol section? Would they dare charge you, considering the incredible inconvenience they have already imposed on you? And if they tried, would you have a good case in court for not paying?
Do they in fact take the view that some litigious and tenacious person (who lives in the area, and champions worthy causes) would love this to get to court, so that Network Rail's disservice to the local community can be exposed to the nation?
As a footnote - and strictly for timetable connoisseurs - do you feel, like me, that the timetable redesign for 1964/65 was inspired? It was all so much easier to read and understand. I once saw (at school) an original first copy of the redesign, but never since.