Sunday 22 April 2012

Puzzling Passage near Pilning [2]

The old "New Passage" has a new purpose.
There was to be huge commercial gain from running a railway from England (at Bristol) to Wales but in the way was the watery barrier of the Severn Estuary. Currents are unpredictable, tides are high and the weather can be nasty. A bridge was too costly and one option to was to link Bristol with the existing but moribund New Ferry. Thence passengers and goods would be conveyed by steamer to Black Rock near Portskewett where train would take over.

The emgineering design was by Brunel but he died before construction could begin. Substantial piers were built on both sides of the estuary ... New passage (above) and Black Rock Portskewett (below).
Trains ran along the piers to facilitiate human, animal and freight transfer to the steamers. The lines began as Brunel's broad gauge but, under political and commercial pressure, were later converted to standard.

Four ferry bats were owned at various times, the latter two providing the longest period of service.
But fbb has found no pictures of any of these vessels.
The existing Inn on the Bristol side was substantially rebuilt and enlarged to provide adequate luxury accommodation for those willing to make the unreliable crossing, a journey which usually meant an overnight stop.
This building was demolished in the late 1970s having been closed in 1973. In 1965 The Gloucester Society for Industrial Archaeology recorded something of its grandeur.
Erroneously the un-named author tells is that the hotel was newly built for the railway rather than extended and adapted.

Little remains of this project. A stub of the pier remains on the English side ...
... and a straight line of trees centre to top left marks the former trackbed in the aerial view below.
A similar almost obliterated track shows the Welsh branch curving from Portskewett to the Black Rock pier.
The whole project lasted for a modest 23 years ...
... for 13 of which "the lads" were building a long, expensive and very wet tunnel ...
... which opened in 1886; the longest sub-fluvial rail tunnel in the UK.

Thus the "new passage" was a passage no more whilst the growth of motoring gave new life to the "old passage" which eventually became the Aust to Beachley car ferry.

 Next : Sunday 22nd April 


  1. Although the New Passage was no more after the opening of the Severn Tunnel, the railway alignment on the Bristol side was used to link up the (later) Severn Beach line through to Pilning. I don't know whether the alignment fell into disuse before the Avonmouth and Severn Beach line was extended onto it. If so, it's another useful bit of recycling of the transport infrastructure. A bit like this weekend's opening of the disused railway line from Fareham to Gosport as the Eclipse busway, covered previously in your blog.

  2. Thank you Petras409. The "Avonmouth Circular" railway passenger service opened in 1900 and ceased in 1964. The line from Severn Beach to Pilning Junction closed completely in 1968. Trains still run to Severn Beach from Bristol via Avomnouth.

  3. Pilning is a fascinating place, having had two stations over the years.
    1863 1st station opened (on line to New Passage)
    1886 1st station closed
    1886 2nd station opened (on line to Severn Tunnel)
    1928 1st station reopened as Pilning Low Level on line to Avonmouth
    1928 2nd station renamed Pilning High Level
    1964 1st station closed
    1968 2nd station renamed Pilning

    And of course, the current Pilning station has but a few trains a week

    The level crossing gate on the LL line across Station Rd/Pilning St just yards north of the junction for the HL station approach road is still there (and can be seen on StreetView...)