Sadly the scene above was not on the first day of the train coming to Thornbury but rather more in its heyday in the early 1900s. We would of course be grateful for any images of the first train. The first public train ran from Bristol to Thornbury on 2nd September 1872 and set down about 100 passengers at Thornbury while 53 were booked on the first train from Thornbury to Bristol. John Crowther Gwynn, solicitor and Mayor of Thornbury, left Bristol by the first train and was welcomed to his town by a brass band (Note this was the Tockington Band playing ‘See the conquering hero comes’, according to the Society of Thornbury Folk Bulletin). On alighting from the train, the Bristol Times and Mirror reported;
“He was handed into a carriage and drawn in triumph by the inhabitants to The Swan Hotel where his worship received the congratulations of some of the principal inhabitants of the town.”
It appears that just to travel by train seemed brave and worthy of respect.
His speech is quoted in the Society of Thornbury Folk Bulletin – “Fellow townsmen, this is a red-letter day in the annals of Thornbury. This town is the centre of a large and wealthy agricultural district and I do not doubt that the markets will be greatly increased and before long we shall have a connection with South Wales.”
The Bristol Times and Mercury observed that the Midland Railway directors and leading officials were not at the opening and seemed not to like the branch. It also commented that if they (the directors) had attended, a celebratory luncheon would have been held.
The article in the Bristol Times and Mercury itself had reservations about the advantages of the railway. After pointing out that hitherto passengers to Thornbury had to travel on the Bristol and South Wales Union Railway from Bristol to Patchway and then catch a bus it continued;
“Unless time is an object it is very probable that this (travelling by bus and then train) will continue to be a favourite route for it is not only a pleasanter but cheaper journey”.
The Midland Railway fare for Bristol to Thornbury was 1s 5½d third class, 2s 4d second and 4s 0d first class return, whereas the rail fares from Bristol to Patchway were only 6d, 9d and 1s 3d respectively, with a horse bus return fare of 8d outside and 10d inside. Furthermore, the article said travelling by bus
“would have thrown in one of the most charming drives to be found in this part of the country; for it will be acknowledged that the woodland and Severn scenery from Almondsbury to Thornbury is of the most picturesque kind.”
Despite the lack of enthusiasm displayed by both the directors and the Times and Mirror, Thornbury was en fete. The article in the Society of Thornbury Folk bulletin says that the inhabitants were up before day break erecting arches, flags and other devices,
“bearing mottoes such as “Welcome” and “Science still her march keep on” – the latter along the double frontage of Mr Michael wine and spirit merchant.”
The Society of Thornbury Folk article says that the Tockington Band in its uniform led a ”large concourse” of people up the High Street from “The Swan” to welcome the first train at 10am. The Times and Mirror grew more enthusiastic later in its report.
“At the railway station scarcely standing room could be obtained, so great was the crush of people, several thousands of persons having assembled there await the arrival of the first train from Bristol. Most shops closed at 11.30 am;streets were decorated with flags and arches; while bells rang from the parish church. At 1.30 pm 725 school children from the Church of England, Dissenting and Union schools accompanied by their teachers and The Alveston Band, travelled in an 18 coach train to Yate at 4d return per head, the cost being defrayed by public subscription. When they arrived back at Thornbury, the children were let out for a run near the station in fields lent by Mr R Scarlett solicitor. Here they sat down to a substantial tea, the cake provided by Mr Vowles, the Thornbury baker.”
An extract from the Western Daily Press 3rd September 1872 said;
“Many of the residents in Thornbury illuminated their dwellings at night, gas stars and other brilliant devices being apparent on every hand; while to add to the other attractions, Mr Pendley, pyrotechnist, of Wotton under Edge, made a display of fireworks. The last train that left Thornbury for Yate was densely crowded by persons, who went to the junction and back again for the novelty of the ride by rail, and numbers of rustics showed by their exclamations that they had not until yesterday seen a locomotive. A little inconvenience was experienced on account of the rush of passengers, but Mr Brant, the station master and his assistants proved equal to the emergency, and the arrangements on a less exacting occasion may be expected to work smoothly. Simply for an excursion, a trip along the new route would repay the traveller, as in the locality of Tytherington the scenery is very bold and romantic, and similar in character to that at the Peak in Derbyshire, which is perhaps unequalled in England.”
The Society of Thornbury Folk Bulletin number 6 of September 1948 mentions that Mr F H Burchell gave an address about the opening of the line and in the discussion that followed it was recalled that when the railway first opened in 1872 Edgar Pitcher was one of the people to get a free ride in the train.