Temple Meads (1839-1840)
The name of the site where the station was built derives from the nearby Temple (or Holy Cross) Church, which was built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century, rebuilt in the 14th century, and gutted by bombing during World War II. The site was within the boundaries of the old city, but some way distant from the commercial centre, and on the far side from fashionable Clifton. It did have the advantage of facing onto the Floating Harbour for transhipment of goods onto boats. The city’s cattle market had been built on neighbouring land in 1830.
Brunel’s original station now houses the Empire and Commonwealth Museum. The original terminal station was built for the Great Western Railway (GWR) and was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the engineer of the GWR. The 72ft-wide (22m) train shed has a wooden box-frame roof and cast-iron columns disguised as hammerbeams above Tudor arches. The station also included a more utilitarian engine shed, and is fronted by an office building in the Tudor style. It is the oldest railway terminus in the world, and is regarded as one of the best Victorian station buildings. Services to Bath started on August 31st, 1840 and to London Paddington in 1841. This part of the station was closed in 1965, and fell into disrepair for over twenty years. From 1989 Until 1999 it was the home of The Exploratory, an interactive science centre, and is now the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum. It is a grade I listed building.
The adjacent through station, which is still used by trains, was built between 1871 and 1878 under the direction of Brunel’s former associate Matthew Digby Wyatt. The curved train shed is 500ft (154m) long on the platform edge and has a wrought-iron roof structure by engineer Francis Cox (or Fox; sources differ). It replaced the 1844 station of the Bristol and Exeter Railway, which lay perpendicular to the GWR station. The Bristol and Exeter’s office building, by S. C. Fripp, still stands alongside the approach to the main station. The station was further extended on the east side in the 1930s by architect P. E. Culverhouse. The through station is also a grade I listed building.
The station was built for the GWR’s broad gauge, and in 1844 broad gauge trains of the Bristol and Gloucester Railway began running from the station. In 1846 the B&G was taken over by the Midland Railway, and by 1853 it had been converted to standard gauge with mixed gauge track running into Temple Meads. The station remained a joint GWR-Midland (later GWR-LMS) operation until nationalisation. It was converted to standard gauge when the GWR finally abandoned broad gauge in 1892.