Bristol would look very different today if the twice proposed Bristol & London & South Western Junction Railway went ahead. It would have meant a central station for Bristol in what is now the City Centre, the demolition of many houses, and the destruction of Christmas Steps, an ancient thoroughfare. Edit
In 1882 a prospectus was issued for an alternative rail service from Bristol to London, which was supported by 150 Bristol merchants, traders and manufacturers (including John Lysaght, Frances Frederick Fox, and Henry Gale Gardner) and supported by the Chamber of Commerce and the Society of merchant Venturers but opposed by the Great Western Railway (GWR).
A central station in Bristol would be achieved by covering part of the floating harbour from the Stonebridge to the drawbridge at Clare Street, and another station would be at Old Market Street. The line would enter Bristol from Brislington via a Feeder Road crossing at the junction of Gas Lane and Silverthorne Lane.
The goods depot was to be located at Lewins Mead near the junction of Host Street and Queen Street and reached by a spur line from near the junction of Rupert Street and Bridewell Street. The proposal involved extinguishing all rights of way in Narrow Lewins Mead, Christmas Street and parts of Jacob Street.
The harbour was eventually covered anyway to make the Tramways Centre, but interestingly there were objections to covering it under this proposal. One such objection proposed that the station should be at the Talbott Brewery Site to the south east of Bristol Bridge instead.
The Bill was opposed by the Bristol Meeting of the Society of Friends, who petitioned against it, as it was proposed that a viaduct would carry the line across their property at the Friars and cause disturbance to their worship. If signals caused trains to stop, funeral mourners might hear laughter from passengers who would also be able to see them. It was although argued that the effects on the Schools they ran for poor children would be disastrous.
The petition was supported by Joseph Storrs Fry II. His sibling Lewis Fry MP, meanwhile suggested that although he thought Bristol was well served by the GWR, citizens were entitled to have a second string to their bow.
Charles Wills, a clothing merchant, former High Sheriff & President of the Chamber of Commerce, Chairman of the Bristol Dock Company, and son of Henry Overton Wills, contended that the scheme was unrealistic on many counts. Wills, for one, doubted whether the schemes’ promoters would ever get the capital they needed.
The Bill failed to pass a second reading in parliament in 1883.
In 1902 Wills, proposed a new route that would have crossed the River Avon into Crews Hole and Avonvale Road and then ran via Tichburn Road, Hayward Road and Morley Street to Barton Hill and St. Philips near the Midland Station before crossing Lawrence Hill and Easton Road. The route would then continue over the River Frome to Wellington Road, Clement Street, Newfoundland Street, Wilson Place, Bishop Street, Brunswick Street and Backfields. At this point a spur ran to Avonmouth but the main line continued, crossing City Road, Stokes Croft and Jamaica Street where a tunnel took the line behind the Bristol Royal Infirmary to Marlborough Hill. The line then continued via Upper Maudlin Street to a double-deck station at Narrow Lewins Mead with four passenger platforms on the upper level (Colston Street) and goods depots on the lower level (Rupert Street). The station would have involved the demolition of Christmas Steps and the Unitarian Chapel. There also would have been stations at Lawrence Hill and near St. Pauls Church.
The scheme had the support of the Chamber of Commerce, the society of merchant Venturers and many leading businessmen, but was opposed by W.D. & H.O. Wills and Lysaght’s.
Supporters claimed that the scheme would lead to the creation of new industries and prosperity. Letters to the Western Daily Press defended the changes to the city centre. One contended that the sooner some of the relics of the past were swept away and replaced with respectable buildings and thoroughfares, the better it would be for the community at large. Another asked, ‘what could be more absurd than to allow mere matters of sentiment regarding Christmas Steps to cripple the progress of our city for generations to come... Bristol must look to the future for her prosperity, not to the past.’
Charles Wills floundered when cross-examined by the select committee, as he could not elaborate on the details of the scheme and could give no answers to important questions. In addition, he had no statistics to show the financial prospects of the scheme. The promoters had not gone so far as to consider the question of raising capital.
The application was rejected on May 27th.