The first proposals for preserving the Honeybourne line were made by the Stratford-Upon-Avon Transport Action Committee in 1968 at the time of the withdrawal of the final through passenger service between Leamington and Gloucester. Then the line was only expected to stay open as a diversionary route for another two or three years. Talks were held with B.R. about preserving the railway but they came to nothing when it was announced that it would not be closing after all. A few years later this was reversed following a derailment on the line at Winchcombe.
The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway Society was formed at a public meeting in Willersey village hall in August 1976, following an announcement by B.R. that they proposed to close the Cheltenham to Honeybourne railway line. The primary aim of the society at the time was to persuade B.R. that there were sound reasons why they should retain and operate the line. If this objective could not be achieved then the society would attempt to purchase and operate the line as a private railway.
The membership rose to nearly 1,000 and local groups were formed in Cheltenham, Evesham and Stratford. The society published a bi-monthly newsletter and ran a number of rail-tours, with varying degrees of success. As time progressed it became clear that B.R. would not re-open the line, and so purchase of the line became the society's main aim. However, B.R. maintained that the land was not for sale, even though they had the track lifted by contractors in late 1979. B.R. stated that they would retain the land as a contingency. However, the change of government in 1979 and the worsening economic climate caused B.R. to reconsider their decision. Midway through 1980 they announced that they would sell off the land, and the society began negotiating to purchase as much as possible with a view to re-opening as a steam tourist railway.
Agreement was quickly reached for the purchase of 25 miles of redundant track-bed from the northern edge of Cheltenham to Honeybourne, and from Long Marston to south of Stratford for the sum of £25,000, subject to the granting of a Light Railway Order by the Department of Transport. The length between Honeybourne and Long Marston continued to be used by B.R. to serve the Army camp and Bird's scrap yard at Long Marston until the former closed in 1999. Negotiations continued with B.R. and the local authorities about bringing the termini at Cheltenham and Stratford closer to the town centres and connecting again with the B.R. stations. In both towns proposed roadworks conflicted with the old railway line; in Cheltenham a new road would go under the line while at Stratford another would be built over the course of the line.
During the early part of 1981 there was much discussion as to the form of the operating company for the preserved railway. Eventually, it was decided that a public limited company would be floated to raise the necessary capital to purchase, rebuild and operate the railway. The society as then constituted was unable to underwrite the floatation, and this was left to the society's secretary, a well-known local businessman. As a result, the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway P.L.C. was floated at the beginning of August 1981, with an authorised share capital of £400,000 and a minimum share issue of £50,000 to be raised within the statutory 40 days. The amount of the authorised share capital was chosen not because it was sufficient to achieve the company's objectives but rather because it was a reasonable sum to ask from the investing public. As it was, the flotation was secured with £73,310 being raised within the 40 days.
As negotiations continued with B R and the D.O.T. for the purchase of the line, some concern was expressed that the P.L.C. was taking on too much with the purchase of 25 miles of track-bed. Accordingly, agreement was reached to purchase the 15 miles from Cheltenham to Broadway in the first instance for £15,000, with the purchase of the remainder to Honeybourne and Stratford to follow at a later date. By the end of 1982 the way was clear for the P.L.C. to make the formal application for the L.R.O. During November various official notices were published, and at the end of the month the formal application was made. There then followed a period set aside for any objectors to come forward that closed at the end of December at which time only five official objections had been made. These were from the Gloucestershire County Council, Hereford and Worcester County Council, Severn Trent Water Authority, the Gas Council, and a private householder in Cheltenham. S.T.W.A. and the Gas Council soon withdrew their objections when certain safeguards were written into the proposed L.R.O. The negotiations with the two County councils took longer and were directed towards overcoming the problems that might arise in the future should the private G.W.R. fold up, leaving its many liabilities to be dealt with. By October 1983 agreements had been reached with the two county councils covering these points, and the details were sent to the D O T for their Consideration. The agreements were obviously acceptable, for the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Light Railway Order came into effect on 24 December 1983; what a Christmas present! The way was now clear for the P.L.C. to complete purchase of the Cheltenham to Broadway stretch of railway, which was achieved early in 1984. As a result, steam passenger services were scheduled to begin at Easter 1984.
At the beginning of 1981. with the purchase of the line beginning to make some headway, it became logical to have a base somewhere along the line. Between Cheltenham and Honeybourne most of the goods yards had either been sold off e.g. Bishops Cleeve, Gotherington and Weston-Sub-Edge or were leased to outside bodies e.g. Winchcombe and Broadway. That left only Toddington where a garden centre and a small industrialist occupied but a small part of the immense yard.
In March 1981, a lease was taken out on part of the track-bed at Toddington. This allowed a start to be made on site clearance and restoration of the station buildings pending the purchase of the line. It also gave a base for the storage and restoration of locomotives and rolling stock, which began to arrive during 1981. Before this could happen however, track for it to stand on had to be laid, a job was made all the easier by the Royal Engineers at Long Marston leveling the track-bed with one of their graders free of charge. The ease with which novices could lay track on a level bed had to be seen to be believed & once sufficient track had been laid the first stock began to arrive.
In December, 1981, a new lease was taken out on the whole of the available yard at Toddington which greatly increased the scope for operations there. The lease was extended a second time in the summer of 1982 so that a reasonable length of potential running line could be laid, approximately 1,000 yards. During 1982 more rolling stock arrived and much time and effort was directed towards laying sufficient siding space to accommodate the new arrivals as the short term aim was to develop Toddington as a railway centre, but with the main workshops and running shed there to serve future expansion. The main station building was restored for use again with the platform that had been removed after the stations closure to passengers in 1960 being gradually re-instated.
At the beginning of 1982 it was clear that all was not well; in particular, the momentum generated during 1981 was rapidly being lost, due to preblems with the structure of the membership body, being a charitable trust placed in a position of supporting a public limited company. In their existing forms the organisations involved with the railway seemed incapable of arresting the decline. However, the regular workers determined to put matters right, and the result of many meetings was the formation of the Cheltenham & Stratford Railway Association which, in March, 1983, was registered as the Cheltenham and Stratford Railway Ltd.
Since arriving at Toddington, a number of successful events have been organised. At August Bank Holiday 1981, a 24-hr. Sponsored Track Lay was held when 269 yards were laid south of the station. A year later. 360 yards were laid as far south as Didbrook Bridge. In 1983 the event was held in September when 390 yards were laid north through the station area. A Steam Fair was held in October, 1982, which proved highly successful, both in terms of people ,attending and money raised. The event was repeated in 1983, somewhat earlier in August, with similar success.
In the Autumn of 1982 approaches were made to see if Toddington would be a suitable base for the activities of Dowty Railway Preservation Society who were based at Ashchurch, just 10 miles down the road from Toddington. Dowty Mining, who owned the site at Ashchurch, wanted to redevelop it and were looking for a home for the Dowty R P S. Agreement was reached and the move from Ashchurch to Toddington was begun in January 1983 with the standard gauge rolling stock being moved in two stages around the end of March & in mid July. By the end of the summer the move was complete and the standard gauge shed from Ashchurch had been re-erected, while a new narrow gauge shed had also been erected.
Once they settled in, Dowty focussed on operating the narrow gauge line at Toddington, on which a start had already been made during 1982. However the Dowty standard gauge steam locomotive "Cadbury Bournville No.1" operated the first passenger trains on the G.W.R., being the sole working steam locomotive available until the end of 1985.
In 1984 the passenger service operated over half a mile of track, for the 1985 season this was extended to 3/4 mile. In the summer of 1986 the length of the running was virtually doubled to a mile & a half and for all three seasons the train was propelled back to Toddington from the south end of the running line. On the 2nd August 1987 the first significant point on the long return to Cheltenham was reached when public train services were extended back to Winchcombe station. Here a run-round loop was provided so that the locomotive that had pulled the train down the line from Toddington could run around her train & now pull it back to Toddington for the first time, in line with normal operating practice.
Unlike Toddington, all buildings at Winchcombe other than the goods shed had been demolished after closure by BR, so as well as platforms both a station building and a signal box had to be provided. In the early 1980s, the railway was donated the station building at Monmouth Troy which had been used by a transport company since its closure by BR in 1959. This was dismantled by volunteers on site there and transported to Winchcombe where it was progressively rebuilt on the down platform over a 15 year period. The signal box that was needed was purchased direct from BR, with the then recently closed box at Hall Green in Birmingham again being dismantled on site there by volunteers and transported to Winchcombe where it was rebuilt in 1987.
By 1987 it had already been decided that the working area of the yard at Toddington would be the home of the Locomotive Department and all locomotives would be housed, maintained and overhauled here with the goods shed becoming a machine shop. Similarly the one at Winchcombe became the Carriage & Wagon workshop and this was first brought into use during the winter of 1988/9 after a track had been laid back into it.
The next extension of the operating section of the railway took place from 27th May 1990 bringing the line another mile nearer Cheltenham with trains then running through the 693 yard long Greet tunnel to a temporary run-round loop north of Working Lane bridge in Gretton. From the start of the 1994 season trains ran another mile & a quarter further south when the temporary loop was effectively moved to Far Stanley and in the summer of 1997 they were extended south once more by the same distance to a loop just south of the original station at Gotherington.
This left a further 3¼ miles of track to be laid to reach Cheltenham Race Course station and was planned from the outset to do this as a single stage. This required a considerable amount of time & money, so the first step was to hold a promotional event at the Race Course station in the summer of 1998, to raise funds and general awareness. A length of track was laid between the platforms and a locomotive was transported by road from Toddington for the event. As a result of this, other fundraising means and sponsorship of one sort & another all materials were acquired and laid in place over the next few years, with the first works train entering the station on the 30/12/2000. It then took another two years to get all other associated work completed but this was done in time to operate the first Gold Cup meeting specials into the Race Course station for 27 years in 2003. The station was then officially reopened to the public by HRH The Princess Royal on 7th April 2003.
Future plans revolve around taking the line north from Toddington back to Broadway in two stages, with the opening as far as Laverton in 2011. Services to Broadway will not start for several years after this due to the large amount of construction work necessary to provide the facilities at Broadway and long overdue maintenance work on the bridges north of Laverton.