Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 150,676 pages of information and 235,204 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

North Cornwall Railway

From Graces Guide

of 57 Moorgate Street, London

The North Cornwall Railway ran from Halwill in Devon to Padstow in Cornwall via Launceston, Camelford and Wadebridge, a distance of 49 miles 67 chains. [1]

Opened in the last decade of the nineteenth century, it was part of a drive by the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) to develop holiday traffic to Cornwall. The L&SWR had opened a line connecting Exeter with Holsworthy in 1879, and by encouraging the North Cornwall Railway it planned to create railway access to previously inaccessible parts of the northern coastal area.

The LSWR had reached into West Devon by the 1880s, and was prevented by agreements with the Great Western Railway from approaching southern Cornwall. The LSWR had purchased the Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway in 1846 and connection of this with the remainder of the LSWR was desirable.

By encouraging a nominally independent company, the North Cornwall Railway, the LSWR planned to develop the northern part of the Cornish peninsula and to this end the new North Cornwall Railway's line was to form a junction with the L&SWR's unfinished Bude line at Halwill and push towards Wadebridge. The prospectus of the North Cornwall indicated that a further extension of 24 miles would be required to bring the railway from Wadebridge to Truro.

1882 The company was incorporated, and by Acts of 1884, 1891, 1893 and 1896, the line (48.5 miles in length) is divided into four sections. The sections are: Halwill-Launceston, Launceston-Delabole, Delabole-Wadebridge and Padstow. [2]

1884 January. Share issue.[3]

1884 Contract made with Curry, Reeve and Co for building the line with Galbraith and Church, the engineers for the London and South-Western Railway appointed for the new line.[4]

The North Cornwall Railway obtained an Act of Parliament for construction of its line on 18th August 1882, but money was very tight and construction was slow, so it was not until 21st July 1886 that the first section of 14 miles 57 chains, from Halwill to Launceston was opened.

At Launceston the North Cornwall Railway station was built exactly adjacent to, but completely separate from, the GWR station; this originally having being built by the Launceston and South Devon Railway and opened in 1865. This situation changed in 1943 when wartime circumstances caused a connection to be laid allowing trains from the GWR line to run into the North Cornwall station in the down direction. It was intended to be temporary for wartime goods movement, but when the GWR station was closed on 30th June 1952 GWR trains were diverted over it and used the North Cornwall station as a terminus until closure of the GWR route ten years later.

The remainder of the North Cornwall Railway was opened gradually in stages; Launceston to Tresmeer (7 miles 75 chains) on 28th July 1892, Tresmeer to Camelford (9 miles 26 chains) on 14th August 1893, Camelford to Delabole (2 miles 29 chains) on 18th October 1893, Delabole to Wadebridge (10 miles 68 chains) on 1st June 1895, and finally Wadebridge to Padstow (5 miles 52 chains) on 27th March 1899.

At Wadebridge, the line joined with the Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway, which had opened in 1834, just outside the town and ran into the rebuilt station there, finally being extended over the main road to Padstow four years later. This railway connection quickly enabled Padstow to gain further importance in the fishing trade and also to become a seaside resort of some significance.

However apart from Launceston and Wadebridge the very long single-track line served only small rural communities, and never achieved the importance that its promoters had hoped for. Fish traffic and ice for the ships were always important commodities on the line, as was the seasonal holidaymaker traffic for Padstow and several resorts served indirectly by the railway.

Closure as part of the Beeching Axe took place on 3rd October 1966 for the section from Halwill Junction to Wadebridge. After this date the section from Wadebridge to Padstow remained open to trains originating in Bodmin and approaching Wadebridge via the Bodmin and Wadebridge route until this finally closed 3 months later on 30th January 1967.

A section of trackbed from Launceston is now in use as the Launceston Steam Railway, and the section from Wadebridge to Padstow is now part of the Camel Trail.

From Halwill the line describes a loop turning from North to South West, and rounding a shoulder of the hill behind Halwill village joins the valley of the River Carey, following this down for nearly 10 miles to the River Tamar at Launceston. Both LSWR and GWR stations at Launceston were set in the bottom of the Tamar valley well below Launceston Castle, and while the GWR line terminated here, the LSWR line climbed, following the Kensey valley in a generally westerly direction through the sparsely populated farming country of the North Cornwall/Devon border to a summit near Tresmeer.

From Otterham the line descends into the upper reaches of the Camel valley, passing through Camelford Station over 2 miles west of Camelford town and then leaving the valley for a gentle climb to the coastal uplands. At Delabole the line skirts a slate quarry, once claimed to be the deepest in the country, and then descends to the Allen valley, diving briefly through a tunnel under the village of Trelill, before returning to the Camel valley and running parallel to the Bodmin and Wadebridge line into Wadebridge station. The geographical junction of the two lines was a mile or so to the east of Wadebridge, but no railway connection was made there, and the two lines ran as single lines, with the appearance of a double track, to Wadebridge East signal box.

Once past Wadebridge the character changes as the line hugs the tidal River Camel until crossing Little Petherick Creek over a three span iron bridge and rounding Dennis Hill, it reaches Padstow station which was located on a narrow strip of reclaimed land with the Atlantic Ocean visible in the distance. The station site is now given over to a car park.

The difficult single line route with severe gradients could never offer fast transits, and a typical journey from Halwill to Padstow occupied 90 to 100 minutes.

The 1938 Bradshaw's Railway Guide shows five down and six up trains a day (Monday to Friday) on the line, plus a first up train from Launceston to Halwill and a last up train from Padstow to Launceston, and a last down train from Halwill to Launceston. All the trains called at all stations with the exception of the Atlantic Coast Express, the 11:00 from Waterloo, which ran non-stop Exeter St Davids to Halwill, then Launceston, Otterham, Camelford, Delabole, Port Isaac Road and Wadebridge, arriving in Padstow at 4:24 after a 260 mile journey. The train conveyed a restaurant car throughout. The Saturday service was similar, although congestion earlier in the journey meant a slightly slower journey. There was no Sunday service.

While the GWR could easily serve major Devon and Cornwall resorts on its main line and branches, the rugged North Cornwall terrain prevented this. However Southern National omnibus connections gave journey options: Tintagel and Boscastle had good connections from Camelford, Newquay from Wadebridge, and Bedruthan and Trevone Bay from Padstow. Otterham is marked in the timetable as being the "Station for Wilsey Down and Davidstow (2½ miles) and Crackington Haven (5 miles)".

By 1964 the passenger service had declined to four trains a day plus a Halwill to Launceston short return journey.

Motive power in latter years had been the T9 4-4-0 Greyhounds and the N class 2-6-0's but with Bulleid pacifics -- often on uneconomically short trains -- putting in an appearance.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] Wikipedia
  2. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  3. St James's Gazette - Saturday 12 January 1884
  4. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette Daily Telegrams - Tuesday 01 July 1884