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North Cornwall Railway Timeline

August 1882
North Cornwall Railway (NCR) Act
October 1893
Delabole station opened
June 1895
Delabole to Wadebridge opened
January 1923
NCR acquired by LSWR to form Southern Railway
January 1948
Southern Railway became British Railways (SR Region)
April 1964
BR propose closure of passenger services, following Beeching recommendations
September 1964
Freight operations ceased
September 1964
Atlantic Coast Express ceased to run
October 1966
Last passenger train

St Teath and the Railway

When the Southern Railway was operating through North Cornwall anyone from St Teath wanting to travel by rail would have to go to Delabole or Port Isaac Road stations, neither of which was very convenient, both being more than two miles away. St Teath villagers would have liked a station at Treroosal bridge (see map below), just a mile away, but this was not to be.

For passengers who knew this line, the Atlantic Coast Express service is now evocative of a bygone era. In 1953 one could leave Waterloo at 10.35 am and be in Delabole by 4.23 pm, a journey time of just under 6 hours - not bad by comparison with road travel of the day. The journey between Exeter St Davids and Padstow could hardly be called 'express' because of the nature of the line and the need to to stop at almost every station after Launceston.

Locos of the Light Pacific Class like this one often pulled the Atlantic Coast Express. A loco of this type named 'Wadebridge' has recently been restored and run on the Bodmin and Wenford line.

The Route

When the line was planned near the end of the 19th century, the absence of significant industry (Treburgett mine lay dormant) and geography dictated that the line would follow the contours of least gradient(about 1 in 80 for the most part). This, and the relatively short distance from Delabole with its important slate quarry, the potential of fish transport and visitors to Port Isaac all meant that St Teath would not get a station. Instead, the rather remote Port Isaac Road Station was fully opened in 1895.

View along top of embankment towards Delabole from Rosebud Farm Campsite. The nearest building is Vicarage Farm (formerly St Teath vicarage location). The red arrow marks what was the bridge at Pengelly.

The construction of the line from Delabole to Port Isaac Road and beyond to Wadebridge provided employment for several hundred men, the construction of seven road bridges (on the section shown below), and a near continuous series of 20 chain (1320 feet) radii curves in the line. The tortuous nature of railway engineering in North Cornwall is well illustrated by the line between Trekee and Nomansland near Port Isaac Road Station which follows an almost complete semicircle (see map). The line was already the highest in Cornwall having surmounted the summit of over 800 feet between Otterham and Camelford Stations.

The bridges on the map mostly survive in various states of repair (neglect?) and are shown in the following series of photographs. Only the road bridge over the track at Trewennan carries much traffic and this was repaired (2010), see photo here and below. A bridge carrying a farm track over the railway near milepost 245 is not shown; only its parapets remain above ground and the cutting is completely filled in, see photo here. Another bridge over a farm track near milepost 244(Delamere) has been demolished.

Interestingly, the line was one of the faster stretches on the North Cornwall railway; one down passenger train was timed at 67 mph at mile post 246 near Trekee(2). The journey time by faster trains was 6½ minutes over this stretch of just over 4 miles, an average speed of nearly 40 mph.

Rail map
Route of North Cornwall Railway (NCR) between Delabole and Port Isaac Road
Click on bridge images to see full size. Inset in some photos are bridge marks.

Pengelly

Vicarage

Trewennan

Treroosal

Trekee

Nomansland

Port Isaac Road

Opening

Poster advertising the opening at Delabole.
North Cornwall Museum, Camelford. Click to expand

The famous Cornish architect Sylvanus Trevail attended the opening of Camelford Station in 1893 and proposed that the line should be continued to Truro in competition with the GWR service via Bodmin Road (now Parkway)(5). It would have made the distance from Truro to London 15 miles shorter than the existing GWR one. Nothing came of this when the GWR lowered its tariffs shortly after.

Delabole station, formally opened 18 October 1893 with a celebratory tea for over 1000 people, has been totally transformed since the 1960s.The cutting under the bridge in Pengelly, of which only one parapet remains, has been filled to make way for housing and the station building, now a private house, is surrounded by new houses. See photos below. There were extensive sidings and even an engine turntable, of which very little remains, including the important one to the Delabole Slate Quarries.

1960s and later

Maunsell N Class 2-6-0 approaching Vell Lane
crossing at Delabole in the 1950s. The shadow
suggests that it was late morning/early afternoon.
View from almost the same point 2010. Much of the
ballast appears to have been removed, but the
orginal railway fencing is still in place.
Padstow train at Delabole 1960
R C Riley
Delabole Station was hardly ever as busy as this.
A Sunday School outing to Exmouth 1950's?
Maunsell N Class 31840 down train entering Delabole station, July 1964. Photo: Ray Worden
Delabole Station 1967. Rails removed
Station house today - the road occupies the trackbed

The surroundings of Port Isaac Road station, also with buildings converted to a private house, remain much as they were when the line was closed in 1966. It appears that Delabole was the terminus until 1895 when the line to Wadebridge was opened. The Port Isaac Road station had sheds for the storage of fish from Port Isaac and interestingly, like Delabole, a siding to a quarry nearby. Known as Betty and Toms, this relatively small operation lay to the east of the station towards Delabole and was in use for roadstone as late as 1964(1). It would have seemed amazing to railway users that part of this now extensively wooded site would be occupied by Tipis, known as Cornish Tipi Holidays, Nomansland.

Port Isaac Road station 1966 - the station house
was on the up side of the line - Delabole station
house was on the down side.
A diesel railcar at Port Isaac Road 1966,
shortly before closure of the line. R A Lumber

Five of the seven road bridges on this section of the line remain intact, with that at Pengelly no longer a bridge and Treroosal is now reduced to just the barely visible growth covered piers on either side of the road (see picture above). There was a British Rail reference for these bridges; these and/or the distance from London, Waterloo, have recently been repainted at Vicarage, Trewennan and Port Isaac Road, perhaps where the integrity of the bridge is important to the safety of road traffic over (Trewennan, Trekee, Nomansland) or under (Vicarage and Port Isaac Road). For example, the bridge at Trewennan takes by far the most traffic and this is marked as NCL112 and is 244 miles 50 chains from Waterloo (1 mile = 80 chains).

Recollections

By and large life on this stretch of line was uneventful, with relatively few passengers, except during the war years. Some recollections of Delabole station staff can be read here and here. St Teath resident Bill Honey rekindled interest with his account of seeing a derailment from St Teath Timepiece, March 2007 and Timepiece, May 2007. This occured on 26 July, 1947 with a goods train on the line between Trewennan and Treroosal. Naturally enough, large numbers of people who went to view the derailment, which blocked the line for many days. The photos below show the damage to wagons.

Damage to wagons 1947.
Interestingly, there is a Light Pacific engine in
the distance. These were only introduced in 1946.

Closure and what might have been

During the mid 1960's the service was in a sorry state, and the last passenger train, a diesel railcar, travelled the line on 1 October, 1966. The North Cornwall Railway was one of many branch lines to be axed at this time and these closures were based on the recommendations of Dr Richard Beeching. In fact Dr Beeching later recommended the modernisation of passenger routes, but the Labour government of the time extended Beeching's closure plans with scant regard for modernisation.

Delabole Station, late 1960s. The line passed under the wooden footbridge at Medrose and Barton Bridge around the north side of the quarry. There were vegetable gardens on the embankment in the foreground.

It is doubtful whether a passenger/freight service on the North Cornwall line would be an economic one even today, because of the low population density of the area. What was regretable, however, was the failure to see the potential of the rail track for leisure. One has only to see the huge popularity of the former rail line between Bodmin and Padstow for leisure purposes to realise how the trackbed from Okehampton to Padstow, adapted for cycling or walking, could have made a very valuable contribution to the economy of the area.

Comments

David King (New Zealand, 2008) writes - I was a chorister in Exeter Cathedral when we lived at Lezant, and of course went to school from Launceston on this line, catching the fast train at Okehampton. Later I was at St Edmund's School Canterbury and before Dunkirk the school was taken over as a field hospital, we were all sent home, then Exmouth. On return we went to Carlyon Bay hotel, but at Exeter the train went on to the SR route instead of GWR to Bodmin and then by a unknown line to Bodmin Road to pick up the GWR to Par. The train was full of soldiers immediately ex Dunkirk in various states of disarray. England's situation was not advertised at that time of course. So I have used the line. I also often visited my Godfather who lived at Rock, so recall several journeys to Wadebridge at that period during holidays. Just nostalgia for one who is now not so young.

Peggy Crosley (St Teath). During dry spells in summer it was quite common to see fires of bracken/gorse burning on the embankment at Trewennan. Steam trains climbing the gradient would be working hard and inevitably sparks would be flying.

Resources

Books

(1) An Illustrated History of the North Cornwall Railway
David J Wroe, Irwell Press, 1994. This book, by the late David Wroe, is probably the most comprehensive account of the NCR. There is a copy at Wadebridge Library.

(2) An Illustrated History of the North Cornwall Railway, ed. George Reeve, Irwell Press 2008. A greatly expanded update of David Wroe's book with several new contributers.

(3) Branch Line to Padstow, Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith, Middleton Press, 1995, ISBN 1 873793 54 5

(4) Southern Holiday Lines in North Cornwall and West Devon
Alan Bennett, Runpast publishing, 1995.

(5) Sylvanus Trevail - Cornish Architect and Entrepreneur, Ronald Perry and Hazel Harradence, Francis Boutle Publishers, 2008, p 87.

Websites

The NCR has been extensively researched here and a Wikipedia article gives a useful introduction. Another account of the railway and photographs of Trelill tunnel are here.

A model of a typical NCR station is illustrated here and many details of the restored Wadebridge loco are here.

Videos

Sadly, little video footage of the line between Halwill and Wadebridge is available, but the following two DVDs feature a few minutes on the running of this section.

The Withered Arm, Jim Clemens, B&R Publishing. Most extensive coverage

By Southern to the Far West, Volume 2, Mike Arlett, Transport Video Publishing.

Photos

It is difficult to trace the source of many of the old monochrome photos shown here, but where known, an acknowledgement is made.


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