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North Devon and Cornwall Junction Light Railway

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The North Devon and Cornwall Junction Light Railway was a railway built to serve numerous china clay pits that lay in the space between the London and South Western Railway's Torrington branch, an extension of the North Devon Railway group, and Halwill, an important rural junction on the North Cornwall Railway and its Okehampton to Bude Line.

China clay was an important mineral but its weight and bulk required efficient transportation; the material had been brought to main line railways by a 3-feet gauge tramway. Expanding volumes prompted conversion to a light railway -- requiring less complex engineering and operational procedures than a full railway -- and it was opened on 27th July 1925.

"The line is of standard gauge, is 20 miles in length, and serves to connect the former terminus at Torrington, south of Bideford, with Halwill Junction, on the Okehampton to Bude line. In the course of its length, it is carried on thirty bridges, one of which, a steel structure across the river Torridge, is 700ft. long and 40ft. high. It is of interest to record that all the timber for the fences, of which there are 40 miles, was grown locally, that 90 per cent of the sleepers were made from locally grown oak, and that all the steel used was of British manufacture. The total cost of the line was £255,000, the company's capital being £260,000. Of the latter sum the Treasury subscribed £125,000, half in debentures and held in ordinary shares. On the same basis the Devon County Council and other local authorities subscribed nearly £70,000. The remainder was provided by local landowners. The Southern Railway has agreed to work and maintain the line, and to give the owners 5s. in the pound from the gross receipts, any deficiency required to find the debenture interest being made food by the payment of an additional sum. The work of construction has been carried out under the direction of Lieut-Colonel H. F. Stephens. The completion of the line is stimulating the development in its neighborhood of the china clay, quarrying and brick-making industries. Some such scheme of improved transport facilities as that which has now been brought to completion has been repeatedly under discussion since 1880. The scheme for the railway opened on Monday was initiated in 1910, but the was and other causes led to an actual start on it being delayed until June, 1922."[1]

Passengers were carried in addition to the mineral traffic, but the business largely consisted of workers at the china clay pits themselves. (Thomas says, "The largest place on the railway is Hatherleigh ... a market town in the centre of a barren countryside, it is badly decayed".)

The conversion from a tramway was overseen by Holman Fred Stephens, the famous owner and operator of marginal English and Welsh railways. Although in construction details typically Stephens this was visually a Southern Railway branch line. It survived in independent status until nationalisation of the railways in 1948, and continued in operation until 1st March 1965.

The northern part from Marland, reconstructed from the narrow gauge railway, continued to carry china clay, but not passengers, until 1982

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1925/07/31