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 163,113 pages of information and 245,598 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.

South Devon Railway

From Graces Guide
GWR pannier tank locomotive at the South Devon Railway, Buckfastleigh.
Hydraulic press at the South Devon Railway workshops, Buckfastleigh.

The South Devon Railway Company built and operated the railway from Exeter to Plymouth and Torquay in Devon, England. It was a 7 feet 0¼ inch broad gauge railway built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel

1844 South Devon Railway Act passed by parliament.

The station in Exeter was, at first, some little distance from that of the Bristol and Exeter Railway's line, but the latter company's line was continued to the South Devon Station, which is now (1924) a carriage shed near where the London and South Western Railway enters. The present St. David's Railway Station dates from 1862, when a new one was built in order to accommodate the London and South Western Railway, which in 1860 was given power to extend its line from its Queen-street Station, through St. Davids, to a junction with the Exeter and Crediton at Cowley Bridge Junction, and for the Bristol and Exeter to lay a third rail to take the narrow gauge trains of the London and South Western Railway.

There are some interesting features about the South Devon Railway. There are, for instance, the five tunnels immediately south of Dawlish Station - Kennaway, 210 yards; Coryton, 230 yards; Phillot's, 50 yards; Clerk, 60 yards; and Parson's 375 yards - which are followed by the well-known sea wall up to Teignmouth Station.

1846 May 30th. The first section of the line to be opened was from Exeter to Teignmouth.

1846 December 30th The line was extended to Newton Abbot

1847 The railway was designed to be worked by atmospheric power which enabled a cheaper route to be taken, making use of steeper gradients and smaller curves than was considered practical with steam locomotives at that time. Atmospheric trains started carrying passengers on 13 September 1847 but the service was withdrawn on 9 September 1848. The failure of the system resulted in financial difficulties for the company for many years, although arrangements with local businessmen such as George Hennet allowed the provision of additional stations and rolling stock. The remains of several engine houses can still be seen alongside the line. See below for more information.

1847 December 30th. The line reached Totnes.

1848 May 05th. The line reached a temporary station at Laira on the outskirts of Plymouth.

1848 December 18th. A branch was opened from Newton Abbot to Torquay. This line was extended as the independent Dartmouth and Torbay Railway on 2 August 1859, finally reaching Kingswear on 16 August 1864.

1849 April 02nd. The line reached the permanent terminus at Plymouth. The company built its offices outside this station.

1849 line completed to Plymouth

1850 The line was extended the short distance into the new Plymouth Great Western Docks in 1850 and in 1853 opened a branch to the older Plymouth harbour at Sutton Pool by converting a part of the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway to broad gauge.

1859 May 04th. Plymouth became a joint station with the opening of the Cornwall Railway, and the South Devon and Tavistock Railway on 22 June 1859. This latter line was extended by the Launceston and South Devon Railway on 1 July 1865.

Other independent branches were the Moretonhampstead and South Devon Railway from Newton Abbot on 4 July 1866 and the Buckfastleigh, Totnes and South Devon Railway which opened to Ashburton on 1 May 1871 and added a branch to Totnes Quay on 10 November 1872.

1866 See Directors and Officers

1867 The South Devon Railway had also added a quayside branch, to the Exeter Canal at City Basin on 17 July 1867.

1868 Engineer is P. J. Margary. Loco Supt is John Wright[1]

1875 See 1875 Number of Locomotives

1876 February 01st. The company was amalgamated with the Great Western Railway shortly after which the London and South Western Railway arrived in Plymouth and a joint station was opened at North Road.

1892 May 21st. The gauge was converted to standard gauge on (officially). Previous to this, the line from Tavistock Junction to North Road in Plymouth had been mixed gauge to allow the London and South Western trains to travel over the broad gauge tracks. Similarly, one of the two tracks from Exeter as far as City Basin had been mixed. It is interesting to note that the conversion to standard gauge for the entire Exeter to Plymouth section was carried out after the last broad gauge train that ran to Plymouth on Friday 20 May had returned empty to Swindon depot (where it was immediately scrapped). The work was complete ready for the first standard gauge train to run on Monday 23 May.

1948 The Great Western Railway was nationalised on 1 January 1948. It completed the doubling of the line and introduced a more intensive suburban service in Plymouth in 1904, along with several small new stations.

South Devon Railway - Atmospheric Railway

See here[2], for Joseph Brennan's excellent website showing locations past and present. He lists 12 atmospheric engine houses, not all of which were brought into service:-

Exeter St Davids
Countess Wear
Summer House
Newton Abbot

Several of these survive reasonably intact (Starcross, Totnes, Torquay). In some cases visible traces remain. For example at Turf, parts of the walls are just visible, razed to ground level, and the reservoir still exists as a large pond. At Rattery some walls remain (private property).

1856 Advert

STEAM PUMPING ENGINES, At the South Devon Railway Station, Starcross.
TO be SOLD, by PUBLIC AUCTION, to be held at the Courtenay Arms Hotel, Starcross, on Monday, the 18th day of August next, at half-past Twelve o'clock in the afternoon, by Mr. WILLIAM WILLS, Auctioneer, a capital pair of STEAM ENGINES, constructed by Messrs. Boulton, Watt, and Co., for the South Devon Railway Company, formerly used for exhausting the air from the atmospheric tubes on the South Devon Railway. The engines have cased steam cylinders 33 inches diameter and 6 feet stroke. The vacuum pumps are 52 inches diameter and 6 feet stroke. The cross heads, connecting rods, cranks, and fly wheel shafts are all of wrought iron; the pistons, both of steam cylinder and pumps, are metallic. The slide valves are of the form commonly called D valves. The expansion valves are of the ordinary throttle valve form, and are worked by cambs attached to the governors. The engines are arranged to work either singly or coupled. They are in good condition, and fit for immediate use. The engines may be viewed on application to the Station Master, at the Railway Station, Starcross ; and further particulars may be obtained at the office of I. K. Brunel, Esq., 18, Duke-street, Westminster; from Mr. Margary, Resident Engineer, South Devon Railway Office, Dawlish ; or at the Company's Office, Plymouth. By Order of the Directors. W. CARR, Secretary. South Devon Railway Office, Plymouth, 8th July, 1856.'[3]

Heritage Railway
South Devon Railway Trust, The Station, Buckfastleigh, Devon. TQ11 0DZ

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1868 Bradshaw's Railway Manual
  2. [1] The Atmospheric Road - Explorations in England, Ireland, and France by Joseph Brennan, 2020
  3. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Saturday 16 August 1856