ILFRACOMBE BRANCH

THE ILFRACOMBE BRANCH

London & South Western Railway

Southern Railway

BR Southern Region

Line Closed

 

A POTTED HISTORY

This line was built by the London & South Western Railway (L&SWR) once they had absorbed the North Devon & Docks Railway (NDR) after it had reached Barnstaple and initially single track to light rail standerd. Somewhat unusual for the L&SWR.

Opening in 1874, it soon became sufficiently popular that was upgraded to double-track in 1889 through to 1891, Being a massive undertaking as it required the rebuilding of almost all stations and a second tunnel bore at Slade..

 

In fact this did prove to be a shrewd investment as in its hayday in the 1930's it was extremely busy, the GWR producing most of the traffic to Ilfracombe as the journey from Paddington was much quicker than the former L&SWR (Southern Region after grouping in 1923) from Watterloo. Much as it is today between those stations and Exeter, and would remain so if the proposed reopening of the Exeter Plymouth Northern Route via Okehampton and Tavistock ever gets the go ahead.

 

Between Ilfracombe and Mortehoe stations was a 1-in-36 gradient, believed to be one of the steepest sections of double track railway line in the country, but was undoubtedly the most severe climb from any terminus station in the UK, often necessitating the double-heading of trains departing Ifracombe.

 

Even though it brought to North of Devon desperately needed revenue in the form of tourists and work, gradually, as with almost all lines the car took over in popularity and passenger numbers dropped dramatically in the years after WW II. Despite this the line survived the Beeching cuts, being cut to single line by 1967 and begining to look tired through lack of investment until the line finally closed in 1970.

 

There was an attempt at saving the line over the next few years, but the preservation movement was in its infancy and the group could not raise the necessary amount to purchase the line outright. This was because BR had valued the line at £410,000 in 1974, and in deed was heavily criticised for charging market values for what was to all respects scrap, blocking a potential heritage railway that wanted to preserve it. Although t must be stressed that the BR board was under a directive from the Ministry to get as much as possible to recoup the massive deficit that the BR network had built up.

 

Most of the line as of 2014 is part of the Tarka Trail Cycle Way so consequently visible from the air and Google Eath Satellite imagery. Although since the satellite image was taken Mortehoe & Woolacombe station has after many years as a childrens theme park and years of subsequent planning wrangling finally dissapeared under a new housing estate, the Tarka trail running down just a thin slither of the former track bed beside a field.. The road bridge just to the north that virtually marked the summit of the line is still extant, but we must assume and structural repairs needed in the future will in fact cause it to be pulled down and the road to be flat at that point from then

 

The line was mentioned as a candidate for closure in the Reshaping of British Railways report (The Beeching Axe) review, in 1963, but it was not closed by British Railways until 1970. Indeed, steam-hauled passenger services and freight operations ceased on 7 September 1964 (with one special running on 3 October 1965), and the rationalisation of the line began. DMU services began, the Waterloo through services were stopped, and the line was down-graded to single track on 25 November 1967.

 

It was in May 1967, that the Network for Development Plans were issued by Barbara Castle, the then Labour Minister of Transport following a study. Where lines were at the remunerative end of the scale, such as the main trunk routes and some secondary lines, these would be developed. But those that failed to meet the financial criterion, but served a social need were to be retained and subsidised under the 1968 Transport Act. The problem would be for lines that were not in the abovementioned categories could be candidates for closure as they did not form part of the basic railway network. The Illfracombe line was one of those that fell into this category. It was a line that may well have carried considerable traffic, and perhaps made a small profit, but it did not meet the Government's social, economic and commercial criteria for retention.

 

The line was closed on 5 October 1970 the last train being on 3 October. The final train, an 8-car Class 118 DMU, was packed to bursting point.

 

The last train was formed of a single inspection saloon hauled by a Class 25, 25 063, on Wednesday 26 February 1975. This carried engineers inspecting the condition of the track for possible reinstatement of services. However this was not to be and track lifting commenced in June 1975. The following link has a number of rare pictures of the last train on the line. [1]

 

The smallest station on the line

Served the village of Wrafton and the aerodrome of RAF Chivenor

Two platforms and two goods sidings, one for the RAF base

In later years housed a couple of camping coaches in goods yard

Station building is now a private house

 

Served the village of Braunton

Station building now used as a newsagent

Goods shed was converted for use as a local youth club

 

Mortehoe & Woolacombe station, originally named just Mortehoe, was over a mile away from either Woolacombe or Mortehoe, the villages being reached by steep twisty roads from the station. It was also the nearest station for Lee Bay, although the route to that village was even more steep and twisty.

 

The bridge at the north end of the station was the summit of the line.

 

Several sidings were provided for the stabling of banking locomotives, vital for assisting trains up the steep gradients to the station from Ilfracombe (1-in-36) or Braunton (1-in-40).

 

The station is still largely intact. The main station building, signal box and platforms are still extant, and some of the original concrete lampposts are still in place. The 'canopy' opposite the station building, however, was added long after the line had closed.

 

The station site is in a prominent position on the main road leading to Woolacombe. From outside the site could be seen four (BR Mk 1) carriages (retired from the Dart Valley Railway) sited between the platforms, while scattered around the grounds were a number of '12 ton' van bodies used for storage or housing attractions. (Several of these were of the BR type 'VANWIDE', their double sliding doors being particularly useful for the purpose.)

 

The business closed at the end of the 2005 season. The site was sold in 2006, and was earmarked for re-development as affordable rural housing. By August 2007, all of the external amusement rides and constructions had been auctioned off or demolished, leaving just the main buildings and platforms intact. Two years later, despite a planning application having been made, no progress had been made on developing the site.

 

Included an engine shed, turntable, goods yard and many sidings to cope with stabling the lengthy passenger trains used on summer Saturdays.

The site is now the location of the Pall Europe factory.

Runs up past Mullacott past the two Slade reservoirs.