The Taunton to Barnstaple Line : A History of the Devon & Somerset Railway Volume 1 : From Conception to Demise

cover illustration
The Taunton to Barnstaple Line : A History of the Devon & Somerset Railway Volume 1 : From Conception to Demise

Freddie Huxtable

232 pages. 275x215mm. Printed on gloss art paper with colour laminated board covers.

ISBN13 : 9781911038153


contents and extra information for this book »

The Devon & Somerset Railway (D&SR) was born out of an 1845 plan to build a North Devon Railway from Taunton to Launceston via Barnstaple. Even though the project had Brunel as its engineer, it failed to get off the ground. Almost twenty years then lapsed until a proposal was mooted to build a railway from Taunton to Ilfracombe via Barnstaple. This 1863 plan became the Devon & Somerset Railway Act of 29th July 1864 and the line subsequently took another nine years to build. Fraught with difficulties of a financial and legal nature (including the abortive Ilfracombe Railway project with the L&SWR), and with a four year hiatus during construction, the fact that it was finally completed was a testament to Victorian engineering and perseverance. Built to the broad gauge and opened in two stages – Norton Fitzwarren to Wiveliscombe in 1871 and Wiveliscombe to Barnstaple in 1873 – the line was operated by the Bristol & Exeter Railway until that company was taken over by the GWR in 1876. After several financial reconstructions, the D&SR was eventually absorbed by the GWR in 1901. The line was converted to standard gauge in 1881 and there were a number of station improvements over it’s life, the most substantial being the upgrades of the late 1930s. In 1963, Dr Beeching’s report earmarked the line for closure and, despite a brief reprieve, it was axed on 3rd October 1966, after a life of just ninety-three years. This railway has previously had little written about it, hence this being the first of two volumes which will cover its history and route in great detail. In Volume 1, author Freddie Huxtable looks at the line’s construction, early years and development, followed by its decline and closure. It begins with a brief history of the area it served and ends with a review of the current status of the route. Volume 2 will provide a description of the route and its stations, along with the locomotives and rolling stock regularly used, train services, buildings and structures, special trains and events over the life of the line. Both volumes will feature an impressive range of photographs, maps, plans and ephemera, most of which has not been published before.

The Taunton to Barnstaple Line : A History of the Devon & Somerset Railway Volume 1 : From Conception to Demise - Sample Images

cover illustration

Milverton station nearing completion circa 1870, with one of the contractor's locomotives posed in front of the newly constructed station building. The goods shed also appears to be finished or very nearly. The signal box awaits details but part of the lever frame can be glimpsed through the centre windows. It was replaced by a brick built box, sited further along the platform, in 1903 The station building had an inset covered waiting area and thus did not require a canopy or awning. A second platform, on the Up side, was built later, in 1880. In the background and on slightly higher ground, St. Michael’s church and the town of Milverton gaze down on the new railway below. Note the three rails, for dual standard and broad gauge.cover illustration

Dulverton station from the road bridge circa 1907, after the alterations of August-September 1904. The new signal box can just be glimpsed through the footbridge, the one it replaced having been sited about where the 0-6-0ST shunting the new yard can be made out in the right distance. The sidings on the right were all new and clearly in use here for timber traffic. Note also the buffer stops marking the end of the new Exe Valley bay right behind the Down side building. The train at the Down platform, with a ‘517’ Class 0-4-2T at the head, may be an Exe Valley service terminating here, after which the engine can run round its carriages and then reverse them in to the bay. However, the ‘517’ Class did work passenger trains over the full length of the line between Taunton and Barnstaple, so it could equally be a D&SR line service. The station changed again in 1911, when the Up platform was lengthened and a new signal box sited on it a little further to the east, with the Down platform being lengthened and widened, and the Exe Valley bay extended to form a loop. Note the two Forest of Dean private owner wagons in the Up side yard, bringing coal from Foxes Bridge and Parkend collieries. The photograph is part of the large series of mainly Devon views taken by Chapman of Dawlish and published as postcards. Courtesy Great Western Society

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Updated : 04 October 2017