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RAILWAYS  |  GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY

PRINCETOWN BRANCH

Updated:  12 December 2012 

From the first day that it opened, Saturday August 11th 1883, the Princetown Railway had been operated by the locomotives, carriages, wagons and staff of the Great Western Railway.  But as from January 1st 1922 the Princetown Railway was absorbed into the GWR and the line became the GWR's Princetown Branch.  [1]

Great Western Railway mixed train climbing around King Tor on the Princetown Branch.

Great Western Railway mixed train climbing around King Tor
on the Princetown Branch, circa 1910.
From a postcard.

At that time the terminus was Yelverton Station, on the Plymouth to Tavistock and Launceston Branch, and there were only two other stations, at Dousland and Princetown.  Sidings for goods traffic were provided at Walkhampton Common (also known as Eggworthy Siding), Swell Tor Sidings and Royal Oak Siding.  All goods traffic went right through to Horrabridge Station as there were no facilities at Yelverton.

On Sunday October 6th 1901, at the instigation of the Plymouth Mercantile Association, The Great Western Railway ran the first Sunday excursion train from Plymouth to Princetown.  The 'largely patronised' train started at 2pm from Plymouth and returned from Princetown at 5pm.  [1a]

There was a proposal in 1908 to put a stopping place at Lowery Road Level Crossing, to be named Lowery Halt.  [1b]

A scheme for a light railway between King's Tor and Merrivale Quarry, first discussed in 1909, was revived again in 1924 but nothing came of the plan.  [2]

Another GWR mixed train nears Princetown Station, circa 1910.

A GWR mixed train nears Princetown Station, circa 1910.
From a postcard.

Burrator and Sheepstor Platform was opened on Monday February 4th 1924 for the benefit of men working on the raising of the Burrator and Sheepstor Dams.  In the morning a workmen's train left Princetown at 6.27am for Dousland and Yelverton and then, after collecting workmen off the 6.20am from Millbay Station, left Yelverton Station at 6.58am, stopping additionally at Burrator and Sheepstor Platform at 7.05am to set them down.  On Mondays to Fridays the 4.05pm from Princetown called at Burrator at 4.30pm to pick them up again for the homeward journey.  They also worked on Saturday mornings, when the 12.25pm from Princetown would stop at 12.50pm to collect them and the later train would then not stop.  [3]

From Thursday November 6th 1924 this practice was changed.  The early morning trains now only ran on Monday mornings.  In the evenings the 4.05pm from Princetown no longer called at the Platform but the return journey, the 4.55pm from Yelverton did stop.  For the remainder of the week the 7.38am from Princetown conveyed the workmen to Burrator.  This arrangement suggests that the workmen were being accommodated at Princetown during the week and only returned home to Plymouth after the Saturday morning shift.  [3]

Burrator and Sheepstor Platform was opened to the general public as from Monday May 18th 1925 and was served by trains during daylight hours only.  [3]

In around 1923/24 the Royal Oak Siding was removed  [2].

After a break of fourteen years, Sunday services were restored on the Branch as from Sunday July 18th 1926 for the summer holiday months only.  [3]

King Tor Halt was opened almost on the site of the Royal Oak Sidings on Monday April 2nd 1928  [3].  Although it has always been claimed it was for the benefit of quarry workers living in the cottages nearby, it should be noted that it was opened a week before the Easter holidays.   Unfortunately, the weather was not terribly good that weekend and passenger numbers travelling out from Plymouth to Yelverton was not as heavy as had been expected.

Sunday services on the Branch were withdrawn at the end of the summer season in 1929 and were destined to never be reinstated.  [3]

Ingra Tor Halt was opened on Monday March 2nd 1936 in connection with the short-lived re-opening of the adjacent quarry.  Its later traffic was entirely walkers and it was well known for its notice warning about snakes.  At the time of the opening the single fares from Ingra Tor Halt were:  to Princetown, 11d First Class or 7d Second Class; to Burrator Halt, 9d and 5d; to King Tor Halt, 7d and 4d; to Dousland, 1s 1d and 7d; to Yelverton, 1s 5d and 10d; and to Plymouth, Millbay, 3s 8d and 2s 3d.  A Cheap Day Return ticket to Plymouth cost 2s 3d Third Class; or to Princetown and back for 7d.  [3]

Wednesday January 25th 1939 was just another ordinary day on the Princetown Branch.  That was until just before 5pm.  Driver William Gough, of Great Western Railway Cottages, Princetown, and Fireman G Freeman, of Squire's Cottages, Two Bridges Road, Princetown, were ready at Yelverton Station to take the 4.51pm departure off to Princetown.  The Yelverton signalman gave the staff that authorised their presence on the line and off they set.  Unfortunately they had omitted to check whether the signal was at "All Clear", which it wasn't, and shot forward into the siding by the turntable, hit the stop blocks and the engine rolled slowly down the embankment.  Luckily the coupling snapped and left the single carriage still on the track above.  The two men scrambled from the cab in a state of shock but without injuries.  [4]

A breakdown train was quickly on the scene and the staff at Yelverton commissioned a bus belonging to the Western National Omnibus Company's Tavistock depot to take passengers to Princetown.  Unfortunately even that was not without an unhappy ending, as the snow and ice meant that Driver S Scown could get no further than Devil's Bridge.  A car and a lorry, both equipped with chains, took passengers on into Princetown.  He had great difficulty in turning the bus and several times on the return journey had to get out and shovel snow away.  As the line was not damaged the 7pm service ran as normal.  [4]

There is some confusion over whether there were any passengers in the carriage that was left standing.  From the above statement about the bus journey it would appear that the passengers amounted to about a dozen and included several school children but they had clearly not boarded the train as the following day a statement was issued by the Great Western Railway saying that there were no passengers in the carriage at the time of the accident.  [5]

A Saint Blazey loco, 2-6-2T number 4407, had been on loan to Laira to work the GWR Princetown Branch while both 4402 and 4410 were being repaired.  [TRO209]

On September 24th 1946 the Dartmoor Granite Company signed a new Private Siding Agreement for the Swell Tor Sidings.  [6]

The winter of 1946-47 was one of the worst on record and not surprisingly this badly affected the Princetown Branch.  Princetown was cut off by drifts as high as 14 feet.  A snow plough was despatched from Plymouth with food supplies for Princetown on the morning of Saturday February 1st 1947 but it did not reach the village until 8.45 that evening.  On the way it stopped to deliver food to isolated farms and cottages.  Mrs M Mead walked through the snow from Hillside Cottages to King Tor Halt to collect food for her family.  After unloading at Princetown the plough was turned and the short train started off back to Plymouth.  The blizzard was still raging, however, and about two miles from Princetown, at around about 11.40pm, the train found the way impassable.  The men were well equipped for such a situation, by 1947 standards, as they had a stove and were able to have hot drinks.  Five of the men -- the Yelverton Station Master, an inspector from Tavistock, a mechanical foreman, an engine driver, and a fireman -- decided to attempt to get through to Dousland Station.  Eight men remained with the snow plough and its locomotives: enginemen J Watson and W Norman; firemen L H Hooper and F Smith; fitter Leslie Hancock; mechanical foreman C Davies; goods guard George Jefferies; and Mr Harold Luscombe, the locomotive foreman, who was in charge of the whole operation.  [7]

On the Sunday morning the team managed to extricate their plough and took it back to Princetown while a relief plough, with a team of 30 sailors from the Royal Naval Barracks on board, made its way from Plymouth and eventually reached Princetowen late on the Sunday afternoon.  Both ploughs then made their way back home to Laira Depot after some 34 hours of snow clearing.  [7]

As from January 1st 1948 the line became the British Railways Princetown Branch.


Sources:

[1]  Anthony, G H, "The Tavistock, Launceston & Princetown Railways", The Oakwood Press, Lingfield, Surrey, 1971.

[1a]  "Plymouth Mercantile Association: Railway Matters", Western Morning News, Plymouth, January 2nd 1902.

[1b]  Robertson, Kevin, "Great Western Railway Halts, Volume One", Irwell Press, Pinner, Middlesex, 1990, ISBN 1-871608-17-1.

[2]  Thomas, David St John, "A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: Volume 1: The West Country", 4th edition, David & Charles (Holdings) Ltd, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1973, ISBN 0-7153-6208-9.

[3]  Courtesy of Mr Bryan Gibson, quoting information in the GWR Working Timetables and Notices in his collection.

[4]  "Engine Over Embankment", Western Morning News, Plymouth, January 26th 1939.

[5]  "Had No Passengers", Western Morning News, Plymouth, January 27th 1939.

[6]  Cooke R A, "Track Layout Diagrams of the GWR and BRWR, Section 14, South Devon", second edition, R A Cooke, Harwell, Oxfordshire, 1984.

[7]  "Marooned in Drift: 8 GWR Men See it Through", Western Morning News, Plymouth, February 3rd 1947.

[TRO209]  "The Railway Observer", The Railway Correspondence & Travel Society, volume XVI, number 209, July 1946.

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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