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RAILWAYS  |  BRITISH RAILWAYS

PRINCETOWN BRANCH

Updated:  09 August 2012 

Opened by the Princetown Railway in 1883, the line from Yelverton across Dartmoor to Princetown had always been operated by the Great Western Railway.  The Princetown Railway was finally absorbed into the Great Western Railway at the end of 1921 and from January 1st 1922 it became the Great Western Railway Princetown Branch.  For details of the Route of the Branch CLICK HERE.

The "Princetown Express" passes the Princetown Home Signal.

The "Princetown Express" passes the Princetown Home Signal.
From a postcard.

As from January 1st 1948 the line passed into the hands of the Western Region of British Railways.

In December 1949 0-6-0T number 1608 was sent to Penzance Shed so that their 2148 could be fitted with a snow plough for use on the Princetown Branch, if required.  [1]

At the same time, 2-6-2T number 4402 was withdrawn from service.  For some twenty years it had been the regular locomotive on the Princetown Branch, for which duty it had been fitted with a special oil lubricating mechanism to combat the sharp curvature of the line.  It was replaced at Laira Shed by number 4409.  [2]

Crossing the Moor to Princetown.

Crossing the Moor to Princetown.
  Transport Treasury.

For the working timetable of trains on the British Railways Princetown Branch during the summer of 1952 CLICK HERE.

BRWR 4410 waits for the level crossijng gates to be opened at Dousland, May 1953. 4410 now has a clear road onto the Moor towards Princetown, May 1953.
BRWR 4410 waits for the level crossing gates to be opened at Dousland, May 1953.
  R C Sambourne
4410 now has a clear road onto the Moor towards Princetown, May 1953.
  R C Sambourne
   
4410 taking its train through Lowery Cutting towards Princetown, May 1953.
4410 taking its train through Lowery Cutting towards Princetown, May 1953.
  R C Sambourne
4410 returns on through Lowery Cutting with an up train for Yelverton.
  R C Sambourne
   
4410 entering Dousland Station with a train for Yelverton. 4410 pauses at Dousland Station on the final stage of its journey to Yelverton.
4410 entering Dousland Station with a train for Yelverton, May 1953.
  R C Sambourne
4410 pauses at Dousland Station on the final stage of its journey to Yelverton, May 1953.
  R C Sambourne
   

Loco number 4530 was seen working the Princetown Branch during November 1954.  On December 16th 1954 number 4406, which had recently been transferred to Princetown from Tondu, South Wales, suffered a broken steam pipe and was replaced for five days by number 4524.  [3]

The British Transport Commission published their "Modernisation and Re-equipment of British Railways" report on December 1st 1954.  Although the closure of the Princetown Branch was not mentioned in the report, it was not long before the Railway Executive decided that the Branch was no longer viable and should be closed in favour of the shorter, and therefore faster, road journey.  Initially closure was to be at the end of the summer 1955 timetable but it was postponed until December 24th 1955.

British Railways Western region loco 4568 at Princetown Station, November 1955.

British Railways Western Region loco 4568 at Princetown,
November 1955.
  S V Blencowe.

Finally, as there was no Sunday service, the closure date was set for Saturday March 3rd 1956, after the worst of the winter weather was over.  [4]

It has since been claimed that had someone at the time come forward with around 25,000 they could have purchased the line and buildings intact.   Sadly the railway preservation movement was in its infancy and nobody realised the possibility of saving one of Britain's most scenic railway journeys.  [5]

Certainly there was a proposal in August/September 1956 by a Mr P Morshead, supported by Lydford Parish Council, to purchase the track, re-lay it to narrow gauge and use three narrow gauge tank locomotives to run trains between Yelverton and Dousland in order to earn money to reopen the remainder of the line.  [6]   

Mr Roy Sambourne, who was the bus conductor on the Plymouth Joint Services route 86 to Dousland and Meavy at that time, recorded the dates of the various stages of the demolition of the line.  Work started at Princetown on October 15th 1956 and almost a month later, on November 13th 1956, work started demolishing King Tor Halt.  Swell Tor Sidings were removed around November 26th, and Ingra Tor Halt around December 5th.  By February 5th 1957 the workmen had reached Lowery Crossing and on February 18th demolition commenced at Burrator Halt.  [7]

The demolition work had already been completed at Lowery Road Crossing in February 1957. Track lifting out on Yennadon Down, February 1957.
The demolition work had already been completed at Lowery Road Crossing in February 1957.
  R C Sambourne
Track lifting out on Yennadon Down, February 1957.
  R C Sambourne
   
Loco number 5569 arriving with the demolition train. 5569 takes the brake van back up the line to Yelverton.
Loco number 5569 arriving with the demolition train, February 1957.
  R C Sambourne
5569 takes the brake van back up the line to Yelverton, February 1957.
  R C Sambourne
   
The demolition gang loading the rails onto the bogie wagon. The scene at Dousland goods yard in February 1957.
The demolition gang loading the rails onto the bogie wagon, February 1957.
  R C Sambourne
The scene at Dousland goods yard in February 1957.
  R C Sambourne
   

Prowse's Crossing, where the service 86 bus normally terminated, was reached on February 28th 1957.  Demolition in the area of Dousland Station (which was not removed and is still there today) was started on March 7th/8th, and the workmen finally reached Yelverton Station March 28th.  [7]

Three locomotives were involved in hauling the demolition trains at various times: numbers 4568 (which had been the regular branch engine for a while before closure), 5567 and 5569.   Braking power was provided by the Princetown Brake Van number W56766.  [7]

The bridge across the main Princetown road at Peek Hill was demolished on Saturday May 30th 1964.  Using a 30cwt stone ball, it took two and a half hours to reduce the bridge to rubble.  [8]

On February 16th 1968 the British Railways Board conveyed to the Lord Mayor Aldermen and Citizens of the City of Plymouth: 'All those several pieces of land situate between the points "B-C" and "J -K" on the plans numbered 1 and 4 hereto annexed and containing together an area of Eleven acres and Seven perches or thereabouts situate in the Parishes of Meavy and Walkhampton both in the County of Devon as the same are more particularly delineated on the said plans numbered 1 and 4 thereon coloured blue TOGETHER WITH the Lowery Crossing Cottage and other erections and works thereon'.  As that land forms part of the catchment area for Burrator Reservoir it is currently owned by Messrs South West Water Ltd.  [9]

Dousland Station building is still in existence.  It was originally used as a home but is now a holiday let.  The old station master's residence at Dousland is now called Crossing Cottage.


Sources:

[1]  "The Railway Observer", volume XX, number 252, February 1950, Railway Correspondence & Travel Society, February 1950.

[2]  "The Railway Observer", volume XX, number 253, March 1950, Railway Correspondence & Travel Society, March 1950.

[3]  "The Railway Observer", volume XXV, number 312, February 1955, Railway Correspondence & Travel Society, February 1955.

[4]  See reproduction of the closure notice on page 95 in Kingdom, Anthony R, "The Princetown Branch", Oxford Publishing Company, Oxford, 1979.

[5]  Source not recorded.

[6]  "Narrow Gauge Line Wanted to Princetown", Western Evening Herald, Plymouth, Tuesday September 4th 1956.

[7]  Courtesy of the late Mr R C Sambourne.

[8]  ? Western Independent ?

[9]  Email correspondence from Mr Brian Henley, of Exeter, 2008, quoting from the conveyance.

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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