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Updated:  01 April 2012 

The Great Western Railway's Yealmpton Branch had the most complicated history of all the lines in the Plymouth area.  It started life in the 1860s as the South Hams Railway and was intended to run from Plymouth to Dartmouth.  When that failed in 1866 the London & South Western Railway, one of its supporters, persuaded the dormant Plymouth & Dartmoor Railway to promote a line from Plymouth to Yealmpton and Modbury.  Known as the Plymouth & Dartmoor Railway (South Hams Extension) this was given Government approval in June 1888.  [1]

Finally, on July 19th 1894 the dispute between the London & South Western and Plymouth & Dartmoor Railways on the one hand and the Great Western Railway was resolved when the LSWR agreed to let the GWR have rights of access over their line from Cattewater Junction as far as Plymstock Station to enable them to gain access to their still unfinished line to Yealmpton.  This arrangement was added as a schedule to the Great Western (Number Two) Act of August 17th 1894.  [2]

The Branch from Lipson Junction, on the main line, to Cattewater Junction and from Plymstock Station to Yealmpton was now firmly Great Western.

It was planned to construct four stations on the line, at Billacombe, Brixton, Steer Point and Yealmpton and the whole line was projected to cost 89,032, including the signalling.  An additional stopping place at Elburton Cross was added in March 1896 at an additional cost of 215.  The contractors were Messrs Lucas & Aird, soon to be renamed Messrs John Aird and Company, under their engineer, Mr McQuinn.  They were expected to complete their contract within two years at an estimated cost of 54,553.  [3]

The Western Morning News reported that the route to be taken had been "pegged out" and work had started on Monday December 30th 1895, when 20 navvies were set to work.  Another gang of workmen started on Thursday January 2nd 1896 and it was anticipated that there would be several hundred more navvies employed before long.   In addition to the contractor's engineer, the Great Western Railway also sent a resident engineer from Plymouth, Mr P A Anthony.  [3]

Part of the work involved constructing embankments for a new line from Mount Gould Junction to Cattewater Junction.  To enable this to be done, the existing road from Tothill (Tothill Lane) had to be diverted 200 yards to the north before joining the Embankment.  The old toll-gate was removed and a new one was already in place by January 1896.  A bridge gave pedestrians access to the Embankment.  [3]

To the south of that, an 85 feet span iron bridge was swung in to place to carry the line to the next embankment behind the works of Messrs Bunton's.  This work was being undertaken by Messrs Townsend, Walton & Gates at  a contract price of 7,536.  [3]

Colonel H A Yorke RE carried out the Board of Trade's inspection of both the branch from Plymstock to Yealmpton and also the connecting line from Mount Gould to Cattewater Junctions and gave both lines his approval.  [4]

The line was duly opened by the Countess of Morley, wife of the local landowner, on Monday January 15th 1898, when a special train was run leaving Plymouth's Millbay Station at Noon.  The engine in charge was named "Lady Morley" especially for the occasion as no such engine name is recorded as existing other than on the opening day.  Billacombe and Elburton Cross Stations, the only ones now within the modern Plymouth, were opened on January 17th 1898.  [5]

Yealmpton Station on the Great Western Railway in south Devon.

Yealmpton Station

Both passenger and goods traffic grew steadily until the 1920s brought the advent of the motor bus services running from closer to people's homes right into the shopping and commercial centre of Plymouth.  As usual throughout the country, takings began to decline, culminating in a public announcement in the press and on stations announcing the projected closure of the line from Plymstock.  This announcement, in 1928, asked for suggestions as to ways of increasing the revenue but apparently none were forthcoming and the line was closed to passengers from Monday July 7th 1930.   [6]

Goods traffic continued to use the branch, one freight train a day being sufficient for the coal and general produce.  The stations at Elburton Cross and Steer Point were dismantled and the station buildings at Billacombe, Brixton Road and Yealmpton were rented out as dwellings and workshops.  [6]

However, when it was announced that the Great Western Railway were prepared to finance the replacement of the bridge carrying the line over the Embankment at Laira, rumours abounded that they were about to re-open the line.  This was largely attributed to the construction of a barrage balloon station at Yealmpton.  The bridge was badly corroded and they gave Plymouth City Council the opportunity to widen the roadway beneath as well.  [6a]

A Laira to Yealmpton freight passing through Elburton Cross Station in June 1930

A Laira to Yealmpton freight train passing through
Elburton Cross Station in June 1930.

But that was not quite the end of the story and it was fortunate that the line was not taken up.  The Blitz of Plymouth in March and April 1941 brought about a change in the circumstances and the Great Western decided to re-instate the service as many Plymothians were trekking to the countryside to sleep of a night-time.  [6]

Temporary station buildings were hurriedly put up and an un-advertised workmen's service was started on Monday July 21st 1941.  One major change was made, though: the trains ran from the Southern's Friary Station instead of Millbay.  [7]

An advertised public service of eight trains in each direction was started on Monday November 3rd 1941, each with its own female conductor to issue and collect tickets.   Resplendent in their black and red uniforms, they were Miss Wakeley and Miss Jarrold.  [8]

During the week of October 14th to 19th 1946 the Branch passenger trains were hauled by 0-6-0T number 5412, while number 9770 was employed on the freight workings.  [[TRO213]

At the end of the Second World War there was an acute housing shortage and the Great Western Railway did their bit to help solve the problem by converting many old railway station properties into homes for their staff, thus removing them from Council waiting lists.  Mr F J Bunney, the station master at Yealmpton, formerly lived in a Council house in that village but in 1946 he and his wife and daughter moved into what had been his office and the station's waiting-room, which had been converted into a comfortable four-roomed bungalow.  [9]

Likewise, at Brixton Station the buildings were now the home of Mr Ritchie, a saddler employed by the GWR in their stables at Millbay Station while Billacombe Station was home to Mr S Willcocks, a cloak-room attendant at North Road Station, and his family.  [9]

Once the Second World War was over passengers slowly reverted to using the motor bus services in preference to the railway and another announcement appeared stating that the line would be closed from on and from Monday October 6th 1947.  There being no Sunday service, the last public passenger train in fact ran on the preceding Saturday, October 4th.  [10]

On January 1st 1948 the line became the British Railways Yealmpton Branch.


[1]  ?

[2]  "Great Western Railway (No 2) Act 1894".

[3]  "Plymouth District Railways: Turnchapel and Yealmpton", Western Morning News, Plymouth, January 2nd 1896.

[4]  ?

[5]  Kingdom, A R, "The Yealmpton Branch", Oxford Publishing Company, Risinghurst, Oxford, 1974, quoting the "Railway Magazine", February 1898.

[6]  Kingdom, A R, "The Yealmpton Branch", Oxford Publishing Company, Risinghurst, Oxford, 1974, ISBN 0-902888-42-0.

[6a]  "A Plymouth Railway Bridge: GWR Rebuilding Scheme at Embankment", South Devon Times, Plympton, April 20th 1939.

[7]  ?

[8]  ?

[9]  "Rail Offices are now Bungalows: GWR Help to Solve Housing Problem", Western Evening Herald, Plymouth, February 14th 1946.

[10]  Clinker, C R, "Clinker's Register of Closed Passenger Stations and Goods Depots in England, Scotland and Wales, 1830-1980", Avon-AngliA Publications & Services, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, 1988.

[TRO213]  "The Railway Observer", The Railway Correspondence & Travel Society, volume XVI, November 1946.

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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