The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History
LAIRA MOTIVEPOWER DEPOT and YARD
The first development to take place at Laira since the closure of Laira Green Temporary Station was the opening of the Laira Marshalling Yard on either side of the double-track Sutton Harbour Branch. The sidings on the eastern side, adjacent to the Plymouth & Dartmoor Railway exchange siding, were named the Down Sidings and the western ones became the Up Sidings.
The on May 27th 1903 the Down and Up Goods Lines between Laira Junction and Lipson Junction Signal Boxes were brought into use. These were lengthened slightly from Sunday July 25th 1920.
The carriage sidings off the Up main line are thought to date from the introduction of the GWR railmotor service in 1904. They, too, were remodelled in the 1920s.
Apparently plans for a Motive Power Depot (MPD) on the outskirts of Plymouth had first been discussed in 1896. This was because the existing Depot outside Millbay Station was overcrowded. Authorities seem to disagree as to when the new Depot was opened: some say 1901 and others the summer of 1906. Given that one refers to minutes of a meeting in December 1905 and the purchase of 20 acres of land for such a facility, it would seem that 1906 is the more likely. However, a report in the "Western Morning News" on Thursday February 14th 1907 stated that: 'Some few years ago, to relieve the pressure on the old sheds, the company erected new engine sheds on land belonging to them at Laira.....' If the shed had been open only the previous year it would most likely have said that rather than 'Some few years ago.' Thus 1901 is the more likely date.
The site was previously a sewage works although the engine sheds were actually erected in the field to the west of the works. The lines accessing the straight shed were constructed over the site of the works.
Laira Shed, as it was generally known, consisted of the "roundhouse" with its internal 65 feet diameter turntable and a few lines outside for reception, coaling, and cleaning the steam locomotives. The roundhouse was 185 feet by 185 feet and was constructed brick with steel trusses and an asbestos roof. There were examination pits and ash pits of varying lengths and five water columns. The coaling stage, which was on a gradient of 1 in 30, was improved during the Second World War on the instructions of the Ministry of War Transport, after which it could hold five loaded 20-ton wagons and could service two locomotives at the same time.
The reason for the report in the press in February 1907, mentioned above, was that the Company had drawn up plans for a new engine shed 'on the triangular piece of ground lying between the bridges in North Road, and the two viaducts which cross what was formerly part of the old Deadlake, and is now the extreme corner of Victoria Park.' The ground was being used as a market garden. The Company's directors were expected to approve the plans.
By 1913 there was further talk of a 'new shed' being required as the Millbay one was by now 'practically roofless' and very unpleasant to work in. Although it was authorised in March 1914, it fell by the wayside thanks to the Great War.
The washing plant was added in 1924.
It did not re-emerge until the Government enacted its Loan (Guarantees and Grants) Act in 1929. This was designed to encourage substantial engineering projects to be devised to relieve the severe unemployment being experienced after the end of the War.
This resulted in the construction in 1931 of a four-road, straight locomotive shed measuring 210 feet in length and 66 feet in width, with a smaller storehouse alongside. Constructed over 196 reinforced concrete piles because the land was formerly marsh, the building had a steel frame with brick panels up to the window sills and corrugated asbestos sheeting above that. The roof was boarded and covered with asbestos. The shed could accommodate twelve of the largest express locomotives. New stores were also built at the same time and the coaling stage was extended.
In 1947, just as the era of the Great Western Railway Company was drawing to a close, two 82,600 gallon oil tanks were installed at the Depot to service the oil-burning 28XX-class 2-8-0 mixed traffic and a few of the "Hall"-class 4-6-0 locomotives.
With the onslaught of dieselisation in the 1960s, the site of the Down Marshalling Yard was converted into eight dead-straight carriage sidings in April 1961 and the site of the Up Marshalling Yard was converted into the Laira Diesel Depot, which was brought into use on Tuesday March 13th 1962.
It is said that Laira's last allocated steam locomotive, former GWR number 7022, left in October 1963. It had been retained for use on the weekday excursion trains from Saltash to Goodrington. However, the Southern Region's loco number 41320, used on the Callington Branch, was recorded at Laira shed on June 22nd 1964 and the official end of steam in Plymouth is usually quoted as being October 1964.
Likewise, the introduction of diesel multiple units on the Saltash Railmotor service meant that the carriage sidings were not needed any more and these were taken out of use from Sunday December 8th 1963. They were removed entirely in July 1964. As a result the double junction here to the Goods Lines could also be removed, which thus enabled trains to speed through Laira Junction without falling foul of any pointwork.
Finally, the old Motive Power depot was closed as from Sunday June 13th 1965, when the access lines were disconnected. Dismantling started on December 16th 1966, the contractor being Messrs Plant Dismantlers of Plymouth. The site was made into sidings for the Civil Engineer's Department displaced from Valletort Road Depot at Devonport.
Many other minor alterations have taken place over the years.
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