The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History

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Updated:  28 February 2013 

The London and South Western Railway Company arrived at Lydford, on the western fringes of Dartmoor, in October 1874, having absorbed the Devon and Cornwall Railway Company.  In 1866 this same Company had laid before Parliament a Bill seeking running powers between Exeter and Plymouth over the South Devon Railway and the construction of a line by-passing Millbay to provide direct access to Devonport.  It would have also authorised the adding of a narrow-gauge track to the Cornwall Railway's broad-gauge line as far as Keyham Junction, for access to the Dockyard.  Needless to say, the South Devon strongly objected and the Bill failed to be enacted.

LSWR class X6 number 660 passing Lipson Junction Signal Box, Plymouth.

London & South Western Railway X6 class number 660
passing Lipson Junction Signal Box on its way from Friary Station around to North Road.
  Locomotive & General Railway Photographs.

However, an agreement between the two Companies on March 24th 1873 allowed the Devon and Cornwall to construct a branch to Friary Gardens, to build a double-line branch to Devonport, and to make its own branch to Stonehouse Pool.  The Cornwall Loop link would be built and the line to Keyham Junction would have an additional track to take the narrow-gauge trains.

Following this success, the London and South Western purchased the line to Lydford, the lines within Plymouth and Devonport, and adopted the running powers the Devon and Cornwall had over the South Devon Railway.

Access to Plymouth was gained over the old Launceston and South Devon as far as Tavistock and the South Devon and Tavistock Railway from there into Plymouth by adding a narrow-gauge rail to the broad-gauge track.  In readiness for the arrival of the LSWR signal boxes were installed along the line from Lydford to Devonport Junction.  

The line was opened Wednesday May 17th 1876, along with the Cornwall Loop line by-passing Millbay.  Thus the terminus was actually in Devonport (the station was named Devonport and Stonehouse) and they celebrated wildly with triumphal arches and church bells ringing continuously.  No less than four regiments of foot trooped their colours at Mount Wise and a public dinner was given in the new goods shed.  A refreshment room was provided on the Station.

Public passenger trains started the following day, May 18th, with the first train out of Devonport and Stonehouse being hauled by a locomotive named "Gem".

A branch line to Stonehouse Pool was started in 1876 and terminated at Richmond Walk.  The following year  it was completed under the authority of the Stonehouse Pool Improvement Act of July 13th 1876.  It would appear that it was not opened for traffic until March 1st 1886, however, and then only goods traffic.   Passenger-carrying came much later with the advent of the ocean terminal.

It will be noted that the LSWR did not have any station in Plymouth.   This it badly needed so it pressured the Great Western into constructing a joint station on the northern outskirts of the Borough.  Because the GWR delayed the construction as much as possible, while the LSWR grew more impatient, North Road Station was eventually built of timber instead of stone.  It was opened on Wednesday March 28th 1877.  The main tracks had platforms on both sides.  A refreshment room was provided.

From February 1st 1878 the LSWR was able to use the GWR's Laira Junction to Friary Junction freight line, which had been turned into a mixed-gauge line for the benefit of the LSWR.  A single narrow-gauge track was opened from Friary Junction to a new goods station at Friary Gardens.

A further mixed-gauge development that year was the opening of access to Millbay Docks on Tuesday June 18th 1878, which was compelled by an Act of Parliament of 1874 allowing the broad-gauge Great Western Railway to purchase the Docks.

North Quay on Sutton Harbour was reached first by the LSWR on October 22nd 1879 and then by the GWR on November 6th.

An interesting feature of this time was the re-emergence of the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway, which was revived to act as an agent for the London and South Western.  The P&D's first act was to construct the freight branch on to Cattewater Wharves, which was worked by the LSWR.  The line opened on Tuesday August 3rd 1880.

On August 2nd 1883 the Plymouth & Dartmoor Company obtained powers to build a line over the Laira to Turnchapel, with the London & South Western working the line.  The bridge over the Laira was completed in 1887 and the line as far as Pomphlett was ready by June 25th 1888 so the LSWR started to operate freight traffic over it.

In the meantime, the LSWR were advertising through carriages to and from the Midlands and the North, courtesy of the Midland Railway.   The train left Devonport at 10.20am and Plymouth North Road five minutes later and ran via Tavistock and Exeter Queen Street to Bath, Gloucester, Sheffield, Leeds and Bradford, where it was due to arrive at 9.50pm.  The downward train left Bradford at 10.05am, Leeds at 10.35, Sheffield at 11.35 am and Birmingham at 1.34 pm and was due at Devonport Station at 8.45pm.  How our Great-Grand-parents must have thrilled at seeing a Midland Railway's carriage at Devonport Station.

The London and South Western Railway continued to have its access to Plymouth via the Great Western's Launceston Branch until Sunday June 1st 1890.  The day after, their independent line, built by the Plymouth, Devonport and South Western Junction Railway, was opened.  The line had stations at St Budeaux (For Saltash) and at Ford.  Their trains now arrived from the west, ran through Devonport Station and terminated at North Road Station.

But the LSWR still wanted its own main station at Plymouth and this was to be at Friary Gardens, as planned way back in 1873.  In order for it to reach there, however, it was necessary for the GWR to construct a short double-track curve linking the main line at what became Lipson Junction, and the Laira to Sutton Harbour branch at Mount Gould Junction.   This line was opened on Wednesday April 1st 1891 and after a ceremonial opening of Friary Station on Tuesday June 30th, passenger traffic commenced on Wednesday July 1st.  The London and South Western had at last reached its goal.

A station was built at Pomphlett and opened as Plymstock Station on Monday September 5th 1892.  It was to be a few more years before the line to Turnchapel was constructed, opening being on Thursday July 1st 1897.

Back on the main line, it had been planned to have a branch from the Plymouth, Devonport and South Western Junction Railway to the village of Tamerton Foliot.  This failed to get Parliamentary approval and so a station was constructed by the LSWR on the main line and a road made into the village.  Tamerton Foliott Station (sic) was opened in December 1897.

Presumably because of the building work that was going on around Ford Station at the time, a siding was added to the system from Thursday February 1st 1900.

Friary was the destination of the trial run of one of the new corridor carriages to be introduced over the LSWR.  An engine and one carriage did the run from Waterloo on Tuesday March 24th 1903, the main purpose of which was to test the new wider carriage against the platforms and under bridges.  The test was a success, the new vehicle running very smoothly and with the minimum of oscillation.   These new carriages were to be introduced as soon as possible on the 11am train from London to Barnstaple, Torrington and Ilfracombe and on the 3pm from Waterloo to Friary, where it was due to arrive at 8.33pm.

A new Ocean Terminal for the LSWR was opened at the end of the Stonehouse Pool Branch on Saturday April 9th 1904 and the first Ocean Special train left there at 5.03am. 

New Rail Motor-Car Service" ran the headline in the morning newspaper on Wednesday September 26th 1906.  The London & South Western were announcing the commencement that day of a new service from Devonport (temporarily) and St Budeaux, using C-14 class 2-2-0 tank locomotives and 2 carriages, the end one furthest from the engine having a driving compartment.  A gangway was provided so that conductors could issue tickets at unstaffed halts.  Passenger access to the carriages was through gates rather than doors, into a central vestibule, from which the Third Class saloons were entered.  In addition to stopping at Ford Station, they would also call at unstaffed halts at Albert Road, between the two tunnels, Camel's Head and Weston Mill.  There would be eighteen trains in each direction on weekdays and eight on Sundays, commencing with the 6.18am from Devonport, returning from St Budeaux at 6.40am.  The fare for the whole journey was 2d.  More details are given in the LSWR Suburban Service webpage.  It would appear that the service was extended to Friary Station from Monday October 1st, at a single fare of 4d.

On Saturday June 29th 1907 the LSWR introduced luncheon-car trains between London and the South West.  The first was the 12 Noon to Exeter and Bideford.  On July 13th it was joined by the 11am service to Bude and Padstow.   The luncheon-cars only ran as far as Exeter Queen Street Station.

Also on June 29th 1907 a new service from Plymouth to Brighton was started, leaving Friary Station at 10.08am and arriving at Brighton at 4.28pm.  The Down train left Brighton at 11.20am.

Although located well outside of Plymouth, the branch railway from Bere Alston to Callington had through carriages and commuters to Plymouth so it is of some interest to note that the passenger service on that line started on Monday March 2nd 1908, following the conversion to standard-gauge of the old East Cornwall Mineral Railway and the completion of the viaduct over the river Tamar.  An additional station at Chilsworthy was opened the following year.

1908 was the year of developments around the North Road Station area.  The Station itself was enlarged and a new brick built signal box was installed at the east end, which also took over working the signals at Mutley Station so that the Mutley signal box could be demolished.

In 1914, at the start of the First World War, a link was provided between the Great Western's Sutton Harbour Branch at the London & South Western's Cattewater Branch, independent of the LSWR's main line.  This was removed again in March 1923.

On Tuesday August 4th 1914 the Great War started and the railways were taken over by the Government under the authority of the Regulation of Forces Act 1871.

There was a plan in 1919, after the end of the War, to link the Great Western and LSWR at St Budeaux but because of the work on the Bull Point siding the Great Western were apparently reluctant to pay for more so the plan was dropped.  It was to re-emerge again in 1939.

In 1921, from Monday June 27th, Weston Mill Halt was closed, presumably a victim of the expansion of the Plymouth tramway system along the adjacent Wolseley Road.

On Monday August 15th 1921 the railways were returned to their private ownership.

Four days later, on 19th, the Royal Assent was given to the Railways Act 1921 which provided for the grouping of the railway companies into the "big four.  The first series of amalgamations took effect from Monday January 1st 1923, when the London and South Western Railway was merged with others to form the Southern Railway.


  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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