North Devon & Cornwall Junction
Reconstructed and considerably extended from a 3' gauge china clay carrier, this railway was owned by an independent company but operated by the Southern railway from its opening in 1925. Planned before World War I, the reconstruction of this 20-mile line from Torrington to Halwill was taken over by Colonel Stephens as engineer and managing director in the 1920s and he oversaw its design and construction.The company contued as a seperate entity till nationalisation with Stephens as a director in his lifetime.
Although in construction details typically Stephens this was visually a Southern Region branch line. It survived to nationalisation and beyond, largely closing in 1965 although the northern part, reconstructed from the narrow gauge railway, continued to carry china clay until 1982.
A Short History
This railway had a long gestation period and was the last standard gauge public railway to be built before the modern era. It was based on the rebuilding of a narrow gauge industrial line and its extension south to a connection with the extended Cornish branches of the London & South Western Railway (LSWR) that become later known later as the 'Withered Arm'.
Standard gauge interests connected with the LSWR had extended into North Devon and a branch had extended south from Bideford to reach Torrington by 1872. In 1881 it was met by a 6 mile long private narrow gauge railway, the Torrington and Marland, to connect the China clay mines at Marland. This was lightly built in part on trestles to the patent principles of John Barraclough Fell.
These developments, though useful in themselves, did little to fulfil a presumed requirement to supply a railway link towards Plymouth, via Okehampton. Several proposals and two Acts of 1895 and 1901 came to nothing as the LSWR saw no new traffic worth having. Now it was the time to try a Light Railway and from 1905 Holman Stephens provided the driving force behind a new venture, personally negotiating finance and overseeing construction of the railway. The line was now to extend south from Torrington to the less convenient junction at Halwill rather than direct to Okehampton. This decision, made for reasons unclear but possibly on cost grounds, proved unfortunate for future traffic prospects.
An application for powers was made in 1909 and the line was authorised in 1914 but the Great War intervened. Plans were revived in 1919, but the monetary cost had more than doubled. Government support was necessary and, for once, sought successfully. Even this was something of a partial victory for Stephens as the funds, based on alleviating unemployment, had to be bid for in opposition to another of his proposals, the Gower Light. The Ministry of Transport required a firm undertaking by the LSWR to work the line. This caused Stephens to partially abandon his much loved policy of independence although the company itself was to retain nominal independence till nationalisation in 1948.
The first sod was cut in 1922 but work progressed only slowly. An established contractor was employed but local unemployed workers lacked the skills to build a railway, and labour problems and weather slowed progress. In 1925 the contractor became bankrupt and Stephens took over construction personally. The 20 mile long line, which incidentally ran entirely in North Devon, was completed and opened without formality on 27th July 1925, being operated by the Southern Railway as the successors to the L&SWR.
The poor choice of the southern junction, remote from any markets, and the thinness of population in the area ensured minimal passenger traffic and there was not a great deal of agricultural traffic. Clay traffic was however steady and growing, the new railway encouraged a new clay works at Meeth which opened in 1920 and connected to the ND&CJR.
Apart from china clay, all goods facilities on the ND&CJLR were withdrawn on 7th September 1964 and the passenger service went from 1st March 1965. At the same time the line south of Meeth, to Halwill Junction, was closed. Clay traffic continued for some years but the clay companies had turned to road and were unwilling to invest in modern railway wagons. Total closure came in March 1983.
The line was lifted and much of the route north is now an excellent foot and cycle path, part of the 'Tarka Trail'.
North Devon Clay, Micheal Messenger, Twelveheads Press ,2007.
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