Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: June 06, 2017
Webpage updated: November 30, 2020




Inside the Roundhouse at Laira one day in 1962 were, from left to right,
Numbers 5564, 5568, 5000, 4087, 5541, and 5569.
T W Nicholls.

The Great Western Railway Company took over the South Devon Railway Company on February 1st 1876 and continued to use the former Company's Plymouth Engine Shed at Millbay.

However, the increased train services were putting great pressure on this facility and in 1896 the Great Western Railway Company started to consider the need to provide a new and larger Engine Shed on the outskirts of Plymouth.

County-class number 1006 "County of Cornwall" at Laira Engine Shed.
Desmond R Summerson, 1962.

In September 1900 the Company gave their agreement to Plymouth Borough Council's requirements for building on a site that included a Council sewage works, adjacent to the small Laira Marshalling Yard that was growing either side of the Sutton Harbour Branch.  It is evident from an accident report, in which a member of the GWR locomotive staff was killed, that the Laira Engine Shed was in use by March 1901.

The original steam shed, 185 feet square, of the "roundhouse" type, with a 65 foot diameter turntable at its centre, was accessed by just a single line, but outside were an arrival line and a departure line as well as two sidings.  It was constructed of brick with steel trusses and an asbestos roof.  There were examination pits and ash pits of varying lengths and five water columns.  To the east was the coaling stage, up a 1 in 30 incline, with a further two sidings for full and empty coal wagons.  It is not known whether the locomotives were coaled before entering the Shed or upon departure.  The Shed was accessible from Laira Junction at 244 miles 02 chains from London Paddddington via Bristol Temple Meads and entry was controlled by the Laira Junction Signal Box.

Another County-clas, number 1003 "County of Wilts",
 with a Hall 49xx and a 45xx tank at Laira Engine Shed.
  Desmond R Summerson, 1962.

On May 27th 1903 the Down and Up Goods Lines between Laira Junction and Lipson Junction were brought into use.

The four carriage sidings on the Up side of the main line by Laira Farm, are thought to date from the introduction of the steam railmotor service in 1904.

Early in 1907 plans were drawn up 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 at the time being used as  market garden.  The Western Morning News reported upon this plan on Thursday February 14th 1907 and 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 .... .'  The Company's Directors were expected to approve the plan.  Nothing happened and then in 1913 there was further talk of a new shed' being required as the one at Millbay was by now practically roofless' and very unpleasant to work in.  Although it was authorized in March 1914 the Great War intervened and it came to nothing.

During the 1920s the carriage sidings near Laira Farm were remodelled and as from Sunday July 25th 1920 the Goods Lines were lengthened.  A washing plant was installed in 1924.  The plan to erect a new engine shed re-emerged following the Government's Loan (Guarantees and Grants) Act 1929, which was designed to alleviate unemployment caused by the Great 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.

Locomotives reported by the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society as allocated to Laira Engine Shed as of January 8th 1938 were: 1361, 1362, 1363, 1364, 1909, 1993, 2097, 2116, 2725, 2755, 2780, 2818, 2839, 3180, 3186, 3393, 4910. 4932, 4951, 4966, 4982, 4991, 4999, 5013, 5015, 5019, 5021, 5024, 5041, 5519, 5531, 5573, 5902, 5926, 6002, 6004, 6010, 6012, 6016, 6019, 6020, 6022, 6406, 6407, 6414, 6417, 6419, 6420, 6421, 6801, 7422, 7760, 8337, 8341, 8357, 8376, 8381, 8391, 8719, 9711, and 9770.  Of these two 1361 class were stabled at Plymouth Docks, two 44xx or 45xx class were stabled at Moorswater on the Looe Branch, one 44xx class was stabled at Princetown and one 45xx class was shedded at Launceston Sub Depots.

The Ministry of War Transport instructed the GWR to enlarge the coaling stage during the Second World War so that it could accommodate five loaded 20-ton coal wagons and could service two locomotives at the same time.

During 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.

2-8-0 number 2851 at Laira Engine Shed, 1962.
Desmond R Summerson.

0-6-0 saddle tank number 1363 at Laira Engine Shed, 1962.
Desmond R Summerson.

On January 1st 1948 Laira Engine Shed went from being the Great Western Railway Company's "LA" to being British Railway's "83D".

0-6-0 tank number 6400 at Laira Engine Shed, 1962.
Desmond R Summerson.

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.  Laira's depot designation changed once again in September 1963, when it became "84A".

Number 7029 "Clun Castle" resting between turns at Laira Engine Shed, 1962.
Desmond R Summerson.

It has been reported by the late Christopher Horsham, a local railway enthusiast, 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.

An unidentified member of the 45xx-class at Laira Engine Shed,
possibly withdrawn as the main number plate missing, 1962.
Desmond R Summerson.

The introduction of diesel multiple units on the Saltash Railmotor service meant that the former railmotor 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 point work.

Number 5050 "Earl of Saint Germans" receiving surgical attention at Laira Engine Shed, 1962.
This loco was named "Devizes Castle" until 1937.
Desmond R Summerson, 1962.

Finally, Laira Engine Shed 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.  Laira Diesel Depot remains to this day.