Plus parts of the South Hams and West Devon

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: May 23, 2018
Webpage updated: May 28, 2021




The Princetown Railway.
From a postcard.

From the first day that it opened, Saturday August 11th 1883, the Princetown Railway had been operated by the locomotives, carriages, wagons and staff of the Great Western Railway Company, which finally took over the Princetown Railway Company on January 1st 1922.

The Princetown Railway high on Dartmoor.
From a ppstcard.

At that time the terminus was Yelverton Station, on the Plymouth to Tavistock and Launceston Branch, and there were only two other stations, at Dousland and Princetown.  Sidings for goods traffic were provided at Walkhampton Common (later known as Eggworthy Siding), Swell Tor Sidings and Royal Oak Siding.  All goods traffic went right through to Horrabridge Station as there were no facilities at Yelverton.

A mixed train heading for Princetown.
From a postcard.

The first locomotives used on the Princetown Branch in 1883 were two 0-6-0 tanks built by Messrs Sharp, Stewart and Company of Manchester in 1865 and operated by the Llynvi and Ogmore Railway Company at Porthcawl, Glamorganshire, until they were acquired by the Great Western Railway Company, which gave them numbers 919 and 923.  It is not known if both were kept at Princetown Engine Shed or why two locomotives were allocated to the Branch.  Number 923 was withdrawn in June 1888 and number 919 in June 1892.

Another mixed train arriving at Princetown Station.
Mr T G Wassell, of Godalming, Surrey.

Upon their withdrawal they were first replaced by numbers 561 and 563 of the GWR's 517 class of 0-4-2 tanks.  Having been built in 1869 they were already twenty years' old when they arrived on the Branch.  They in turn were replaced with two other twenty-somethings, numbers 990 and 992 of the GWR 850 class of 0-6-0 saddle tanks, which dated from 1875-76.

The Princetown Branch train snowed up in the Blizzard of 1891.
From the author's collection but originally Mr Robert Burnard.

During 1905-06 a new 2-6-2 tank locomotive was introduced that was specially designed with the hilly routes in the Westcountry in mind.  Initially known as the 3101 class they were quickly redesignated as the 4400 class.  Exactly when the first one appeared on the Princetown Branch is not recorded but numbers 4400, 4401, 4402, 4406, 4407 and 4410 have been mentioned as being used on the Branch between then and September 1955, when they were replaced by engines of the 4500 class.

A scheme for a light railway between King's Tor and Merrivale Quarry, first discussed in 1909, was revived again in 1924 but nothing came of the plan.

Burrator and Sheepstor Platform was opened on Monday February 4th 1924 for the benefit of men working on the raising of the Burrator and Sheepstor Dams.

Burrator and Sheepstor Platform was opened to the general public as from Monday May 18th 1925 and was served by trains during daylight hours only.

In around 1923/24 the Royal Oak Siding was removed.

After a break of fourteen years, Sunday services were restored on the Branch as from Sunday July 18th 1926 for the summer holiday months only.

A Down train going up through the mist to Princetown pauses at Ingra Tor Halt.
From the author's collection.

King Tor Halt was opened almost on the site of the Royal Oak Sidings on Monday April 2nd 1928.  Although it has always been claimed it was for the benefit of quarry workers living in the cottages nearby, it should be noted that it was opened a week before the Easter holidays.   Unfortunately, the weather was not terribly good that weekend and passenger numbers travelling out from Plymouth to Yelverton was not as heavy as had been expected.

Sunday services on the Branch were withdrawn at the end of the summer season in 1929 and were destined to never be reinstated.

Ingra Tor Halt was opened on Monday March 2nd 1936 in connection with the short-lived re-opening of the adjacent quarry.  Its later traffic was entirely walkers and it was well known for its notice warning about snakes.

Wednesday January 25th 1939 was just another ordinary day on the Princetown Branch.  That was until just before 5pm.  Driver William Gough, of Great Western Railway Cottages, Princetown, and Fireman G Freeman, of Squire's Cottages, Two Bridges Road, Princetown, were ready at Yelverton Station to take the 4.51pm departure off to Princetown.  The Yelverton signalman gave the staff that authorised their presence on the line and off they set.  Unfortunately they had omitted to check whether the signal was at "All Clear", which it wasn't, and shot forward into the siding by the turntable, hit the stop blocks and the engine rolled slowly down the embankment.  Luckily the coupling snapped and left the single carriage still on the track above.  The two men scrambled from the cab in a state of shock but without injuries.

A breakdown train was quickly on the scene and the staff at Yelverton commissioned a bus belonging to the Western National Omnibus Company's Tavistock depot to take passengers to Princetown.  Unfortunately even that was not without an unhappy ending, as the snow and ice meant that Driver S Scown could get no further than Devil's Bridge.  A car and a lorry, both equipped with chains, took passengers on into Princetown.  He had great difficulty in turning the bus and several times on the return journey had to get out and shovel snow away.  As the line was not damaged the 7pm service ran as normal.

There is some confusion over whether there were any passengers in the carriage that was left standing.  From the above statement about the bus journey it would appear that the passengers amounted to about a dozen and included several school children but they had clearly not boarded the train as the following day a statement was issued by the Great Western Railway Company saying that there were no passengers in the carriage at the time of the accident.

On September 24th 1946 the Dartmoor Granite Company signed a new Private Siding Agreement for the Swell Tor Sidings.

As from January 1st 1948 the line became the British Railways Princetown Branch.

In December 1949 0-6-0T number 1608 was sent to Penzance Shed so that their 2148 could be fitted with a snow plough for use on the Princetown Branch, if required.

At the same time, 2-6-2T number 4402 was withdrawn from service.  For some twenty years it had been the regular locomotive on the Princetown Branch, for which duty it had been fitted with a special oil lubricating mechanism to combat the sharp curvature of the line.  It was replaced at Laira Engine Shed by number 4409.

Loco number 4530 was seen working the Princetown Branch during November 1954.  On December 16th 1954 number 4406, which had recently been transferred to Princetown from Tondu, South Wales, suffered a broken steam pipe and was replaced for five days by number 4524.

The British Transport Commission published their "Modernisation and Re-equipment of British Railways" report on December 1st 1954.  Although the closure of the Princetown Branch was not mentioned in the report, it was not long before the Railway Executive decided that the Branch was no longer viable and should be closed in favour of the shorter, and therefore faster, road journey.  Initially closure was to be at the end of the summer 1955 timetable but it was postponed until December 24th 1955.

Finally, as there was no Sunday service, the closure date was set for Saturday March 3rd 1956, after the worst of the winter weather was over.  The last Station Master at Princetown Station was Mr W G West; the drivers of the last train were Mr William Frederick G Gough, of Princetown, who had spent 21 years on the Branch, and Mr Frederick Cole, of Bittaford.  Their Firemen were Messrs Cyril Stephens and Ronald Hext, both of Princetown.  On Friday March 1st 1956 Mr Gilbert Jonathan Hext had been a Ganger on the Branch for 41 years.

Also on the last day of operation, March 3rd 1956, the 2.51pm from Yelverton
nears Swell Tor Siding on its way to Princetown.
the late Mr P W Gray. 

It has since been claimed that had someone at the time come forward with around 25,000 they could have purchased the line and buildings intact.   Sadly the railway preservation movement was in its infancy and nobody realised the possibility of saving one of Britain's most scenic railway journeys.

Certainly there was a proposal in August/September 1956 by a Mr P Morshead, supported by Lydford Parish Council, to purchase the track, re-lay it to narrow gauge and use three narrow gauge tank locomotives to run trains between Yelverton Station and Dousland Station in order to earn money to reopen the remainder of the line.

The demolition crane near Routrundle Farm, 1957.
From author's collection.

Mr Roy Sambourne, who was the bus conductor on the Plymouth Joint Services route 86 to Dousland and Meavy at that time, recorded the dates of the various stages of the demolition of the line.  Work started at Princetown Station on October 15th 1956 and almost a month later, on November 13th 1956, work started demolishing King Tor Halt.  Swell Tor Sidings were removed around November 26th, and Ingra Tor Halt around December 5th.  By February 5th 1957 the workmen had reached Lowery Crossing and on February 18th demolition commenced at Burrator and Sheepstor Halt.

Prowse's Crossing, where the service 86 bus normally terminated, was reached on February 28th 1957.  Demolition in the area of Dousland Station (which was not removed and is still there today) was started on March 7th/8th, and the workmen finally reached Yelverton Station March 28th.

Three locomotives were involved in hauling the demolition trains at various times: numbers 4568 (which had been the regular branch engine for a while before closure), 5567 and 5569.   Braking power was provided by the Princetown Brake Van number W56766.

The bridge across the main Princetown road at Peek Hill was demolished on Saturday May 30th 1964.  Using a 30 hundred-weight stone ball, it took two and a half hours to reduce the bridge to rubble.

On February 16th 1968 the British Railways Board conveyed to the Lord Mayor Aldermen and Citizens of the City of Plymouth: 'All those several pieces of land situate between the points "B-C" and "J -K" on the plans numbered 1 and 4 hereto annexed and containing together an area of Eleven acres and Seven perches or thereabouts situate in the Parishes of Meavy and Walkhampton both in the County of Devon as the same are more particularly delineated on the said plans numbered 1 and 4 thereon coloured blue TOGETHER WITH the Lowery Crossing Cottage and other erections and works thereon'.  As that land forms part of the catchment area for Burrator Reservoir it is currently owned by Messrs South West Water Ltd.

Click on the following links for more information about the Engines Sheds, Goods Depots and Yards, Ground Frames, Halts, Junctions, Platforms, Sidings, Signal Boxes, Signalling, Stations, Tunnels, and Viaducts -