Lynton & Barnstaple Railway
10 March 2003
Paul joined the movement to re-instate the L&BR in 1979. He is
just completing a new research of the line, having amassed several
hundredweight of reference material. He was consequently well equipped
to give use a historical journey of the whys and wherefore surrounding
He started the story in 1885, when P&A Campbell, the coastal
shipping company relocated to the Bristol Channel from the Clyde and
selected Lynton and Lynmouth as one of their destinations. The journey
from Minehead, the nearest port, to Lynmouth was about 4 hours. Coaches
remained horse drawn until 1920 because of the poor state of the roads.
The alternative journey for land-based travellers was not much better.
Barnstable station opened in 1864, but had a 3 hour journey to Lynton.
This state of affairs carried on until 1898 when the railway opened.
Meanwhile at Lynton, the first inter-urban transport
in UK had been built - the cliff railway linking with Lynmouth. This
was built by Georges Newnes, the publisher and benefactor of the town.
On the opening day his associates from London, who chose the sea route,
couldn't land because of the state of the sea - clearly something must
be done. When the GWR proposed to build a standard gauge railway to
Lynton, Mr Newnes proposed a rival narrow gauge, and cheaper route to
Barnstaple, and secured the support of the populace. Paul believes
that his reasons for doing this were not altogether altruistic; his
personal objective being to avoid day trippers from using the GWR, who
could spoil the tranquillity of his holiday retreat in Lynton.
Once the line was opened, it quickly became apparent
that the scheme was not the business success the locals had wanted.
Working expenses ate up the whole of the income, and a dividend was not
paid until 1913. Gradients were severe and long, and any train over 4
coaches had to be double headed. Like many light railways, the stations
were nowhere near the villages they were supposed to service and so
could not compete with the new motor buses. Mr Newnes bought some buses
to bring passengers to the railway, but these failed and were ultimately
sold to GWR.
Until 1933, the carriages didn't have heating other
than than cast iron water bottles. However, to attract summer tourists
(of high social standing of course!) observation saloons were
constructed. These were initially open, but were glazed when sparks set
1st class passengers clothes on fire; the 3rd class remained open to the
end. Despite the operating costs, the management didn't cut any
corners to make sure that their benefactor could be proud of the line.
Shed staff had to polishing on the locomotive tank sides with a
"fish-scale" pattern, changed daily, so that the Supervisors could
easily check that the job had been done.
Despite these problems, the LBR has a number of
"firsts" to its name: it was first to have concrete sleepers, to have
all bogie coaches, to have roller bearings on the coaches, all fitted
goods stock, and the first motor bus feeders.
Paul finished his talk by looking to the future. A
partly restored line will open on May 11th this year at Woody Bay,
initially running demonstration goods trains. Snapper Halt is being
bought by some supporters for transfer to the company, representing
another step on the way to reinstating this fascinating line. Note that
there is an unrestored L&BR coach in the "garden" at the NRM.