Station Name: ILFRACOMBE

 

Date opened: 20.7.1874
Location: On the west side of Station Road
Company on opening: London & South Western Railway
Date closed to passengers: 5.10.1970
Date closed completely: 5.10.1970
Company on closing: British Rail (Western Region)
Present state: The station has been demolished and a Pall Europe factory stands on the site
County: Devon
OS Grid Ref: SS516468
Date of visit: March 1970 & September 1972

Notes: Ilfracombe was the subject of numerous unsuccessful schemes, including rival L S W R and Devon & Somerset Bills in 1864. An eventual agreement for a joint line of mixed gauge broke down when the Devon & Somerset could not pay its share. A new approach was made by the Barnstaple & Ilfracombe Railway, a subsidiary of the L S W R, receiving Royal Assent on 4 July 1870.

Now the price had to be paid for the railway's late entry into North Devon. So depressed had the economy become and so many labourers had emigrated that not enough navvies could be found, the line was eventually opened from a new junction at Barnstaple on 20th July 1874 with intermediate stations at Barnstaple Quay, Wrafton, Braunton and
Mortehoe & Woolacombe.

Engineering works were heavy, with a tunnel above the Slade Valley and an S-shaped bridge over the Taw at Barnstaple as well as almost continuous embankments and cuttings, except in the section beside the Taw estuary. There were steep gradients, down trains climbing three miles at 1 in 40 and then dropping at 1 in 36 for two miles round sharp curves to the terminus perched spectacularly on a cliff edge above the town. During its first years the Ilfracombe line had lightweight rails, and only selected rolling stock could be used.

The year before the opening the Devon & Somerset Railway launched a coach service from its Barnstaple terminus (the present Victoria Road) to Ilfracombe. This continued in hot opposition to the L S W R until 1st June 1887, the opening date of the mile-long loop from the terminus round the outskirts of the town to Barnstaple Junction.

Barnstaple Junction, just called Barnstaple till the opening of the Quay station on the Ilfracombe line, had its down island platforms added in May 1874 in readiness for that event. Barnstaple Quay was replaced by Town on a larger adjoining site to the north in time for the opening of the line to Lynton in 1898 which had a terminal bay at the new station. The Ilfracombe line was initially single track but was doubled in three stages between 1889 - 1891, although the bridge over the River Raw remained single.

On 1st July 1905 the Barnstaple eastern spur was opened completing a triangular junction outside the G W R's station (later Victoria Road) permitting Taunton - Ilfracombe trains to by-pass it. For a long time the G W R played an important part in Ilfracombe's development, the journey from Paddington being considerably quicker than that from Waterloo.

Traffic on the Ilfracombe line reached its peak in the mid 1930's. The line proved popular during both wars with Ilfracombe providing a welcome break from war time stress.

Although the line did not close after the 'Beeching Axe', the goods service was withdrawn and the line was singled with a new DMU service being introduced. However the popularity of the car ensured that the branch lines days were numbered. By the late 1960's the line was beginning to look very derelict and the end finally came in 1970 with the last train pulling out of Ilfracombe at 7.55 p.m. on 3rd October.

Almost at once a preservation society was formed to take over the 14 miles of track. Steam for the holiday crowds was the main aim but a survey showed a need for a diesel service at least from Braunton - Barnstaple. A class 4 tank at the Barry scrapyard was reserved for the society and worked on by enthusiasts.

Despite numerous fund raising events including a centenary exhibition at Ilfracombe in 1974 the cost of reopening the line had risen to £500,000 which could not be raised and the North Devon Railway Company which had been set up to administer the line folded. Later that year the rails were lifted and in 1978 the bridge over the River Taw was demolished ending any
remaining hopes of reinstating the Ilfracombe Railway.

The trackbed between Barnstaple and Braunton is now part of the Tarka Trail cycleway.

Sources:
A regional hiostory of the Railways of Great Britain - Volume 1 The West Country
Published by David & Charles (1960)
Back along the lines - North Devon's Railways by Victor Thompson
Published by Badger Books 1983 ISBN 0 946290 03 2

Route map drawn by Alan Young, tickets from Michael Stewart

Suggested further reading:
The Barnstaple & Ilfracombe Railway by Colin Maggs - Oakwood Press ISBN 0 85361 368 0
Branch Line to Ilfracombe by Vic Mitchell & Keith Smith - Middleton Press 1 873793 21 9

To see the other stations on the Ilfracombe branch line click on the station name: Mortehoe & Woolacombe, Braunton,
Wrafton, & Barnstaple Town


Looing north towards Ilfracombe Station in c.1910
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection




32-061 Class 42 Warship diesel loco D812 'Royal Naval Reserve' at Ilfracombe Station in August 1968
Photo by Bernard Mills see Bernard's Fotopic web site

Ilfracombe Station in March 1970
P
hoto by Terry Tracey

Ilfracombe Station in September 1972
P
hoto by Charles Mavor


Ilfracombe Station in September 1972
P
hoto by Charles Mavor

Click here for more pictures of Ilfracombe Station



 

 

 

[Source: Nick Catford & Charles Mavor]


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