[Source: Nick Catford]
Date opened: 20.7.1874
Location: On the east side of Woolacombe Station Road (B3343)
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 main station buildings, now much altered, have been incorporated into a new housing development.
County: Devon
OS Grid Ref: SS484438
Date of visit: September 1972

Notes: The station was opened in 1874, with the line, and served the villages of Mortehoe and Woolacombe. It was known as Morthoe until 13 May 1902. The station was immortalised in 1964 in the song Slow Train by Flanders and Swann. It was closed to passengers in October 1970 when the branch closed.

After closure the station remained derelict for many years until the mid 1980's when it was partially restored and opened as the 'Once upon a time' children's theme park. The station building was considerably altered and extended including a new narrow gauge engine shed for the park. Four redundant British Railways Mark 1 coaches were craned into position between the platforms, and a number of ex-BR 4-wheel vans (mostly 12-ton 'Vanwide' type) were located around the grounds. The former rolling stock was used to contain a number of displays and attractions. Although opened independently, the attraction was latterly owned by the operators of nearby Watermouth Castle. In 2004, the attraction was put up for sale at an asking price of £800,000 and it closed at the end of the 2005 season.

In December 2006, a planning application was lodged for the redevelopment of the site. The plan covered the building of seven units of affordable housing, located in the area currently occupied by the platforms, and 37 units of temporary holiday accommodation. The surviving station buildings, including the signal box, would be retained, converted to form a reception area, offices and shop for the holiday accommodation. The design of the houses was intended to be sympathetic to the station building, following the same roof line and using similar building materials. The Tarka Trail would continue to skirt the eastern edge of the site.

By August 2007, all of the external amusement rides and constructions had been removed or demolished, leaving just the main buildings and platforms intact. By May 2013 the site had been largely completed, with a mixture of permanent and holiday homes.

The station was originally known as Morthoe but was changed to Mortehoe on 13.5.1902. Woolacombe was added to the name on 5.6.1950.

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.

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: Ilfracombe, Braunton, Wrafton, & Barnstaple Town

Mortehoe & Woolacombe Station Gallery 1:
c1905 - September 1972

Mortehoe & Woolacombe station looking south in c1905
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection

1904 1:2,500 OS map
An early 20th century view showing the original name Mortehoe for Woolacombe and Lee. The name was changed to Mortehoe and Woolacombe on 13 May 1902 but it could have been some years before signs were changed.

Mortehoe & Woolacombe station looking north in 1943
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection

Mortehoe & Woolacombe station forecourt in 1943
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection

A local service hauled by a Churchward 4300 class Mogul (2-6-0) has just left Mortehoe & Woolacombe station bound for Ilfracombe circa 1950s.

Mortehoe & Woolacombe sation in the early 1960's
hoto by Reverend Peter Westall

Mortehoe & Woolacombe station looking north in September 1965
Photo from Mike Morant collection

Mortehoe & Woolacombe station looking north in July 1967
Copyright photo by John Alsop

Mortehoe & Woolacombe station in September 1972
Photo by Ted Burgess

Mortehoe & Woolacombe Station in September 1972
Photo by Ted Burgess

Click here for Mortehoe & Woolacombe Station Gallery 2: August 1981 - June 2017




[Source: Nick Catford]

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