The Friends of the
National Railway Museum

South of England Group
Vice Presidents: Richard Hardy; Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA

Last Update

Talk Synopsis

5 January 2006

Lynton & Barnstaple Railway
Paul Gower
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 the line.
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.

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