The North Cornwall Railway

History Construction Operation Traffic The Final Years Rolling Stock Since Closure The ACE Links

TOWER HILL TO LAUNCESTON

Leaving Tower Hill the valley widens considerably and the railway had an easy path into Launceston, crossing the River Carey twice more in the process. Leaving the Carey immediately before Launceston, the line headed off on a low embankment for the River Tamar and the crossing it on a double span bridge into Cornwall, followed by a short climb at 1 in 94 to where the line crossed the River Kensey and then the Great Western Railway's line from Lifton and so into Launceston station, about 150ft above sea level and some 13m 54 from Halwill Junction.

Launceston diagram
Diagram based on one in An Illustrated History of the North Cornwall Railway and reproduced by kind permission of Irwell Press.

Launceston (link to map of station area) station was at the bottom of the hill, with the old town and Norman castle at the top, more than 300ft above, despite the wishes of the Launceston committee that the line should run through the town. For hundreds of years Launceston, the ancient capital of Cornwall, had stood as the gateway to the county but the coming of the railways had by-passed it with the main route into the county being by the GWR's Royal Albert Bridge and the southerly route through Lostwithiel, St Austell and Truro to Falmouth, with later extension from Truro to Penzance. The importance of Launceston was declining fast, but this was arrested to some extent with the arrival of the GWR branch from Lydford in 1865 and the NCR main line from Halwill in 1886. The north side of the town grew around the station area, known as Newport, where extensive goods facilities were provided by both companies, who remained fiercely independent of one another with their own Signalboxes, locomotive facilities and, even, turntables. This started to change, however, during the First World War when the traffic of the two stations was amalgamated. The Station Master was always a LSWR/SR appointment but his staff remained as servants of whichever company they had joined with GW passenger guards wearing their GW uniforms but the shunting staff in LSWR/SR uniforms. At the beginning of January 1917 the GWR Signalbox was closed and the functions and staff moved into an enlarged LSWR Signalbox, a most unusual, but not unique, arrangement. Despite this there was no physical connection between the lines until, during the Second World War, a spur was put in for the use of munitions trains, effective from 19 September 1943.

Launceston Luggage Label

Left: A LSWR luggage label reproduced with thanks from the Mike Morant collection.

When the Southern Railway introduced the light pacific class in 1945, all the early engines were named after places in the West Country and many had a naming ceremony at the place they were named after. Accordingly, on 1 November 1945, Nº21C117 LAUNCESTON was named in the station by Ald G E Trood, JP, the Mayor of Launceston. Following the 1948 formation of British Railways the ex-GWR station was known, from 1 January 1952, as Launceston North whilst the ex-SR station became Launceston South. Less than six months later, however, all Western passenger traffic started using the Southern station although the full layout of the Western station remained intact and was used for goods traffic. From 31 December 1962 the Western services were withdrawn and the line to Lifton was closed. However another reversal of fortunes occurred when all remaining goods facilities were withdrawn from the Southern line between Okehampton and Wadebridge on 7 September 1964 and the Western line to Lifton was re-opened for goods traffic only. This did not last for long, though, as from 28 February 1966 the goods services were withdrawn and the line to Lifton was lifted. Seven months later, on 1 October 1966, the last passenger trains operated and Launceston station, along with all the line north of Wadebridge, was closed.

Three women railway workers
During the war the railways recruited lots of women to cover for the men who'd left to join the forces. This photograph shows three of them on Launceston platform in July 1945. On the left is Ruth Stanbury, in the middle is Betty Sleep and on the right Gwendoline "Queenie" Sleep.
Photograph kindly provided by David Sleep.

Steve Ridd (Betty's son) has provided the following interesting information:
I showed (the photo above) to my mum, who related the following to me, "I was one of the first women to join the North Cornwall Railway in about 1943. The reason was because my dad (Harold Sleep) didn't want any more of his family to join the services."
Steve went on to tell me, "My mum had a brother Reg in the Navy, another brother Sid (see Otterham page) in the Army and a sister Margaret in the WRAF. Her dad got her a job as a track worker. She was 17 at the time, and there was one other woman who started at the same time (name not known), but she didn't stay very long. In her first few weeks one of the jobs she did was to walk from one station to the next painting over any sign that gave a clue as to the location, to foil German aircraft. A few weeks later another woman joined her, Ruth Stansbury. They had both been to school together and were already friends. Later on my mum's sister Queenie also joined making up the three shown in the picture.
The work became heavier, and they were re-named Track Engineers, and put to work with a "Ganger" who was called Johnny Bolt. They would walk the rails and Johnny Bolt would look for irregularities in the rails. They would then dig out the ballast, put in a heavy jack to lift the rail until it was straight and level, then pack it up, and replace the ballast. On one occasion the jack slipped crushing my mum's hand. She was only off work for a couple of weeks, and still has two badly deformed fingers on her right hand.
Mum stayed on the railway for about three years, but as men were de-mobbed she left as the men wanted their old jobs back.
She also recalled one occasion when a German bomber attacked Otterham Station, dropping a bomb. Nobody was killed, but she did say lots of her dad's chickens were killed by the blast!"

Three women railway workers
The three ladies pictured above at a reunion in 1995. On the left is Betty, in the middle Ruth and on the right "Queenie".
Photograph kindly provided by Steve Ridd (Betty's son).

Launceston Station in 1945
A big event at Launceston happened later that year, on 1st November, when the Bulleid pacific Nº21C112 LAUNCESTON was named in
the station by Ald G E Trood, JP, the Mayor of Launceston. Behind LAUNCESTON is a GWR train in that company's station.
Photograph reproduced by kind permission of Nigel Bowman.

Launceston Station in 1945
Another view of the station at the naming showing the Signalbox on the left that contained frames controlling both the
Southern and the GWR stations.
Photograph reproduced by kind permission of Nigel Bowman.

Launceston Station
The down platform at Launceston showing the station building with its canopy on 30th August 1961.
Photograph © Chris Knowles-Thomas.

Launceston Station
The up platform with the Signalman about to cross over to deliver the single line token to the driver of
N Class Nº31859 in the down platform. Unless some action were taken it looks as if the bag for the
water column was in for some rough treatment!
Photograph courtesy of Bob Mason.

Launceston Station
The up platform with the Signalbox and waiting shelter on 30th August 1961.
Photograph © Chris Knowles-Thomas.

Launceston Station
A view across to the ex-GWR Launceston MPD with an unidentified pannier tank on shed on 30th August 1961.
Photograph © Chris Knowles-Thomas.

Return to top
Halwill to Tower Hill.
Tower Hill to Launceston.
Launceston to Otterham.
Otterham to Port Isaac Road.
Port Isaac Road to Wadebridge.
Wadebridge to Padstow.
 
History Construction Operation Traffic The Final Years Rolling Stock Since Closure The ACE Links

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