49 Moretonhampstead Branch

Again, photographs kindly lent by Richard Holladay have prompted the scribe to go through the files and the scout to saddle up, this time to prepare a feature on the other East Dartmoor branch line.

Richard has provided a set of photographs of the “South Devon Phoenix,” which are marked “Copyright C. [Cedric] H.S. Owen.” They have been added to the C.R.S. Moreton Branch collection but without the inscriptions on the reverse of each photo, which have been included here (in italics).

The following extract from “The Moretonhampstead Branch: A Railway from Shore to Moor,” by John Owen, published by Waterfront, describes the event.

“Undaunted [by B.R’s. intransigence], the Society [South Devon Railway Society] continued with their campaign from their new headquarters at Teigngrace Halt, and planned a further major publicity Special for the following Whit Monday (11th June 1962).

“To advertise and promote the event, the SDRS held a competition to find a suitable name for the excursion; the winning title of ‘South Devon Phoenix’, suggested by a lady in Kingskerswell, being most appropriate given its intention. The ‘Phoenix’ left Newton Abbot at 1.18pm, with motive power being provided by ‘large Prairie’ 5153, and six carriages carrying 200 or so occupants – one of whom was W.N. Ayliffe, chairman of Newton Abbot Rural District Council. Stops were made at all the stations and halts along the Line, the train again receiving a particularly enthusiastic welcome at Lustleigh, the villagers having decorated the station as they had done two years previously. At the terminus, a ‘pilgrimage’ was made to the granite memorial stone inscribed with the names of the original M&SDR directors. After a stop-over of an hour and a quarter, the excursion set off for the leisurely amble back to Newton Abbot – there being a 15mph speed limit in force over the Branch – arriving there at 5.30pm. Although the trip had been an undoubted success in terms of attracting local publicity and interest, not to mention a pleasantly nostalgic day out in its own right, this well-supported hint to the Railway Authorities once again fell on deaf ears and unseeing eyes. With the exception of a Sunday School Special run just two months later, the ‘Phoenix’ proved to be the swan-song for passenger-carrying trains over the full length of the Branch. It also marked a change in direction for the SDRS, which soon switched its attention to developments taking place in the Dart Valley.”

S.D.R.S.
5153 for “South Devon Phoenix” at Newton Shed.
Inspector H.T. Cooke, Driver P. Stone & Fireman C. Vosper.
Whit Monday 11-6-62


The loco must have been turned at Goodrington for it is seen later running boiler first on the branch. It is not known whether this had been requested by the organizers or it was considered good practice with the maximum load being taken.
The traincrew block adjoining the running shed was new when the “Phoenix” photo, above, was taken. Here it is, abandoned, in 1992
The “Moreton Bay” or No. 9 platform at Newton Abbot seen in 1998, before the buildings were demolished. Beyond the bicycle sheds was a brick-built waiting room and lock-up. The carriage chute was used latterly for loading CARFLATs on Motorail trains. There was another platform face and two sidings, each with chutes. More buildings at track level nestled against the high retaining wall on Quay Road.
A water tower stood at the end of the building at centre, which was Edwin Tucker’s rail-served malthouse. When it closed in 2018, it was the last remaining in Devon.
In this 1928 view of the newly-rebuilt Newton Abbot Station, the course of the Moretonhampstead Branch can clearly be seen as far as Teignbridge.
From Kingsteignton Road Bridge, the commencement of the “One Engine in Steam” section of the branch is seen blocked by crossed sleepers in 2017. The line on this side is an operational refuge siding; in practice, only a short length beyond the ground signal at the station is used.

Repeated washouts occur just south of Teignbridge when the neighbouring Stover Canal floods and water spills over the track. No attempt is made to defend the line and no lasting repair has been made.

The line is undoubtedly vulnerable here but a level of resilience could be achieved, using a variety of modern measures, sufficient to justify reinstating the former Teign Valley diversionary route.

In February, 2014, while the main line was breached at Dawlish, this was the state of the Moreton Branch. It was repaired in a day. Concrete sleepers and “dumpy” bags used in previous repairs can be seen, as can the rail uprights of the defensive sleeper wall.
Further damage photographed in January, 2020.
There were two high loading docks at Teignbridge, served by sidings on either side of the main line. Richard is standing on the one east of the line while a long train approaches the level crossing. High-sided opens stand at the opposite dock ready for their loads of ball clay, which will be tipped into them by lorries.
At left is the dry Stover Canal. The sleeper wall protecting the railway from flooding long ago fell into disrepair. (R. Holladay)
After the changeover to air-braked bulk wagons around 1981, no more clay was loaded at Teignbridge. This is looking towards Moreton; the crossing gates are ahead. Richard was standing on the loading dock at right, which was a steel structure.

Between 2011 and 2015, the rump of the branch was brought back into use. Timber gathered from forests in Devon and Cornwall was roaded to Teignbridge, where it was stockpiled in the large area of land between the railway and canal, where the siding and loading bank had been. The story is told fully under “What’s New?

Teignbridge Crossing: The whole train could not be loaded at once and so it was split. Here the loco is at the head of loaded wagons ready to depart or draw forward for further loading. Earlier, the train would have worked to Heathfield to allow the loco to run round. (K. Bowden)
A curiosity at Teignbridge is the lengths of grooved rail protruding from a concrete wall forming the bank of the dry Stover Canal. Were there timbers here once to allow tipping into barges? Did trams once run over these rails on the streets of Exeter, Torquay or Plymouth?
Teigngrace Halt, taken by Peter of Teignmouth in April, 1968.
The building served as the headquarters of the fledgling South Devon Railway Society.
The siding serves a high clay-loading dock.

The station briefly comes to life in this 2015 video.

S.D.R.S.
5153 on the “South Devon Phoenix” return excursion from Moretonhampstead to Paignton leaving Heathfield, the erstwhile junction for the Exe Valley line. The points in the foreground lead the train onto single line. 11-6-62
W. Underhay on the footplate.


Mr. Owen meant the Teign Valley line. The train is about to pass over the motor-worked trap points at the end of the loop, lengthened in 1943.
Richard is standing on the A38 bridge over the line at Heathfield watching a shunt. From the man standing at the signal, it can be taken that pannier-tank engine No. 3796 has just put off empties in the private siding and is setting back onto its train.
The Up Main at left is the 1943 extension of the passing loop. (R. Holladay)
In 2020, the scout is standing on the same bridge but not at the same parapet. The original bridge was widened for the eastbound carriageway of the A38, while a new bridge was built for westbound traffic.
The crossover has gone but the siding points remain.
The view from the new bridge at Heathfield in December, 2014, when special trains were running.
“Timber Siding,” at right, is obstructed beyond the gate.

“Timber Siding” was a loop, connected at the far end to the single main line, and was installed for Stover Estate traffic. Lignite from the Blue Waters pit was loaded for a while after the war but it was then turned over to clay. The R.C.H. Hand-Book of Stations lists the trader as English Clays, Lovering, Pochin & Co., Ltd and the facility as “Stover Siding.” E.C.L.P. was one of the constituents of the conglomerate English China Clays and it was E.C.C. (Ball Clays) that used the siding latterly.

In this view of a Class 142 D.M.U. standing at the Up platform at Heathfield in 2011, both A38 road bridges can be seen. Concrete beams were added to the original to make it wider. Movement in the new bridge abutment has required heavy anchors and tie rods.

The following three photographs are taken from the Down platform at Heathfield in what is thought to be the early 1960s, when both branches had closed to passengers but were still open, at least in part, for goods.

In the third one, the huge quantity of track sections, both at right and in the “vee” of the junction, cannot be fully explained. It is likely that the chaired concrete-sleeper sections at right are for re-laying the line between here and Gulf Oil’s new terminal of 1966, half a mile towards Bovey. (B.R./O.P.C.)

If those concrete track sections were for re-laying the branch, then here are the sleepers back again after being lifted in 2011. The end of the Up platform marks where the box once stood and just beyond it was the Teign Valley junction
Candy & Co. dominate this view from the south-east of 1948. The Great Western Potteries and clay pit lie at centre. At centre right are the company’s Heathfield Cottages; the footbridge over the railway can just be seen. At left is Browhill, with more workers’ housing.
Heathfield Station is at right with the course of the Moretonhampstead Branch clear until it runs alongside OId Newton Road. The Teign Valley Branch curves to the right. Stover Siding is at bottom right.
More of the Moreton Branch can be seen in this 1930 view, as well as the factory’s internal standard and narrow gauge lines.
Most of the land bordered by Newton Road (top), the A38 and Old Newton Road is now covered in housing and a trading estate. Land to the right of the station, including the Teign Valley line, has also been swallowed by development.

The scout took the following six photographs in January, 2012, after the track beyond Heathfield had been needlessly lifted the previous year.

The scout had resolved to record the gradual takeover by nature but this is the only shot he took, six years later.
The end of the line until 2011 was at four miles 46 chains, ten chains beyond the oil terminal points. After closure of Bovey, the line had continued to the four and three-quarter milepost.
It was still possible to walk the disused line between Pottery Bridge and Bovey in the early 1980s, before it was made into the wretched Bovey bypass, named, in the cod-heritage style beloved of road-builders trying to mollify their philistinism, Monks Way.
Here the scout looks back at the bridge, which would be obliterated by the new road. At right was the derelict Bovey Pottery, which had a private siding connected to the branch just this side of the bridge.
Also gone are the platform of Brimley Halt and the adjacent bridge. Ashburton Road, whence a path led down to the halt, is now carried over the railway’s former course by a concrete slab.

Bovey: In 1991, the scene that was so quintessentially English, of a country railway station going about its business of organized public transport, had gone. The system whose outpost had come to belong to the little town, the relatively benign means of transport which held the promise or potential to develop and modernize into part of a widespread sustainable national network open to all, and all things, had been given over to the self-centred car user and the self-interest of the haulier and vanman.

S.D.R.S.
5153 on the “South Devon Phoenix” special excursion from Paignton to Moretonhampstead approaching Pullabrook Halt. 11-6-62
The same bridge as above from the opposite side in 2019. The road climbs to where the photograph was taken from but nothing can be seen for the trees.
On the climb up Bell Lane from the Wray Valley to Torquay Reservoirs, the scout looked back from the top of a hedgebank at Lustleigh Station, whose little building can be seen just below centre.
The exquisite countryside served by the Moreton Branch is revealed here. St John’s Church can be seen at centre left, surrounded by “the prettiest village on Dartmoor.” Lustleigh Cleave lies just over the ridge.
The shell of the station seen from the bridge embankment on Brookfield Road. It’s someone’s home today, but in a different world the Double Arrow may have been displayed here.
The station is just beyond the bridge. A mile of the line is inaccessible to walkers and cyclists and so the path that’s been made turns away to join the public road.
MOB 29
Moretonhampstead Branch, structure no. 29

Left: An unusual straining post and an undated Great Western Railway boundary marker. This one may have been repositioned as they are usually found away from the fences of operational land.
The start of the three and a half mile climb to Moretonhampstead. A highly-engineered transport route turned into a leisure path is a legacy squandered.
S.D.R.S.
5153 on the “South Devon Phoenix” return excursion from Moretonhampstead to Paignton approaching Lustleigh. 11-6-62
Looking towards Lustleigh, the bare rock of Caseley Cutting can be seen, not far from where the line runs out onto the embankment in the photograph above.
This was taken in 2019 before the path was opened. The works access at left from Caseley Lane has now been closed off. It is one of the many annoyances of these paths that they often cannot be joined intermediately.
Constance Scotter Owen, the submitter of the winning name “South Devon Phoenix” on the front of the engine No. 5153 2-6-2T at Moretonhampstead. Engine has drawn forward to run round the train for the return journey. Whit Monday, June 11th 1962.
Taken from approximately the same position in 2020.

The following gallery contains photographs very similar to those already published. It can be assumed that they were taken within a year or so of the passenger service being withdrawn. (B.R./O.P.C.)

2020: Possibly one of the last photographs the scout will take of the old station before this part of it is obliterated by another grotty satellite housing estate.

The railway’s objection to the development can be read in this entry under “Campaigning.”

S.D.R.S.
5153 on the “South Devon Phoenix” entering Newton Abbot Station from Moretonhampstead on its return run to Paignton. W. Underhay on the footplate. 11-6-62


At centre is the Up Through. The train is running onto the Down Main. Between are the Up Main and Up Relief. The Moretonhampstead Branch was directly connected with all six running lines through the station, serving eight platform faces, as well as the branch bay.

This was to be the second to last passenger train from Moretonhampstead.

Class 142 Farewell

Special Trains on the Moretonhampstead Branch

Charity HST Special, 10th October, 2015

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