81 Exmouth Branch

The scout’s memory of the branch goes back to joining a train of green carriages behind a steam engine in the Up Bay at Central Station.

Exmouth frequently draws the scout throughout the year but he seldom now uses the trains.

Typically, all the points of interest with which he is most familiar he has scarcely photographed before now.

A 1953 Ian Allan railtour from Exeter Central to Exmouth, returning via Sidmouth Junction, is seen waiting to depart from the Down Bay.
The locomotive, Adams “radial” No. 30583, built in 1885, was one of the three kept to work the Lyme Regis Branch and shedded at Exmouth Junction. The loco survives on the BlueBell Railway.
The Up Bay at Exeter Central, where the cub scout remembers his Mother asking him to check what was on the front of the train. D.M.U’s. were about to be introduced. Whitewash remains on the platform edge.
The Western Counties Brick Company and Domestic Chemical Co. Ltd. siding made a trailing connection with the Up line. It was worked by Exmouth Junction Box and the siding was served by trips from the yard. The connection was taken out when the line was singled in 1973.
This is looking from the Downside towards the junction. There are now houses on both sides of the line here. Apart from the brickworks’ landscaped clay pit, all trace of industry has gone.
The scout can remember being on the lineside here in the mid-’70s with an S. & T. inspector, looking at telegraph poles which had just been felled with a view to recovering them for the project at Longdown.

Polsloe Bridge Halt

A year after the “rail motor car” service was introduced on the main line, another began on the Exmouth Branch as far as Topsham, serving Lion’s Holt and Mount Pleasant, and new halts at Polsloe Bridge and Clyst St. Mary & Digby.

The entrance to the former Down platform on Pinhoe Road was at the end of the wing wall. A ticket office was situated on this side. A “window” was later incorporated into the Downside shelter and the office closed. It was brought back into use on busy days.
The 1123 Exmouth to Paignton has just arrived at the remaining platform.The late Bill Harvey featured what he called Polsloe Junction Bridge in his “Bridge of the Month” column. +
The scout was sure that he had read on the information screen that the train was only minutes away when he took up a position on a traffic island. The wait seemed like ages and a van would appear at the critical moment. +
Looking Down along the old Up line. Other platforms on the branch have been lengthened; this one has been shortened. +
In this 1933 aerial view, the ends of the platforms of the halt can be seen at lower left. Going off picture at middle right is Pinhoe Road, the A38 trunk road.
New housing on Widgery Road spreads east from the city, just as development continues to do, but on a vastly greater scale.
The Southern main line, above, lies in open country. Today, a passenger gazing out of a train window would continue to see Exeter’s sprawl for another four miles.
The grounds at lower left, above the railway, were attached to Honeylands House, which, in 1923, had been donated to Exeter City Council by a member of the Wills tobacco family for use as a sanatorium. The scribe remembers that there was some controversy when the grounds were sold for a housing development.
Fortunately, the area beneath the railway remains green. Once called Polsloe Bridge Playing Fields or “JLC,” it is now known as Hamlin Lane Playing Field. A miniature road system laid out as a children’s cycle training area, which fascinated the scout when he used to see it from the train, is still there.

Only four motor vehicles can be seen in the 1933 aerial view and only two of those are on Pinhoe Road, an arterial route.

A certain high-mindedness is evident in the Widgery Road development, entirely missing from the later wretched spill of Exeter. The housing is low density; there are large gardens and open spaces. The roads are narrow, with grass verges, intended to become tree lines.

The scout went to see it.

The view back towards the junction from the footbridge off Birchy Barton Hill, with Polsloe Bridge Halt just visible. The scout remembers being at an open window and hearing the exhaust note of the steam engine change as it ran onto the short 1:100 climb from Polsloe Bridge. +
From the footbridge looking towards Hill Barton Road, which became part of the Exeter Bypass.
Seen from Hill Barton Road is a possible site of the halt that has been mooted to serve the Meteorological Office and the ever growing residential area. It could be Hill Barton or Monkerton but in 2022 the county council stated that the idea of a new station would not be pursued. +
From Gallows Bridge carrying the old Exeter Bypass, the Exmouth Branch is seen crossing Honiton Road, the old A30. +

The fasces was the ancient symbol used by the Italian fascist movement yet there was obviously no reason in the 1930s for it to be blacked, unlike the equally ancient fylfot. These and Drake’s motto are unlikely to be noticed by those who may like to deface them and to rewrite history.

In the triangle formed by Honiton Road, Hill Barton Road and Sidmouth Road lies Ringswell Park, formerly Ringswell Caravan Park, where the scout was born in a 19 ft. living van. His Father had gone to summon the midwife. +

Honiton & Exeter Road Bridge must have been rebuilt in 1908, when the line was doubled to Topsham.

Clyst St. Mary & Digby Halt/Digby & Sowton

Clyst St. Mary & Digby closed in 1948, so the scout cannot claim, because of its proximity to Ringswell Caravan Park, that it was his first “home” station. The later Digby & Sowton opened in 1995, by which time he was living in a 27-foot caravan.

A glorious 1928 aerial view of Exeter City Mental Hospital, which was opened in 1886 as the City of Exeter Lunatic Asylum. Then in open country, it has now been completely enveloped by the expansive city.
Woodwater Lane can be seen behind the hospital and running down the right hand side of the photo. The hospital drive ran from the corner at middle right to Sidmouth Road.
The Exmouth Branch is glimpsed at bottom right.
The scout’s Mother was a nurse here in the early 1970s, when the place was usually just known as Digby. The hospital closed in 1986.
In the aerial view above, Apple Lane’s junction with Woodwater Lane is seen at far right. Apple Lane Bridge survives as a foot crossing of the Exmouth Branch.
The scout remembers going to the hospital one summer’s evening to see his Mother on night duty. Afterwards he rode to this bridge and then on to Newcourt. The motorway had not been built and there was nothing to the east but open country.
In later years, before the trees grew up, the view east was a sea of steel rooves that could easily have been Basingstoke.
The next new station, Newcourt, can be seen from Apple Lane. It is just over three-quarters of a mile from Digby & Sowton. +
Listed in the 1956 Railway Clearing House “Hand-Book of Stations” is “Devon Mental Hospital Management Committee Siding.” This was on the Upside of the line where the train is seen and was accessible from Woodwater Lane, here reduced to a shared-use path. The siding was opened to receive building materials for the hospital. Coal was brought here in later years.

Newcourt Sidings

A cutting from a December, 1939, Daily Mail, one of the newspapers found being used as pipe lagging now held in the exhibition at Christow. +

A U.S. supply base was established just beyond Old Rydon Lane in time for the D-Day landings in 1944. After the war, it became a Royal Naval Stores Depot and continued to be served by rail until the late 1970s. Vast stocks of spares were kept for every ship in the water, most never to be used. It was said that the jobs there were undemanding in the extreme.

The depot closed in 1997 and the site is now a housing estate whose roads commemorate different conflicts.

A few weeks after taking the photograph of the street sign above, the scout turned towards the front in Lympstone where a lithe young lady in lycra was having a rest while on a ride from Exeter. When a conversation was struck up, she told the scout that she was a self-employed physiotherapist. Because some of her patients were cyclists, she had decided to take up the pursuit. She was well equipped and the scout remarked that she could have passed for an old hand. She said that she lived near the IKEA store and that she had needed to get out. The scout let slip that many of the roads in the new development had wartime names and she revealed that her home was in Jutland Way. To prove his point, the scout immediately said: “Battle of Jutland, 1916, the decisive naval battle of the First World War.” She seemed impressed by the scout’s knowledge and so he added that he had recently photographed a River Plate road sign. She knew this as the main road through the estate. Without too much detail, the scout recounted the story of the Graf Spee and her humane and honourable captain. The lithe one asked if this was the scout’s ‘thing’, to which he replied: “Don’t start me on my ‘thing’.” Very kindly, she promised that she would tell her children what she had learnt. The scout left her with, “have an enjoyable ride,” and she replied with, “nice to have met you,” which the scout took not as the farewell of someone who hoped to God she would never see him again.

As the scout continued on his way, he thought of that Clash of the Titans in the North Sea, the greatest ever action of its kind, that not much more than a century later would mean nothing to someone living in a Jutland Way. Perhaps one day he will bump into a resident of Trafalgar Place in Exeter.

Colin G. Maggs, in his “The Exeter and Exmouth Railway,” wrote:

These American Naval Depot sidings were built with remarkable speed. At 12.10 pm on Saturday 2nd October, 1943 the United States Navy authorities asked the SR Western Divisional superintendent to meet them at 2.30 pm that afternoon to discuss making a temporary siding on a green field so that 150 wagons of stores on their way from the North might be unloaded. The Divisional engineer also attended the meeting and arranged to have sufficient material to lay 1,200 ft of siding delivered by 11 am on Monday the 4th. He was almost as good as his word for it was there by noon. Twenty-four hours later the Americans had laid 1,000 ft of track, the SR Divisional engineer’s staff had laid the connection and raised a shallow embankment to link with the siding. By noon on Wednesday wagons were in position and by 5 pm the siding was complete with signalling.


From “All the Stations in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset”:

Newcourt, on the Exmouth Branch, between Digby & Sowton (Clyst St. Mary & Digby) and Topsham, the first station to be opened in Devon for 20 years and the first genuinely new public station for 77 years,* came into use on 4th June, 2015.

Its single platform and elaborate associated works cost £2,200,000. The station is intended to serve the massive housing development on the site of the former R.N. Stores Depot (which originated in 1943 as a U.S. Navy supply depot for the invasion of France) and nearby rugby ground.

The station that (re)opened in 1995 was its neighbour, Digby & Sowton, all of 1,000 yards away. Which begs the question: why, with old communities in Devon beside a railway, yet deprived access to it, should Newcourt be the place to get a new station?

* Liddaton Halt, on the Launceston Branch, between Lydford and Coryton, was opened in 1938.

It is just after 1310 and the 1257 Exmouth to Paignton has crossed the bridge over the motorway. A passenger with a mobility scooter required the ramp and so the 1311 departure time was exceeded. +
May, 2024: The 1157 Exmouth to Paignton approaches a deserted Newcourt. +
Seeing the information screen reminded the scout that he had photographed it in August, 2022. The dispute was still causing disruption in June, 2023.
Digby & Sowton can be seen beyond Apple Lane Bridge. +
There are fine views across East Devon from the platform at Newcourt. At left here is the new “Courtyard” hotel, with Sandy Park rugby stadium and its associated venues behind. +
Looking east, the motorway is in the foreground. +
Looking south-east. +
Not far beyond Newcourt, the line crosses the motorway. The “Courtyard” and stadium can be seen beyond the bridge.
Behind the trees at left lies the former gate lodge of New Court, a house still standing amid the urban sprawl. The footpath joined Newcourt Road, which was diverted via this bridge when the motorway was built, picking up its former course to the right of the camera. +


Looking towards Exmouth, the station is seen in its emasculated form, with only the facilities of a bus stop. +
It can be seen where the scout was standing when he took his photograph.
Copyright: Roger Joanes. Shared under Creative Commons. +
In the 1950s, the Southern Region considered using D.E.M.U’s. to run a service at twenty minute intervals.
Earlier in the year, the scout had approached a trackworker standing on the pavement with a stop board. He was waiting for authority from the signalman to let his six-man gang start a job that he would once have been able to do between trains. He had voted to accept the pay offer, he told the scout, because he wanted to put a deposit down on his summer holiday. As it turned out, the overall vote was in his favour.
Copyright: Roger Joanes. Shared under Creative Commons. +
Copyright: Roger Joanes. Shared under Creative Commons. +

Topsham Quay Line

This 1930 aerial view captures nearly the whole railway scene. Topsham Station lies at middle right and the line to Exeter is seen going towards top right. New Court and its drive can just be seen at the top. The quay line is shown in full, with trucks standing on the curve near the water’s edge.
Topsham was entirely separate from Exeter in the scout’s memory, but is now part of the city, both physically and administratively.
From the trestle carrying the Exe Estuary Trail, the site of the former Odams’ Manure & Chemical Factory can be seen across Bowling Green Marsh and the River Clyst. +
It was fortunate that the River Clyst Viaduct had been built with piers that were wide enough for a double line, because when the spans came up for renewal in 1959, new girders could be placed on the Downside. The old steelwork was recovered from the Exe Estuary side in 1961.
The former alignment can be seen in the foreground as the train passes Topsham’s Up distant.
Copyright: Roger Joanes. Shared under Creative Commons. +
Extracted from Spantastic, on the railway’s web pages. +

Odams’ Siding

The private siding made a trailing connection with the line towards Exmouth and was served by trips from Topsham. An example of a very short distance rail traffic was guano landed at Topsham and worked to Odams’.

New tarmac and markings on the course of Odams’ Siding.

Before the bridge over the Clyst was built, the Exe Estuary Trail was routed via Topsham Bridge, Marsh Barton (opposite today’s Dart’s Farm) and Odams’ Siding. The scout was told by someone in the know at Sustrans that the county only had a ten-year lease, which must have been extended.

The path now sees very little use and the scout was surprised to find that the length that takes part of the siding formation had been completely resurfaced.

The county road network is in an appalling state, yet a huge expense has been incurred here on a path that was quite adequately surfaced.

Woodbury Road/Exton

The station was Woodbury Road until 1958. The passenger fare book from here, kept in the collection at Christow, was recently deposited in the fake booking office at Okehampton.

Much of the trail between Clyst Viaduct and Exmouth is built on land that would have been used to double the line of railway.
The scout mentions this campaign activity when he reaches Lympstone.
Routing the Exe Estuary Trail through the village was bound to upset owners of the very expensive properties along a road that had hardly ever seen a cyclist or a stranger. It is a great shame that there are inconsiderate users of what should be one of the most benign machines ever invented.

Lympstone Commando

This station was opened in 1976 for the exclusive use of the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines. It was built in three weeks by three men from the B.R. Works Department using sections from the disused Down platform at Weston Milton.

It is the one operational station in Devon that the scout has not used. He once missed an opportunity to catch a train there when the security guard on the camp gate agreed to it. Foolishly, he did not take immediate advantage but called in on the way back from Exmouth, by which time there had been a shift change and the earlier man’s relief said that he would be shot if he allowed a civvy onto the platform (actually, some of the camp civilian staff use the halt).

Arguably, now that there is public access between the camp and the railway, and given that the bulk of the passengers are extremely fit young men, the private station could be closed. The camp perimeter is less than a quarter of a mile from Exton, which would benefit from more passengers. Train operation would also benefit from one less stop and Exton becoming non-request. No one at Christow will be taking these thoughts any further.

August, 2023: On the way back from Exmouth, the scout noticed that the halt gate was open and there appeared to be no one manning the security post. He rode on a little way and then went back. A notice on the camp gate advised that it was closed and that those wishing to enter should “walk around.” A Down train was due but the scout did not want to stop it, thus letting go another opportunity; watching from near Exton, he saw that it did not stop to put down.

With the railway gate unmanned, it would have been much quicker for camp passengers to have used Exton.

The guard must have wondered who had opened the doors for there were no passengers. Signs warn that only passengers have business at the camp should alight.
On a gloriously sunny day in June, the scout stopped just beyond the halt because he suddenly became aware of how deserted the trail had become. The training camp perimeter fence is at left. +
On the way back, at office closing time, the trail was similarly quiet, when the scout had been used to seeing a fair number of cycling commuters heading home. +
The distinctive outcrop of red rock ahead is Lympstone. +
A boathouse is marked on old maps here. But this building, incorporating an ash, is new.
Seen from Turf Lock on a winter’s day, a train approaches Lympstone. Belvidere’s boathouse, pictured above, lies behind the bridge seen right of centre. Lympstone Station is just before a little summit, useful for slowing and starting trains. +


A path leads from the northern tip of the recreation ground to the slender footbridge over the railway.
The Exmouth Junction fence panel at right is more reinforcing wire than concrete.
Just beyond the gate is the edge of the cliff.
From Woodbury Road Bridge, the city is seen above a train which has just passed beneath the footbridge. +

The banner is attached to the fence seen to the left in the photo above. In summer, the charity employs people to canvass support at places along the trail. They call out to passing cyclists: “Have you any time for Sustrans?” The scout always replies politely but pointedly: “No!”

Lympstone was a token station but trains could not cross here, although there may have been times when a short goods was kept in the siding. It allowed there to be two trains on line between Topsham and Exmouth, going in the same direction.

Copyright: Roger Joanes. Shared under Creative Commons. +
From the platform can be seen Powderham’s Belvedere, which predates the more visible one high above Dunchideock. +

On one occasion when the scout passed the cobbles seen above, an old boy was weeding them, although the six inches of concrete he told the scout lay beneath must have hampered propagation. He had lived in Scotland and the scout asked him how he had come to be in Lympstone. He said that he and his wife had written down their criteria; his had included being able to live without a car and drink a sundowner by water. Their ambitions coincided but the move, as so often happens, was decided by chance.

Despite his noble, late-life resolution, he had not become a train user.

Pressed for his thoughts about the estuary trail being routed through the village, he said that it had been forced on the village with little consultation. The dangerous incidents which he described could have been of average motorists riding bicycles.

Sandwiched between rocky outcrops, Lympstone is unmistakable when seen from the opposite side of the estuary. +
The end of the line comes into view after leaving Lympstone. +
Another view of the castle and its Belvedere across the estuary. +
The railway’s boundary fence is hidden by the growth to the right of the trail.
The land on the right is part of Lower Halsdon Farm, left to the National Trust in 1996 by Stanley Long on the proviso that it would benefit the community. He had turned down the £4-million offered by housing developers. There was once vague talk of a new station north of Exmouth.
A path just off camera leads to Exeter Road. A La Ronde is about a mile from here by this route.
Just out of sight ahead is the trestle carrying the path over marsh cut off from the estuary by the railway. Work started in autumn, 2023, to replace The Boardwalk. +
The tower of Holy Trinity Church stands out above the rooftops of Exmouth. +
A train accelerates away from Exmouth in May, 2024. The coast path can be seen below, between the trail and the line. +

Warren’s Siding

In this 1930 view, the East Devon Brick and Tile Works is seen at lower left. Trucks can just be made out standing on its siding, which made a facing connection in the Exmouth direction. The wharf seen jutting into the estuary was in use before the railway was built.
The line to Exmouth runs along the bottom of the photograph, while the Tipton line is seen curving away to the right.
Withycombe Raleigh, seen at top middle, is still a separate village.
Looking towards the terminus from “East Devon Way 2” foot crossing.


The station is well covered in No. 75.

May, 2024: Part of Platform Two is all that remains of the former four-platform terminus.

Exmouth Dock Line

Unlike the old port of Topsham, Exmouth Dock was entirely new in 1868. Its promotion had been fully supported by the L. & S.W.R.

The scout remembers walking the dismantled line with his Father before it became a road. Traffic had ceased in 1967.

A turn of the century 25 in. survey shows a longer line than in later years.

Shunting seen from Camperdown Crossing.
This 1928 view shows almost the whole extent of the Dock Line, from the goods shed at top left to the harbourside at middle right, where trucks can be seen.
At the bottom is the Shelley Road shanty town, usually referred to as Shelley Beach, where the scout remembers walking with his parents.
Camperdown Terrace, which began as Trinity Road, is obvious at middle right.
This part of Exmouth was a sand spit corresponding to the Warren. In 1928, the station and dock line were on the water’s edge; the new goods yard had been built on reclaimed land. Since then, much more land has been created for car parking and amenity.

This was Exmouth’s Great Western station, for it was where the ferry from Starcross landed when this service was run in conjunction with the railway. The ferry company was an “agent,” able to sell through tickets from its booking office on the quay and accept parcels.

A summer-only service, independent of the railway, still operates. The vessel, Orcombe, was built by the Devon Dock Pier & Steamship Company in Exmouth in 1952.

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