Plus parts of the South Hams and West Devon

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: April 22, 2018
Webpage updated: March 30, 2019




The South Devon Railway Company, who built the main railway line through south Devon, had its terminus at Plymouth Station in the district of Millbay.  In 1871 the Great Western Railway Company, who were by then operating the trains on the main line, opened Mutley Station.  But in 1876 the London and South Western Railway Company secured legal running rights over the Great Western Railway Company's Launceston Branch between Lydford Station and Marsh Mills Station in order to get access to Plymouth and particularly Devonport, where the LSWR opened a terminal station on May 18th 1876.  That was also the date on which the new Cornwall Loop, between North Road East Signal Box and Devonport Junction Signal Box, was brought in to use.  They wanted a station at Plymouth and forced the Great Western Railway Company to agree to construct one to the north of the Borough, which could be run jointly.

The original North Road Plymouth Station of 1877.
From a postcard.

Much more interesting than King-class loco 6016 heading the Cornish Riviera Express
into Plymouth is the nameboard in the background still showing the original official name
 of North Road Plymouth Station even though the photograph was taken in April 1959.
  Mr S V Blencowe, Gloucester.

With a station at Mutley and a terminus at Millbay the Great Western Railway Company did not really want another station so they prevaricated in an effort to encourage the LSWR to forget their demand.  Eventually they had to give in, however, and they built the station shown in the above photograph.  In February 1877 Colonel Yolland, the Board of Trade's Inspector, had visited the site but was not satisfied enough to permit the station to be opened to the public.  The roof was not finished and the Up platform had still to be paved.  Even worse was the fact that the GWR had inserted a "blind siding" in to the layout at the western end of the station, accessed by facing points.  This meant that there was a possibility that a train could be accidently diverted into a dead end by mistake, causing a fearful crash.  Such an event had happened in 1871 when an Irish Mail train crashed at Tamworth Station in Staffordshire.  The Board of Trade did not like facing points on a main line.  After a great deal of argument the matter was eventually resolved and what was to be known as North Road Plymouth Station was opened to public traffic on Wednesday March 28th 1877.  A description of the Station was published in the local press.

An official Great Western Railway Company view of the
eastern end of North Road Plymouth Station on November 15th 1938.
Great Western Railway Company.

Two signal boxes were provided, one at North Road East and the other at North Road West.

A refreshment room was opened in 1888.

In 1890 the Station Master at North Road Plymouth Station, acting on behalf of both the GWR and LSWR, was Mr Gustavus Bell, who lived just outside the Station at number 8 Stanley Terrace, Albert Road.

The increase in trains and passengers brought about by the commencement of the railmotor services to Plympton and Saltash, along with the advent of some express trains running direct from North Road Plymouth Station to Cornwall without touching Plymouth Station at Millbay, caused the Great Western Railway Company to enlarge the Station to provide some additional platforms.  Two new signal boxes were also needed and they replaced the existing North Road East and North Road West Signal Boxes in November 1908.  The completed work was inspected by Colonel Yorke, from the Board of Trade, on January 26th 1909, who gave his approval of the new layout.

A turntable and coaling facility were provided during 1912 at the western end of the Station.

Track circuiting was installed in 1925 and in 1928, after the Royal Mail moved their sorting office into the new building in Cemetery Road, a parcel's office was established in the old building near the main Saltash Road.   Motor delivery vehicles were introduced at the same time.

One hundred and seventy-two people who had worked at North Road Plymouth Station contributed to a gift for the retiring Platform Foreman, Mr Samuel Gill, who had served under six Superintendents and six Station Masters during his time at the Station.  He was presented with an arm chair, and his wife with a handbag, by the current Station Master, Mr H F Kelley, at a staff supper at the Continental Hotel, Plymouth, on the evening of Thursday February 27th 1930.

During the night of Wednesday October 10th 1934 the show train belonging to "His Master's Voice" rolled into North Road Plymouth Station.  It was open to the public on the Thursday and then quietly steamed off to Torquay.  Captain Sidney Moon, of Messrs Moon and Sons, the Plymouth radio and record dealer, helped Mr G M Fenwick of HMV to conduct the Deputy Mayor of Plymouth, Mr W L Bastard, and his wife through the exhibition.

Passengers waiting for their trains at North Road Station on Thursday March 28th 1935 were witnesses to another unusual visitor.  Promptly at 12.25pm the Great Western Railway's streamlined locomotive "King Henry VII" pulled in on the 5.30am train from Paddington.  At Newton Abbot the London crew had been changed and driver Mr James Prowse and fireman Mr John Easton had brought the new-style locomotive on to Plymouth.    Mr F Sheldon, a chief inspector at Swindon Works, had accompanied the train throughout.  "King Henry VII" left North Road again at 3.55pm bound for Bristol Temple Meads.

In 1935, when the Great Western Railway Company was taking part in the Government's New Works Scheme to aid unemployment, it was announced that the station would be enlarged to seven platforms.   All the rail traffic would then be concentrated on North Road, enabling Plymouth Station (Millbay) and Mutley Station to be closed.   Work started on the rebuilding in 1937 but was interrupted by the Second World War.

In September 1937 it was reported that around 100 men were engaged on the extension works.  The work was very complicated because the station cannot be enlarged until the new tracks are available and the new tracks cannot be used until the station has been altered.  The groundwork for the new larger bridges at Mutley and Pennycomequick was being laid and one of the bridges was nearly ready for the steelwork.  As from Monday October 4th 1937 the path from the Mutley end to the Up side of North Road Plymouth Station, known as Birdcage Walk, was closed.

Mutley Station was closed anyway, in 1939, and Herr Hitler took care of Millbay, which closed as a result of air raids in April 1941 that destroyed the adjacent Goods Depot.

Some work did take place before the Second World War.  Platforms 7 and 8 were built, the North Road West Signal Box was moved bodily and the North Road East Signal Box was completely rebuilt.

The plan for the reconstruction and modernisation of North Road Plymouth Station was approved in principle by the British Transport Commission at the start of February 1956.  It was closely linked to the reconstruction of Plymouth's City Centre and the City Architect, Mr H J W Stirling, was consulted.  In charge locally was Mr N S Cox, the District Engineer, and the plan was expected to cost around 1,500,000.  The centre-piece was an eight-storey office block for the District Manager and his staff, on the ground floor of which would be a new booking office, inquiry offices, a modern parcels depot, and a left luggage hall.  Although a restaurant was included in the original plan, it was removed on the grounds that as Plymouth was a terminal station passengers would either have eaten before they started out, been able to have a meal on the journey, or would get one once they had arrived at their destination in the City.

The entrance and booking hall of North Road Plymouth Station in the 1950s.
Note the Enquiry Office on the left and the milk lorry on the right.
From the author's collection.

According to the "The Official Hand-book of Station 1956" North Road Plymouth Station dealt with passengers, parcels, miscellaneous traffic, live stock, horse boxes, prize cattle vans, and carriages and motor cars by passenger or parcels trains.  It was not equipped with a crane.

Much of the reconstruction of the external rail lines had already been completed before the War but an additional arrival platform was to be provided so that there would be one arrival bay, three arrival platforms, a central through road and four departure platforms.  By 1957 a combined refreshment and waiting room had been added on platforms 3 and 4.  The existing refreshment room on platforms 7 and 8 was to be refurbished.

In June 1957 the old Parcel's Office was closed and the District Engineer's Depot, which was right outside the main entrance to the Station, was transferred to the former Devonport Station Goods Yard at Valletort Road.  The new Plymouth Power Signal Box was to be built on the site of the Parcel's Office.

As from Monday September 15th 1958 North Road Plymouth Station became simply "Plymouth Station" after the closure of the City's Friary Station, although the official nameboards remained unchanged even in April 1959, as can be seen in one of the photographs above.