Plus parts of the South Hams and West Devon

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: April 12, 2018
Webpage updated: February 11, 2023




Southern Railway number 182 waiting at Friary Station
with a train to Turnchapel in October 1948.
  H C Doyle.

Although the branch railway from Plymouth to Turnchapel was built by the London and South Western Railway Company, the legal preliminaries were done by their agents, the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway Company.  They deposited the plans on November 30th 1882 and it was the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway Act 1883 that received the Royal Assent on August 2nd 1883.  The proposal was closely linked with the Plymouth and Dartmoor Company's South Hams Extension Act for a line from Plymstock to Yealmpton.

Firstly a bridge had to be constructed across the River Plym and this was duly completed in 1887 at a cost of 32,000.  The line from FRiary Station as far as Pomphlete Station (sic) was formally opened with due ceremony on Saturday July 28th 1888.

It was not until July 1st 1892 that the official opening of the Plymstock Branch took place and even then, because the signalling was not satisfactory, no public trains were operated until Monday September 5th 1892.

LSWR loco number 80 with train at Turnchapel Station.
From author's collectin.

Eight passenger and trains and one goods train were run that day, many of the passengers then walking to Oreston and returning to Plymouth by the Oreston and Turnchapel Ferry.  The remainder of the week brought crowds of people attending the Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse Races at Chelson Meadow, which was but a short walk from Pomphlett Station.

In the meantime, however, there were arguments going on between the London and South Western Railway Company and the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway Company on the one side and the Great Western Railway Company on the other about the running of trains over the proposed line to Modbury.  The LSWR finally conceded with an agreement dated July 19th 1894 that allowed the GWR to have running powers over the Turnchapel line as far as Pomphlett Station and in order for them to access their line to Yealmpton.  The section from Yealmpton to Modbury was never constructed.

Messrs Pethick Brothers, of Plymouth, the contractors for the LSWR thus completed their branch to Turnchapel and this was opened for traffic on Friday January 1st 1897, with trains running from their main-line terminus at Friary Station.  Pomphlett Station was renamed Plymstock Station.

One of the features of the line was the swing-bridge across Hooe Lake.  It was constructed by the Phoenix Foundry Company, of Derby.  This was operated by hand and was supported at the centre by the pillar holding the swinging mechanism.  The signalman based at Turnchapel Signal Box used to have to walk on to the bridge to hand-crank the mechanism and he would be marooned there until he closed the bridge at the end of the operation.

A trial run over the branch was made on Wednesday August 10th 1904 by one of the LSWR's new motor rail cars.  As it was successful, it was intended to start running it on service trains 'shortly'.  Numbers 1 and 2 had been completed in May 1904 for use on the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway and during the summer months one of them was sent to Plymouth to work on the Turnchapel Branch.  It sat eight people ion the First Class compartment next to the engine and 32 in the larger Third Class saloon.  In due course number 2 was renumbered in the LSWR carriage stock as number 4202.  More steam rail cars were built in 1905 and 1906 and may have served on the Turnchapel Branch.  At least one was in use on the Branch according to the 1912 timetable.

LSWR steam rail car number 2 at Turnchapel.

LSWR steam rail car number 2 at Turnchapel Station.
  The late Mr R C Riley.

Lucas Terrace Halt, between Friary Station and Plymstock Station, was opened in October 1905 to cater for traffic from the new housing estates on the eastern fringes of Plymouth.  The adjacent Friary Engine Shed was opened in 1908.

As from January 1st 1923 the London and South Western Railway Company was amalgamated into the Southern Railway Company, who operated a variety of different trains over the Branch.  The late Mr R W Kidner states in his 1984 book "Southern Railway Branch Line Trains" that the Branch was at first worked by LSWR 0-4-4T steamcars, and later by locomotives and push-pull carriages, which were noteworthy for having gates instead of doors.  Sometimes these were supplemented with normal stock and then the train could not be operated as a push-pull.  In circa 1931/32, he says, Southern Railway Company D1 0-4-2T engines were working on the Branch.  Mr Kidner also tells us that in 1930: 'the carriage stock of the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway was divided between the Southern Railway and the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, and a set of Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway 6-wheelers worked in the Plymouth area, in blue livery but with SR numbers.'

A Sunday service of trains was introduced on Sunday May 31st 1925.

Close-up of gated carriage S739S.

Close-up of carriage S739S.
  David Lawrence.

On Tuesday December 29th 1931 the regular tank engine of an early morning train from Turnchapel Station to Friary Station broke down.  Unfortunately the only available replacement was an unidentified tender locomotive, which caused further delays during the morning when running around its trains at Turnchapel Station

Turnchapel Station and Turnchapel Signal Box were completely destroyed by fire during the bombing of the adjacent Admiralty oil storage depot on November 27th 1940.  The ensuing blaze was potentially disastrous and three firemen were killed trying to keep the oil tanks as cool as possible to avoid a catastrophic explosion.  The fire was not put out until December 1st 1940, leaving twisted metal in place of rails and signals.  However, the railways were not daunted by such experiences and by December 16th services were back to normal, supported by new temporary buildings which in fact remained until the line's closure.

Plymstock Signal Box was set a fire by incendiary bombs during the Plymouth Blitz in 1941 and a temporary replacement was opened on October 12th 1941.  It ceased to be "temporary" and lasted until the closure of the line.

British Railways took over the Turnchapel Branch on January 1st 1948.  They closed the Branch temporarily on January 14th 1951 due to national coal shortages.  As a result many of its passengers transferred their custom to the Western National Omnibus Company's motor bus services that ran into Plymouth.   Thus, when the line re-opened on July 2nd a lot of the customers had been lost forever.

The last train left Turnchapel at 10.45pm on Saturday September 8th 1951 and the was line closed to passengers but remained open for freight traffic.

Mr Jack Lambert was the signalman at Turnchapel at that time.  He had been signalman for the last 18 years and had worked on the Branch since 1913, except for three years during the Great War, when he served with the Railway Operating Division in France.  He recalled that during the Second World War the platform at Turnchapel Station would be choked from end to end with servicemen and how before the War around 1,500 passengers would have used the line on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.  There was also a great deal of freight traffic to and from Turnchapel Dockyard and he anticipated that this would continue.

The final train carried about 50 railway enthusiasts including the vice-president and honorary secretary of the Plymouth Railway Circle, Messrs Chris Soper and Bernard S Murton, which prompted the British Railways' inspector, Mr C Bishop, to comment to the press that:  'If they turned up like this for every train the service would be running next week.  It takes about 35 passengers a trip to make it pay.'   The train was greeted at Friary Station by the explosion of detonators on the track.

A former Plymouth area gated coaching set, number 363, which had been used on both the Turnchapel and Callington Branches, was used by the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society during a visit to Bisley Camp in Surrey on Sunday November 23rd 1952.  Pushed by M7 class 0-4-4T number 30027 the set was used to provide a shuttle service from Brookwood Station to the Camp. 

On Saturday May 9th 1953 the "Titfield Thunderbolt" ran over the Turnchapel Branch.  Organised by Plymouth's Odeon Cinema following the showing of the film of that name during the week, the train consisted of an ex-Southern Railway class B4 0-4-0 goods tank locomotive number 30094 hauling a single coach.

It ran non-stop from Friary Station to Turnchapel Station in 10 minutes, whizzing through the intermediate stations at between 15 and 20mph, and carried around fifty members of the Plymouth Locospotters' Club.  The driver was Mr J A Grist and the fireman was Mr G P Perrett.  Mr S E Saunders was the guard and his brother, Mr I R Saunders, accompanied the train as shunter.

Also on board were Mr C F E Harvey, the district commercial superintendent, and Mr W Gilmour, the station master at Friary Station.  At Turnchapel the 'locomophiles', as the local press called them, climbed on the footplate, visited the small signal box and poured all over the track.  The return trip started late but this met with no complaints.

It was reported in November 1953 that the former Turnchapel push-and-pull set number 735 (both converted LSWR 46 feet long corridor coaches being individually numbered 2645 and 4760 and painted red) were working on the Exeter Central to Exmouth Branch.

Plymouth's Friary Station closed to passengers from Monday September 15th 1958, with the Friary Junction Signal Box following on the 27th.

The Railway Correspondence and Travel Society ran a special train over the Branch on Saturday May 2nd 1959 in connection with "The Brunel Centenarian" from London Paddington over Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge to Saltash Station.  After traversing the former Southern Railway main line from Saint Budeaux Victoria Road Station to Friary Station, they changed trains at Plymstock Station into two former LSWR gated-stock carriages hauled by an Adams O2 class engine, number 30182, for the short trip to Turnchapel Tunnel and back.

British Railways locomotive 30182 crossing the Hooe Lake Swing Bridge
 with the Rilway Correspondence and Travel Society's special train on May 2nd 1959.
the late Peter W Gray.

The Railway Correspondence and Travel Society's special train at Turnchapel Station.
From the author's collection.

On Saturday September 30th 1961 the Plymouth Railway Circle ran a farewell train composed entirely of goods brake vans from the old Friary Station to Turnchapel Station, which closed that day.  It was hauled by former Southern Railway 0-4-4 tank locomotive number 30034.  Thankfully it was a sunny day.

Loco 30034 leaving Friary Station with the Plymouth Railway Circle
special train of brake vans on September 30th 1961.
  The Western Independent.

The Turnchapel Branch closed to freight traffic from Monday October 2nd 1961 but the access to the Plymouth and Oreston Timber Company's yard remained open until Friday October 20th 1961, when their last train ran.  Plymstock Station remained open for cement traffic.  It was reported in March 1963 that the track was being lifted and would be shipped as scrap to Spain.

Stamps Bridge, over the main road at Pomphlett, was demolished on Sunday May 12th 1963 by a crane wielding a 2-ton weight.  Work began at 5am and was completed inside 30 minutes.  The following Sunday, May 19th 1963, Billacombe Road Bridge was demolished.  It was reported on Monday October 7th 1963 that the Hooe Lake Swing Bridge was being broken up for scrap.