Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: August 31, 2018
Webpage updated: August 31, 2018




The branch railway from Friary Station to Cattewater Junction Signal Box on the Turnchapel Branch and then to Cattewater Wharves and Victoria Wharves was originally proposed by the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway Company on behalf of the London and South Western Railway Company.  The lines were authorised on July 19th 1875 by the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway (Plymouth Extensions) Act 1875 and work started in March 1879.  The engineers were Messrs Galbraith & Church, the consulting engineers of the London and South Western Railway Company, and their resident engineer was Mr C T Elton.  The contractor was Mr R T Relf, who was at various time employing between 100 and 300 men on the work.

Apparently the first part of the line was difficult to construct as it was built over meadow land previously reclaimed from the sea by the Embankment Company.  In addition, the railway embankment itself, which was required to raise the line so as to cross the Laira, had to constructed on mud banks that were found to sink some 40 to 50 feet.  There was, apparently, three times more soil beneath the embankment than was visible above ground.

Two lattice girder bridges were required to carry the railway over first the South Devon Railway Company's Sutton Harbour branch and the Embankment Road, one of 90 feet span and the other 80 feet.   Once by the the side of the water the line was carried through the limestone by means of cuttings of some 40 feet in depth until it reached Cattedown Lane, as it then was, which it went under by means of a stone-faced, 50 yards long tunnel.

The cost of about 22,000 excluded the purchase of land but included a new quay at Prince Rock to replace one removed during the construction work.  The branch was originally about 1 miles in length and terminated near the works of Messrs James Gibbs & Company, chemical manure and nitrate of soda manufacturers.  Other companies who were to benefit from the line were Messrs Sparrow & Company, lime merchants; Messrs Burnard, Lack and Alger, chemical fertiliser manufacturers; and Messrs Charles Norrington and Company, also chemical fertiliser manufacturers.  China Clay and granite from Dartmoor could also be sent to the quays for export.

Although the Cattewater Branch was opened on Tuesday August 3rd 1880, it had not carried any traffic by the following Saturday.  The line was worked by the LSWRC under an agreement with the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway Company, who were the owners.

On August 10th 1882, by authority of the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway Act 1882, that Company were permitted to extend the line and construct one quay and two piers:

  • Railway No. 4 - from near Cattedown Quarry, 7 chains from front wall of Passage House Inn and terminating at Cattewater at 5 chains SW of said public house;

  • Railway No. 5 - from Sparrow's Quay to a point at the termination of Hodge's yard on Sparrow's Quay, a quay and embankment immediately in front on New Passage Inn and extending SE thereof;

  • Quay and embankment commencing at the south-west corner of the quay at Cattedown, situated to the eastward of Hill's shipwrights' yard, proceeding in a southerly direction for 20 yards and then bending eastwards for 135 yards and then bending northwards for 70 yards and terminating in front of the Passage House Inn;

  • Pier No. 1 - 3 chains south of southern boundary of the tar works;

  • Pier No. 2 - 1 chain NW of west end of N wall of Harvey's Cement works (Deadman's Bay).

The powers granted to the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway Company were all handed over to the London and South Western Railway Company by means of the South Western Railway Act 1882.

In 1888 the Cattewater Branch was extended to its final terminus at Victoria Wharves.

As from January 1st 1923 the Cattewater Branch was taken over by the Southern Railway Company.

Upon nationalisation on January 1st 1948 the line became the British Railways Cattewater Branch, operated by the Southern Region.

Like most freight only railway lines, there is no detailed record of the closure or withdrawal of service of parts of the line.

The sidings to the Corporation Wharf were removed in November 1967 and the Regent Oil siding in August 1969.

Coal traffic virtually ceased after 1974 following the closure of the Plymouth "A" Power Station.

In 1981 the Fison's fertiliser plant closed down and Plymouth's "B" Power Station also closed.

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