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Archive secrets of Cornwall's oldest railway

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: November 30, 2012

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The stories and traditions of a pioneering Westcountry railway have been published in a new book.

Author Michael Messenger has delved into the archives to present a detailed account of the Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway which was Cornwall's first steam railway, opened in 1834. It was worked by primitive steam engines and remained independent of Britain's national railways for more than 60 years.

"It was very much a local railway, funded by the people of Bodmin and the Camel Valley and its purpose was to bring sea-sand inland for agriculture," said Mr Messenger. "It had ambitions to expand to Delabole and beyond, but never got beyond the planning stage."

It was acquired by the London & South Western Railway (LSWR) in 1846 but that made little difference to its way of working.

Mr Messenger added: "Even when the LSWR had put their own man in, the line kept going in its individual Cornish way. Workers were rewarded with pints of ale or cocoa, and the management had to take care not to break the rule of not working on a Sunday."

While the story of one of Britain's oldest steam railways is well-known, Mr Messenger spent many years delving in archives throughout the country to compile a very detailed history of how the railway worked and was managed, how it served and was part of the community and why it was essential to local industry. He also tells the story of the people who ran it and benefited from it.

Later the line became a little more like a standard British branch line, but kept a character all of its own, says Mr Messenger.

Three of its original carriages, dating from the 1840s, are now in the National Railway Museum in York.

Vintage steam engines worked the line until 1964 and it survived until 1983. The route is now part of the popular Camel Trail walk.

The illustrated book, titled The Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway 1834-1983 is published by Twelveheads Press, priced £39.

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  • nick113  |  November 30 2012, 9:48AM

    There is a B&W poster advertising a special train to Bodmin to witness a public execution. That's what passed for entertainment in those days.

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