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HISTORY

The Lynton & Barnstaple Railway (L&B) opened as an independent railway in May 1898. It was a single track narrow gauge railway just over 19 miles (30 km) long running through the rugged and picturesque area bordering Exmoor in North Devon, England. Although opened after the 1896 Light Railways Act came into force, it was authorised and constructed prior to that act. Therefore, as with all other railways, it was authorised under its own Act of Parliament and built to higher (and more costly) standards than similar railways of the time. In the United Kingdom it was notable as being the only narrow gauge line required to use main-line standard signalling.

For a short period the line earned a modest return for shareholders, but for most of its life the L&B made a loss. In 1922 the L&B was taken over by the Southern Railway, and eventually closed in September 1935.

Following the opening of the Devon and Somerset Railway to Barnstaple, there were calls for an extension to serve the twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth, which were popular with holiday-makers.

Through the middle of the 19th century, several schemes were proposed, from established railway companies and independent developers. One scheme suggested electric power, while another proposed a line from South Molton. None of these schemes offered sufficient prospects to encourage investment, and few got further than initial plans.

Due to the difficult terrain, one scheme suggested a gauge of 1 ft 11 1⁄2 in (597 mm), already in use by the Festiniog Railway Company and elsewhere, to ease construction. This scheme was supported by Sir George Newnes who became chairman of the company. The Lynton & Barnstaple Railway Bill was passed on 27 June 1895, and the line opened on 11 May 1898 with public service commencing on 16 May, connecting with trains from Waterloo on the Ilfracombe Branch Line at Barnstaple Town.


Sir George Newnes

The scheme did not meet with universal enthusiasm, and from the beginning, there were some who doubted the true intentions of the promoters. Although many of the sinuous curves and deviations were due to having to maintain a 1 in 50 gradient where there was no leeway (Most observers being oblivious to the fact that a straighter shorter line would have made the gradient even steeper), several were due to resistance by local landowners along the route.

A guide published whilst the line was being built stated:

On the highest point at Lynton a pretentious mansion has been built for himself by the proprietor of a certain well known publication, whom some look on as the benefactor and others as the evil genius of the place. Through his enterprise it is that the "lift" was made in 1888, to be cursed by conservative and artistic souls, but blessed by unwieldy bodies and rheumatic limbs; he has also favoured the railway, now a fait accompli, and the pier which seems so much wanted. Yet whatever may be said of the railway, there is good reason for doubting if the pier would be a real advantage. It would certainly flood the place with a class of excursionists for whom there is little accommodation, and on whom, for the most part, its characteristic beauties would be thrown away.


early days at Blackmoor Station

The L&B seldom attracted sufficient passengers to remain viable. The journey of nearly twenty miles took on average an hour and a half. To satisfy several influential residents, the terminus at Lynton was some distance from the town itself, and from the cliff railway to Lynmouth.

Declining tourism during World War I, improved roads, increased car ownership further depleted the line's income until it was no longer economic. A guidebook published in 1921 described the situation:

The railway which has made this corner more accessible is of narrow gauge, requiring a change of carriage at the Town station, Barnstaple. ... Unfortunately, this line does not seem to be a financial success, and its service, out of season at least, is not a very liberal one.


Southern Railway Days

Despite numerous cost-saving measures and extra investment in the line, the Southern Railway was unable to reverse the trend, and closed the line.

The last train ran on 29 September 1935. The Southern removed everything they could use elsewhere, and by 8 November, had lifted the track from Lynton to Milepost 15 - on the Barnstaple side of Woody Bay station. On 13 November an auction was held, although the railway failed to attract much interest. Most rolling stock, and all but one loco, was sold for scrap and broken up at Pilton. Some coaches were sectioned for use as garden sheds. Third class seats became garden furniture, and first class seats found their way into local snooker halls and Masonic Lodges. In December, Plymouth ship breaker Sidney Castle won the tender to dismantle the railway. The remaining track was lifted by June 1936, and in September, surviving loco Lew was shipped abroad. The stations and track bed were auctioned in 1938.


Lynton Station after the track is lifted

Bratton Fleming


early days at Bratton Fleming

The railway ran through sparsely populated countryside. The importance and size of stations seemed to bear no relationship whatsoever with the local population. Initially, Bratton Fleming was provided with a loop, two sidings, a goods shed and was fully signalled. In later years, the loop and one goods siding was removed along with the signals. The building still exists and is now a private house.


Bratton Fleming in later years as modelled