Lynton & Barnstaple Railway
The desire to recreate the L&B is as strong in miniature as it is in real life. Richard Foster and George Dent show you how.
ust think about what has happened in the world over the last 83 years. Yet the sense of loss over a 19 mile 1 furlong and 5 chain narrow gauge railway in a corner of north Devon remains as strong today in 2018 as it was in 1935, when it closed. Our love affair with the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway has survived world wars, seismic shifts in society and the rise of technology no one in the 1930s could have possibly imagined. Chris Leigh once got into trouble for suggesting that a small part could only be recreated at colossal cost, so prohibitively high that the only way you’d get to ride on the L&B would be behind a “spluttering petrol tractor”. But the work of the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway Trust, its affiliated organisations and one or two determined individuals culminated on September 29/30 2018, when the beautifully restored Woody Bay station played host to full-size replicas of the L&B’S classic Manning Wardle 2-6-2T and Baldwin 2-4-2T hauling four superbly reconstructed L&B
Jcoaches. Trains may have only run on one mile of track but it’s one of the prettiest stretches of railway in the country, over 900ft above sea level, with views stretching across to the Bristol Channel. That desire to recreate the Lynton & Barnstaple has now permeated into the railway modelling market. After all, for what other railway company can you buy (or will you be able to buy, thanks to Heljan’s Warley announcement) models of all the locomotives ready-to-run? In fact, if you factor in kits as well, ‘OO9’ modellers can buy all but two versions of coach and one type of wagon. Not even the GWR can boast that! It’s difficult to put your finger on exactly what makes the Lynton & Barnstaple special. Is it that it’s a mini main line, with all the attributes of a much larger railway but scaled down to 1ft 11½in gauge? Is it the scenery through which it runs? Or is it the distinctive shape of its locomotives and carriages? Or is it purely a combination of all three? Whatever that ‘X’ factor is, the man responsible was London publisher and MP Sir George Newnes.
“Locals saw Barnstaple as their regional ‘capital’ so that was the right destination for a railway ”
Lynton and its twin, Lynmouth, have a bewitching power. The area, and the Valley of the Rocks in particular, was immortalised in R.D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone. Newnes was just one of countless visitors over the years who have fallen under its spell. He, however, was in a position to give something back. Newnes funded various civic buildings, electric street lighting and the wonderful water-powered funicular railway that still links Lynton and Lynmouth to this day. But he’d had his knuckles wrapped by local dignitaries, for his ambitious pier scheme failed to get the support it arguably deserved as it was believed that hordes of Welsh day-trippers would cross the Bristol Channel to escape Wales’ ‘dry’ Sundays and thus bring drunken chaos to the streets of Lynton and Lynmouth. The pier was a foretaste of things to come. The theory that a rail connection can rejuvenate an area is as true today as it was in the 1890s. Lynton and Lynmouth held the dubious honour of being the towns in England furthest from a railway, and numerous schemes appeared to rectify the situation. Some were somewhat fanciful, like the network of electric railways proposed by the Barnstaple & Lynton Electric Tramroad Company. In the end, the choice was whittled down to two: the GWR’S proposed standard gauge branch from its Tauntonbarnstaple line and the narrow gauge Lynton-barnstaple scheme backed by Newnes and his wealthy friends, Thomas Hewitt, Evan Jeune and William Halliday.
Above: Woody Bay station is some 900ft above sea level and is England’s highest railway station. Named Wooda Bay until 1901, it was built at Mortehoe Cross to serve a junction to Woody Bay proper that never materialised. The Ffestiniog Railway’s replica Manning Wardle 2-6-2T Lyd arrives at the beautifully restored Woody Bay station in 2013 with coaches Nos. 7 and 17, both rebuilt from sections of the original vehicles.
Left: Manning Wardle 2-6-2T No. 188 Lew looks almost new in this photograph taken at Barnstaple Town station. Behind is Taw, still in L&B livery but with Southern Railway ’plates on the bunker sides. There was a cross-platform connection to the Southern’s Barnstaple-ilfracombe line here.
Right: Pilton was the L&B’S nerve centre, with offices, locomotive shed and workshop, carriage sheds, goods depot and turntable. The L&B offices and goods shed still survive, but the depot buildings burnt down in the 1990s and the site is now a car park.