The Moretonhampstead and South Devon Railway opened on 4 July 1866, taking passengers and freight between Moreton and Newton Abbot. It was amalgamated with the South Devon Railway Company in 1872, and later became part of the G.W.R. After almost one hundred years, the last regular passenger train left in 1959, and the last freight traffic in 1964.

Early photo of the station with broad gauge rails 


A Stone commemorating the opening was erected in Moreton station in 1924; it is now in the National Railway Museum in York .  It is rare for a memorial to be erected to the memory of a railway company and its directors.

Some Dates in the history of our Railway

1861Moretonhampstead & South Devon Railway Company created. Chairman the Earl of Devon
1862Act of Parliament passed for construction of 12½ miles of Broad Gauge line from Moreton to Newton Abbot at a cost of £88,500
1863Construction begins, the first sod cut at Bovey
1866Grand Opening of Moreton Station on 26th June.  Great rejoicing in the town
1867Teigngrace Station opened
1872The Moretonhampstead and South Devon Railway absorbed by the South Devon Railway
1874Chudleigh Road Station opened (renamed Heathfield in 1882)
1876Great Western Railway acquires the line
187?Twice daily horse-drawn buses connect with  Chagford
1890Clay sidings built at Teign Bridge
1892Conversion of line to standard gauge
1906Motor Bus service to Chagford
1929Lord Hambleden’s Manor House purchased and converted by G.W.R. to the Manor House Hotel
1931Hawkmoor Halt opened
1934Lustleigh opens a ‘Camping Coach’
1937 Visit of  George VI in the Royal Train
1948The Railway is nationalised
1959Passenger Service withdrawn
1964Moreton-Bovey Freight Service withdrawn

Moreton and the Railway

A search of Local Records, Census from 1871-1891 will show in the occupations  field the impact of jobs connected the railway (search for Railway).   An indirect effect is also shown in the number of well-to-do families chosing to move to Moreton. 

Local Railway stories

The Moreton line, known as the ‘friendly line’, seems to have been worked in an easy going way, GWR being sometimes interpreted as ‘Goes When Ready’  or when the regular local passengers had turned up.

At Lustleigh, the driver of the evening train would hoot on the engine’s whistle, but delay his departure if the owls were answering back.

Engine brakes were not always effective, and trains coming down to Lustleigh would often overshoot leaving the passengers to make their own way back to the platform.

Some local connections

  • George Friend’s great, great grandfather drove the first train to Newton Abbot.
  • Mary Adcock’s father Jim Farr joined the railway as a cleaner, and from Fireman was made Engine Driver in 1941.  Her Auntie, Ellen Perrott was a wartime guard.
  • The Wright family almost ran the railway at one time.  Dad – Jim Wright, was a ganger in the 1920’s, sons Victor and Bob were drivers, Bob later became a chief inspector of locomotives.  Wilf was a signalman, and Cyril a lengthman.  Daughter Edna was also a wartime guard.
  •  In May 1945, Moreton’s Railwaymen celebrated the end of the war by placing handfuls of detonators on the line.  Passing trains set them off, sounding ‘bangbangbang  banggg’ mimicking ‘V for Victory’ in Morse code and the opening bars of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.

What the newspapers said about the railway

The opening of the railway


          An important step in the material, moral, and social improvement and advancement of the old town of Moreton, and the surrounding villages, has this week been made by bringing it into railway communication with all the principal cities and towns in the kingdom.  The opening of the line from Moreton to Newton on Tuesday marks an important era in the history of the district.  Situated amid rocky heights and granite boulders, the old town on the borders of Dartmoor has hitherto been almost inaccessible; but now the tourist, the geologist, and the artist will oft be found seeking its romantic beauties; while the cool, invigorating, and health-giving breezes of the hill country will have additional attractions to the invalid, now that the access thereto has been so simplified.  And what is of equal, if not primary, importance to the inhabitants – the ‘iron road’ will open up to them the best markets for their produce, and the commerce of the town will be improved.

           About eight years ago the inhabitants of this favored locality first saw a probability of a railway being brought in their midst.  The contemplated lines of the Mid Devon and Devon Central set them on the qui vive; but the proposals of these Companies were opposed by the South Devon Company, who promised that if these lines were not made they would do something for the accommodation of the large district of Mid Devon.  It thus chanced that a year or two later a branch line from the Newton Station was projected, and after overcoming some of the preliminary objections and securing the support of Earl Devon and the principal landowners, application was made to Parliament in the session of 1862 for an act of incorporation, which was passed without opposition.

  . . .The difficult work of constructing the line was undertaken by the eminent contractors, Messrs. Brassey and Ogilvie; and on the 10th August, 1863, the first sod was cut in the Bovey Heathfield by Mr. W. Crosley, their agent, on whom has devolved from first to last the responsibility of this undertaking.

          After nearly four years the work has been brought to a successful termination; and there are now opened up twelve miles of railway which, for romantic and varied scenery cannot be equalled in the West of England.  The works of art consist of ten overway and twenty-five underway bridges and viaducts, besides numerous culverts, and fourteen level crossings including those for private occupation.  The line, which branches off the South Devon Railway a short distance from the Newton station, is single throughout; but the overway bridges have been constructed and land has been enclosed for a double line should it ever be required.  The gradients are not on the whole steep, the steepest being at a point beyond Lustleigh Cleave, where it is for a short distance 1 in 49.  Near Lustleigh Mill the curves are of a very serpentine character, varying from 16½ to 30 chains radius.  There is no tunnel, and the deepest cutting is at Casely, which is from 60 to 70 feet deep.  There are three stations – one at Bovey, the second at Lustleigh, and the third at the terminus, about a quarter of a mile from the town of Moreton.

The Special Opening Train

Shortly after eleven o’clock a train, consisting of thirteen carriages, drawn by two engines, the ‘Lion’ and ‘Lance’, beautifully decorated with flowers and evergreens, started from Newton station, with the directors and a large number of gentlemen and gaily dressed ladies.  The Newton Rifle Band was also aboard.

At the terminus there was a large gathering of people, who gave three hearty cheers on the approach of the ‘iron horse’, and on the directors alighting the committee met them, and Mr May, addressing Earl Devon, said: Me Lords and gentlemen, – We beg to welcome you to our little town, and by the presenting of a slight address we wish to show how unanimous our feelings of appreciation is of the kind and wonderful work you have done for us. (Cheers.)

  Celebrating the opening 

£100 was collected for a demonstration at Moreton, spent on a luncheon for the directors and their friends in the Unitarian Schoolroom [now the Parish Hall] attended by many local dignitaries and followed by many speeches and toasts, then a public tea for the women and children (£30).   £5 went towards decorating the town, £15 for rural sports, and £22 for refreshments to be given to the men.

The beginning of the end – from the Headlines

  • 1948 June 10th  .  . (with regard to) the rumour that the railway had decided not to continue the passenger service between Bovey and Moreton, Mr Leadbitter stated that there was no foundation for the rumour.  Great relief was expressed . .  .it being felt that it would have been disastrous if this had been done.
  • 1956, April 7th     Railway Manager Allays Council’s Fears – ‘No intention yet to close Moreton branch line’
  • 1958, June 7th    Is Moreton Branch Line to Close ? – Parish Council Hear Rumour of Staff Transfer
  • 1958, July 5th     Moreton branch is not closing down  Transport Commission Tells Parish Council : ‘Rumour False’
  • 1958, July 12th    The Moretonhampstead Branch Line IS closing  : Official.   council chairmen told : passenger  trains will be withdrawn
  • 1959, January 24th   It seems that the fate of the Moreton-hampstead branch railway line is not yet irrevocably sealed in spite of the fact that British Railways have announced that the last passenger train will run on February 28th.
  • 1959, February 7th  Moretonhampstead Councillors Would Ignore ‘Funeral Train’. Refuse to recognise that line is to be closed to passengers
  • 1959, August 26th  Sunday School Special.  Moretonhampstead station re-opened after five months to take local Sunday School children for a treat.  On board the five coaches were 100 pupils and 200 adults.
  • 1964 May 9th    Last train     The last train to run from Newton Abbot to Moretonhampstead pulled out of the goods yard at 10.55 a.m. yesterday.  The branch line has been closed to passenger traffic since 1959 but freight trains have continued to run. The branch line will remain open for freight only as far as Bovey Tracey  so that a service can be continued for the clay industry and the factories which are developing on the Heathfield industrial site.

From the Mid-Devon Advertiser, January 24th 1959 –  a report from 1925.

Mrs L. Nosworthy, of 14 Chandos-court, Southgate, London, writes to tell me that she understands that land in Lustleigh parish was given by her late father, Mr. Thomas Wills, when the line was cut in 1866.

She includes cutttings which indicate that the line was officially opened on July 4th, 1866, and was amalgamated with the G.W.R. in 1876.

Curious Stone –

The opening is commemorated by a curious stone which looks remarkably like a tombstone and was erected in 1925.  The laying of this stone was duly reported in the Advertiser of the period and I quote from our files for June 1925:

‘Thanks to the efforts of Mr Edwin J. Cumming, of ‘Langhills’ near Moreton, a son of one of the directorate, a granite block was placed in position at Moretonhampstead railway station on Friday to commemorate the cutting and opening of what is now an important branch of the G.W.R. system.  A number of papers connected with the foundation of the Company and the promotion of the scheme were placed in a cavity underneath the stone.  The inscription on the stone was : Moretonhampstead and South Devon Railway: July 4th, 1866 – Directors, Earl of Devon, T. Wills,W.R. Hole, J. Divett, E. Cumming and T. Woollcombe.

There was no official ceremony, the stone being simply laid into position in the presence of a few railway officials and Mr Cumming.  The South Devon Railway was incorporated with the G.W.R. in February 1876.

The laying of the stone commemorates a great event in the annals of Moretonhampstead and Mid-Devon and pays modest but fair tribute to the work, forethought and foresight of a by-gone generation in connection with opening up the market town with that of other important parts of Devonshire.

From a perusal of the papers connected with what was a ‘Red letter day’ to the late lamented wise-heads of  the parish, information states that the late Mr. F. Cumming gave £80.12s. and took out 50 ordinary and 22 special shares in the Moretonhampstead and South Devon Railway Company, which paid compensation, etc, amounting to £1,220 8s. 5d. to Mr Crump, in connection with the project.  Mr. Cumming was bonded with Thomas Wills, of  East Wrey, John Divett of Bovey, and William R. Hole, of Park, in the sum of £3,360.  Letters bearing out this are in the hands of Mr. Cumming.

It is reported that the total traffic receipts for the half-year June 30th, 1868, amounted to £1,954 5s. received from 39,056 passengers and parcels, excess luggage, horses,etc.  The working expenses were £977 2s. 6d.  Re-estimate of liabilities and assets of the concern on September 16th 1868, were £15,673  3s. 1d.  The dividend paid by the South Devon Railway Comany was £1,250.

It is interesting to note the traffic over the old branch today.  The great change is obvious to the general and travelling public.  There are six times as many trains over the branch compared with olden days, and goods traffic is much larger than fifty years ago.  In the early days there were three trains per day each way and two small six-wheeled coaches.  The service was increased to six or seven trains each way per day, whilst today there are practically eight trains running each way on the branch.  In goods traffic an enormous increase has been made during the half-century, especially in regard to the development of Bovey Tracey and the Haytor district.’