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Railways - History

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The history of the railways of this area can be divided into 3 main eras, a brief timeline being given below.  Much more detailed accounts can be obtained from the references listed at the bottom of the page or by using the 'Contact' link on the left.  For more information on the people involved, use this link:-

Railway People


  Return to Railways Introductory page 

External Sites

Cornwall Online Parish Clerks

Online Census Project

Cornwall Family History Society

Tamar Valley A.O.N.B.

Cornwall / Calstock

Calstock Archive Trust


The early history of the railways in this parish is closely connected to the development of the mines.  It was expensive & dangerous to use the steeply winding roads to transport coal to the mines and ores away and, by the early 1860s, the volume of traffic, including by pack horse and wagons pulled by teams of twenty or more horses, was so great that a railway was planned to connect Calstock with Callington, a distance of just over 7 miles. 




The Tamar Coal, Manure, and General Mercantile Company (Limited) offered for sale by auction, the recently-erected quays, limekilns, coal and other stores, dwelling houses, offices, steam railway, extensive river frontage and business goodwill. See this page for further details.


The Tamar, Kit Hill and Callington Railway Company (TKH&CR) was formed in 1862 to construct a railway to connect Callington and the mines to the quays at Calstock, where the minerals could be loaded into barges on the River Tamar.
The first sod was cut at Kelly Quay on 26 Nov 1863 and the prospectus was issued in January 1864.
250 men were employed in constructing the line.

The Tamar Coal, Manure and General Merchandise Company was already using a rope-haul system to transport coal by tramway from the Quay at Calstock up the steep, 300 feet, 1 in 6 slope to the area known variously as Kelly, Kelly Incline or just Incline Station. 

Click to enlarge
The abandoned Incline Station circa. 1951
(Source 2 below)



A financial crisis halted construction, but a section was already in use - probably as far as Gunnislake Clitters Mine.


The plans and partially completed sections were taken over by the Callington and Calstock Railway.  The line was to run from Callington to Incline and then down to Calstock Quay, carrying only freight & no passengers.


Re-named the East Cornwall Mineral Railway Company by an Act of Parliament

May 1872

The East Cornwall Mineral Railway Company opened the 3' 6" gauge line and 9 goods depots (3 of which were private) in the Parish, but by 1893 only 3 (Calstock, Incline & Drakewalls) were still in use.  (Some sections of the line had been in use before 1872)  A speed limit of 16m.p.h. was imposed.  Freight included granite from Pearson's Quarry for the building of Dover breakwater, mispickel (arsenic) from the Redmoor mine to the Greenhill Works in Gunnislake, coal  from and ores to Calstock wharves for New Consols Mine in Luckett and timber from the same wharves for most of the local mines.
Steam locomotives were used for the upper section, a stationary engine and counter-balance system for the Incline, and horses on the Quay.  The Incline section was under the control of a stationary engineman, assisted by a coupling man on the Quay, a signalman at the top and a signalboy at the halfway loop.

Click to enlarge
The route of the Incline Railway crossing the road at Lower Kelly

It is thought that only one major accident ever occurred, involving two runaway trucks containing granite, but this resulted in no injuries as the points were deflected allowing the trucks to end up in a field.
The ECMR  terminus at Williams Quay was leased by Vivian & Sons, smelters and coal dealers of Swansea.  Manure for the farms and coal for the mines was brought in and ore exported.

The line was a success and immediate plans were made to link it to one of the main railway systems.  One involved linking Incline Station to the newly opened Lidford section of the Devon & Cornwall Railway. another suggested linking from Incline to Tavistock.  The latter plan was abandoned in 1879. (Click here to view a 243kb pdf file of the relevant Act of Parliament).  Various other suggestions involved tunnelling under Morwell Down, constructing a bridge near Morwellham, a line from Callington to Saltash through St Mellion and a line from Tavistock to Plymouth through Bere Alston, with a branch from there to Calstock.  The Callington-Saltash plan was eventually abandoned after the introduction of an omnibus service linking the towns.  Several such bus services were in operation by 1901, according to Vennings Directory of East Cornwall.  Click to enlarge


Shareholders of the ECMR approved the sale of the line to the to the Devon & Cornwall Railway, but this also failed.

1890 - 94 The completed Plymouth, Devonport and South Western Junction Railway was opened in 1890 and the following year, the ECMR was taken over and the purchase completed in 1894.
1890s Difficulties were found in raising the capital to link the ECMR with main line but in 1898 an investigation was started which found it to be a workable proposition.
1900 The Bere Alston & Calstock Light Railway Order was confirmed by the Board of Trade, including the construction of a 120 feet high viaduct across the Tamar and allowing the carriage of passengers.  The line was to be re-gauged to 'standard'.
1902 Galbraith & Church were appointed engineers and later Colonel H. F. Stephens as Associate Engineer, the latter introducing blue livery for the rolling stock.  A museum dedicated to the Colonel exists in Tenterden, Kent and its website can be seen here.
1907 By the end of this year all track was laid, but the stations at Calstock & Gunnislake were incomplete.  Locomotives used on the branch from the end of 1907 were the "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe" and the "Lord St. Levan", named after two of the directors. A third loco was named after A. S Harris, the first Secretary of the company, and later became know as "The Kelly Bray Express" or "Whistler".
2 March 1908 Directors & dignitaries travelled on the 12 noon opening service from Bere Alston to Callington.

Almost immediately services had to be extended to cope with the volume of passenger traffic - goods traffic was disappointing.  Click here to see an advertisement dated February 1908.

Many attempts were made over the coming years to provide an extension of the service into Callington itself, but all were aborted.  Instead, at various times, bus services were started (and discontinued) between the stations on the line and outlying villages.




Calstock Viaduct

Click to enlarge
One of the first trains across the viaduct

Constructed of concrete blocks and supported by 12 arches each of 60 foot span.  The rails are 120 feet above river level.

A 113 foot high wagon lift was constructed to provide access to the sidings on the Quays  This could hold one 4-wheeled open wagon carrying approx. 15 tons and was powered by a steam boiler and winding engine at the top.  Its arrival at its destination was heralded by a bell.

More photographs can be found here.

Click to enlarge
Looking towards the viaduct from one of the quays
Valentine's Series Postcard

The wagon lift was kept open after mining ceased for the shipment of local bricks & granite. However, in 1912 the lift man was dispensed with as little use was being made of the hoist by then.

In 1915 the SS "Alexandria" collided with the fender of one of the arches, causing slight damage.


Stokeclimland Station was renamed Luckett and was run by one of the first Station Mistresses in the country.


The branch livery was changed from blue to "South Western" green.

1 Jan 1923 The Southern Railway officially came into existence, this branch forming a part.  Various plans for linking to other lines were formulated, then abandoned.
1934 Due to a further decline in use, this time for bricks, the wagon hoist was closed in September and dismantled in October.
1939-45 Heavy air raids in Plymouth caused many families to re-locate, some to the Calstock area from where some commuted by rail on very overcrowded trains.
1948 Reorganisation after nationalisation meant that one of the few immediate effects on the branch was the transfer of its commercial services (with other lines west of Exeter) from Southern Region to Western from 1950 until 1958.

Click to enlargeClick to enlarge








Gunnislake Station in 1949
With thanks to Simon Lathlane
Click images to enlarge


1958 Passenger services included many excursion special offers.  Click to
Click to enlarge timetable from July 1958
1960s Gradually both passenger and freight services were withdrawn, particularly affecting the section from Gunnislake to Callington.  In 1963, all services were taken over by Western Region.

Click to enlarge
Steam train at Calstock station


Diesel trains replaced steam in 1964.

by 1966 it was envisaged that the Beeching Axe should fall on the entire branch line, although eventually the section from Bere Alston through Calstock to Gunnislake survived.  The last train left Callington on 5 November, to the sound of detonators & fireworks, and carrying a wreath.

Current services

The Tamar Valley Line's website links from here.

Railway Index

Railway People

Railway Photographs



2. Callington Railways: Roger Crombleholme, Douglas Stuckey, C.F.D. Whetmath
(currently out of print)
3. A Historical Survey of the Mines and Mineral Railways of East Cornwall and West Devon: D.B.Barton
4. Venning's Directory of East Cornwall (1901)
5. The Inside Story of Calstock:  Alfred Pengelly 1955



Information is being added to this website on a frequent basis.  Come back again soon for more information about the railways

If you have details, photographs etc. which you would like to contribute, please use the 'Contact' link on the left. 






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