THE END OF STEAM AT ST IVES
A potted history of the branch kindly provided by Roy Hart
Those of us of a certain age remember the St Ives branch worked by the delightful 4500 class prairies of the GWR, but it was not always so. The line opened in 1877 and was the last broad gauge line opened in the westcountry. The gauge was converted in 1892, but before this, mixed gauge freights operated from St Erth to Lelant quay. The line was operated by the 'train staff and ticket' system then and there was a signal box at Lelant (those were the days: Lelant had a station master, signalman, booking clerk and porters!). St Ives was fully signalled, with a box provided by Saxby and Farmer, contractors to the GWR.
After the gauge conversion, the line was worked by a variety of saddle- and pannier tanks until 1904, when the 4400 class small prairies arrived. With small wheels and good acceleration, these were perfect for the line, but there were only eleven of them, to be shared over the whole system. A slightly larger development, the 4500 class were too heavy for St Ives, which had an 'uncoloured' route classification ( they were 'yellow'- the next up).
In the 1920s traffic increases and loco shortages meant that something had to be done, so the 4500 class were 'specially authorised'. At the St Erth advanced starting signal stood a sign: ONLY UNCOLOURED, OR YELLOW ENGINES 4500-4574 MAY PASS THIS BOARD.
Penzance shed rotated its tank engines on the St Ives and Helston branches, so the allocation of tank engines had to suit both, so the 4575/5500 class -slightly heavier than the 4500s were not shedded at Penzance until nearly the end of steam (they could not go to St Ives). Penzance lost its last 4400 class engine in 1943.
By 1961, the 4500 class were old, worn out and down to single figures, so the writing was on the wall for St Ives. Dieselisation was imperative. DMUs could not be introduced on the Helston line because the heavy freight traffic required engines, which could (of course) haul both passenger and freight.
In consequence, in September 1961, 4564 was the last engine to be housed overnight in St Ives shed.DMUs took over. 4564 was stored at St Blazey for a while (after working a PRC special) and she spent a few months at Gloucester before scrapping. 4570 lingered at PZ for a few months while 4549 and 4563 went for scrap.
Some 55xx tanks surplus at Truro and SBZ then came to Penzance to work the Helston line.
Ironically, for a few days in the summer of 1962, diesel failures and shortages meant that steam returned to St Ives: 5562 worked passenger trains, but with its tanks only half-full to reduce its weight!
The last two prairies at Penzance were 5537 and 5562, which stood outside the shed, rusting quietly until towed away for scrap in 1963.
Many thanks Roy for this most interesting history - this has also been added to the St Ives branch section of this website.
Roger Winnen has also added a note of his rare experience on the branch. Returning from Carbis Bay after a Sunday School outing in possibly 1958 or 1959 we were pulled by 4570 together with 9748 a Penzance 57xx class pannier tank which were not authorised to run on the branch. The train had nine coaches of which three were detached at St Erth along with 4570 this was of coarse the branch set. Then 9748 and six coaches departed with the remaining train to Penzance. This was the only occasion that I had been hauled by 9748 a Penzance based engine for many years.
Sid Sponheimer has written in with reference to Roy's article with some pictures taken at Cashmores, Newport. of the St.Ives Branch and Penzance engines, here's a couple of those at their final resting place
Regards Sid. Thank you Sid
Hi Keith. These are a few snaps of Burngullow Signal Box before it closed.
The signalman with glasses is Mr Dennis Bunt. He went there after St Austell closed. The other signalman is Mr Bob Harris one of the Penwithers Jct Signalmen who went to Drump Lane in 1971. He is pictured here later at Burngullow on the 'relief'..I'm the young lad holding the red flag ! They were taken during the 1980s (I think)...
I'm sorry I'm keeping you busy! Regards. Julian H.. Many thanks