Michael L. Roach
In the 1950s and up to the closure of the line at the end of 1962 passenger and freight trains between Plymouth and Launceston, via Tavistock South, were hauled almost exclusively by GWR prairie tanks in the 4500 and 4575 series. However between Plymouth and Tavistock South there more trains and more variety of motive power. The trains were mostly autotrains which meant that the coaches, normally one or two, were propelled one way and hauled the other. Most were worked by one of the 40 engines in the 6400-class of pannier tank of which Laira Shed normally had three with two being needed on most days. When none were available the autotrains could be worked by one of the prairie tanks of which Laira had 8 or 9 of the class, including some auto-fitted examples which had been displaced from the Welsh Valleys after they had been replaced by diesel multiple units in 1958. If no prairie tanks were available the train would be worked by a 5700-class pannier tank. The 6400-class never normally proceeded north of Tavistock to Lydford and Launceston.
On Saturday 18 August 1962 I decided to spend the afternoon photographing trains in the woods to the west of Lydford Station where the line was descending at a constant gradient of 1 in 55 or 1 in 57 for more than four miles to the station at Coryton. Heavy earthworks were necessary with high embankments and deep cuttings through rock. It is hard to see why the line was brought this way to reach an elevation of 700 feet AOD on the edge of Dartmoor when a direct route from Lifton to Tavistock would have saved at least four miles of track and served the villages of Chillaton and Lamerton leaving the LSWR to serve Lydford and Mary Tavy. My first port of call was at milepost 21¾ (measured from Tavistock Junction); approximately 2¼ miles west of Lydford. I recorded that the train in scan 7296 was on a 70 foot (20 metre) high embankment and I was standing on the top of a 25 feet (8 metre) high cutting. After capturing 4570 with two coaches I moved further east a quarter of a mile to milepost 21½ to see the 12.14pm SO train come down the bank running a few minutes late. It was most unusual for me to record comments like this but the train was recorded as “belting along,” and it can be seen in scans 7298 and 7300 that 1/250 of a second has not quite stopped the train. The two corridor coaches (one in chocolate and cream, and one in maroon) were being hauled by a 6400-class pannier, the first and only time I ever saw one between Tavistock and Launceston. It was quite a strange feeling to see 6400 on this stretch of line.
The 6400-class were visually very similar to the 5700-class standard pannier tanks, with many dimensions being similar or identical (e.g. length, width, height, driving wheel diameter). The main differences were that the cylinder diameter was one inch less on the 6400s and the boiler pressure was 165psi against 200psi. The 6400s had a lot less power, but enough for what they were designed for which was autotrains up to four coaches long. British Railways rated the 6400s as 2P; while the 5700s were rated 3F. In reality BR used the standard pannier tank as a 3MT (mixed traffic) engine, and they were used as the standard passenger engine on many branch lines all over the Western Region, including some longer routes like the 47 miles from Newport to Brecon. The 6400s always appeared lower and squatter than the standard pannier and they were with the boiler pitch being 3-inch (76mm) lower. The real giveaway was the taller chimney on the 6400s.
The 12.14pm SO from Plymouth was due to arrive Launceston at 1.47pm; and it might have been expected that the engine off the 1.47 arrival would have worked back on the 2.05pm SO Launceston to Plymouth passenger train except that it didn't as the 2.05pm was worked by the engine that had worked out on the daily goods from Tavistock Junction. This left the engine off the 12.14 to return with the Launceston to Tavistock Junction goods train enabling the freight train crew to shorten their day after a very early start. It would be interesting to see what would happen on this day in view of the fact that a pure passenger loco, 6400, with less tractive effort had arrived on the 12.14 from Plymouth.
.MLR / 17 August 2023
All pictures copyright Michael L. Roach.
Speaking of which, my collection of WTTs prior to 1970 is extremely meagre, but I can also answer Mr Shreeve's other query regarding the Tavistock to Lifton goods service as I do have a copy the WTT of Local Freight Trips effective 15/6/64 and I attach a scan of Plymouth Turn 996 which covered this job.
I can confirm that the railbus was stabled at Bodmin North on weeknights. I recall being in Lostwithiel box one Saturday night when the unusual bell code 3-1-3 was received from Bodmin Road. This was the railbus returning to St Blazey. All signallers were warned about these trips as the railbus frequently failed to operate track circuits.
One other point: I guess that Boscarne exchange platform was the very last rail installation to be fitted new with oil lamps!
Many thanks for the plug for my exhibition at the West of England. Please find attached two photos taken this evening at the road entrance to Rocks at Bugle as Hunslet was being taken away by low-loader. She's obviously finished her stint at the Rocks sidings but I have no idea where she's going.
Also, I don't know if you've picked up on the media reports last week of Historic England making available many of the USAAF aerial reconnaissance photographs from their training missions over the UK in 1943 and 1944. The photos have been available through the US archives previously but they've created a useful tool to make them more accessible to a UK audience. Being US government property and over 70 years old the copyright has expired under UK law, although Historic England don't tell you that - they just say they are free to use for non-commercial use. Anyway, they have released a small number of locations in Cornwall so I have gone through them and selected and cropped those which show railway features in the county. I have zoomed in to get the best shots of each location from the original photos which cover several square miles at a time. I will attach them to this email as I thought they may be of interest to your members and website viewers. You may want to create a feature on them or drip feed them on your latest page. I leave it up to you how you use them. If you create a feature and want an introductory blurb I can supply one - rather than this rambling explanation! The file names will give you the location and the date the photo was taken. I think you'll find them fascinating.
You can find the originals here by zooming into Cornwall on their map, clicking on a box to open the photo.
Baseball and Bombers: USAAF Reconnaissance Photography During the Second World War | Historic England
All the best,
Diane and my oldest daughter Amber decided to swim in the Penzance outdoor pool which gave me an opportunity to drop them off at Lostwithiel and fill in some memories and soon to be lost images of this wonderful station.
There is a team of volunteers that deserve huge praise for their efforts with the flower beds and hanging baskets if only BR realised that railways require the human touch and at least retained perhaps one working signal box and semaphores in the Duchy.
I couldn’t send all the 114 photographs I took today but attach just a few. Lovely to meet Roger a true stalwart of CRS.
Very best wishes Andrew and Diane
Just for interest’s sake, we find the yard completely empty as I type this, except for two power cars on the sidings by Embankment Road. Driving past, these appear to be 43093 Berkeley Castle and 43188 Newport Castle. Some signs of activity within the depot buildings.
There is still a lone power car in green livery over on the old steam shed site, too far away for identification.
Regards, Trevor Tremethick.
All the Best
1. At 17.00, in glorious Summer light
2. At 21.00, as darkness falls