• Tavistock Heritage Trust

Heritage at 'Full Steam'

Updated: Jan 19, 2019

On 5th May 1968, the last train left Tavistock North station and the town was cut off from the national railway network. Fifty years later to the day, almost 200 people joined Tavistock Heritage Trust to commemorate the anniversary of that sad day and to learn more about the history and possible future of the railway in Tavistock.

In the afternoon, a large group were treated to a guided walk led by local railway historian Stephen Fryer, which took in the remaining railway infrastructure and explored how the railway altered the fabric of the town itself. Blessed by glorious early-May sunshine, the walkers started in Bedford Square and then proceeded up Drake Road (itself built to service the railway) to the old station building, which had been opened for the occasion thanks to the generosity of the current owner.

The walkers pose for a photograph with Stephen Fryer and Bernard Mills outside Tavistock North

After taking advantage of a rare opportunity to look inside the old ticket office and platform, the walkers then crossed the Viaduct to the railway cutting through the hillside to the north-west of the town, where Stephen recounted tales of the navvies who built the railway at the end of the nineteenth century.

In the evening, Stephen hosted a ‘Journey from Plymouth to Okehampton’ with former railwayman and avid railway photographer Bernard Mills, who worked on the line in the years before it was closed. This informative and engaging talk was richly illustrated with historical images of the railway, many taken by Bernard during his time on the railway.

Speaking afterwards, Bernard said: “Instead of marking 50 years since the senseless closure of this route, it would have been far more pleasurable to have marked its re-opening. When Dawlish collapsed in 2014, Mr Cameron came down with lots of promises and it has proved hot air. If the Government had acted then to reinstate the route via Okehampton, it would have been up and running by now – and at a fraction of the cost of HS2.”

The audience also heard from Richard Searight, chairman of the Peninsula Rail Group, which campaigns to reinstate the Okehampton-Tavistock-Plymouth line. “The commemoration was both a sad and a happy event,” he said. “Sad in that so much magnificent railway structure was destroyed in 1968 but happy in that it will be just a matter of time before it is reinstated. The Secretary of State, Chris Grayling, has ordered that the initial Okehampton to Exeter services be restored as soon as ‘reasonably possible’. The next to be restored has to be the Tavistock to Gunnislake line - followed finally by the 21 miles stretch between Okehampton and Tavistock.”

Summing up the evening, Ian Wright, the Trust’s Vice-Chair for Events, said: “Our mission as a Trust is to ‘Bring Tavistock’s Heritage to Life’, and Stephen and Bernard have certainly done that for us today.”