Cornishman (train)

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The Cornishman was a British express passenger train to Penzance in Cornwall. From its inception in the 19th century until before World War II it originated at London Paddington. Under British Railways it became a quite different service, starting variously from Wolverhampton, Derby, Sheffield, Leeds or Bradford.

Broad gauge[edit]

The Cornishman originates from the days of Brunel's broad gauge, first running in summer 1890 between London Paddington and Penzance in Cornwall. The down train left Paddington at 10:15, and called at Bristol at 12:45, Exeter at 14:20, Plymouth at 13:50, arriving Penzance at 19:50. At 8 hours and 35 minutes for the 325¼ miles, this made it the fastest train to the West of England, and one of the most popular, being unusual for an important named train in conveying third-class passengers. On 20 May 1892 The Cornishman became the last broad-gauge express to leave London for Cornwall.

By 1893 the Great Western Railway (GWR), now at standard gauge, built special Brake Third coaches for The Cornishman (Diagrams D10 and D11), and in 1895 laid water troughs at Goring and Keynsham allowing it to be the first train to run non-stop between London and Bristol. The departure time from London was altered to 10:30, and after another reduction of 15 minutes in 1903 The Cornishman became the first train to be scheduled from London to Bristol in 2 hours. Non-stop running was extended in 1896 when a relief section for Newquay was booked to travel from Paddington to Exeter non-stop, the longest non-stop journey in the world at that time. The train then called at Plymouth, Par and Newquay only.

In July 1904, the GWR introduced a new express train to replace The Cornishman: the Cornish Riviera Limited, running non-stop from Paddington to Plymouth North Road station and then through Cornwall to Penzance. The Cornishman name was not used again until summer 1935, when it was re-introduced for the 10:35 relief to the Cornish Riviera Limited. The timetable showed the "Limited" running non-stop to Truro, although stopping to add a banker at Newton Abbot and to change engines at Devonport; The Cornishman had the Weymouth Slip coach, and contained portions for Plymouth, Newquay, Helston, St Erth and Penzance. In the up direction The Cornishman started at St Erth, and served Gwinear Road, Truro, and stations from Par to Plymouth. This was, however, a brief return as in the summer 1936 timetable the same train returned to unnamed anonymity.

Move to the Midlands[edit]

In the 1952 timetable, the name The Cornishman was applied by Western Region of British Railways to a train from Wolverhampton Low Level (09:15) and Birmingham Snow Hill (09:50) to Plymouth and Penzance (17:55), travelling via Stratford-upon-Avon, Cheltenham Malvern Road and Bristol. The return working left Penzance at 10:30, reaching Birmingham at 18:36 and Wolverhampton at 19:28. Catering was available throughout the journey and the train conveyed a portion for Torquay and Kingswear.

During the 1960s the northern part of The Cornishman's route underwent extensive changes. Closure of the GWR route from Honeybourne to Cheltenham meant using the ex Midland Railway route from Birmingham to Gloucester via the Lickey Incline. With the impending closure of the Wolverhampton Low Level station the opportunity was also taken to extend The Cornishman over the former Midland line to Derby and Sheffield, and later on to Bradford Forster Square. By May 1967 departure was from Bradford Exchange at 07:06, then reversing at Leeds with a departure time of 07:36. This gave arrival times at Plymouth of 15:08 and Penzance at 17:55. In the reverse direction The Cornishman left Penzance at 11:00 and Plymouth at 13:30, arriving at Bradford at 22:07.

Further changes in the early 1970s saw The Cornishman start from Leeds on weekdays and Bradford on Saturdays. There were also changes to the route between Leeds and Sheffield, reverting to the former Midland lines rather than using a section of ex-Great Northern track. The additional stop at Wakefield Westgate which this had enabled was, however, retained.

Great Western Railway[edit]

In 2006, First Great Western, now Great Western Railway began to use the Cornishman name once again, running from London Paddington to Penzance. It departs London at 15:06, calling at: Reading, Pewsey, Westbury, Castle Cary, Taunton, Tiverton Parkway, Exeter St Davids, Newton Abbot, Totnes, Plymouth, then stations through to Penzance. An up journey is made by the 10:00 from Penzance to London. Leaving Plymouth at 12:01, Exeter at 13:04, Taunton at 13:36 then non-stop Taunton to Reading, arriving in London at 15:44.


  • Allen, Cecil J. (1974). Titled Trains of the Western. Shepperton: Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-0513-3.
  • Russell, J.H. (1981). Great Western Coaches Appendix ; Volume One. Shepperton: OPC. ISBN 0-86093-084-X.