Liskeard and Looe Railway
The Liskeard and Looe Railway was a railway originally built between Moorswater, in the valley west of Liskeard, and Looe, in Cornwall, England, UK, and later extended to Liskeard station on the Cornish Main Line railway. The first section was opened in 1860 and was owned by the Liskeard and Looe Union Canal Company, whose canal had earlier (from 1827) been built to convey sea sand and lime up the valley of the East Looe River, for the purpose of improving agricultural land.
When copper and tin ores were discovered on Caradon Hill, they were brought down to Looe Harbour over the canal; the volume of traffic became too much for the canal, and the railway was built. It was short of money and operated with a single hired locomotive at first, carrying minerals from Caradon to the sea at Looe, as well as coal and machinery, and some agricultural materials up the valley.
Passenger traffic was started in 1879, and at the same time mineral extraction was already declining. Seeing the disadvantage of being isolated from other railways, the Company built a connecting line between Moorswater and Liskeard station, on the main line; this was opened in 1901, and encouraged passenger and general goods traffic.
A peculiarity of the line is the circuitous route from Liskeard to Coombe, and the reversal there; there is a steep gradient to descend from Liskeard into the valley, and sharp curves.
- 1 General description
- 2 Origins
- 3 Construction
- 4 Early operation
- 5 Formal lease to the L&CR, and passengers carried
- 6 Further decline of mineral traffic
- 7 Extension to Liskeard
- 8 Taken over by the Great Western Railway
- 9 A proposed new branch from St Germans to Looe
- 10 Stations
- 11 Train services
- 12 Traction and rolling stock
- 13 Mile post mileages
- 14 Operation at Coombe
- 15 Notes
- 16 References
- 17 External links
The Liskeard and Looe Railway can nowadays be more conveniently thought of as the Looe Branch. It leaves Liskeard station (on the broadly east-west Plymouth to Penzance main line) in a northward direction, turning in a narrow sweep to pass southwards under the main line, continuing to turn to reach Coombe Junction, again facing north. The original line from Looe continued northwards for a short distance at this point to Moorswater, connecting there with the Liskeard and Caradon Railway; nowadays this is reduced to a stub leading to a nearby private siding at Moorswater.
Passenger trains to Looe reverse at Coombe, and from there the line runs southwards, descending along the valley of the East Looe River, with intermediate stations at St Keyne Wishing Well Halt, Causeland, and Sandplace, finally reaching Looe. The entire route is single line, but the junction at Coombe and the extension to Moorswater there mean that the section is divided for operational purposes.
The agricultural land around Liskeard is of good quality, but tends to considerable acidity, and in the eighteenth and nineteenth century the best land was "improved" by spreading sea sand or lime on it, to neutralise the acidity. Large quantities of these commodities were required annually, and they were brought in from the coast by pack horse. In 1827 a canal -– the Liskeard and Looe Union Canal—was constructed, between Sandplace on the East Looe River and Moorswater, in the valley west of Liskeard. The canal was moderately successful.
From 1836, copper and tin ores were discovered in the Caradon area, and had to be brought to the sea for onward transport to market. Packhorse conveyance to Moorswater meant that the Canal could be used for part of the journey, but the difficulties of horse transport between the mines and Moorswater soon led to plans for the construction of a railway. The Liskeard and Caradon Railway was built to bring the ores, and also granite, down to Moorswater. At Moorswater the minerals were transferred to barges, which transported them down the canal to Looe, from where coastal shipping took them to market.
This brought considerable prosperity to the canal, and traffic volume rose, soon reaching the point where the canal was operating at full capacity. Consideration was then given to building a railway along the valley. A meeting held on 30 September 1857 confirmed this proposal, and a Special General Meeting of the Canal Company shareholders met on 13 October 1857; they agreed that they should build a railway. Parliamentary authority to do so was given, in the Liskeard and Looe Railway Act, on 11 May 1858.[page needed][page needed] The Act did not establish a company of that name: the powers to build the railway were conferred on the existing Canal Company. £13,000 of additional share capital was sanctioned, with £4,000 of borrowing powers. Locomotive haulage was authorised, but locomotives were not to pass the end of Looe Bridge to reach Buller Quay on the level.[page needed]
Contracts were let for the construction of the line, and land acquisition was put in hand. The railway was to be built alongside the canal; it is not clear whether the canal was intended to remain in use as well as the railway, or whether this was simply to avoid closing the canal during the railway construction period. Granite sleeper blocks (from Cheesewring) were used. In the Looe Valley from Tregarland to Looe longitudinal timbers were used instead. Granite blocks were obsolete technology at this period, although they had been used on the Liskeard & Caradon line, and longitudinal timbers were in use on the Cornwall Railway. Messenger suggests that the use of these forms of track construction was due to inexperience on the part of the engineers.
Construction costs considerably exceeded the authorised capital, and in July 1860 the Managing Committee instructed that the accommodation works (farm crossings etc.) should be postponed; arrangements were made with the L&CR to use their wagons and a small locomotive was hired in from James Murphy of Newport, Monmouthshire, for £3 per day including crew.
The canal was retained in operation from Sandplace to Looe, as there was an important quay at Sandplace, but it is likely that the higher part of the canal became disused immediately.
Initial operation from 1860 consisted of the use of the hired locomotive Liskeard taking the wagons of the Liskeard and Caradon Railway (L&CR) down to Looe. Liskeard was brought to the Liskeard station of the Cornwall Railway (no doubt on a wagon), and then hauled to Moorswater by a team of 28 horses.[page needed]
In fact Liskeard served well, for it was purchased from Murphy for £600 in September 1861. The L&CR, planned as a gravity railway with horse traction for the uphill direction, saw the value of a locomotive, and acquired their own, Caradon in August (probably) of 1862.
It was realised that it made little sense to keep the two lines separate, and a Joint Committee had been formed in March 1862—the L&CR had three members to the LLUC's two. Through tolls from Caradon to Looe were published, and operational management of the two railways passed to the L&CR from 31 March 1862. The L&CR acquired the locomotive Liskeard, paying the LLUC the £600 it had paid for it.[page needed][page needed]
Mineral traffic increased considerably, and the quayside at Looe became seriously congested. However, copper ore traffic peaked at 27,000 tons in 1863, declining afterwards. Inwards coal continued to climb, however, as the mines were exploiting deeper lodes, requiring more engine power for winding and to drain them. Granite held steady at 7,000 tons for several years, and limestone (inwards) held at about 4,000 tons.
At this time the L&CR was concerning itself with extending its line to new mines, as the focus of extraction shifted away from the earlier shaft locations. From time to time the L&CR also pursued the idea of reaching Launceston by constructing a long branch across the moors. The LLUC by contrast had little to do, their railway being managed by the L&CR. However shortage of money was a continuing concern, and as some of the Caradon mines also faced financial difficulties, there was considerable pressure for a reduction in tolls.[page needed]
Formal lease to the L&CR, and passengers carried
The L&CR continued to have ambitious plans, and it planned parliamentary authority in 1882 to lease the LLUC's railway, as well as the construction of a line to Liskeard. The proposal fell through, possibly due to the reality of lack of cash, but a formal lease of the LLUC undertaking was made, effective from 27 February 1878. This evidently included control of the residual canal activity. This was ratified by a later Act of 28 July 1884.
John Francis Buller had secured a promise when the LLUC's railway was constructed, that he could have a siding at Sandplace, where he had extensive interests. He now agitated for this promise to be fulfilled, and early in 1879 it was provided.
The carriage of passengers had been discussed from time to time, and individuals had been carried by express permission, for some time. Against a background of steadily declining mineral business, passenger traffic was started on 11 September 1879. Col Rich of the Board of Trade had made an initial inspection in April 1879 and found that many improvements would be necessary to permit passenger operation, including proper station accommodation, and improvements and widening to several bridges. The works were quickly completed and on 7 September 1879 authorised passenger operation as a light railway; the line was to be worked under "One engine in steam" arrangements. (See Token (railway signalling)).
The L&CR had funded the works for passenger operation, and took the receipts; in contrast the LLUC seemed somnolent, and it was the L&CR which obtained an Act of Parliament to connect Moorswater to the Cornish main line of the Cornwall Railway at Liskeard. The Act included several other more or less ambitious extensions, but the L&CR's finances were weak, and the Liskeard link was in fact never attempted by them.[page needed]
Further decline of mineral traffic
The early promise of mineral extraction from Caradon had now peaked, and difficult mining conditions, and the availability of cheaper minerals from overseas, led to serious decline in the industry. The L&CR had been in financial difficulty as a result, and in 1886 it defaulted on the lease payment of £1,350 to the LLUC. As a result, the LLUC was unable to make interest payments on its debentures, and dividends were impossible.
The L&CR instituted desperate economy measures and struggled on; In 1890 the Board of Trade took issue with the L&CR over operating methods on its own line, but also the use of mixed (passenger and goods) trains on the Looe line, with the passenger vehicles at the rear to facilitate shunting at the intermediate sidings. The Companies agreed to limit mixed train operation to one per day, but the placing of the passenger vehicles seems not to have been addressed.[page needed]
Extension to Liskeard
As passengers and non-mineral goods traffic became dominant, the disadvantages of the disconnected route and the inconveniently located Moorswater station motivated the company to act on making a connection to the main line at Liskeard. This became the Liskeard and Looe Extension Railway, which obtained the Royal Assent on 6 July 1895. The name of the company operating the Looe railway line had remained The Liskeard and Looe Union Canal Company and by the same Act it was finally changed to The Liskeard and Looe Railway.
Authorising £30,000 of share capital was one thing, but getting investors to put the money forward proved impossible. The Great Western Railway were approached, but were discouraging, and an impasse had been reached, until Captain J E P Spicer, of Spye Park, personally invested the bulk of the capital. Construction started on 28 June 1898.
The vertical interval—205 feet—and the topography in general made the connection awkward, and a tortuous route was built, running in nearly a full circle. The Lodge Hill cutting through rock was one of the deepest in the county. The ruling gradient was 1 in 40 and the sharpest curve 8 chains (160m). Because of the steep gradient, locomotives worked chimney first to Liskeard, to ensure that the firebox crown remained covered with water.[page needed] The line terminated in a south facing bay platform at Liskeard. The connection between the branch line there and the main line was a sharply curved siding.[page needed]
The new line opened on 9 May 1901. A new station at Coombe, near the point of junction with the Looe line, was opened on 15 May 1901 and the line north of that station to Moorswater was closed to passenger traffic on that day.
The new connection had a most encouraging immediate effect on business, both passenger and goods, and by the end of the decade receipts had trebled compared with the year prior to opening of the connection.[page needed]
Taken over by the Great Western Railway
The Great Western Railway (GWR) worked the line (and the Liskeard and Caradon Railway) from 1909, authorised by Act of Parliament of 25 May 1909,[page needed] and the GWR absorbed the line at the Grouping of the Railways in 1923, under the Railways Act 1921. At the end of independent existence the Liskeard and Looe company was quoted as having issued share capital of £90,000 and a net income (for the fiscal year 1921) of £1,213.[page needed]
In the twentieth century, the line had made the transition from mineral railway to conventional branch line with passenger and agricultural and fisheries goods traffic dominant. There were typically nine or ten return passenger trains on the line, with a Sunday service in addition.[page needed]
There were signalboxes at Liskeard (branch), Coombe Junction, and Looe. That at Looe was a very small structure at the Quay end of the platform, controlling onward movement to the sidings there.[page needed]
However the awkward connection at Liskeard and the reversal at Coombe made operation inconvenient. Moreover, through trains, or even through carriages, would have been very difficult to arrange, and they were never operated, due to the sharp connecting curve at Liskeard and the restricted loading gauge on the branch.[page needed]
Steam passenger train operation required running round at Coombe, and from the 1930s branch trains passed each other there.[page needed] This seems remarkable as there was only one short platform at Coombe, but at least until the end of steam operation this took place, typically with a Liskeard to Looe train calling at Coombe at 10:02 to 10:07 and a Looe to Liskeard train calling there at 10:06 to 10:09. How this was achieved is explained below.
Becket states that in clear weather authority was given for trains climbing up the steep and sharply curved 1 in 40 section from Coombe to Liskeard to be assisted in rear, and that this was usually done by the train engine that had brought the train from Looe to Coombe.
The line was classified as "uncoloured" for engine restriction purposes, but special authority was given for 45XX 2-6-2T locomotives (classified "yellow"), 90XX 4-4-0s (classified "blue") and 0-6-0PTs 9700 to 9710 (also "blue"). In practice the line was in the hands of the 45XXs. Two were based at the sub-shed at Moorswater.[page needed]
A proposed new branch from St Germans to Looe
As the branch increased in popularity, especially with summer holidaymakers, the Great Western Railway considered constructing a new seven-mile branch from Trerulefoot, near St Germans, to Looe, in the 1930s. This was coupled with an awareness of the development of daily occupational travel to Plymouth: a 35-minute journey was planned, enabling "commuting" in modern parlance. A map of the proposed route is shown at Saltash and Tamar Valley History
This new line became a firm proposal in 1936, authorised under the Great Western Railway (Additional Powers) Act in that year. The line would have traversed difficult topography, and it would have included three tunnels, including a Seaton Tunnel at 2,288 yards (2,092 m), and a Looe Tunnel at 700 yards (640 m); there was to be a new high level station on the east side of Looe town. The line was to be operated by the new streamlined diesel railcars, giving a 35-minute journey for the 16 miles to Plymouth. A new luxury hotel and golf course were to be built at Looe. Some preparatory work was carried out on the first 4 mi (6.4 km) between Looe and Keveral in 1937, but the Second World War frustrated actual construction, and it was never carried out. The junction would have been at Trerule, on the Cornish main line. The signal box there was enlarged in preparation, although only six levers were in use.[page needed][page needed][page needed]
The original route was from Looe Quay to Moorswater; the former is sometimes quoted as Looe Bridge, the southern extremity of the running line, but it ran on as sidings to the quayside south of the bridge, on Buller Quay. The line was opened to passenger services on 11 September 1879, and ran two trains each way daily to connect with the Cornwall line; there was an additional train on Saturday evenings.[page needed]
- Sandplace, opened in September or October (or December[page needed]) 1881
- St Keyne, opened 1 September 1902[page needed] (or October 1902[page needed]) renamed St Keyne Wishing Well Halt in early 2008
- Coombe Junction, opened 1898; renamed Coombe from 1969
Sandplace, Causeland, St Keyne and Coombe Junction were designated "halts", from 21 September 1963 in the case of Sandplace, and from 1953 for the others, until the term became disused in the 1970s (5 May 1969 for Sandplace). It was revived for the newly renamed St Keyne Wishing Well Halt and for Coombe from early 2008.[page needed]
Looe passenger station was built in the area known as Shutta, some distance above Looe Bridge. It consisted originally of a single platform 75 feet (23 m) long, with basic facilities. The platform was extended to 200 feet (61 m) when the link at Liskeard was opened in 1901, and it was extended again by 96 feet (29 m) in 1928.[page needed] Arriving passenger trains moved to run-round facilities south of the station for the purpose, where there was also a carriage shed, and then re-entered the platform.
From 11 September 1961, passenger trains were operated by diesel multiple units and goods traffic had ceased (in November 1963[page needed]), so that the running line ended in buffer stops at the platform end. This was shortened back at the south end in 1966 and again in April 1968.[page needed][page needed]
The line southwards to the Quay crossed Polperro Road (i.e. the road on Looe Bridge) on the level; it extended as far as the site of the present Buller Street. It was named Buller Quay after J F Buller, a prominent local landowner who "arranged the funding for the quay construction from various sources".[page needed] The harbour lines were closed in 1954.[page needed]
China Clay was exported from the quay between 1904 and the 1920s, declining because of the restriction on vessel size due to rocks at the mouth of the Looe; Fowey took over the traffic. The Quay closed to rail traffic on 23 March 1954.[page needed]
Sandplace was proposed for closure in 1907, but the proposal was not implemented. Goods were handled there in a loop siding on the east side of the line until 15 June 1951.[page needed][page needed]
Causeland was the only intermediate station on the line when it originally opened for passengers; it is remote from any local settlement, and in 1881 and again in 1902, when adjacent stations as Sandplace and St Keyne respectively were opened, the Company proposed to close it, but local opposition succeeded on stopping the proposal.[page needed]
St Keyne originally had the inscription "for St Keyne Well" on its station sign.
Coombe Junction became an unadvertised passenger stop as early as 1884, presumably without the word "junction", before the construction of the link line to Liskeard Cornwall Railway station. The walk from Moorswater to Liskeard was steep and lengthy, and a basic stopping place at Coombe gave a somewhat easier walk to the main line station. It was not advertised at first, but in 1896 it was published that trains would stop there on request to the guard.
The subsequent Coombe Junction station was provided when the link line was opened on 15 May 1901, close to the site of the earlier stopping point. A loop line of 650 feet (198 m) was provided, and passenger services northward to Moorswater ceased. The platform was 90 feet (27 m) long, on a dead-end road with the running line to Moorswater alongside; there was a crossover at the north end and until 1938 there was a middle crossover.[page needed]
From abolition of the signal box on 8 May 1981, the level crossing there was converted to user operation, and two ground frames were provided at Coombe; No 1 ground frame controlling the junction points, and No 2 ground frame at the north end of passenger operation, controlling trap points from Moorswater.[page needed]
Moorswater was originally the northern terminal of the Canal, and the southern terminal of the Liskeard and Caradon Railway, and became the connecting point between the two railways when the Liskeard and Looe Railway was built. It is now on a short freight-only stub north of Coombe, and serves a private siding used by Imerys Minerals Limited.
The passenger station had a platform 84 feet (26 m) long. It closed to passengers when the link line opened, on 15 May 1901, and ordinary goods facilities ceased in May 1951.
The reservoir provided for the canal was in the fork between the Caradon line and the clay dries siding; it was still present (as "Old Reservoir") when the 1901 Ordnance Survey map was produced.
In the twentieth century there was a clay drying shed at Moorswater.[page needed] The clay arrived as a slurry, piped from Parsons Park, four miles (6.4 km) north.[page needed] The Network Rail Sectional Appendix quotes "Clay Dries" at this location. China clay was loaded there for onward rail transit until April 1997; after that date the Moorswater stub became disused until June 1999, from which date cement trains arrive there.[page needed] In early 2013 there are suggestions that this traffic has ceased permanently.
An 1881 public timetable shows two return journeys daily, with an additional train on Wednesdays and Saturdays; the journey time was 30 minutes; the fare was 6½d third class, 9d second class and 1/6 first class.[page needed]
Traction and rolling stock
As already mentioned the locomotive Liskeard, an 0-4-0ST, operated on the line from the first. From 1862 the Liskeard and Caradon Railway worked the line, taking over Liskeard for the purpose. It ceased operation on the line in August 1866.[page needed] An 0-6-0ST called Caradon was purchased from Gilkes, Wilson & Co in 1862, working until 1907. An 0-6-0T called Lady Margaret also worked on the line.
An 0-6-0ST called Looe was obtained in May 1901, funded by a director; however its steaming capabilities proved inadequate for the steep climb at Liskeard, and it was sold on to the London & India Docks in April 1902; it worked there until 1950. To replace Looe, another 0-6-0ST, No. 13, was hired from the GWR. After 1909 the line was worked by the GWR, and their own 0-6-0STs and 0-6-0PTs were in use. From the late 1920s, the 44XX 2-6-2T locomotives took over, supplemented by the larger wheeled 45XX class.[page needed]
Coaching stock, required from the start of passenger operation in 1879, consisted of three four-wheeled coaches from the Metropolitan Carriage and Wagon Co. A further four-wheeler was acquired in 1880; continuous vacuum brakes were added in 1890.
With the opening of the connection to Liskeard GWR, three new passenger coaches were acquired from Hurst Nelson of Motherwell. They consisted of a composite first and second, and two third class vehicles. They were eight-wheel bogie coaches, and the seating was on the open plan (not compartments) with an American-style verandah at each end of the coach; they were said to be similar to coaches used on the New York Overhead Railway. The three coaches were almost completely destroyed in an accident on 15 April 1906.[page needed]
At this time the Mersey Railway was disposing of locomotive hauled stock, and some of this was bought in as replacements; down to 1907, thirteen four wheelers were obtained second-hand from the Mersey Railway.
Mile post mileages
Cooke[page needed] gives the zero point for mile post mileage on the branch was on the quay at Looe. He shows a siding running a short distance further south, to "Buller Quay". The passenger station was at 0m 16c, with Sandplace at 2m 28c, Causeland at 3m 58c, and St Keyne at 5m 03c. The geographical junction at Coombe is at 6m 52c, and Coombe Junction halt is at 6m 62c. Cooke gives 7m 29c as the northern extent of the extant line at Moorswater, but this refers to the line as remaining open in 1947, and not necessarily to any boundary with the Liskeard and Caradon Company's track.
Cooke shows the geographical junction at 6m 74c "for Liskeard", with Liskeard branch line platform at 8m 51c. The dual mileage at Coombe Junction may have been at attempt to give a cumulative mileage for Looe to Liskeard trains.
Operation at Coombe
From the 1930s until the end of steam operation, the passenger train timetable involved two trains crossing at Coombe Junction, at a time a little after 10.00 a.m. The layout at Coombe in the 1950s had only the terminal platform line and the through Goods Line (with no platform) towards Moorswater.
Adrian Vaughan explains how the crossing was achieved in the 1950s; Looe signal box sent "Is line clear?" for the 9.45 a.m. Looe to Liskeard, and Coombe Junction accepted it under the Warning Arrangement, Regulation 5, by sending the bell signal 3-5-5:
At about 9.50 Liskeard Branch [signalman] asked clear for the 9.55 and Coombe Junction released the token instrument. At 9.55 came 'Train entering section'.
The Coombe Junction signalman set up the route to the platform line, the train ran past the box and handed off the token. The engine ran round its train. The signalman now lowered his signals for the train to go towards Liskeard. The train pulled out until the rear was clear of the platform / Moorswater siding points, the route was reset and the train set back onto the siding. By this time the 9.45 Looe had arrived at the home signal. The route was set for the platform and the signals lowered. The token was handed off as the engine passed. The signalman put it into the instrument and gave 'Train out of Section' and at once 'asked clear' and removed the token for the 9.55 Liskeard. Once the Liskeard [to Looe] train had gone, the engine on the Looe [to Liskeard] train could run round its train, the signalman got out the token for the Liskeard line, set the road and the train left.
When steam operation was replaced by diesel multiple units, this obviously became much simpler.
At the present time, working from Coombe Junction to Looe is by train staff under "one train only" regulations. The electric train token between Liskeard and Coombe Junction has a key attached to operate the ground frame at Coombe Junction, so that the junction points there can be operated by the train crew.
- This was during the proposals for the Cornwall Railway itself
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