to Bude Line
The Okehampton–Bude line was a railway line built to serve Holsworthy, in Devon, and then Bude, on the Cornish coast near the Devon border in the United Kingdom. It branched from a main route at Meldon Junction, a little to the west of Okehampton, on the northern margin of Dartmoor. It opened in 1879 to Holsworthy and 1898 to Bude; the line is now closed.
The Bude branch (as it is called for short) diverged from the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) main line from Exeter to Plymouth at Meldon Junction ( and ran to Bude ( ), ) by way of Halwill and Holsworthy. The terrain it crossed was hilly, and largely agricultural, and population density was low. When the line was first constructed, Bude was not yet important enough to be an objective destination, and the line was at first built from Meldon Junction to Holsworthy.
The line was later extended to Bude; its location is in Cornwall on the Atlantic coast south of Hartland Point. The railway brought Bude prosperity as a watering place, and in the closing decades of the nineteenth century it became a holiday destination.
In 1871 the Devon and Cornwall Railway had reached Okehampton giving that town access to the eastern network via Exeter. In 1874 the company extended its line to Lydford (then spelt Lidford) to get access to the important city of Plymouth over the Great Western Railway line. A third rail was laid on that line, which had been broad gauge, to give the standard gauge trains access. The Devon and Cornwall line was leased and operated by the LSWR, but never owned by it.
On 20 January 1879 the LSWR opened a new line diverging from the Lydford line at Meldon Junction, to Holsworthy. At that time Bude was a small harbour town, and although proposals had been put forward to run the branch to the town, the LSWR evidently did not consider it important enough to justify the cost of running the line there. A coach service was operated from Holsworthy station to Bude, a distance of ten miles.
In the following 19 years, the importance of Bude rose as a regional centre, and the notion of seaside holidays had gained in importance. On 10 August 1898 the line was finally extended to Bude. The neighbouring inland town of Stratton was still considered by its residents to be more important, and according to Wroe the station at Bude stopped short of the town centre there to appease Stratton. However, there was a wharf siding line extending from near the station to a tidal harbour.
Having reached Bude the LSWR was anxious to encourage growth of holiday passenger traffic, and it marketed Bude strongly as a resort destination. However the journey from London and the Midlands was very long and although Bude developed, it never became a resort to challenge the South Devon seaside towns.
The area was a major producer of meat, and a heavy traffic was carried on in meat to London and the Midlands cities. However, the low population density in the district and the lengthy and difficult railway connection via Okehampton and Crediton, meant that when car ownership and road lorry usage became popular in the 1950s, the line's traffic went into decline.
Before arrival of the railway, sea sand from Bude was used to improve the agricultural qualities of land, as it was rich in minerals, particularly lime. This had been carried by the Bude Canal, and was its primary traffic. When the railway had opened to Holsworthy, this material was conveyed from Bude to Stanbury Wharf by canal, and then carted to Holsworthy station, a distance of about a mile, for onward conveyance by train. However, in the last decade of the nineteenth century, manufactured fertilisers became available, and these were brought in to the district by train and the canal fell into disuse.
In 1925 the North Devon and Cornwall Junction Light Railway was opened, connecting Halwill and Torrington. From that date, Halwill signal box may have been the most complex all-single-line junction in the country, with single line operation from the Okehampton direction, onwards towards Wadebridge and Bude, and northwards towards Torrington.
The area served by the line was sparsely populated—Mitchell records that fewer than seven tickets a day were sold at Ashbury in 1936—and passenger numbers declined steadily, especially when private car ownership became commonplace. The line closed on 1 October 1966.
From Meldon Junction:
- Maddaford Moor Halt (opened on 27 July 1926)
- Dunsland Cross
- Whitstone & Bridgerule (opened on 1 November 1898)
Halwill was originally called Halwill & Beaworthy; from March 1887 it was called Halwill Junction, and finally plain Halwill from 1 January 1923. The station nameboard continued to be worded "Halwill for Beaworthy, Junction for Bude, North Cornwall and Torrington Lines"
Col Cobb shows a "first station" at Holsworthy and a later "second station" to the east of, and replacing the first one. However this is misleading; when the line was extended from Holsworthy to Bude, some re-location of sidings was necessary, but the station as a whole, and the passenger platforms, remained in their original position.
There was an engine shed at Holsworthy until either 1911 or 1915.
At Bude, a long siding branch ran to the Wharf. There was originally a 4-feet gauge plateway on the wharf, from 1823 until 1923; it was relaid as a 2-feet gauge railway operated with horses from 1924 until 1942. The Wharf Branch closed in September 1964, having been used for rolling stock storage at busy times in the preceding years. 
In the summer of 1958, there were seven stopping trains Monday to Friday between Okehampton and Bude, of which one conveyed through coaches from London Waterloo. In addition there was the Atlantic Coast Express, a through train from Waterloo at 10:35, running non-stop from Exeter St Davids to Halwill, then calling at Holsworthy and Bude only, arriving at Bude at 15:25. Most trains conveyed through coaches to Padstow, usually marshalled in front of the Bude coaches in the down direction. The portions were divided at Halwill.
On summer Saturdays there were the same seven stopping trains but three of them conveyed through coaches from Waterloo. The Atlantic Coast Express had a similar stopping pattern but left Waterloo at 10:35 and arrived in Bude at 15:45.
On Sundays there were three trains each way in summer only, although prior to 1958 there had only been one.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bude Branch Line.|
- D J Wroe, The Bude Branch, Kingfisher Railway Productions, 1988, ISBN 0-946184-43-7
- David St John Thomas, David (editor), Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: Volume 1 - the West Country; David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 3rd edition 1966
- H Harris and M Ellis, The Bude Canal, David & Charles (Publishers) Limited, Newton Abbot, 1972, ISBN 0-7153-7018-9
- Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith, Branch Line to Bude, Middleton Press, Midhurst, 1994, ISBN 1 873793 29 4
- Col M H Cobb, (2003); The Railways of Great Britain: A Historical Atlas, Ian Allan Publishing Ltd, Shepperton, 2003, ISBN 0-7110-3002-2
- Bradshaws Railway Guide for July 1938, Reprint Edition 1968, David and Charles, Newton Abbot