Bideford Railway Heritage Centre4 Station Hill Bideford EX39 4BB
Bideford Railway Heritage Centre is located at the old Bideford Station.
The same group manage the delightful Instow Signal Box – both on the former railway line from Barnstaple to Bideford in North Devon, now part of the popular Tarka Trail!
North Devon’s first railway was a goods line operated by horses and was 30 miles away from the “main line” at Crediton. It was started by the Taw Vale Railway and Dock Company.
The first track was laid in January 1846 from Fremington to Barnstaple.
In an effort to expand the company repackaged itself as the North Devon Railway and projected a broad gauge passenger and goods line from Barnstaple to Crediton.
The broad gauge line from Crediton to Barnstaple was opened in 1854. The original Fremington Docks line was also converted to broad gauge but still remained goods only. Passenger trains from Barnstaple to Crediton continued over the Exeter & Crediton Railway to Exeter St Davids.
When the North Devon Railway was opened, the extension to Bideford was already under construction and completed the following year (1855). The railway was extended from Fremington through Instow to the original station at Cross Parks, at East the Water in Bideford. The Exeter trains to Barnstaple could then continue on to Bideford.
The North Devon Railway and the Bideford Extension Railway were amalgamated with the London and Southern Western Railway (LSWR) in 1865.
In 1872 the line had been extended as standard gauge only to Torrington and the current station had been built in Bideford. The old station at Cross Parks became the goods yard.
Mixed gauge was laid to Bideford in 1863, and the final broad gauge local trains ran in 1877 after which the whole route was changed to standard gauge only.
In 1925 the light railway extension from Torrington to Halwill Junction was opened to serve the ball clay works at Meeth.
By 1935 bus competition was becoming stronger and private cars were more commonplace. This led to the first railway closure in North Devon: the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway followed suit in the September of 1935.
Check out their website – HERE!
The line to Bideford was a victim of the notorious Beeching cuts and the final timetabled passenger journey from Torrington to Barnstaple was on the 2nd October 1965. The last steam train was a railtour called the “Exeter Flyer” on 3rd October 1965.
As with any railway preservation, the course has been difficult – read about the Preservation History of the line HERE!
For example, during 2010-2011 the site was threatened with housing being built on the trackbed! This threat was eventually removed and the houses were built adjacent to the trackbed to the design of railway cottages – phew!
Now, the remaining carriages have been lovingly converted into a heritage centre and and cafe. There is also a replica signal box on site, adding to the station ensemble, equipped with levers and railway paraphernalia!
The cafe, museum and signalbox are open to the public most days, when volunteers are in attendance, but don’t rely on it!