‘The completion of the railway to Okehampton gives to tourists and to excursionists the opportunity of visiting a most picturesque neighbourhood, and the valetudinarian may now easily reach the breezy heights of Dartmoor.’
Extract: Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post August 30th 1871.
In 1860 the London South Western Railway opened its main line from Waterloo to Exeter Queen St. station which led to proposals for a standard gauge North Devon and Okehampton railway. A Railway Act was passed on 17th of July 1862 for a line of fourteen miles long at a cost of £130,000. The first sod was finally cut on 31st March 1864 by Countess Portsmouth and the company was renamed the Devon and Cornwall Railway. The route required the construction of 9 over-bridges, 12 under-bridges and 1 viaduct at Fatherford.
Difficult terrain, failing money markets and striking navvies all meant it took four and a half years to complete the last four and a half miles of track to Okehampton. This resulted in the formal, civic celebrations occurring five weeks before the passenger trains first ran.
On Tuesday 29th August 1871 a special train travelled from Waterloo carrying railway directors and the Earl Portsmouth, picking up other dignitaries on route. They arrived at Okehampton station at 3pm where large crowds had gathered and three bands were playing. Mayor of the town John Downall gave a formal civic welcome, then it was off for a luncheon provided by Mr Ball, landlord of the White Hart Hotel. Escorted by the Band of the Volunteer Artillery they walked to a marquee, erected half way between the station and town. A good meal was had by all as the speeches of thanks proclaimed and the Mayor thanked the engineer Mr Galbraith and contractor Mr Relf for completing the line. That evening a celebration ball was held at the White Hart Hotel.
The following day the people of Okehampton were treated to a huge street party and various entertainments.
The article in Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post continued:
‘The town was gaily decorated. Archways were erected, flags were hoisted in every direction and joyfulness was everywhere plainly visible.’
You may ask, what about the 350 men who did all the labouring? Well, on behalf of the directors, Mr Ball bought them all a pie and a pint to eat in the Goods Shed at Okehampton!
The passenger service commenced on 3rd October 1871 with six trains each way every day.
The main image used for this post is of the first train to arrive at Okehampton Railway Station,3rd October 1871. As reproduced and licensed by The Moorlander newspaper, August 2021 – from The Keasbury-Gordon Photograph Archive ©KGPA Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo.
The second image is of a street party in Fore Street held to celebrate the opening of the railway line to Okehampton. 30th August 1871