It took eleven years for the railway to reach Paignton after it opened as far as Torquay in 1848. On July 27th 1858 the Dartmouth & Torbay Railway Act received Royal Assent. The Chief engineer was to be "Mr Brunel, assisted by Mr Margary" (who was the resident engineer for the SDR and lived at Dawlish) and Mr Bell. It was felt that, by building a station at Livermead, it partly satisfied Brixham's wishes but also meant that every passenger who booked to Torquay (not Torre) would have to travel over the first mile of the D&TR and thus provide an income. In the long-term, this was to save the Company from absolute bankruptcy. William Winget, in his memoirs, wrote: "The directors experienced many difficulties in the selection of a line which should not be too expensive and yet at the same time one that would meet the wishes of those who had become shareholders, the majority of whom had invested their money not expecting to receive immediate or direct profit, but hoping eventually to derive advantage from the increased value of land and house property". The distance was shorter than the original plan being just 9.5 miles.

On the last day of January 1858, the first sod was cut by Sir L. V. Palk MP in a field below Torre Station where a large tent had been erected. The event was witnessed by great numbers of spectators, including the Mayor and Corporation of Dartmouth. Mr Margary, in charge on the day, handed Sir Lawrence a polished steel spade and a handsome mahogany wheel-barrow. He however proved an indifferent gardener, being incapable of getting the soil on his tool without bending down. Mr Seale Hayne, on the other hand, attacked his with such gusto that the spade snapped in half in his hands. The occasion ended after "the Rifle Brigade fired a feu-de-joie, the navvies shouted and the Brixham fishermen cheered... More speeches were said... and the Company then retired to the tent where 'success to the Railway' was toasted in bumpers of champagne".

At first it was not possible for the navvies to work at full speed but, by the summer of 1858, the embankment at Torre had been commenced while the cutting at Chelston was in a "forward state". The tunnel at Livermead commenced and bridge over the public carriageway at Chelston was under construction. William Winget could remember the events at first hand: "I well remember the navvies and quarrymen working away at the tunnel under Livermead, for once a month, I would distribute among them the British workman and Band of Hope, with which the recipients were always well pleased. The necessary stabling, toolhouses, workshops, stores, etc... were the five acres where the Recreation Ground now stands and I can picture when the ground was cleared for a move to a spot beyond Paignton, rats had found good quarters in the field where there had been so much corn and fodder for scores of horses, so a kind of battue was arranged. At the end of the hunt over 200 corpses were laid out on the ground, some as large as cats".

On July 11th 1859 the first engine ran over the rails as far as Livermead. A fortnight later, on August 1st, the line was officially opened to Paignton. The event was celebrated by the cooking of the "Paignton Pudding", the occasion not ending as the organisers had foreseen.

Although the distance from Torquay was only three miles, there were 20 bridges, a viaduct [this was at Livermead and the contours of the line were soon altered], a tunnel [under Breakneck Hill and was about 145 yards long. This remained there until early in this century when it was removed as part of the doubling of the tracks]. The new Torquay station opened same day. This had been erected on rising ground near Chelston overlooking Torre Abbey Sands. (This first station was replaced by the present structure in 1886). Paignton station stood alone in the "Marsh". The Company built only a rough road to connect its station with the turnpike at Victoria Square (Victoria Street did not, of course, then exist) and with Torbay House along the Town Bank. It must have seemed a long distance from the town on a wet and dark night.
Up trains left Paignton at 7.15 am., 9.50 11.15 12.50 and 3.10 pm. The 7.15 am. included "3rd class carriages to all stations as far as Exeter". These were intended for the "working classes" and, earlier, the South Devon had been most concerned that persons of the higher classes were travelling in them. It was reported that, on one occasion, some chimney-sweeps were placed in a carriage filled with "gentlemen". Between August 1st and the end of 1859 78,853 passengers were carried, of which 16,303 were to Paignton and 38,443 to Torquay.

The task of taking the line over Goodrington Marshes towards the River Dart was well in hand at the time but the opening, as far as Brixham Road (Churston), was taking longer than expected because of the decision to substitute masonry for timber in the Broadsands viaducts. The construction of that single line took much longer than expected, 300 men being employed between the autumn of 1859 and the spring of 1861. However, the section cost only one life. A 60-year old man was killed when a rapidly turning handle of a crane hit him on the head, his death being instantaneous. Brixham Road Station opened officially on March 14th 1861. The final link to Kingswear was not opened until August 10th 1864.

On February 1st 1876 the Great Western Railway took over most of the lines of the South West, including the Bristol & Exeter, the South Devon and the Cornwall Railway companies. The South Devon had always supplied engines, carriages, trucks and staff for the Dartmouth & Torbay and, some years before, had assumed full responsibility so it was this merger which brought the GWR to Paignton for the first time. The first problem the GWR had to face in Torbay was a further demand to end the branch line image. It was urged to abandon that "dangerous portion from Newton to Totnes that Brunel had unwisely taken across thinly-populated moor, whereas if he had brought round southwards, a rich and teeming country would be opened up... it was still not too late, Paignton and Totnes could still be linked". Gooch, however, ruled it out of court as it would cost £250,000. This did not deter the enthusiasts. In August the Totnes, Paignton and Torquay Direct Railway Bill was "read a third time and was passed to the House of Lords". It subsequently received Royal Assent. However, in 1884, an Abandonment Act had to be passed (47/8 Vict. c. 55). The idea had never really any chance of success, although it was reported at the time that "it was considered to be a most important link" and the GWR confirmed it had "surveyed it two or three times" (but whether this was just to block the other company's efforts rather than because it really thought the new route necessary is not known).

The opening of the new Torquay Station made the people of Paignton very dissatisfied with their own "primitive little wooden house" as the Torquay Directory had called it. The GWR attempted to improve matters by altering the up-platform, including a new waiting-room and lavatory at an estimated cost of £353 but the town's dissatisfaction with its railway service continued. In 1883 it was noted that only four trains a day left for London. Two of these were "First and Second class only" whilst on the others there were "a lot of open Thirds with scarce a foot-warmer." The station yard held only 25 wagons and there was no waiting room for passengers. There was a great deal of agitation for a new station similar to the one replacing the old one at Torquay. There were complaints too about the level crossings on both sides of the Station. When automatic gates were installed at the Torbay Road end in 1890, they were said to make matters worse rather than better. Three years earlier, in 1887, the footbridge over the line was put up. This may have been the replacement of an earlier one as a lithograph of the 1860s shows one there. In 1890, also, double gates were put up at the Sands Road crossing and the road widened - this greatly alleviated matters there.

During one weekend in May 1892, the "standard gauge" replaced Brunel's seven-foot broad gauge throughout the Westcountry and, for the first time, through trains from the Midlands and North could arrive in the town; this undoubtedly meant many more day-trippers and longer-stay holidaymakers from that time onward.

The desire to build a railway line from Paignton to Totnes continued throughout the 1890s. In 1894 the Totnes, Paignton and Torquay Railway Bill was put before Parliament but was not passed. Another attempt was made in 1897 when proposals for a Totnes, Paignton and Torbay railway were submitted to Paignton Council. This went no further either.

The Great Western Railway wrote to the Council in 1896 concerning the joint advertising of Paignton as a holiday town. Nothing, however, could done as there were no funds available for publicity. The town had to rely on the Paignton Improvement Association for many years. The first contribution from the rates seems to have been in 1900 when just £20 was granted. As late as 1925 Sir Felix Pole, the general manager of the GWR, had to meet a deputation of local people still campaigning for a new route through the South Hams to Plymouth.

A realignment of the line near the Gasworks at Hollacombe was necessary after a landslip took place there in 1903. This was described in detail:

"Mr Bonning, an old employee, was on duty near the tunnel when he detected a subsidence in progress. He placed detonators on the line from Paignton and set off to stop the 10.49 pm from Torquay. The margin of time at the disposal of Bonning was short and it was shortened even more by his fall, in the darkness, into the fissure by the line which the landslide had created. He managed to scramble out however and proceeding as fast as his legs could carry him, he entered the tunnel. In the tunnel he could hear the noise of the train which had just left Torquay and had only just emerged from the tunnel when he saw the train approaching. By vigorously waving his red light, shouting and placing detonators on the line the plucky fellow succeeded in arresting the attention of the driver, and preventing the train, with its occupants rushing to possible disaster. The passengers were taken home in Mr Webb's charabanc".

Although there had been some improvements in the 1880s, Paignton travellers continued to have inferior facilities for many years compared with those of their larger neighbour next door. For example, it was not possible buy cheap day tickets in Paignton until April 1903; previously they had to go to Torquay for them. The down platform still had little more than a paved surface, some scattered gas-lamps and a bridge over the tracks. However, its lengthening, widening and the provision of a waiting room failed to satisfy the critics and demands for a "station worthy of the town" continued.

In 1903 the Great Western saw the coming changes in social patterns; working people could now go on holiday in large numbers. The Holiday Line to the West was advertised for the first time. This slogan was to bring many thousands of them to South Devon over the next 60 years. At about the same time, the GWR conceived the idea of using motor-buses to "feed" its railway by starting the Helston to the Lizard service. Just a year later, it started a second in Torbay. On July 11th 1904 two buses started operating between Torquay and Paignton.

Double tracks had been laid as far as Torquay Station in 1883 but it took more than 25 years to complete the next three miles. In 1908 it was first proposed to double the tracks between Torquay and Paignton. It was the existence of the single line that was causing unacceptable delays to intending passengers. Because of time-tabling those coming from the Moretonhampstead and Chudleigh lines on summer evenings had to wait for an hour and two minutes at Torquay Station. It was disclosed that the cost to be £25,000 and the Bill to authorise it went before Parliament in November. Paignton Council contributed £50 towards the cost of improving Victoria Park bridge. The work was completed on October 30th 1910. As part of the work Breakneck tunnel was opened out (the remains of the walls can still be seen from passing trains). The Contractors were Messrs. Relf of Plymouth. Surplus soil was taken to Newton Abbot and dumped beside the line to Moretonhampstead where the new goods shed was afterwards built. On July 24th 1911 a new halt was opened behind Preston Sands. Known as "Preston Platform", it was used only until the outbreak of the 1914-18 War, closing on September 21st 1914.

Some years after that war ended, there was a major reorganisation of the railway network which resulted in the creation of the "Big Four" in 1921. The only one which did not change its name was the Great Western Railway - the company which had been in continuous existence since August 1835. Even this historic name failed to survive nationalisation after the next War.

The 1920s saw a major growth in railway travel over both long and short distances; to meet this in July 1928 "Broadsands Halt" opened for excursion traffic only. It was never in the timetable and trains last stopped there in September 1929.

During the Twenties Paignton Council became interested in developing Goodrington and made its last major purchase of land early in 1928. Almost at once the GWR proposed to open a station there.13 Quite soon afterwards, in July, "Goodrington Sands Halt" opened and by the end of the season many thousands of passengers had used it. It closed for the winter but reopened again on March 25th 1929. This is, perhaps, an indication as to how long the summer season was then and it also showed great optimism as there were few facilities for beach-users.

In spite of the "Depression", plans were made in 1929 to improve Paignton Station and build a new goods depot on Goodrington marshes. This opened in 1931, was in use for some 40 years but was eventually demolished and blocks of residential flats built on the site. The Thirties also saw ambitious plans to extend railway facilities behind Goodrington Sands. The Great Western Railway (Additional Powers) Act, receiving Royal Assent in 1936 Old Roundham bridge was demolished on July 23rd 1938 and the present steel girder bridge was swung into place in March 1939. Abutments for a new Tanners Bridge was completed shortly before War broke out. Any further work was abandoned until World War 2 had been won. Between 1939 and 1945 Paignton saw many servicemen using its Station; the RAF had an Initial Training Wing in the town and, shortly before D-day, the US Army had commandeered both beach and car-park at Goodrington for amphibious vehicle practice. As noted above, the GWR ceased to exist after 31st December 1947 when British Railways (Western Region) took over on 1st January.

The immediate post-War years, with its lack of private transport, brought prosperity both to the railway and to Torbay when trains "queued" to enter the Kingswear branch. Passengers too, formed long queues outside both Paignton and Torquay stations on "Summer Saturdays", as they were colloquially called. Trains left Torbay non-stop for destinations in the Midland and the North. In 1955, to meet the demand for more railway facilities, the Tanner's bridge project was revived. A contract was signed with Staverton Builders to build a locomotive turn-table (65 feet in diameter) and other buildings on the landward side of Goodrington, South sands. By the time the former came into operation a year later, diesel power was already taking over. Only months after that it was announced that the whole system west of Exeter would be diesel traction only. (The turntable was acquired by the Dart Valley Company in 1975 and re-sited at Churston; the "labour of love" to get it operating again took many years and it was not until 1984 that the work was sufficiently advanced for an engine to be "turned"). Another change, the removal of goods deliveries to Newton Abbot in 1969, made the large shed at Goodrington redundant and resulted in its eventual removal.

Following the arrival of the "motor-car era" there came the "Beeching Axe" In spite of a large Government grant being made to support those remaining afterwards, the line from Paignton to Kingswear failed to yield sufficient profits and so, in February 1972, formal notice of closure was given. Shortly after the British Railways Board (Paignton & Kingswear) Light Railway Order published by the Department of the Environment. The Board had accepted the DVR's offer of about £¼ million to buy the line. It was accepted that some £25,000 would have to be spent on signalling and track alterations. (This included changes to the layout to the south of the station so that the new Company could operate trains independently). On January 1st 1973 the Dart Valley Railway Co. formally took over, using the title "Torbay Steam Railway" to distinguish it from its other line. This has since been changed to the Paignton and Dartmouth Railway. The steam engine, The Flying Scotsman, was an early attraction (it returns again in 1993) and over the past two decades many changes have taken place. Much later coloured-light signals were introduced between Paignton and Kingswear. Part of Paignton Station has been developed as the Railway's own terminus, complete with a water-tower obtained from London Transport. The subsequent acquisition of the Torbay Cinema extended the activities of the Company.

© copyright John Pike

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