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The Devon & Somerset Railway (D&SR) was born out of an 1845 plan to build a North Devon Railway from Taunton to Launceston via Barnstaple. Even though the project had Brunel as its engineer, it failed to get off the ground. Almost twenty years then lapsed until a proposal was mooted to build a railway from Taunton to Ilfracombe via Barnstaple. This 1863 plan became the Devon & Somerset Railway Act of 29th July 1864 and the line subsequently took another nine years to build. Fraught with difficulties of a financial and legal nature (including the abortive Ilfracombe Railway project with the L&SWR), and with a four year hiatus during construction, the fact that it was finally completed was a testament to Victorian engineering and perseverance.
Built to the broad gauge and opened in two stages – Norton Fitzwarren to Wiveliscombe in 1871 and Wiveliscombe to Barnstaple in 1873 – the line was operated by the Bristol & Exeter Railway until that company was taken over by the GWR in 1876. After several financial reconstructions, the D&SR was eventually absorbed by the GWR in 1901. The line was converted to standard gauge in 1881 and there were a number of station improvements over it’s life, the most substantial being the upgrades of the late 1930s.
In 1963, Dr Beeching’s report earmarked the line for closure and, despite a brief reprieve, it was axed on 3rd October 1966, after a life of just ninety-three years. This railway has previously had little written about it, hence this being the first of two volumes which will cover its history and route in great detail.
In Volume 1, author Freddie Huxtable looks at the line’s construction, early years and development, followed by its decline and closure. It begins with a brief history of the area it served and ends with a review of the current status of the route.