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Old 4th January 2017, 17:31   #1
Calthrop
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A recent surprising – for a nostalgia-inclined railway enthusiast with a particular weakness for the narrow gauge – train of thought, which lately came about. Looking for general-knowledge question material; I turned to Google to supplement dim memories of reading stuff about public transport in the Exmoor area, prior to the 1898 opening of the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway. It emerged that that region was in those times, an anachronistic relic of the stage-coach era of most of a century earlier, in its romantic glory. A splendid article concerning same:

www.lerwill-life.org.uk/history/coaching.htm
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.....They were grand days and grand people, but with the opening of the Lynton/Barnstaple/ Railway in 1898, the coach services on that route came to an abrupt, and almost overnight, end.

There was still very heavy traffic on the Minehead route, and right up to 1913, when some 30 horses were employed, the coaches ran to make connection with the London trains. The journey took three hours, and the coaches, Lorna Doone, Katerfelty and, later, Red Deer, were driven by William Vellacott, Edward and Tom Baker, John Curtis, Georgie Chugg, John Hussel and Noel Carey. The last named became a driver on the Cliff railway.

In all the years it operated (and even in winter the coach ran once a week) only once was the route impassable. Sometimes in rough weather, it was necessary to make a detour, but generally the coach got through. Two extra horses ridden postillion were hitched on at Lynton to get each coach up Countisbury Hill, but the average motorist is still amazed that horses were able to pull a heavy vehicle plus ten to twelve hundredweight of luggage up the incline at all......
Until the L&B’s opening, public transport between Barnstaple and Lynton; and Minehead and Lynton; was by stage-coach. This situation continued to obtain between Minehead and Lynton (no railway ever built over that route) until 1913. While I love rural narrow-gauge lines, and feel that the Lynton & Barnstaple must have been a delight to know, and mourn its demise in 1935: the linked-to article has me feeling that the stage-coach services were in their different way, perhaps equally delightful.

From a practical, as opposed to a sentimental, point of view: it is difficult not to consider that if the promoters (in Britain, and also further afield) of minor railways – standard- or narrow-gauge – opened around the turn of the 19th / 20th centuries, had had foreknowledge of how soon and how quickly, road motor transport would take off; they would probably have “stayed their hand” and let their railways not happen – with said railways to have too short a spell of being truly useful transport-wise, for their existence to be worthwhile. The author of the linked-to article allows himself a sly dig at the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway with its 37-year life-span, as a usurping “ ‘new-fangled’ invention which in time also ran its course”.

Delectable though the often short-lived light railways were, in their lifetimes – with the L&B one of the more delectable among them – I find myself treasonously musing on a possibly also very attractive scenario in which the L&B never was; and in which the stage-coaches continued to assure public transport on Exmoor (three hours by coach Barnstaple – Lynton; an hour and a half by “two-foot-gauge” train; so what, people in those parts aren’t usually in much of a hurry ) for the decade or two until their displacement by the motor bus. Stage-coaches might even have continued beyond then in a restricted role (pace the issue of fitting them in with modern-day motor traffic), as summer tourist attractions – charging people far more than the bus fare for the journey, for the colourful “period” experience. I feel “torn” here, in a way in which I’m not used to.

Last edited by yorkie; 25th February 2017 at 12:57. Reason: added quote
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Old 4th January 2017, 19:02   #2
Cowley
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A very interesting article, thanks for posting that.
I must admit I didn't realise that the Minehead route ran so late on. It is ferociously hilly, I wouldn't fancy taking a stagecoach down Porlock or Countisbury, it must have been pretty daunting on an icy day! I suffered brake fade in an old 60s VW van going down Porlock once, it had original drum brakes and no servo and I remember pushing myself down against the roof onto the brake pedal trying to slow it down as one of the corners rapidly approached me.

I suppose that if the service had become 'preserved' so to speak then it could have run people around on local trips for fun, although obviously you couldn't replicate it as it was when it was operating as a proper service.
I guess decent bus services and improved roads came along and opened the area up for all not long after the railway opened, and that changed the area considerably.
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Old 4th January 2017, 20:17   #3
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I don’t drive – but have long been aware of Porlock and Countisbury Hills and their fearsome reputation: owing to our family’s having had the board game “Touring England” (by road), and much playing of it as a kid – those Hills (miss a throw if you land on one) feature in said game. (The game contains only a very few such “steep hills”, the great majority of which are in one corner – Exmoor, and Dorset. Re this and other things -- I feel that its makers followed the maxim “less is more”, to an excessive degree.)

A couple of years ago, my brother and I – him driving – made a day-trip from south Devon to Exmoor; including my first – and so far only – visit to Lynton (long dreamt-of – but with its losing its railway thirteen years before I was born...). He was bent on going further east to traverse Porlock Hill, extremely well-known to him from “Touring England” -- which we duly did. It’s a brute, for sure.

On reflection: there really is no way that a stage-coach service could work, on modern main roads. Had our fantasy happened in real life – that as a “preserved” thing, would have had to come to an end main-road-wise in the 1960s at latest: if happening in any way nowadays, it would indeed be reduced to tootling around on minor roads, not going anywhere with authentic seriousness.

Recalled from reading long ago: a book which light-heartedly narrated a European tour, including Britain, by the family to which the American author – then a teenager – belonged, in the 1920s. She told of a return trip from central London to Hampton Court which the family took – then run as a regular, basically “fun / tourist” thing, by stage-coach, recreating something of the coaching era. The coach drivers and guards were male scions of the English aristocracy, who did this on a voluntary basis. Not too far-fetched, perhaps, to see this – allowing for context – as a kind of distant precursor of the railway-preservation movement?
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Old 4th January 2017, 21:36   #4
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The only time I have ever been on a motorbike on a public road was as a pillion passenger going up Porlock Hill, and I came off the bike. Can't remember whether I had a helmet on, it being 1966 or 1967, but the indignity! Walked the rest of the way.
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Old 4th January 2017, 21:42   #5
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In practice, many "working class" people would not have been able to afford to use a stagecoach. Many would never travel much beyond the boundaries of their local village or town. Some might ride a horse, but for others, the only option would be a very long walk....
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Old 5th January 2017, 01:40   #6
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Originally Posted by Bevan Price View Post
In practice, many "working class" people would not have been able to afford to use a stagecoach. Many would never travel much beyond the boundaries of their local village or town. Some might ride a horse, but for others, the only option would be a very long walk....
Good point. All your family would probably have been in your own town as would your work etc unless perhaps you had to travel to other markets.
Perhaps if you were a bit higher up the ladder you would travel to other towns on business etc.


Calthrop - Thinking about that game and the other hilly area on it, Dorset. Reminds me of an old boy called Brian who used to work the night shift in the BRS garage I worked in after leaving school in the 80s (I've just been out to see a couple of old mechanic friends from back then who I haven't seen for 20 years and that also reminded me).
Anyway, Brian was well known for the fact that he lost the already not very good brakes on the BRS wrecker (an old, maybe even wartime, Scammell) while descending the hill into Lyme Regis one night in the 1970s and driving it into a shop (luckily closed) rather than picking up any more speed and destroying himself and who knows what at the bottom of the town.
Only I've been having slightly disturbing thoughts this evening of a carriage full of American tourists heading towards a towering precipice backwards at great speed because a horse had got shoe fade (is that a thing?) half way down a 1 in 4 hill and it was either them or it...

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Old 5th January 2017, 12:28   #7
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In practice, many "working class" people would not have been able to afford to use a stagecoach. Many would never travel much beyond the boundaries of their local village or town. Some might ride a horse, but for others, the only option would be a very long walk....
This very true. The majority of people would have had no reason to leave their own village very often. I know that my ancestors on Gower were extremely self sufficient, though they did not have what we would consider a comfortable life by today's standards.

From what I've been told and researched, my great great grandparents on one side would have considered a 15 mile trip to Swansea to be a rare adventure, perhaps only undertaken two or three times a year. I believe that they would normally have been able to hitch a lift with more affluent neighbours who had a horse and cart to take stuff to market once a week, but most of the stuff they ate and used they provided for themselves, or got through the exchange of vegetables they grew.

There were no railway lines near where they lived even after the dawn of the railway age. I think the nearest stations would have been Llanmorlais, Gowerton or Mumbles Road (different branches of the family lived in different places down the years). I don't think passenger services on the Llanmorlais branch lasted long.

Interestingly, I believe that Col Stephens had plans for a light railway to Port Eynon which never materialised!
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Old 5th January 2017, 16:04   #8
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Originally Posted by Bevan Price View Post
In practice, many "working class" people would not have been able to afford to use a stagecoach. Many would never travel much beyond the boundaries of their local village or town. Some might ride a horse, but for others, the only option would be a very long walk....
Things are relative, I suppose: as posters have replied, those on the lower branches of the economic tree wouldn’t have had much pressing need (as opposed to “it would be nice if...”) to travel out of their immediate local area. At all events, these folks’ deprivation in that respect would have lasted only a couple more decades, even if the late 19th / early 20th century light railways / latecomer branch-lines, had never been: after that, rural bus services burgeoned (helped by the boost given to road motor transport, by World War 1 – ill winds, and all that).

It would seem hard to deny that, in practical terms, public passenger transport needs in the depths of the countryside are / were more conveniently met by buses, than by Colonel-Stephens-esque light railways of the kind which people like us, passionately love. So much investment / equipment put into the light and narrow-gauge railways, often for such a pitifully short working life: I find it difficult not to reckon – as per my OP – that if folk had had a bit of a gift of reading the future, these lines would just “never have happened”. As a species, we seem to have a big tendency to just blast ahead and do what seems a good idea at the time – not considering very carefully, the wider picture and future possibilities.

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Originally Posted by Cowley View Post
Calthrop - Thinking about that game and the other hilly area on it, Dorset. Reminds me of an old boy called Brian who used to work the night shift in the BRS garage I worked in after leaving school in the 80s (I've just been out to see a couple of old mechanic friends from back then who I haven't seen for 20 years and that also reminded me).
Anyway, Brian was well known for the fact that he lost the already not very good brakes on the BRS wrecker (an old, maybe even wartime, Scammell) while descending the hill into Lyme Regis one night in the 1970s and driving it into a shop (luckily closed) rather than picking up any more speed and destroying himself and who knows what at the bottom of the town.
The fearsome Trow, and Chideock, Hills -- and is the hill into Lyme Regis, yet another one? -- I've travelled that route a couple of times in recent years, but seemingly don't have my head fully around its hilly hazards.

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Only I've been having slightly disturbing thoughts this evening of a carriage full of American tourists heading towards a towering precipice backwards at great speed because a horse had got shoe fade (is that a thing?) half way down a 1 in 4 hill and it was either them or it...
Given this horrid situation: knowing Americans' litigious tendencies (much though I on the whole like the USA and its people) -- the potential lawsuits from the victims, or their heirs, would be fearsome to contemplate...

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There were no railway lines near where they lived even after the dawn of the railway age. I think the nearest stations would have been Llanmorlais, Gowerton or Mumbles Road (different branches of the family lived in different places down the years). I don't think passenger services on the Llanmorlais branch lasted long.
Per my "go-to" work on these matters, Passengers No More by Daniels and Dench, the Gowerton -- Llanmorlais branch lost its passenger service at the beginning of 1931: quite early in the era of "rural bus displacing rural rail".

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Interestingly, I believe that Col Stephens had plans for a light railway to Port Eynon which never materialised!
There's fascinating stuff on the Net about this project -- which if it had come about, would likely have been interestingly complex, possibly piggy-backing to some extent on the already-existing Swansea & Mumbles line. I'd hoped to be able to provide a link; but am not too good with computers, and "the thing wouldn't play". If one Googles "Port Eynon light railway", the first several "hits" are potentially full of interest.
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Old 5th January 2017, 20:38   #9
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On reflection: there really is no way that a stage-coach service could work, on modern main roads. Had our fantasy happened in real life – that as a “preserved” thing, would have had to come to an end main-road-wise in the 1960s at latest: if happening in any way nowadays, it would indeed be reduced to tootling around on minor roads, not going anywhere with authentic seriousness.

Recalled from reading long ago: a book which light-heartedly narrated a European tour, including Britain, by the family to which the American author – then a teenager – belonged, in the 1920s. She told of a return trip from central London to Hampton Court which the family took – then run as a regular, basically “fun / tourist” thing, by stage-coach, recreating something of the coaching era. The coach drivers and guards were male scions of the English aristocracy, who did this on a voluntary basis. Not too far-fetched, perhaps, to see this – allowing for context – as a kind of distant precursor of the railway-preservation movement?
There was also a revival in road coaches in the Victorian era when they would be driven down the old coaching roads for a bit of nostalgia. Driving four-in-hand horses was also a bit of a thing for the aristocracy and I believe it still exists as a posh person's sport today, practiced by Prince Philip among others.

In fact, most of the mail coaches in museums today are in replicas from this revival period rather than vehicles that were built during the commercial heyday of the mail coach. Arguably the first in a long line of transport preservation efforts in this country.
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Old 6th January 2017, 12:53   #10
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There was also a revival in road coaches in the Victorian era when they would be driven down the old coaching roads for a bit of nostalgia. Driving four-in-hand horses was also a bit of a thing for the aristocracy and I believe it still exists as a posh person's sport today, practiced by Prince Philip among others.
Ah, yes, I've heard of this -- I gather that in Windsor Great Park one sometimes encounters the Royals and friends engaging in this pursuit.

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In fact, most of the mail coaches in museums today are in replicas from this revival period rather than vehicles that were built during the commercial heyday of the mail coach. Arguably the first in a long line of transport preservation efforts in this country.
One wonders whether some enthusiast purists would therefore consider the replicas from the Victorian period less worth saving, than original coaches from circa two-centuries-plus ago? I have a railway-enthusiast friend who rather eccentrically takes this kind of "purist" attitude to the length of feeling lukewarm about -- and considering less preservation-worthy -- preserved rail material which contains little or none of what it physically comprised when first built. Most folk, one gathers, would disagree here -- holding to the "William The Conqueror's Penknife" principle: as with a living creature, a loco or other vehicle keeps its essential identity regardless of how much its physical makeup may change over time.
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Old 6th January 2017, 21:54   #11
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It would seem hard to deny that, in practical terms, public passenger transport needs in the depths of the countryside are / were more conveniently met by buses, than by Colonel-Stephens-esque light railways of the kind which people like us, passionately love. So much investment / equipment put into the light and narrow-gauge railways, often for such a pitifully short working life: I find it difficult not to reckon – as per my OP – that if folk had had a bit of a gift of reading the future, these lines would just “never have happened”. As a species, we seem to have a big tendency to just blast ahead and do what seems a good idea at the time – not considering very carefully, the wider picture and future possibilities.
To return to your original citing of the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway, L.T.Catchpole in his history of line [Oakwood Press -ISBN 0 85361 363 X] suggests the line faced problems almost from the very beginning. The geological strata of Exmoor was making it difficult to maintain, the original construction estimates had over-run and so it began its life in debt, and the folks of Lynton were soon regretting having a station 250ft above the town.

Also, of course, the line carried no industrial traffic [unlike the light railways of North Wales], and relied solely on local and tourist use. As you say, it seemed a good idea at the time, but disillusionment and dissatisfaction quickly set -in.

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Old 7th January 2017, 11:23   #12
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Ah, yes, I've heard of this -- I gather that in Windsor Great Park one sometimes encounters the Royals and friends engaging in this pursuit.



One wonders whether some enthusiast purists would therefore consider the replicas from the Victorian period less worth saving, than original coaches from circa two-centuries-plus ago? I have a railway-enthusiast friend who rather eccentrically takes this kind of "purist" attitude to the length of feeling lukewarm about -- and considering less preservation-worthy -- preserved rail material which contains little or none of what it physically comprised when first built. Most folk, one gathers, would disagree here -- holding to the "William The Conqueror's Penknife" principle: as with a living creature, a loco or other vehicle keeps its essential identity regardless of how much its physical makeup may change over time.
I think also in the case of the mail coaches, there are very very few 'real' ones left. At the time, nobody thought to preserve an aspect of transport that was fading into history, I imagine. In the same way that there are only a very, very few examples of railway coaching stock from the 1830s-1860s.

As to whether it is worth preserving an item because the original has been replaced, I think if you took the 'purist' view hardly anything would be saved. After all, this is working machinery designed to have its vital components replaced on a regular basis.
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Old 7th January 2017, 11:25   #13
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Retention of the line was not helped by the disclosure of a party of local grandees etc who went to plead their case to Southern Railway management at Waterloo , who admitted they had come up by motor car.
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Old 7th January 2017, 20:32   #14
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To return to your original citing of the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway, L.T.Catchpole in his history of line [Oakwood Press -ISBN 0 85361 363 X] suggests the line faced problems almost from the very beginning. The geological strata of Exmoor was making it difficult to maintain, the original construction estimates had over-run and so it began its life in debt, and the folks of Lynton were soon regretting having a station 250ft above the town.

Also, of course, the line carried no industrial traffic [unlike the light railways of North Wales], and relied solely on local and tourist use. As you say, it seemed a good idea at the time, but disillusionment and dissatisfaction quickly set -in.
One does get the feeling that England’s always rather few “true” narrow-gauge lines were overall, ill-conceived / of doubtful usefulness – or plain unlucky. (I’ve always felt that the Southwold deserved a better fate, than that which it got: have “heard tell” from one source that its 1929 closing was an attempted ploy on the part of its owning-and-operating company, which misfired – they’d hoped that threatened closure would get them more money and a better deal from local-government authority, which in a pinch, would reckon the railway’s services worth keeping; but as things worked out, the company’s bluff was called in this.)

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I think also in the case of the mail coaches, there are very very few 'real' ones left. At the time, nobody thought to preserve an aspect of transport that was fading into history, I imagine. In the same way that there are only a very, very few examples of railway coaching stock from the 1830s-1860s.
Yes -- figurably, it took time for people to get the idea that utilitarian transport-type artefacts might be worth preserving -- plus, for enough of a sub-set of society to emerge, with the money / leisure / interest to accomplish stuff of this kind.

Quote:
As to whether it is worth preserving an item because the original has been replaced, I think if you took the 'purist' view hardly anything would be saved. After all, this is working machinery designed to have its vital components replaced on a regular basis.
My friend the "purist" on this matter, tends to be a bit of a professional contrarian: I'd be willing to bet that if the prevailing view were that parts of the original should still exist, for preservation to be worthwhile -- he'd be a "Will The Conq's Penknife" proponent !

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Retention of the line was not helped by the disclosure of a party of local grandees etc who went to plead their case to Southern Railway management at Waterloo , who admitted they had come up by motor car.
Ah, that famously farcical and deplorable episode -- which I feel our American friends would label as "Shooting Oneself in the Foot, 101".
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Old 7th January 2017, 21:11   #15
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I wonder out of all the narrow gauge lines that existed in the UK which one would be considered the most successful? Going on the money they earned/ length of time they served a useful purpose/ amount of goods or passengers they shifted etc.

I've also wondered whether the Lynton and Barnstaple, if gradually modernised over the years, including modern DMUs or even cheap electrification and EMUs, maybe a bit like a Swiss style railway. What it could have ended up like? (I'm slightly going on the Southern Railways keenness to electrify route miles here and also many other circumstances being different), would it have been competitive with the bus services or even driving a 1950s car between the two towns?

Or perhaps the L&B survived, was electrified and ended up being similar to the Ferrocarril de Soller route in Majorca?
With little green electric trains rattling through Exmoor, cheap return tickets and maybe some way of getting passengers up to Lynton station easily might have been devised over the years (redundant stagecoaches!).

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