Gain an insight into the town’s many historic features, led by knowledgeable local historians of the railway station.
For the 2013 Crediton Festival, CAHMS Chairman and railway enthusiast George Palin led 2 walks and talks describing Crediton’s railway station. Mr Palin is an active member of the Friends of Crediton Station, an organisation founded in 2002 to maintain, promote and obtain funding for the station. In fact, Mr Palin was doing a spot of gardening in the station flower beds as participants arrived.
Mr Palin started by outlining the complex politics and numerous false starts which preceded the eventual opening of the broad (7' 0¼") gauge Exeter and Crediton Railway in 1851. In 1854 the broad gauge line northwards to Barnstaple was opened. Subsequently the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) converted the line to mixed gauge, whereby track with 3 rails allowed broad or standard (4’ 8½”) gauge stock to use the same track. This situation continued until 1892 when the broad gauge rails were lifted everywhere.
In the 1870’s the LSWR route from Exeter to Plymouth via Crediton and Okehampton was opened, providing a second main line from London to the West Country until the line was truncated at Meldon Viaduct in 1968. Regular local passenger traffic to Okehampton ended in 1972, but stone traffic continued to use this line until Meldon Quarry was mothballed in 2011.
Nowadays the station has an hourly train in each direction on the Exeter to Barnstaple ‘Tarka’ line, supplemented on summer Sundays by 5 Rover services each way between Exeter and Okehampton. In terms of passenger movements, the Tarka line is busier than it’s ever been, with over half a million passengers carried per year.
Although there are 2 tracks through the station, the line is singled at the East end of the station, and at the pointwork just beyond the signal box at the West end the Okehampton and Barnstaple lines separate, continuing parallel but unconnected as far as the former site of Coleford Junction, where the Okehampton line turns west.
For a while, rail operations at Crediton were sufficiently complex to warrant 2 signal boxes, but now only the West box remains. It was built in 1875, and Mr Palin believes it is the only one of its type still operational on the national network. As the level crossing is automatic, and the colour light signals are controlled from Exeter, the main duty of the signalman is to control the single line tokens for the Barnstaple and Okehampton lines. The box is expected to close in 2 years time, when all train movements in the south west will be controlled from Didcot. The Friends are striving to safeguard it after closure.
The entire station is grade 2 listed. The 1847-built brick main building is now occupied by the Station Tea Rooms. Timber waiting rooms on each platform, and various canopies and fittings, have been sympathetically restored and painted in authentic LSWR colours, thanks to the efforts of the Friends. The footbridge has lost its canopy but is otherwise largely as built in 1878. There are numerous buildings and fenceworks which were made in the Southern Railway’s concrete works at Exmouth Junction. A plaque on the tea room wall commemorates the pioneer railway civil engineer Joseph Locke, and the Friends have decorated the station with much reproduction period signage. Crediton must be one of the most unaltered stations in the West Country, with the atmosphere of a station on a preserved railway rather than that of an unstaffed halt on the national network.
At the East end of the down platform there is a siding and cattle dock, disused for many years and submerged in undergrowth, which the Friends are hoping to clear if Network Rail will allow access. Mr Palin was critical of the missed opportunity to make use of the railway both to build and to stock the recently constructed Tesco stores in Crediton and Barnstaple, both of which are adjacent to the line.
The walk ended in the Tea Room, where there is a model of the station in LSWR days and numerous railway-related displays.