The Mainline Railway
The Truro to Falmouth railway line
Today, Feock Parish has very little direct association with passenger railways. Of course, we have the Carnon Valley viaduct, but other than that and a few hundred yards of the track leading to it from the Truro side, the parish is devoid of railway. But it could have been so much different…
Railways have existed in Cornwall since the very earliest days when all were horse drawn and all were for the transportation of tin and copper from the mining areas, mainly to the coast for export and smelting. The Redruth and Chasewater railway is perhaps the finest example of this and passes all along the Carnon Valley, under the viaduct and on to Devoran and Point beyond.
But consider perhaps the possibility of a Carnon Downs station or even a Quenchwell station on the main line to Falmouth.
As early as 1835 it was proposed to build a railway linking London to Falmouth, which was at the time a very important port and the home of the famous Packet service. This route would take a very direct path, often missing out important towns in the desire to get to Falmouth in the shortest possible time.
1839 saw the first mention of the Cornwall Railway Company, a company set up specifically to bring that 1835 scheme to fruition in this area. Investment came from many private sources, initially at least including many associated with Falmouth as a port. In 1844 a fully surveyed route was established and locally this followed the route of the present main line as far as Probus where it deviated from the current route, went along the Tresillian valley, close to the route of the present day main road through the village. It then skirted the creek on the lower side of Penair around St. Clement Creek to Malpas, crossed the Truro River near Newham via a proposed 594 foot long, 80 foot high viaduct, followed closely part of the route of what became the old Newham goods line, now cycle track, as far as Calenick, cut up and crossed the new Turnpike road, (A.39) between Kea and Playing Place by means of a level crossing and on to Quenchwell and Ringwell and eventually crossing the Carnon valley by means of a 265 foot wide, 90 foot high viaduct in much the same place as the existing viaduct. The route then followed, more or less the same route as today to Falmouth, terminating at the Eastern Breakwater at the Docks, with a branch doubling back towards the town along Bar Road and terminating roughly where Trago Mills now stands. Another link from Redruth station via the top of Lanner and the very important Tresavean Mine to join the Falmouth line at Ponsanooth was planned but never built. This line would have necessitated gradients as steep as 1 in 50, very steep for a railway line, and a 385 yard long tunnel under the top of Lanner Hill. Just imagine if that had gone ahead; A Quenchwell Station serving the village and a level crossing on the main A.39 between Kea Corner and Playing Place!
In 1846 the Cornwall Railway Act was passed, giving government approval to the scheme.
It was however beset during most of its lifetime thereafter by financial worries.
One major blow came even before the Act was passed as in 1842, the government decided to transfer most of the Packet service from Falmouth to Southampton, dealing an almost fatal blow to the port and the whole Cornwall Railway scheme.
Another was the huge cost of bridging the many steep valleys and rivers on this route. Somehow it survived but from 1848-1852, work on the London to Falmouth railway, which had not then reached as far as Plymouth, was suspended for financial reasons.
By 1859, after much route changing including the changes from Probus to Truro and making use of I.K. Brunel’s immense engineering feat of the Royal Albert Bridge, the line opened as far as Truro.
In that same year a petition was submitted to Parliament from many concerned local businessmen and other investors to the “Right Honourable House” stating that the clauses in the 1846 Act which required completion of the whole project by 1861 should be amended because delays in construction had been “unnecessarily and unreasonably long” and added that “the Petitioners are apprehensive that the construction of the said portion of the railway line between Truro and Falmouth will not be proceeded with by the said Company…… and that the interests of Falmouth and the district to be served by the said portion of railway will be deferred and made subservient to the interests of the rival port of Plymouth. The Petitioners therefore Humbly Pray……..etc etc “ . Strong words from many men likely to lose a lot of money if the whole project for the line from Truro to Falmouth was scrapped.
It must have done the trick because a combined board of management was set up including representatives from the Cornwall Railway, South Devon Railway, Bristol and Exeter Railway and the Great Western Railway and on 24th August 1863, the first passenger train made its way down the new line from Truro to Falmouth Docks.
In July 1889 the Cornwall Railway finally ceased to exist after years of financial failure and the whole company was amalgamated into the Great Western Railway. It was however still using the old “broad gauge” of 7 feet and one quarter inch whereas most others had already converted to “standard gauge” of 4 feet 8 and a half inches.
This was overcome in a single weekend in May 1892 when the whole line from Truro to Falmouth was converted to standard gauge. It remained, however the only part of the route from London to Falmouth never to become dual track, with the exception of Brunel’s bridge at Saltash and an odd mile or two in east Cornwall.
It was at last though possible to travel all the way from London Paddington to Falmouth Docks, without changing trains, but perhaps sadly not stopping at Quenchwell Station.
The photograph of the old Cavedras Viaduct in Truro shows the detail of the wooden support structure which was designed by I.K Brunel in order to save costs. The design was lampooned at the time, with cartoons appearing in the press predicting the structures failure. Although their replacement by all masonry structures began in the 1870s, the Carnon Viaduct was one of the last remaining in service until the 1930s.
Written by Bob Richards