West Lyn Sand Pits

When the owner of West Lyn Sand Pits found out that the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway was closing and going to be sold off at auction, it came as a suprise as he had always looked on the railway with a fond heart and had looked at the railway as a possible way to expand his own operation for the fact that it ran the opposit side of the valley. His sand pits were ramping up production and having to employ a fleet of lorries to move loads around the county. If he wanted to expand further, he needed a means of carrying bulk loads to distribute across the region. 

He met with his engineer one night for a discussion over drinks and asked what loads a small narrow gauge could carry and if buying the railway would be a wise investment. To build a railway from scratch would cost a vast fortune and taking over the L & B line would give a direct route down to Barnstaple and the main railway lines across the country. The engineer told him that the line was only four miles away at the closest point and all that he would need would be a viaduct to bridge over the Lyn Valley and he would be made. The railway would handle thousands of tonnes a week and cut the cost us using lorries dramtically. The talks continued into the night to explore all the possibilities and the next day the owner approached the Souther Railway with a knock down bid to take over the whole railway infrastructure intact.

Having an agreement in place, the work on dismantling parts of the line was halted and the negotiations proceeded on setting the price and date for signing over the railway to the new owner. This gave him chance to survey the railway in detail and usng one of the drivers, he spent the week running up and down the line to take stock of what he was purchasing. He would have no need for the passenger carriages as he was not going to run services for moving people. The railway did have a large selection of goods wagons and five decent locomotives that would be a great use to him.

A week befire the auction date, he signed up the paper work and took control of the railway. The recommendation of his engineer was to use the goods wagons for various tasks and the construction of the new line extension over to the sand pits then put in an order for fourty hopper wagons to move the loads of sand. At Barnstaple, the railway would exchange the sand with the main line wagons by building an incline line to run over a drop loading stage over the main line siding. the lines in the station area would then be used to store wagons while the sand loads are being shunted around.

At the Barbrook section of the line, a simple point would be installed and the line extended across the West Lyn Valley with an embankment and a long viaduct. The limestone quarry at Porlock had a source of cheap hard limestone blocks that would be used in the construction of the Barbrook Viaduct. The engineer at the sand pit came up with designs for the viaduct and using some of the dimensions from the Chelfham viaduct, worked out the size of the spands and width of the vaiduct to bridge the gap. The limestone blocks would be used as a front face to the viaduct, the main structural strength would be inside the pillars that would be filled with rubble and concrete as a solid construction. The inside curves of the arches would then be brick and filled with with the concrete rubble mix to form the bridge level.

The line would then sweep round the valley and link into the front of the main entrance of the West Lyn Sand Pit. Inside the pit, the railway would split off to a marshalling yard area for storing wagons and two main running lines running into teh pit area for loading. The same conveyor belts and drop hoppers used for the lorries would be used for the railway loading facility.

Barbrook Viaduct

The construction stared in late 1935 in laying in the foundations for the pillars of the barbrook Viaduct. There would be a total of twenty legs that needed to be formed into a foundation base upon which the bridge would be built. Porlock quarry supplied lorry loads of limestone blocks that were used to build the outside box section for the legs and they were filled in with a heavy mix of limestone rubble from the quarry with conrete. The total span of the new viaduct was going to be 1500ft between the new embankments. Work was started on the earth works to the viaduct at the Barbrook side using the open wagons to move tonnes of earth and rubble up to the side and extending the line as the embankment was filled in.

The Lyn locomotive was shipped over to the West Lyn sand pit on the back of a low loader lorry, so that it could be used in the consruction of the embankments and line at the West Lyn end of the new extension. The next lorry then transported a platform wagon and four mall open wagons over to West Lyn.

The work continued on the Barbrook Viaduct with tonnes of limestone blocks beign delivered each week and a series of scaffolding posts reaching ever higher to build up the legs. By spring 1936, the viaduct was taking shape and large wooden patterns were erected inside the legs for building the curved brick arches between the legs. A wooden platform was erected along the columns so that the narrow gauge track could be run along the length of the bridge and wagons with loads of bricks and supplies could then be pulled along the viaduct to build the inside of the bridge.

The arches of the new viaduct were completed by the late summer and the bridge level filled in with rubble and concrete so that it was rady to infill with ballast and lay in the main track across the viaduct. By this time the line connecting the sand pit across the the west lyn end of the embankment was nearing completion and the line was going to be ready to connect up. All that was left to complete on the viaduct was to complete the walls each side and add some electrical lighting across the bridge and lay in some paving slabs one side as a foot path along side the track for workers.

The first train across the bridge was Lyn frm the West Lyn end to collect more wagons from the Barbrook side to continue laying in more lines inside the pit area. Then Lew was used carrying several bogie box vans fully loaded up with supplies for the pit. Lew ran various trips back and forth to test the loading of the new bridge before proceeding into the pit. Now the sand pit was connected up with Barnstaple.

Barnstaple Drop Stage

While the work was progressing on  the new viaduct, the work at Barnstaple station had started to build the incline line up and over the exchange siding with the main railway. A large iron platform was being constructed over the top of the siding to form the drop stage for the sand exchange. The locomotives would run into the station, run round the rake of wagons and take half of the back up the line to then run up the incline wagons first to drop their loads. The loco would then return the empties into the station and pick up the next set of wagons. Once emptied, the rake would then be run back up to West Lyn.

The iron stage was almost ready to use and work was carried out on building a retaining wall for the rest of the embankment to be completed leading onto the stage. In the meantime, the railwy took delivery of the first batch of 6 ton hudson bogie tipping wagons that were parked off in the siding at the station ready for taking up to the sand pits.

First laod of sand

The first fully loaded wagons of sand were hauled over the new viaduct in November 1936, a year after taking over the line. The train consisted of twenty wagons that were taken down to Barnstaple and suceessfully tested the dropping stage emtying the loads into the main line wagons below. A second train then headed down with another load and waited at Pilton Yard for the return train to pass. This proved the operation of the railway in its new industrial capacity.

The owner then put in an order for an additional forty hopper wagons to double the capacity of the line and allow the sand pit to expand its operation further. 

The operation of the railway was simple. The firemen needed for the day would turn up at 6am to light the fire in the boiler and get the engines ready for operation at Pilton Yard. The drivers would then turn up at 8am to drive the locomotives up to the sand pits, taking up a rake of empty wagons from the day before stores in the yard. At 2pm the firemen would knock off shift and another fireman would take over for the afternoon. They would then put the engines to rest at Pilton and drop the fires and clean the engines ready for the next days shift.

All the points on the main running line were set to take trains straight up the line with no need for signal men at each location. The only crossing gates needed to be operated were at Braunton Road and Pilton Road crossings. The Braunton Road box was used for logging in the details of the driver and loads beng shipped into Barnstaple for accounting. The only points that needed changing over were the ones for shunting in the Barnstaple drop stage area and thise at the marshalling yard at the sand pits. These were operated by the fireman jumping out to change the points.

Directors Carriage

The observation saloon coach number 2 was converted into the directors coach with the bench seating in the obseration end taken out and expnesive carpet and longe chairs been fitted in with a drinks cabinate and a small wood burning stove for heating. This would then be used to transport the director and his family down from West Lyn to Barntaple when he needed to travel. A siding was added at the entrance to the sand pits to lay in a small line across to the back garden of the directors house, where a small platform was erected. The saloon coach also had a large luggage compartment and a third class section so that staff could travel down with the director and help with any luggage. The coach was also used for moving suppies and shopping up to the directors house from Barnstaple.

The rest of the carriages were moved up to Lynton station, where they were marshalled into the sidings and spare loop line and simply left. The rest of the spare wagons that were not needed at West Lyn were then also moved and stored at Lynton station. The carriage would be moved once a year as the director laid on a train for his staff at the pit to take them down to barnstaple fare.

Expanding The Sand Pits

By the end of 1938, the railway was running to capacity and the owner orders another batch of hopper wagons so that the sand pit could be opened up and expand its operation. New customers had being found around the region and the pit was gearing up to double its production quita for the next year. An additional driver and two firemen were taken on to learn the job and train up for the extra loads. This would now see Lyn doind shunting duties and at least three other locomotives in service doin the main hauling of laods between West Lyn and Barnstaple.

Work then started on opening up the second site at the sand pits by digging a trench, laying in a new line and removing all the top soil to open up the new pit. This would then effectively double the size of the sand quarry.

The War Years

The seond world ware saw the sand pits and the railway been taken over by the Army and used towards the war effort. This meant that a set of barrocks were erected outside the sand pits and a squadron of army engineers would control and operate the sand pit and the line. The railway took a beating during the war with very little work carried out on general maintenance and the engines run till they needed repairs. The army also took possesion of the whole rake of carriage and wagons and would take training exercised up and down the line moving troops. The carriages narrowly missed being painted over in army green, they officer in charge realised at the last minute that there was no real need to spoil the first class livery on the carriages.

As the army controlled the running of the railway during the war, they introduced a couple of new diesel engines into the pit to speed up operations and make it easier to operate. One of these was a bogie Bo-Bo diesel and the other was an 0-4-0 shunter. As the army left the sand pits at the end of the war, these locomotives were left behind. The owner took back the railway and the sand pits from the army and set about looking at the general state of dis-repair. There would be a lot of work needed to get everything backinto peak performance again.

After The War

The war saw a lot of buildings damaged in the main cities, which gave rise to a demand for the sand urgently required to start the rebuilding work. The minimum repaire wer done to get everything operational and sand loads started moving down the line once again destined for paying customers. This made the line start earning its keep for the first time in five years. The sand pit took advantage of the new diesel for hauling loads of sand and with the extra demand, put in an order with a supplier for another two diesel Bo-Bo engines. 

By 1948, the diesels were proving their worth with cheaper operating costs and the fact that you just needed to turn the key rather than spend hours firing up the steam engines. With this the owner decidied to purchase onther three diesel bo-Bo engines and retie the steam engines to Pilton Yard.

The L & B Group

By this time, people in the area had started to get over the war and were asking if the railway could run services up to Lynton and the villages along the route. A group formed to try and get passenger services re0#-instated and taled with the owner. Upon finding that the steam engines were being retired, they came to an agreement that they would be able to take over the operation of the line at weekends and run passenger services up the line. They would get to work and restore the engines and carriages to run the services and help out with the generat repairs on the line, so that they could run weekend services. They would pay for the coal and use any profits on restoring the carriages to former glory.

By this time the sand pits had started to work a five day week and the line would now be free of freight traffic at weekends. The bonus for the owner would be a revised interest in his railway and the added volunteers at hand to help make repairs on the line thrown in as a bargin. The final batch of diesel locomotives arrived at Barnstaple and were driven up the line to West Lyn, where the steam locomotives performed their last duties. The owner then arranged to meet the L & B Group at Pilton yard and handed them a set of keys to the shed so that they could set to work on cleaning up the engines.

The new locomotives were going to work from West Lyn and would not need to be using Pilton Yards any more for re-fuleing or firing up, so the Pilton Yards were handed over to the control of the L & B Group to use. Gradually, the group worked their way through a rake of four carriages that were moved down to Pilton yard where they were made ready for service. Most of the carriages had suffered frm damp and condensation being left to rot at Lynton, so they needed a lot or work to make them spotless.

The L & B Passenger group would run their first official train at Easter 1950 with a train straight through to Lynton with request stops at the stations on route. The first weeknd was very busy with the first train having the owner turn up and have a foot plate ride up the line to Lynton where he and his family spent the day at the beach. The trains ran all weekend and were full to capacity with fare paying passengers.