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Calstock Viaduct

The Plymouth Devonport & South Western Junction Railway, which built the line from Devonport to Lydford (though operated by the L&SWR) took over, in 1891, the East Cornwall Mineral Railway. This had been built in 1872 as a 3' 6" gauge line from Kelly Bray (near Callington) to Calstock Quay, requiring a steep incline to be built down to the quay. The original PD&SWJR plan had been to go on from Kelly Bray but this did not happen and, instead, a line was built from Bere Alston to the ex-ECMR line near Gunnislake, crossing the River Tamar by means of a 120' high viaduct at Calstock. Starting work during 1900, the original contractor seriously under-estimated the costs of building the line and Col Holman F. Stephens was brought in to assist. The new line eventually opened, with the ex-ECMR converted to standard gauge, on 2nd March 1908.

Without a doubt the finest piece of engineering on the line was the magnificent twelve arch, 850' long, viaduct. Despite the threat of closure of the line from the 1960s, this viaduct is still carrying trains today.

 
Calstock Viaduct
The viaduct photographed whilst under construction.

postcard: Mike Morant collection

 
Built between 1904 and 1907, the viaduct was very "cutting edge" for its day, being built from pre-cast concrete blocks that were manufactured in a temporary factory on the river bank. Some 11,000 of these, which were not reinforced, were required to complete the twelve arches. The whole thing was built to a very high standard and is as good today as the day the line over it was opened, with the concrete blocks looking just like dressed stone. All had not gone well, though, with its construction. The builder, John Lang of Liskeard, was first of all late in arranging for the cement to be delivered, then had problems with the block making as initially they suffered from being pitted with waterholes that required filling with liquid cement. The mix included granite chippings and the supply of both these and the cement was not organised with the result that work was frequently held up whilst awaiting materials. This is probably explained by Lang's tender for the work which, at £54,680 some £20,000 lower than the next one, was hopelessly inadequate despite his being allowed to increase it from his original figure. When the work was completed he sued for an additional £34,750, eventually settling for £15,000.
 
Calstock Viaduct
A second view of the viaduct whilst under construction.

postcard: Mike Morant collection

 
The construction of the viaduct was well documented, with the local Lloyds Bank Manager, Frederick J Paul, taking numerous photographs. It is possible that these images, taken from old postcards, may well have been his work.

This page was created 27 November 2008

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