SEmG

Otterham

Otterham Station
Otterham station as viewed from the A39 overbridge
Photograph reproduced by kind permission of David & Charles Ltd., Newton Abbott.
 
Otterham station opened on 14th August 1893 when the section of the independent North Cornwall Railway from Tresmeer to Camelford opened. The style of building here is often referred to as "standard NCR" but in actual fact the architecture is very strongly L&SWR (the major shareholder) in design, and the signal boxes, goods sheds permanent way and etc. all followed the established L&SWR practices.
 
Otterham N Class Nº31863 heads an up train out of Otterham station in 1963. The rails in the foreground, at right angles to the track, were used for placing a P Way trolley on the line, stored in the shed on the right. There were two of these at this location.

photograph by John Bradbeer

 
The buildings were on the up side of the line and built from the local Delabole stone (slate), with a waiting shelter on the down platform and the Signalbox at the London end of the up platform. Oil-lit until the end, Otterham survived the economies of the 1930s, with its Station Master assuming responsibility for Tresmeer and Egloskerry stations from 1927. When the line was first built the road was diverted to run along the southern boundary of the station, then to go north towards Bude a bridge was built over the western end of the platforms. The stub of this truncated road was then the site of a row of six railway cottages that were constructed in 1894 to house Signalmen and Permanent Way workers.
 
N Class Nº31855 leaving Otterham station with a down train in 1963.

photograph by John Bradbeer

Otterham
 
Traffic was brisk in the early years as the station served Crackington Haven, St. Gennys, St Juliot and Lesnewth as well as Otterham itself, a mile north of the station bearing its name. St. Juliot duly became a popular draw for tourists as it was there, whilst working on the restoration of the church, that the architect Thomas Hardy met his wife, as featured in his novel "A Pair of Blue Eyes". It was also intended that the station should serve Boscastle, but although Otterham was nearer, Camelford station had better road connections and it wasn't too many years until Camelford was the station of choice for those travelling to and from Boscastle. This wide hinterland provided sufficient traffic to warrant the prestigious 'Atlantic Coast Express' calling at Otterham in both directions. The 1930s growth in bus services took a lot of traffic from the railway here as timings of trains were not particularly convenient, secondary school children in particular flocked to the bus, even though it did mean they arrived at school in Launceston up to an hour early!
 
Otterham A view of the up platform at Otterham, taken during 1963. It is not certain what the damage to the platform edging was, but it is highly probable that it was caused by the very harsh winter we experienced from Boxing Day 1962 until the end of March 1963. Photographs of the platform in 1964 show the damage as having been repaired.

photograph by John Bradbeer

 
The post-war boom in private motoring took away virtually all the remaining passenger traffic. Goods traffic fared better and was busy right up until the closure of the line. Rabbits were very important here, with livestock for Hallworthy Cattle Market some two miles away, and for the twice-a-year Boscastle Market, a regular traffic. Spring lambs were sent in both direction, up country and down to Truro. The surrounding area was quite prosperous for Cornwall, in farming terms, with a lot of associated farm traffic in incoming animal feeds, fertiliser and etc. and outgoing hay. Bulk traffic grew in the 1960s with trains being split for distribution around here, to Camelford, Delabole and etc. Surprisingly, there was no Goods Loading Shed built here, though a store was subsequently built on the up platform with a 2½ ton crane on the dock behind it. A single cattle pen was provided. The gradients in the area required careful marshalling of goods vehicles, whose brakes needed to be pinned down for the steep descents. One incident in December 1943, despite regulations that if followed correctly would have prevented it happening, led to six wagons and a bogie brake van running away at Otterham and not coming to a stand for some seventeen miles, near Tower Hill. It was reported in the local press that they had set a record for the time taken to reach Launceston, covering the distance far quicker than any passenger train! The stock didn't just simply stop, it ran to and fro inside the Devon border for some time first. WWII brought a large increase in traffic when an airfield was built at nearby Davidstow in 1942, though it was only operational until 1944 and closed in 1945. After closure the buildings were adapted for use by Cow & Gate for milk processing with some of the products leaving by rail from Otterham. One example of "round traffic" here was the shipment of whey to Wincanton where it was turned into separated milk for pig food, then some of these animals were shipped by rail through Otterham.
 
The buildings at the London end of the up platform at Otterham station. Note the hand crane in the goods yard.

photograph by Chris Knowles-Thomas

Otterham
 
Otterham The down platform with a barley twist lamp, the 236¼ miles from Waterloo milepost and the waiting shed.

photograph by Chris Knowles-Thomas

 
Always well-staffed, Otterham had a Station Master, two Signalmen, two booking clerks and a porter in addition to the Permanent Way Staff based here who would assist with unloading wagons when required. The goods facilities were withdrawn on 7th February 1964 and the Signalbox and down loop closed one year later on 7th February 1965. By 1966 there were just three trains a day in each direction, Monday to Saturday only, which carried hardly any passengers. Built at the top of a 1 in 73 gradient, the actual station was on an easier grade of 1 in 330. The station closed on 3rd October 1966 along with all the others between Okehampton and Bude/Wadebridge. The area around the station is today known as Otterham Station.
 
Otterham station today. Much of the railway land was sold off for a development of Park Homes though the main station building remains in much the same condition as above.

photograph by Peter Richards

Otterham
 
Bibliography: An Illustrated History of the North Cornwall Railway, David Wroe
www.northcornwallrailway.co.uk

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