Parknoweth Tramway



Parknoweth Tramway





The Mineral Tramways of West Devon

The two significant lines in Devon that are relevant to our interest are the Plymouth and Dartmoor Tramway and the Lee Moor Tramway; both lines were build to a gauge of 4 feet 6 inches, this gauge being generally referred to as 'the Dartmoor gauge'. The gauge permitted the line to be built with stone block 'sleepers' and also allow a path for ponies and horses to walk between the rails with a free passage when towing the waggons.


The former line was built between Plymouth, Devon and Princetown on Dartmoor and finally opened to the public o the 26th September 1823, the line ran from its' original terminus near the 'Rising Sun' at Crabtree at the top of the Laira Estuary by a winding route to  Princetown and there were branches from near Crabtree to Cann Quarry via Plym Bridge and to Plympton. The line was later extended at the southern end along the North West side of Laira Estuary to Sutton Pool and Harbour and at Laira the line crossed the Great Western Railway, later Brithish Rail main line on the level; this latter extension is now buried under the main A38 road going into Plymouth from the East. The line was originally built to take lime and sand up onto the moorland to improve the land for agriculture and bring granite down from the moor for building.


The Lee Moor Tramway opened in 1858 and used the P & D track from Laira Wharf to Plym Bridge and then branched off in a North Easterly direction via an incline up through Cann Wood to the Lee Moor Clay Works on Dartmoor, in 1899 locomotives were introduced on the lines on top of the incline but the lower lines always remained horse worked.


The tramway was virtually closed at the start of the Second World War but reopend for a short while in 1945. As the old P & D had preceeded the opening of the original South Devon Railway line from Exeter they had right of way at the Laira crossing and the line from Marsh Mills, between Laira and Plympton was kept open to maintain the wayleave across the main line by keeping a few waggons in a loop at Marsh Mills and on Christmas Day each year trundling them down behind horses, crossing the main line - no trains ran on Christmas Day - and returning to Marsh Mills for an other year; this operation continued into the 1950's when it was abandoned and the waggons allowed to rot away in their siding at Marsh Mills.


The author remembers as a boy when travelling to Penzance for Summer Holidays with his Grand Parents by train, looking out for and following the semi-abandoned line that lay beside the track into Plymouth and wondering why it so suddenly disappeared. The other highlight was crossing Moorswater Viaduct and looking down on the little loco depot below and again wondering where it went to.

The photos below were taken by the late Jon Wood whe we explored the lower part of the line 5th August 1957.


The first is the much photgraphed Iron Bridge at Marsh Mills, this was part of the Cann Quarry branch of the P & D but continued to be used by the Lee Moor line.


We then come to the GWR Lee Moor Crossing Signal Box where the line crossed the Tavistock Branch on the level, the crossing had been taken out at this time.


The fourth picture is the timber bridge over a road near Plymbidge and the next is a view on the top, here are two interlaced lines and the haulage cable can be see between the right hand rails.


The next picture is a view at the top of the incline looking back and then we have a picture of the collapsed winding shed over the line that was behind us, the incline was gravity worked.


Next a rather shakey view of the winding drums and last but not least a dumped crane to the side of the line, this had plain wheels, not flanged.    


Some Photographs of the Lee Moor Tramway.

More to follow

In March I went down to Cornwall to try and find anything that might be on the ground regarding the tramways there. On the way down I stopped at the South Devon Railway at Buckfastleigh and with the kind help of  Brian Gibson of the Society, I was shown their Lee Moor loco and the only 'preserved' - basically rebuilt - open waggon. Both vehicles are stored in a cramped shed where it is difficult to photograph them, a much improved display area is planned in the new carrage shed that is now scheduled to be built.


Whilst I was there I donated to the Society a brass waggon number plate that, as a lad, I had removed from one of the waggons that were held at Marsh Mills for the occasional sand traffic and also to keep the way leave open across the main line at Laira in later years on Christmas Day.


I was able to measure up the open waggon as I plan to make a 4mm scale kit of it for sale by Smallbrook Studio, my kit making business.


Here are some pictures that I was able to take, the first is of the waggon number plate: