Lord Churston donated stone for Broadsands viaduct

Brunel's railway viaduct at Broadsands, Paignton

Brunel's viaduct at Broadsands - Credit: Michael Dibb (cc-by-sa/2.0)

This week my story behind the Torbay Civic Society plaque sited on a bridge generally called Brunel ‘s Viaduct which crosses Broadsands Road in Paignton.

Although correctly associated with I.K. Brunel, this viaduct and indeed the Goodrington Viaduct were built by Messrs Smith and Knight during the late Victorian era long after Isambard's death in 1859.

After his  premature death the new engineers decided the two huge viaducts need to be constructed in stone rather than timber as Brunel had planned.

With Devonian limestone being locally available from the Brokenbury Quarry Churston, Lord Churston a well-known benefactor, supplied the stone, so the decision was a no-brainer.

The ground on which the structures were to be built had been personally surveyed by Mr Brunel long before the Dartmouth and Torbay Railway opened their extended railway line from Paignton to the Brixham Road station at Churston.

The railway had reached Paignton from its previous rail head at Torre Station on August 2, 1859, and though Brunel's firm designed the viaducts in timber, limestone became the final choice.

Over 100 years later in 2006 Dart Valley Railway worked with Torbay Civic Society to place a Blue Plaque high on one of the nine stone arches above Broadsands Road.

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With the plaque manufactured and our history pamphlet produced, both were  sponsored by the Railway Company, who also chose the date of unveiling -  Monday 25, 2006.

Local historian John Risdon had written the text for our literature and now mayor and myself formally unveiled the plaque on March 25 at the arch.

Staff and the directors of the Dart Valley Railway arranged to view the proceedings from high above the road, while sitting comfortably in a specially commissioned carriage, as the driver blew the train whistle to announce their arrival.

The decision to stop on the viaduct was controversial as we soon discovered, then the Health and Safety Executive intervened.

Although a commendation no trains ever loitered on viaducts, stopping on one was as said highly controversial.

But that indiscretion was as nothing compared to the problems my builder experienced when trying to get permission from council engineers, to drill two quarter-inch fixing holes for the plaque in the huge viaduct.

Eventually, with all problems overcome to everyone’s satisfaction, the formal unveiling took place at the agreed time following which we walked to Squires Restaurant up on the Broadway.

With a provision for refreshment already made, our gifted pamphlet was now handed out followed by some short presentations.

We all learned the construction company used no less that 300 navvies to construct the viaducts and having started in 1860 only took four years to complete these massive structures.

Strangely some months after the unveiling, a local newspaper's carried a critical letter on the information shown on the Blue Plaque itself. The local complainant stated the date of opening was 1861 and not 1864 and even commented on the length of the viaduct, as being incorrect.

Having checked with Mr J B Cogar, managing director of Dart Valley Railway, at the time, he soon confirmed in writing his given lengths were correct, and to this day I am not absolutely convinced that even 300 navvies could have built such a massive structures in a single year, had 1861 been correct rather than 1864.

In conclusion, we did finally apologise to the HSE for any infringement of their recommendations, although they were not of our making.

We also informed the planners our two three-inch long screws would be put into the mortar not stone, so as not to 'undermine' the limestone viaduct.

The TCS pamphlet Hookhills Viaduct and IK Brunal can be  obtained by sending stamps to the value of 50p - plus a stamped addressed envelope, to Torbay Civic Society , 1 Palace Avenue Business Centre, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA.