The stories behind Torbay’s blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week: Churston station
It was in December 2010 when Torbay Civic Society were first contacted by the Dartmouth Steam Railway about the possibility of us arranging a blue plaque for installation at Churston station.
The plaque was to be unveiled as part of their heritage festival celebrations being planned for the 150th anniversary year since the opening of Churston station, formerly Brixham Road station, on March 14, 1861.
We quickly replied to Peter Roach at the Dartmouth Steam Railway Company to inform him we would be pleased to help and what is involved to manufacture the plaque and supply our collectors’ type history pamphlet, which we always produce for our plaques, including costs and timescales.
Having immediately been in support of such an important event, we further decided that we would make the day a special day for the society and so contacted the Weary Ploughman pub adjacent, today the Railway Inn, to arrange for our members and friends to attend for refreshments and be given a little history of the railway before touring the actual station and surrounding area which would include the engineering workshops on the other side of railway tracks.
Initially, we thought it likely about 40 members and friends might wish to attend and yet had still heard nothing further from the railway company about provision of a plaque.
It was, therefore, impossible for me to arrange any formal unveiling which would normally involve inviting the Mayor of Torbay or in this instance Brixham Town Council chairman. Also, as no sponsorship was offered I could not produce any publication to cover the event.
Later, we learned that it had been the financial aspects that had been the deciding factor in the company not using our further services.
Nevertheless, the anniversay event went ahead as planned and we attended with 70 people enjoying a thoroughly instructive and nice afternoon out.
By a quirk of fate, the event coincided as being one day before my birthday on May 28, 2011, and with everyone taking noting of a new blue plaque – on closer inspection we found it had been made in plywood.
Of course, the plaque had nothing to do with the society although one had to say it was the right size and was well produced.
In time we were able to announce this was only the second time in our history that a seemingly formal blue plaque was installed by someone outside of the society.
In this case it was produced by a skilled carpenter or model maker, likely to be one of the many railway volunteers – although this was never actually confirmed.
With 70 of our members and friends in attendance, all being locals, this was for many the first time they got any visit and insight into the history and commitment of the volunteers who worked at the Churston halt.
The Brixham Road, as it was originally known, had been opened on March 14, 1861, and in time became Agatha Christie’s ‘local station’ whenever visiting her Devon home at Greenway.
The Brixham Road junction would eventually take the railway directly into Brixham.
Although Isambard Kingdom Brunel certainly assisted engineers Mr Margary and Mr Bell of SDR, the railway did not reach Paignton until 1858 so his involvement would have been minimal as by 1859, he had died.
That was the year the cutting through Livermead hill from Torre station, followed by the Chelston bridge were being constructed and then in mid-1859, Paignton station was finally opened.
The society also recalls I K Brunel’s commitment to Paignton – for the cottages at Bishops Place and Hookhills on the Churston line, where we unveiled another blue plaque at Hookhills Viaduct in 2006.
Brunel designed the bridge, although it was not completed until 1864, five years after his early death.
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