Brunel Legacy

Newton Abbot Brunel signature from letter 1838

The greatest legacy Brunel has left Teignbridge and Torbay and the surrounding areas is the main line track itself from Exeter to Plymouth with its tunnels, its steep gradients and its stunningly beautiful, but very vulnerable, sea wall route from Dawlish to Teignmouth and the branch line to Torquay and on to Kingswear. His railway gave many people their first chance of travel, even if it was only the short distance from Exeter to the coast for relaxation and bathing.

There are also a few Brunel structures still in existence.

· Railway arches, St Thomas’ Exeter
· Starcross pumping station
· Torre pumping station (which was never used)
· Totnes pumping station (which was never used)
· The reservoir for the pumping house at Turf (Powderham) is still in existence today
· An archway built over Quay Road, Newton Abbot, known as ‘Dark Arches’ contains an arch which, it is believed, dates from Brunel’s time and once carried one or two Broad Gauge tracks. Many vehicles have been stuck under the low stone structure in the middle of the bridge or have been damaged. The usual method of extraction involves deflating the tyres to reduce the overall height of the vehicle.
· Keyberry Road bridge has a stone arch within its construction which dates from the mid – 1800’s. This too frequently traps vehicles!
· Many of the atmospheric pipes remain as outfall pipes for drainage and sewage systems in the area.
· Broadsands Viaduct, IK Brunel, Engineer. – This section of the line opened shortly after his death.
· Brunel Woods – Brunel’s Watcome Estate gardens – his son commented “there can be little doubt that the happiest hours of his life were spent in walking about the garden with his wife and children, and discussing the condition and prospects of his favourite trees”
· Barn Close, Barton – designed by Brunel to house his estate workers
· Bishops place, Paignton – built by Brunel for his senior staff (company doctor, Surveyors, architects and engineers)

na pumping house

Newton Abbot developed as an important railway town thanks to I.K Brunel. The SDR and its successor, the GWR, became the major employer in town, with a workforce of more than 1,000 men during the 1930’s and 1940’s. It gave many people a complete way of life, with a sense of community, purpose and pride. Even now, Newton Abbot, although no longer a major railway centre, has strong railway ties within the town.

Torquay expanded rapidly after the coming of the railway and by 1881 was the eighth largest seaside resort in England and Wales. It became fashionable with European nobility who arrived by special train and took villas or stayed at the imperial hotel. Day trippers used the train to flock to Torbay well into the twentieth century. On August Bank Holiday weekend in 1938. 20,000 people arrived by train in Torbay.

For more history and information, come into the GWR Room in the Museum.