Story told to Dawn Robinson in 2017 by the late John Going, 94, of Widemouth Bay, and revisited here.
It was a privilege to meet John, and to hear his tales. Here’s the first part of his memories of Bude, where we are reminded that trains were also used for freight, not just passengers.
“When we came to live down here, they were building Hillhead Estate. The railway was a blessed nuisance in some ways, mainly if you missed the train. I first came down (from Hertfordshire) on the train. I used to come down on the 11.50 at night train from Paddington to Exeter St David’s. If you knew about it, there was a bus/coach that took the newspapers round Exeter. The railway went into Bude but you could be stuck for ages in the middle of nowhere, sometimes.
It was a good service though. Everyone was happy because you got to know the trains. There were several a day (I’m not sure if John meant passenger or freight) to London and some interlinked, but it was a poor form of transport if travelling deeper into Cornwall. My stepdaughter lived for a time in Camborne and could not do a return journey in one day. She would have to come one day and return the next, changing at Launceston and somewhere else.
Day old chicks would come in, stored in the guard’s van which was heated, goods came in bought from catalogues, as did cattle. Lots of stuff was sent from here by train, too, to Holsworthy market, and stuff from the slaughterhouses went out. It was a lifeline to the rest of the world, used a lot for transporting goods. The trains were infrequent, so if you missed the Atlantic Coast Express, you had a big wait. I used to like going from Stratton to Holsworthy on market days on the train. You could get to places even if the times weren’t great, but you just fitted in with the railway timetable.
There was a lot of argument about shutting the station and cutting us off because there was a single line into Okehampton and Halwill Junction. There was all this Beeching thing. One of the arguments Bude put forward to not have the railway shut concerned the tourists in the summer. When we used to pick up my mother-in-law who would come for a summer holiday, there would be a row of taxis backed up to the station. It was a good system but it all ground to a halt.
They were going to leave the rails in situ. I’m sure that was on the cards at the time. I’m a bit hazy but I remember meetings and things. The idea was that Beeching would shut all these little stations, Beaworthy and places like that, and leave the rails and everything in situ. Then, if it didn’t make any difference to the tourist input, and traffic into Bude and Holsworthy, then they would shut it, but it was a big drop in service with lots of complaints.
I had a job where I was working out this way (Widemouth) and I was going to work in the morning in the car with the window down, when I heard a ‘clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk’ noise. I thought ‘oh God, what’s that?’ thinking it was something on the car. I pulled in where there used to be two bridges/tunnels near Helebridge (which used to flood like mad) and I could still hear the noise, so I climbed up on the railway embankment and there was a gang going along with a pushalong thing digging up the rails. They were lying alongside the track. There weren’t new ones going in, they were just ripping up the old ones. It was 6am and they’d been working all night. They were originally going to leave the rails in situ and just stop the trains to see if it made a difference. If people then didn’t come to Bude, all they then had to do was get it all going again.
Working on the railway was never a well paid job but when I was a kid, a job on the railway or having a dad who was a signalman, was exciting, though there was no money in it. There were employees with tied cottages. To pull the plug just like that …
I told several people what I’d seen and they asked how I was sure. I just happened to be passing by as about 4 men were digging them up. It would take a lot longer to put them back down again but it was too late then.”