Jersey, Channel Islands

In spite of a comparatively recent partial redevelopment, this site still has the aura of a former railway station. Situated on the south western corner of the Channel Island of Jersey, Corbière is renowned for its striking lighthouse keeping watch over a dramatic coastline, but a railway serving the area is in the long distant past. The station here only had a working life of thirty-seven-years serving passengers — even today, the site’s immediate environs are little developed, so there must have been minimal traffic generated here.

Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands, measuring about five-miles by nine-miles, and is a self-governing state with its own laws and currency. Historically, the main towns have been St Helier and St Aubin, both on the south coast. On Friday, 22nd October 1869, the States of Jersey passed a Bill sanctioning the formation of an English company that proposed to build a 3½-mile-long standard gauge railway between those towns (ref: The Western Daily Press, 26th October 1869). This company became known as “Jersey Railways Limited”, and a condition of the Bill was that the undertaking had to be completed within twelve months.

Jersey’s first two locomotives, accompanied by carriages, arrived by boat from Liverpool on Friday, 23rd September 1870, and one of the engines ran solo along the line as a test on Wednesday, 28th September 1870 (ref: The Guernsey Star, 29th September 1870). However, the formal inauguration of the railway between St Helier and St Aubin did not occur until Tuesday, 25th October 1870 (ref: The Globe, 28th October 1870). The line’s engineer was Mr. Le Feuvre and the building contractor was Mr Pickering (ref: The Guernsey Star, 29th September 1870).

By an Act of the States of Jersey on 7th June 1871, a company by the name of the “St Aubin and La Moye Railway” was incorporated to build a line between those towns (ref: The Law Reports, Appeal Cases Before the House of Lords, Volume Twelve, United Kingdom Parliament, 1887). La Moye is situated in the south western corner of the island, near Corbière, and at the time was host to a granite quarry. From the latter, it was forecast that a minimum of 50,000 tons of granite a year could be disposed of to England, and China Clay and gravel would also be important export materials (ref: The Jersey Independent, 12th August 1873). The company went bankrupt and, in 1876, the lands and the undertaking came under the ownership of a William Lister Holt; he passed his interest in the company to Horace Henry Holt, the latter of whom also went bankrupt. As a result, T.H. Budd became owner of the “St Aubin and La Moye Railway” by decree of 17th March 1879 (ref: The Law Reports, Appeal Cases Before the House of Lords, Volume Twelve, United Kingdom Parliament, 1887).

In the meantime, the original "Jersey Railways Limited" company of 1869 had gone bankrupt in 1875 and the undertaking and associated lands subsequently came under the ownership — by decree — of a Louis Marie. He sold his interest in the company to F. Nadler on 6th February 1878; in turn, the latter sold on the undertaking to T.H. Budd on 5th February 1883, the same individual who had taken ownership of the St Aubin and La Moye scheme in 1879 (ref: The Law Reports, Appeal Cases Before the House of Lords, Volume Twelve, United Kingdom Parliament, 1887).

In England, a company by the name of "Jersey Railways Company, Limited" was incorporated on 6th February 1883 under the English Joint Stock Companies Acts. Its purpose was to purchase and operate the original assets of the Jersey Railways Limited and St Aubin and La Moye companies. Subsequently, on 9th February 1883, T.H. Budd entered into a contract with the "Jersey Railways Company, Limited" to sell them his railway assets, these of which were conveyed by a contract dated 11th July of the same year (ref: The Law Reports, Appeal Cases Before the House of Lords, Volume Twelve, United Kingdom Parliament, 1887).

The opening date of the 4½-mile-long line from Greenville, near St Aubin, to La Moye, varies depending on source. In both The Locomotive Railway Carriage and Wagon Review of 15th January 1914 and The Railway Magazine of May 1923, a date of 1st September 1884 is given as the inauguration of the line. However, the 6th September 1884 edition of The Jersey Weekly Press and Independent newspaper instead stated that the line was opened to traffic on Saturday, 30th August 1884, with the first train of Sunday afternoon carrying no fewer than 300 passengers. The railway was built to a narrow gauge of 3-foot 6-inches and, during the following year, the original line between St Helier and St Aubin was relaid to the same width (ref: The Railway Magazine, March 1955). A connecting line between St Aubin and Greenville, enabling through traffic between St Helier and La Moye, was not opened until 5th August 1885 (ref: The Railway Magazine, July 1938); the gap in-between the two in the meantime had to be traversed by omnibuses.

The St Helier to St Aubin section of the route was virtually flat; however, the extension between the latter and La Moye was characterised by steep gradients, as much as 1 in 36 and 1 in 40 (ref: The Locomotive Railway Carriage and Wagon Review, 15th January 1914). Both sections of route were single-track throughout. The terminus at the La Moye end of the line was named "Corbière", although in reality that locality was beyond the railway, to the west; the station was adjacent to the granite quarries mentioned earlier.

On 18th January 1896, a company by the name of "Jersey Railways and Tramways Limited" was registered. This superseded the "Jersey Railways Company" of 1883 and had an authorised capital of £30,000 in £10 shares and £24,000 in the form of £10 debentures (ref: Bradshaw's Railway Manual and Shareholders Directory, 1898). This new undertaking had been formed as a result of the previous company's financial failure, which had landed it in chancery (ref: The Railway Magazine, July 1938).

On Friday, 30th June 1899, a final westward extension of the line was formally inaugurated. It was opened to general traffic the following day. Just ¾-mile in length and also narrow gauge, this joined the 1884 line by means of a junction immediately northeast of the original Corbière station and terminated approximately 100-yards from a well-known hotel of the time by the name of "La Corbière". Naturally, the terminus of this short stretch of line took the name "Corbière" and replaced the previous station of 1884, which was thereafter used only in connection with stone traffic from the quarry at La Moye. In-between St Helier and the Corbière station of 1899, there were thirteen intermediate stops — the entire line was just 7¾-miles in length end-to-end. Single-track throughout, passing places were situated at Millbrook and Don Bridge; it was also possible for services to pass at St Aubin, if one train went into the terminus part of the station (ref: The Railway Magazine, May 1923).

Circa 1910

Both the platform line and runaround loop were occupied by stock on the occasion of this view, which includes the rocky landscape of south west Jersey at Corbiere. The locomotive is 2-4-0 tank engine No. 5 “La Moye”, which was built by Andrew Barclay Sons & Co. Ltd. of Kilmarnock, in 1907. The April 1959 edition of “The Railway Magazine” states that the locomotive was sold and exported in 1924 to South Africa, where it worked at the Electricity Supply Commission's power station at Vereeniging. The locomotive was renamed “Barclay” at this time and its central couplers were replaced by side buffers. The locomotive was still reported as being in service in 1959 in Rosherville, South Africa, having received a new boiler from the original manufacturer in 1952. © David Glasspool Collection

The then new Corbière station comprised a single platform of 300-feet length and, at the time of opening, the main station building was still in the course of construction. Of the latter, this was built in grey granite supplied by the adjacent quarries, an ideal sturdy material for a station that was situated upon high ground exposed to strong Atlantic winds. The station's plans were drawn by Mr W. H. Dickson, manager and engineer of the "Jersey Railways and Tramways" company, and building work carried out by contractor Mr W. Green (ref: The Evening Post, 1st July 1899). A run around loop was laid at Corbière; all points along the railway from St Helier were worked by ground levers, signalling was by flags in the daytime and lamps at night, and no continuous brakes were in use on trains (ref: The Locomotive Railway Carriage and Wagon Review, 15th January 1914). Given that the island's railways did not come under the jurisdiction of the Board of Trade, they did not have to possess the advanced signalling and safety equipment in use in Great Britain.

1923 saw the introduction of the first steam rail car between St Helier, St Aubin, and Corbière. The May edition of The Railway Magazine from that year stated that the rail car was under construction at that time; by the September issue of the same publication, it had been completed and delivered to the island. The vehicle comprised a single chassis, upon which was a carriage body comprising driving cabs at either end, and steam power was generated from a vertical boiler. Pressure from road competition had made it necessary to find a motive power solution that, compared to the existing locomotive-hauled formations, had greater acceleration, improved mobility and, crucially, was cheaper to operate. Development of the Jersey rail car was a collaboration between Sentinel Waggon Works and Cammell Laird and Co. Ltd (ref: The Railway Magazine, September 1923). Trial running indicated that the much lower fuel consumption of the vehicle compared to a traditional locomotive and carriages could save up to £600 a year per train operated, reduce coal storage costs, and lead to less track wear (ref: The Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 27th February 1924). By the end of 1929, five Sentinel-Cammell rail cars were in service on the railway (ref: The Railway Magazine, July 1938).

The greatest rival to the railways of Jersey in the early 20th Century was that of the roads, upon which ran motorbuses. So significant was road transport that the "Jersey Railways and Tramways" company introduced their own motorbuses on 1st April 1922 (ref: The Railway Magazine, July 1938) and, on 5th August 1928, purchased its greatest competitor, the "Jersey Motor Transport Company Limited" (ref: An Historical Survey of Public Transport Facilities by Rail and Road in the Island of Jersey (1788-1961), M. Ginns and E. Osborne, 1961). Worse was to come: from 1st December 1932, the railway was closed for the winter seasons (ref: An Historical Survey of Public Transport Facilities by Rail and Road in the Island of Jersey (1788-1961), M. Ginns and E. Osborne, 1961). There is a snippet in the 14th May 1932 edition of The Locomotive, Railway Carriage and Wagon Review that remarked, until this time, the winter railway service had only been maintained between St Helier and St Aubin, with buses being used to link the latter and Corbière.

1936 transpired to be the last year of railway operation between St Helier, St Aubin, and Corbière. The summer service began on 1st May, the last passenger trains ran on 30th September, and the railway closed thereafter for winter (ref: The Railways of the Channel Islands, N. R. P. Bonsor, 1962). On Sunday, 18th October 1936, a catastrophic fire broke out at St Aubin station, which destroyed ten railway carriages, spread to five shops, and left a mass of twisted metal (ref: The Western Morning News and Daily Gazette, Devon, 19th October 1936). This fire was the end for the railway; the company's management decided to cease operations entirely, and the rolling stock and infrastructure was sold to George Cohen, Sons & Co. Ltd in July 1937 for demolition (ref: The Railway Magazine, July 1938).

The late 1930s was not the last time that trains ran between St Helier and Corbière. In June 1940, Germany invaded the Channel Islands and built a series of railway lines. On Jersey, a metre-gauge line was laid from St Helier to Ronez Quarry (on the island's northern tip) via St Aubin, with branches to Corbière and Tesson Mill, the latter about 1¼-mile northeast of St Aubin as the crow flies (ref: Jersey Occupied, R. Mayne, 1970). This line was built by "Organisation Todt", the company that undertook large infrastructure projects for Nazi Germany, and the St Helier to Millbrook section officially inaugurated on 15th July 1942 (ref: Jersey Occupied, R. Mayne, 1970). Jersey and Guernsey were liberated from German forces by the British on 9th May 1945; in the September/October edition of The Railway Magazine from that year, it was remarked that the railways laid during occupation appeared to be in good running condition at that time. The railways had been used for carrying materials for construction work — notably fortifications — and ammunition.

24th June 2002

A north eastward view, looking in the St Helier direction, shows a site that still looks very much like a railway station, albeit without track. The former Station Master’s house, built from granite, is obvious. Equally conspicuous is the still extant platform edge and a footpath following the course of the track bed. © David Glasspool Collection