Dawlish Warren

A much later addition to the South Devon route, today Dawlish Warren provides an important four-track section on the route between Exeter and Plymouth, where fast trains can overtake stopping services. Whilst the station has lost its Great Western Railway (GWR) heritage over the years, through fire and structural demolitions, the existence of camping coaches nearby harks back to those earlier days of steam.

An advertisement in a local newspaper remarked on the opening of Warren Halt, which gives a close approximation to the date on which it came into use:

Rail motors now stop at Dawlish Warren Halt! Change for the Mount Pleasant Inn and Tea Gardens. [The Devon and Exeter Gazette, Wednesday, 2nd August 1905]

An advertisement from the same business in the Devon and Exeter Daily Gazette on Saturday, 29th July 1905, made no mention of the halt, which initially suggests that it came into use on Monday 31st July 1905, or perhaps even the following day. To confuse things further, however, yet another newspaper extract suggests that the day of opening was Thursday 3rd August 1905:

Yesterday, also, the new rail motor service from Exeter to Dawlish and Teignmouth, calling also at Exminster, Starcross, and Warren Halt, was begun, and will afford greatly increased facilities for Exonians to reach these delightful watering-places at cheap rates of fare. [The Western Morning News, Friday, 4th August 1905]

Your author surmises that “yesterday” may have been in the context of the article being written on Thursday 3rd August, and subsequently published on 4th, which would make the halt’s opening date 2nd August and tie in with the advertisement of the Mount Pleasant Inn. Or, perhaps the opening date was genuinely 3rd August and the advertisement from 2nd August simply preempted it?

The name of the station varies in news articles of the period; some refer to it as plain “Warren Halt”, others “Dawlish Warren Halt”, although based on your author’s research, the former title is more numerous in appearance. The halt comprised two short timber platforms, situated opposite each other either side of the double-track, about 300-yards south of the site of today’s station. Each platform comprised a pagoda-style corrugated waiting shelter, a design the GWR employed at multiple small stations, and replica structures can be found today at – amongst others – Doniford Halt on the West Somerset Railway and Didcot Railway Centre, Oxfordshire.

Rail motors were essentially an engine and carriage combined on a single chassis; they became popular with railway companies shortly after the turn of the 20th Century, particularly in city suburbs where tramways were competing for local traffic. In Devon, both GWR and London & South Western Railway (LSWR) companies developed rail motor services in and around Exeter; indeed, such was the popularity of the rail motors that Warren Halt’s platforms were enlarged:

No one who has seen the motors running from Exeter to Honiton and Dawlish and other places can have any doubt as to their advantages for short runs, seeing that there is no charge for permanent ways, as they are already provided. So successful has the service on the South Devon line proved that it has already been decided to enlarge the Dawlish Warren halt (very similar in position to what one at Instow would be) to cope with the growing traffic. [The Bideford Weekly Gazette, 22nd May 1906]

Further proposed upgrades to the halt were reported in the local press three years later, when enquires were made about providing a water supply to the station:

With regard to the proposed water supply for Dawlish West, correspondence was read from the G.W.R. inquiring upon what terms a supply would be granted to the station buildings at Warren Halt for drinking and sanitary purposes. The quantity estimated that would be required during the summer months was 250 gallons per day, and one-third or one-fourth of that quantity during the winter. It was decided that the correspondence should be referred to the parochial authority. [The Western Times, Thursday, 24th June 1909]

The Warren had proved to be a popular resort, particularly since the commissioning of the halt there in 1905, and heavy summer traffic to the area had been sustained each year. This culminated in substantial works being started by the GWR in 1911 to widen the railway at the Warren from two to four tracks, ease the curve at the southern end of the layout where the line embarked on the sea wall beside Langstone Rock, and provide goods facilities:

The Great Western Railway Company, realizing that there is a “future” in the Warren, have embarked on a large scheme. A station is to be built a little nearer the golf course than the present platform. Two running loops, two goods sidings, and cattle pens are to be provided. There is no convenience for trucking cattle at Starcross, where a large market is held at stated intervals. Owing to the peculiar position of the line and the surrounding properties there are insurmountable difficulties in the way of making the necessary provision. The cattle have, therefore, to be driven to Dawlish or Exminster for removal by train. The provision of a place at the Warren will be a great advantage to dealers. I hear that the contract price for the work is something like £15,000 [£1,539,000 at 2019 prices], and that it is hoped to have it completed in time for the summer traffic. The cliff is being cut away opposite Langstone Rock, and the line straightened. When everything is finished the excursion trains will be able to run right into the loops, leaving the main line clear for ordinary traffic. [The Devon and Exeter Gazette, Friday, 17th February 1911]

The same newspaper reported in the following month that works had commenced on cutting the cliff back and the waste materials from this operation were being used to fill up and level off the ground for the new lines.

The existing timber halt at the Warren was replaced by a brand new station about 300-yards to the north of the former’s site. However, the commissioning of the new platforms missed the summer season; they were opened with ceremony on Monday, 23rd September 1912:

The New Station; Yesterday’s Inauguration

Dawlish Warren, the delight of thousands of children and grown-ups, the rendezvous of the bungalow lover, and the resort of golf enthusiasts, can now boast of a station which may well be envied by many places of a similar kind. Those who know the Warren are familiar with the halt which has done duty for the past six years, and which has been found inadequate for the increasing traffic. Inconvenience has frequently been experienced by passengers when waiting on the narrow platform and the insufficient accommodation of the structures provided as shelters. Moreover, the agriculturists of the neighbourhood have been far from pleased with the arrangements at either Dawlish or Starcross for trucking cattle. The Warren lies between these two places, and is admirably situated as a centre for the entraining business of the farmers of the district. Besides, there are no cattle pens at Dawlish or Starcross. These facts have not been unheeded by the Great Western Railway Company. The new station, with its long siding for goods traffic, a siding and pens for cattle, loading bank, carriage shoots – which will be extended nearly 1,000 feet when the old halt has been removed – and two new roads for the express trains, seems to meet the situation admirably. The Warren continues to grow in popularity each year, and this fact is more clearly brought home when it is remembered that, in spite of statements made that sea erosion is playing havoc with some portions of it, bungalows continue to spring up like mushrooms and trippers enormously increase. The railway authorities about 18 months ago embarked upon a scheme involving probably the outlay of £30,000. Under this scheme, the high cliff on the curve below the old halt has been taken back many feet, the metals re-laid farther away from the sea wall, and room left for the construction of two extra lines.

Yesterday the new station was opened for passenger and other traffic. The first train to stop was the 7.10 a.m. from Exeter. Fog signals, placed on the metals by the plate-layers, were discharged, and the Union Jack was hoisted on the down platform. Mr. J. J. Nicholls, of Eastdon Farm, Starcross, prided himself on purchasing the first ticket from the new station to Dawlish. Mr. Nicholls also received the first consignment in the new goods yard, which has been completed and used since June. He can boast, further, of having taken the first ticket at the old halt to Dawlish, and the last ticket issued from the halt on Sunday night to Starcross. Congratulations were extended to Mr. W. G. Tucker, the courteous Station Master, on the inauguration of his new charge. There is a carriage approach to the up platform, which is connected with the down side by an overhead bridge nearly 100 feet in length. From the down side – each platform is 200 yards in length – passengers have a fenced-in exit to the Warren, and there is a special path to the golf pavilion running immediately behind the down buildings. The hundreds of tons of soil removed from the cliff have been used in the levelling up for the new station and sidings. On the down side the platform is of decking, except immediately in front of the offices, where chippings have been used. The narrowest part on this platform is 12ft., and the widest 18ft. The up platform, which is 13ft. throughout, consists of all chippings on sleepers. The road breadth from platform to platform is about 60ft., and, with the two loop lines, which diverge from the main lines some distance away, there are four lines of metals. The two centre roads are for the use of express trains; this will prevent the necessity of shunting others on to a siding while in the station, which has previously caused some comment among passengers.

The buildings, of stone, are spacious. They consist of the Stationmaster’s and ticket offices (combined), general waiting-rooms, 25ft. x 14ft.; ladies’ lobbies, 7ft. 6in. x 10ft. 3 in.; ladies’ lavatories and ladies’ waiting-rooms, 14ft. x 12ft.; and gentlemen’s lavatories. From the down waiting-room an extensive view of the Warren and sea can be obtained, with Exmouth in the distance. Passengers on the down side are shielded from the golf balls by a wire screen and fence. The signal-box is situated at the Exeter end on the down line. It is 32ft. x 10ft., and contains a 58-lever frame on the Company’s patent interlocking system. Fifty levers have been already installed. The signalman has a clear view of the line both ways for a considerable distance. Men were at work yesterday removing the old halt. [The Devon and Exeter Gazette, Tuesday, 24th September 1912]

Initially, the station had a brief existence in the passenger timetable; as a wartime economy, closure was effective from 1st January 1917, which lasted for over two years. Dawlish Warren was brought back into passenger use in time for the 1919 summer season on 5th May of that year:

Warren Station to be Reopened

It will be good news to the Exonians and others that in all probability Dawlish Warren Station will be re-opened on May 5th. The intimation was contained in a letter from the Great Western Railway Company, which was read to Dawlish Council last evening. The letter stated that the train service between Exeter and Newton Abbot was receiving close attention, and it was hoped it might be found possible to make some improvement in connexion with the summer service. It was also hoped that the situation in regard to the staff would be such as to admit of Dawlish Warren Station being re-opened on May 5th. [The Devon and Exeter Gazette, Thursday, 3rd April 1919]

Little under five years after re-opening, disaster struck at the station. On the afternoon of Wednesday 9th January 1924, a fire ravaged the “down” side, completely destroying the structures on this part of the station, and taking much of the platform with it. The fire was blamed on an overheated stove, and the difficulty in getting water to the station – in spite of it being located near the sea – prevented the flames being put out swiftly:

Station Burnt Down.

Fire rages unchecked at Dawlish Warren.

The seaward side of Dawlish Warren Railway Station was destroyed by fire yesterday afternoon.

It was entirely a wooden erection, consisting of two waiting-rooms and ticket office. Besides the buildings, a large portion of the platform was destroyed.

The fire originated in the roof, which was ignited from the stove-pipe. Fanned by an easterly wind, the flames spread rapidly, and as there was only a dribble of water obtainable from Mount Pleasant, little could be done.

Three members of the local fire brigade, including the chief officer, Mr. G. Shepherd, journeyed to the scene by motor, but could do little. The Dawlish and Starcross police were also present.

The seats in the waiting rooms were saved.

Traffic was not delayed by the occurrence, the trains passing safely through the fire zone. [The Western Morning News and Mercury, Thursday 10th January 1924]

The GWR built a replacement corrugated structure of similar dimensions and design upon the former site of the burnt-out building of 1912.

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool


“Modified Hall” No. 7924 “Thornycroft Hall” is seen on the “down” main hauling an express freight of ventilated vans, possibly containing perishables. In the background, on the right, can be seen the GWR-style signal box at the northern end of the “down” platform, which remained standing until May 1990. On the left is the “up” side timber building of 1912, which housed a ticket office, waiting room, and separate ladies’ waiting room at this time. No. 7924’s last day of service was on 1st January 1966, by which time the Collett flanged tender seen here had been replaced by a flat-sided Hawksworth design. © David Glasspool Collection


2800 Class No. 2862 proceeds on the “down” main with an assorted freight, comprising mainly of 16T mineral wagons, in addition to a couple of tankers and a handful of ventilated vans. At this time, No. 2862 was allocated to Severn Tunnel Junction shed (86E). In the background can be seen the station’s lattice footbridge, which was taken down in 1977. On the left are a couple of the GWR camping coaches, which started being replaced by BR Mk 1 vehicles in 1981. © David Glasspool Collection