The London & South Western Railway (LSWR) began continuous running between Waterloo and Exeter (Queen Street) on 19th July 1860, after an extension from Yeovil. West of Salisbury, the route was single track and, from the outset, no station was provided at Pinhoe. This is hardly surprising, given that the latter was a parish three miles east of Exeter City Centre with a population of just 508, distributed across 111 inhabitable households (source: 1861 census). That being said, railway companies had not been afraid to open stations in sparsely populated areas, with a speculative view to future development and growth in traffic. Indeed, the station at Whimple, 8½ route miles from Queen Street, served a parish of just 736 inhabitants, and had opened with the line in 1860 with impressive station structures.
Double-track working between Salisbury and Exeter began in July 1870 and, on 30th October of the following year, a station at Pinhoe opened. The site lacked any pretensions to suggest it was a location of importance; the population of the parish had increased by just twenty-two over the preceding ten years, to 530. Two platforms came into use either side of the double-track, these being built from irregularly-sized stone blocks. On the "up" platform was the main building, a plain but charming single-storey red brick structure with a slated pitched roof. It was a world away from the grand buildings of Sir William Tite which had been commissioned at the original stations along the line, and the "down" platform comprised a basic brick shelter, about a third of the size of the "up" building.
Immediately east of the platforms, a level crossing was in evidence, where the railway passed over Pinn Lane, and this was the only passage between the platforms. On the northern side of the running lines, sandwiched in-between the level crossing and the "up" platform, was the Station Master's house. This was of generous proportions, given that Pinhoe was a minor station on Exeter's outskirts, being a two-storey-high red brick building with a slated pitched roof. In about 1875, a signal box was commissioned on the "up" side of the running lines, beside the level crossing and on the opposite side of the road to the Station Master's house. This was an LSWR "Type 1" signal box, which became standard along the route, fitted with an 18-lever frame supplied by contractor Stevens & Sons.
By 1905, a footbridge had been erected between the platforms and the structure on the "down" side extended. In the 1920s, under the Southern Railway (SR), the former was replaced by a footbridge of prefabricated concrete construction, manufactured just 1¾-miles to the west at the company's own Exmouth Junction works. At around the same time, the platforms were extended at their western ends, also using prefabricated concrete; they had previously been heightened in later LSWR days with brick. Latterly, the SR installed its trademark swan neck gas lamps upon barley-twist posts, to which were affixed "Target" name signs.
Mention has yet to be made of goods facilities at the site. In the early years, two sidings existed on the "up" side of the line, east of the level crossing. The pair fed off the same trailing connection with the London-bound track, and one of the sidings could only be accessed by first reversing into the other. More significant, however, was the opening of a huge government cold store in 1941, 300-yards west of the station site on the northern side of the line. This was one of forty-three refrigerated warehouses built by the Ministry of Food to hold emergency stocks of perishable supplies during the war years. A single trailing connection was made with the "up" line, this of which split into two sidings that flanked either side of the aforementioned warehouse.
In the 1950s, the "up" side ticket office was showing signs of modification: the original arched windows, which matched those of the Station Master's house, had been replaced by smaller, square types, and gaps infilled with brick. A period of severe decline was subsequently entered, after Southern Region lines west of Salisbury passed to Western Region control in January 1963 (some sources suggest this occurred as early as September 1962). Local passenger services west of Salisbury were withdrawn from Monday 7th March 1966, marking the closure of Pinhoe to passenger traffic, as well as nine other intermediate stations between Salisbury and Exeter. Public goods traffic remained operational at the site not much longer, being formally withdrawn on 10th June of the following year.
From 11th June 1967, single line working came into force between Pinhoe and Chard Junction. At the former the LSWR signal box, which had since been painted into chocolate and cream WR colours, was retained to control the transition from single to double track and the level crossing. The latter was equipped with full lifting barriers and flashing lights. Of the station itself, all structures upon the platforms were demolished, but the Station Master's house was retained and became a private residence. What of the cold store? A map of 1980 shows the site marked as "warehouse"; the sidings had gone, but the set of trailing points on the "up" line remained evident.
Since the line's dark days of the late 1960s, a revival of sorts started to gain momentum in a comparatively short time. This began with the opening of a new set of platforms by the name of "Feniton" on 3rd May 1971, upon the former site of the closed Sidmouth Junction station, to serve a new housing development. Ten years later, the Transport Act 1962 (Amendment) Act 1981 received Royal Assent. Colloquially known as the "Speller Act" after the Conservative MP for North Devon who proposed it, Tony Speller, the legislation allowed for the opening/reopening of stations on an experimental basis. This meant that if a reopening was not successful, it was a straightforward process to again shut a station, rather than going through a prolonged formal closure procedure. As part of this, Pinhoe station reopened to passenger traffic on a very wet 16th May 1983, the North Devon MP having been selected to conduct the ceremony. The reopening of a station at Templecombe, on 3rd October of that year, was achieved the same way.
The reopened station comprised a small brick-built shelter on the "down" side, but the "up" platform lacked any structure. All this time, the LSWR signal box had remained in use; it was finally decommissioned in 1988 when, on 15th February of that year, Exmouth Junction signal box took control of the area. Pinhoe's LSWR cabin remained in the county, but was subsequently dismantled and moved to Bere Ferrers station, near Plymouth, where it serves as a museum.
Today, what is left at Pinhoe for the railway historian? The former Station Master's house remains beside the level crossing as a private residence and dates from the site's earliest years. The platforms themselves still show changes through time: the original stone laid in 1871, the later brick heightening by the LSWR and, finally, the prefabricated concrete extensions by the SR. All structures upon the platforms are 21st Century origin, but for a station which was closed for over seventeen years, the site still retains a surprising amount of its Victorian heritage.
Exmouth Junction-allocated Rebuilt West Country Class No. 34018 "Axminster" is seen heading east through Pinhoe with a ballast train from Meldon Quarry. In view is the prefabricated concrete footbridge manufactured at nearby Exmouth Junction, whilst we are also afforded a glimpse of the original brick-built platform buildings. The connection with the government cold store is immediately beyond the bridge in the background.
© David Glasspool Collection
Looking east, we see the former Station Master's house standing prominently on the left and, on the opposite side of the level crossing, the LSWR "Type 1" signal box, which was to close the following month. The double-track section can be seen narrowing to a single line in the distance, and we are able to just catch sight of a remaining semaphore signal. A section of new concrete sleeper track was also ready to be slid into place at the point of convergence.
© David Glasspool Collection