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The Lizard Light Railway

When the Light Railways Act was passed in 1896, the hope was that it would help open up rural areas, by allowing them to be connected to the railway stations at the larger towns and villages. The maximum speed allowed was 25 miles an hour, and certain other requirements were done away with. Perhaps the principle benefit, to the promoters at least, was that they no longer had to apply for a private Act of Parliament, with its associated costs, instead they could give due notice to the Light Railway Commissioners, who would then hold a local inquiry, hear the evidence for and against the need for the railway, and advise the Commissioners their opinion.

There was a feeling in Cornwall that this Act would be of considerable help to the agricultural community, plans were afoot for several such railways in the Eastern part of the county, including one from Megavissey, whilst further west the Penzance, Newlyn and St. Just Light Railway was proposed.

The Promoters of the Lizard Light Railway were quick off the mark, in April 1897 they gave due notice to the Commissioners that a Company was in the process of being formed, by Mr Pearce Jenkin and others to construct a railway from the Helston Railway Station to the Lizard Village, a distance of just over 11 miles.

The Inquiry was held at Helston in October 1897. Mr Duke, the Solicitor for the promoters, said that they were asking for the sanction of the Commissioners for a draft order authorising the construction of the proposed Light Railway from Helston Railway Station to The Lizard. The district was well known to most people as a picturesque neighbourhood, but it was not as well known with regard to its agriculture and industrial character and the occupations and necessities of the people living there. It was a peninsular with a length of about 11 miles on the Northern part of it. He thought also that the railway would confer large advantages on the other side, such as Manaccan, St Martins and the St Keverne districts.

The promoters could not do everything at once and therefore they were dealing first with the need most pressing in the district, which was to a large extent an agricultural district, but there was some rough ground in the centre, consisting of downs. In the parts towards the sea, there was rich agricultural land of great value and capable of much greater cultivation that was much more profitable cultivation, if the farmer was able to compete with other people in getting his produce to the great markets. Although there was suitable land for very advantageous farming and for market gardening, the lack of transport almost prohibited any kind of cultivation.  The fact, roughly, was that there was rich agricultural ground there which was capable of cultivation, or the early vegetable trade and the fruit trade, which was kept much less than its value in consequence of the inability of the farmer to get to the market on such terms and in such time to be able to compete favourably with other farmers.

In addition to the agricultural interest there was a considerable fishing interest. At Mullion there was an important fishing centre, so important that Lord Robartes had, on his own, and out of his own pocket, paid out something like £15,000 for the building of piers to make it a fishing harbour. Lower down, on the coast, there was the Lizard Village and a fishing cove, whilst on the eastern side were Ruan Minor and the important fishing village of Cadgwith, which was one of the principal fishing centres in that part of Cornwall. There were other fishing villages further round, Porthallow and Coverack, but they were not so directly affected.

This map shows the Proposed Railway line, starting NE side of Helston,
looping east above the Goonhilly Downs and down to The Lizard (click to enlarge

Continued July 2017:

There were good fisheries of the best class of fish and the effect of the isolated position was such that the fishermen took turbot and other high class fish in considerable quantities and it was not an uncommon thing for the fishermen to use them for bait in their crab pots because they could not send them away. Lord Robartes’ expenditure at Mullion Cove showed the existence of the fishery there and the desirability of promoting it. There were also numerous places in the district  which were tourist attractions and where people wanted to get to the coast to live. Mullion, for instance, was a very great centre of attraction to people who sought a pleasant place to live.

The dairy factory system had also been introduced and was within a few hundred yards of the proposed railway. There was also the experimental fruit farm of the Cornwall Council. At the Lizard itself there was a great tract of land where the geological formation was such that the outcrop was Serpentine rock that was not worked at the present time except by the people there who made smaller objects but it was a stone of high value iif it could be got at and sent away. There was also brick clay in great quantities. The district is about 37,000 acres in area and a resident population of about 5,580 which, during the summer, is increased by about 1,000 visitors.

The proposed railway was an easy and cheap railway. With regard to industries, he would like to mention broccoli growing. The growers would tell them that they could grow broccoli of greater weight and value than anybody else in Cornwall, the soil was deep and had not been at all exhausted by past cultivation and they had a very great advantage in this respect. The Broccoli land was worth about £40 an acre , but it cost about £15 an acre to deliver the broccoli say to Sheffield. Further they could only send a certain quantity because of the distance and time taken in cartage and they said that if they had a railway they could send at least five times more than they did. Much of the land was also suitable for the growing of strawberries, just as well, if not more than the land in East Cornwall.

There was also the question of the supplies into the district.   For instance the coal for the lighthouse at the Lizard had now to be carried by road. This was not a new scheme, for the original plan for a railway into the Meneage district was 30 to 50 years old. There had been a railway at Helston since 1887 and the station was designed and laid out by Mr Suvanus Jenkin with the idea of an extension to the Lizard and the level was such as would admit of a direct extension, the junction would be at the existing station and from there it went with very easy gradients to the Lizard Village. The cost of the railway was estimated to be £5,500 per mile. No County Roads would be interfered with, there was not one level crossing over a public road, no tunnels, the line would run along the natural level of the land.

As proposed the railway would start with an arch across the Goldolphin Road, then along the Wendron side of Cloggy lane, with the first station at Dobson’s Gap where there were several cross roads and it would be advantageous to Gweek, Gunwallow and the village of Cury. The second station was at Griglow Green, near the double lodges, so as to tap Mawgan, St Martin and St Keverne.. The railway would then go across Goonhilly to Penhale and Meaver with the third station for Mullion. The fourth station was near the Ebenezer Chapel in Ruan Minor but on the right hand side of the Lizard road and it might be used for reaching Kynance Cove. The terminus would be at the Lizard in a field near the Free Methodist Chapel.

Colonel Baughley, one of the Commissioners, then asked Sir James Szumpler, the engineer ‘You have gone out of your way to avoid level crossings’ whereupon Sir John replied ‘I do not think level crossings are desirable if, with easy expenditure, they can be avoided. 18 or 20 miles per hour would be the maximum speed. There are no engineering difficulties’

Mr Bolitho, a fisherman from Cadgwith, said that at present they used turbot, brill, cod, plaice, Pollock sole and everything that comes up for bait for crab pots. The crabs were kept alive and taken away by boat. If they had a railway by which the fish could be taken away the fist buyers would come there.

The number of landowners was small, none of whom opposed the railway. It was proposed to work the line in conjunction with the G.W.R. The caused the chairman to ask if there would be any difficulty in raising the capital. The solicitor representing the promoters replied that he was not aware that promises from people in the locality have been asked for yet. In his opinion everybody would be willing to invest some money to carry out the proposed scheme.

The chairman, in his final remarks, said ‘that it was quite evident that there was considerable support for the railway and they had great pleasure in recommending to the Board of Trade to make the Light Railway Order asked for.

Capital for the proposed railway was not forthcoming which meant no work had been done. Under the terms of the order the compulsory purchase of the land required had to be completed by April 21st 1901 and the railway had to be built by April 1903. The only remedy open to the promoters was to seek an order from the Light Railway Commissioners to complete the land purchase by April 1903 and the works to be finished by April 1905, and such an order was sought, due notice being advertised in the West Briton newspaper for October 25th 1900.

A scheme had been proposed by Sir Hiram Maxim to work the line by electric power, but the railway’s directors were of the opinion that steam power was better, cheaper, and more suitable for working this railway and so the idea was dropped.

When the railway was first planned there were no level crossings, all the roads being crossed by bridges, but, with a view to saving money, a later inquiry was held to seek the Board of Trade making an order to permit the railway to substitute level crossings for these bridges. They were all to be open level crossings, with no gates, [which would have required a man stationed there to work the gates] Now it was quite in order for a light railway to have unmanned level crossings, but the trains had to reduce their speed to 10 m.p.h. and sound the whistle and a notice placed by the road some 30 yards from the crossing warning all users of the road to beware of the trains on the crossing.

An interesting legal case was reported in The Cornishman for May 1905. It seems that an order was given to Messrs James N. Tozer and Sons to construct the line. However, they quickly realised that no money was forthcoming and the contract was handed over to The Works Syndicate, for agreed to carry out the work for £1,500 cash and 1,000 fully paid up shares. This was agreed on the understanding that the local landlords would give the railway 66% of the necessary land and £10,000 share capital would be created. That never materialised and the company sought to recover the small expenses that had incurred in the preliminary work, but to no avail.


In August 1903 readers  of the West Briton newspaper read that the Great Western Railway have now started running motor car trips from Helston to the Lizard on a regular daily basis. The Helston Branch was, until 1897, still a railway company in its own right, although worked by the Great Western for a percentage of the income received.  There was nothing new in this, quite a few lines were run on such a basis, but in 1897 the Great Western bought the Helston Railway Co, although they only paid 33% of the cost of building the line.

It could well be that the Great Western was fed up with the failed attempts to build the Lizard Light Railway and they went for the cheaper alternative No doubt they wished to develop the tourist traffic to the Lizard, and which was an area very suitable for the trials, the nearest station being some 10-11 miles away, a district very popular in the summer compared to the winter traffic.

The Great Western’s General Manager felt he could not let the opportunity pass by and, receiving the authority from the Directors he went ahead and obtained two coaches.  One for running the service, the other one to be held in case of breakdown or excursion parties. They were built by Milnes-Damlier Co at a cost of £800 each. They had four forward gears and a reverse gear, the top speed being between 12-16 M.P.H. They were fitted with a 14 gallon petrol tank which enabled the bus to run for 140-150 miles. They also had three specially strong brakes including a tyre brake for emergencies [solid tyres were fitted] Each seated 16 passengers inside, with another two being allowed to sit with the driver. The drivers had been specially selected, and were under strict instructions to show every consideration for other traffic on the road and to avoid accidents with restless horses.

The timetable allowed for three trips a day. The fixed stops were at Dobson’s Gap for Gunwallow, Cury Cross lanes for Cury, Penhale for Mullion, Ruan Crossroads for Cadgwith, but drivers could pick passengers up anywhere along the road. The service was:-

Helston dept. 7.05 a.m. 11.35 a.m. 4.05 p.m.
Lizard Arrive 8.20 a.m. 12.50 p.m. 5.20 p.m.
Lizard dept. 8.35 a.m. 2.35 p.m. 6.00 p.m.
Helston Arrive 9.50 a.m. 3.50 p.m. 7.15 p.m.

From Helston the fares were:

To Dobson’s Gap 6d and to Helston 6d
To Cury X Lanes 9d 9d
To Penhale 1/- 1/-
To Ruan Croads 1/3 1/3
To the Lizard 1/6 1/6



An Account of a proposed Cornish Railway, but never built.