The Architect of the station masters house was Sir William Tite, who designed famous buildings such as the London Exchange, as well as many other railway buildings. Opened in 1854 by the North Devon railway company the Station house has seen much use during is 155 years. Sadly the last 20 odd years have seen the building derelict and vandalised, which left it an a very poor state and an eyesore for the railway and Barnstaple.
We understand that Mr G. Boundy was the last Station Master to use the house, although we have yet to confirm this. The house consists of three floors and a cellar which was a bomb shelter for the home guard during World War II. Some of the benches are still in situ.
Indeed Barnstaple Junction was a hive of activity during WWII, mainly due to the d-day practise areas and also the secret work undertaken on Westward Ho! Beach a short distance away. A brief film clip of Barnstaple station has recently been unearthed from the American war archives, showing a Russian military group walking along the main platform. Two other war time persons of note to have used or passed through the station were General Eisenhower and Sir Winston Churchill. The most prominent recent visitors were the Queen and Prince Philip on the Royal Train during the 1960s.
Its last railway use was as for offices for BR staff working on the removal of the line to Bideford, something probably not even in the worst nightmares of those who originally built the station house.
After several years planning and paperwork, construction works finally began on 7th May 2008 and were handed back in early August. Structurally the building was very sound despite its near two decades of neglect, unfortunately the internal parts of the building were not in such good repair. Some joists were replaced, the old kitchen demolished due to severe damage caused by an arson attack, and two floors strengthened with steel supports due to warping caused by a bathroom on the 1st floor being incorrectly installed. Obviously all services and wiring had to be put in from scratch.
One of our key aims was to restore the building into use, as much as possible to look like it did in its original form, some compromises had to be made to meet today’s strict building regulations for public buildings, but better this then to see the building eventually knocked down from dis-repair. Other alterations internally were made to suit the operational needs of a working café.
August 14th saw the first opening day to the public the new freesat and HD screens proved a popular asset for those interested in the Beijing Olympic games. Although Barnstaple is the only railway station to serve Northern Devon, with its booming tourist trade thousands of whom arrive each year by train, the overall station and particularly the station house had been forgotten in the mists of time.
The last investment took place in the early 1980’s with a newly revamped booking hall and information centre. The Tarka line is now one of the fastest growing lines in the South West, and in the last year the station has started to get the attention and investment it both desperately needed and deserved.
Network Rail and First Great Western are currently undertaking improvements to the station, which will pull the whole station area into a much friendly and useful facility. The Tarka Rail Association (www.tarkarail.org) have recently signed a licence to undertaken cosmetic works to the redundant island platform 2 & 3 from Network Rail, this is one of the first projects of its type in the country. The hope is to make the island platform a much better welcome to all the station users, than is currently the case.
If you have any more information on the station masters house, be it notes, photos, names of its inhabitants we would be most pleased to hear from you either by email of in person. We would dearly love to put more “flesh” on the bones of the history of the station masters house.