Bristol to Penzance





The railways did not stop at Bristol and Brunel did anything but rest on his laurels. He had many more projects to keep him busy - not least of all extending the railway to the far south west of England and figuring out how and where to construct a bridge across the Tamar, bearing in mind that Plymouth was then, as now, a major navy base. The Tamar was navigable by smaller vessels as far as Launceston, therefore the bridge constructed would have to allow for frequent and ever expanding river traffic. Brunel would know more than anyone the possible dimensions for ships in the future. There were also problems in finding a suitable 'landing' place for the bridge on the Cornish side. The result was a single track construction which had to incorporate a rather tight bend to reach a level link towards Saltash. Prince Albert was there to witness the opening of this great bridge in 1859, once again showing support for this amazing engineer. Sadly, this was to be the last of Brunel's projects that he could oversee to the end as he died soon after its opening. We can only imagine what other great feats he could have achieved.


Photograph of the first tower of Tamar Bridge citing I K Brunel Engineer 1859 and with a view along the track

(For more indepth information click the photograph)

During the Summer of 2005 I was fortunate enough to take a train journey to visit a cousin in Liskeard and crossed this famous landmark for the first time.
Still very much in use, even though as can be seen is only a single track - the trains have to slow to about jogging pace to make it through the bend safely.

I also learned that it was another 100 years before the road bridge was constructed.!!

The first locomotive test runs of the Great Western from 1840's averaged between twenty-eight and thirty-three and a half miles an hour. Time and speed were the driving forces as the company developed and extended routes.

Photograph of early GWR passenger carriage

Passenger comfort was not really the priority. These pioneer trains had basic coach-like vehicles for first and second class passengers, while third class passengers travelled in an open truck with a few cross planks for seating.

The people who frequently used the stage-coach or chaise were the prospective first and second class passenger group.
If superior class of carriage was provided, and it proved to be less hazardous than the stage-coach, then these particular passengers would choose to travel by train.

Map showing GWR route Bristol - Taunton - Exeter - Plymouth - Falmouth - Penzance

There was yet another problem facing the GWR in their bid to rail link Penzance to London. All of their track was broad gauge. Brunel had thought that with a broader guage journeys would be quicker and more comfortable for passengers but the GWR was the only company to use it. Thirty years after Brunel's death, the company had to bow to government pressure to convert all their existing track.

The last section to Penzance already used a narrow gauge, meaning passengers had to alight at Falmouth, take a short carriage ride before continuing their journey on another train.



The "Cornishman" Express was the last train to leave Paddington running on the broad gauge track 20th May 1892.

The Cornishman Express ready to leave Paddington

Over the next two days it took 5000 men to convert over 170 miles of track to narrow gauge.


Richard James Colenso 1852 - 1934


William Colenso
1784 - 1832

Elizabeth Davis
1788 - 1859




Edward Colenso
1826 - 1897

Jane Hosking
1830 - 1912

Richard James 1852 - 1934

Edward 1856 - 1857

Harriet 1861 - 1863

William John 1853 - 1921

Edith Jane 1858 -

Hannah 1863 -

Thomas Henry 1855 - 1906

Edward 1860 - 1882

Elizabeth 1866 - 1867


Richard James Colenso was the eldest child of Edward Colenso and Jane Hosking.

Edward, like his brothers, spent most of his working life in Tin, first as a miner 1841, then a dresser 1850 1851 1861 1871, and smelter 1852. When in his 50's Edward became an agent for selling coal. He would have experienced and witnessed great hardship, working long hours for little return, and as many parents before and since, Edward wanted his children to have a better life. None of his sons worked in the mines. Richard James was an iron chipper but soon became a railway porter; William John was a baker and emigrated to Australia; Thomas Henry was a boiler maker and also emigrated to Australia, and Edward was a porter like his eldest brother but died as a young man. Similarly, the girls married none miners. Edith Jane first married Robert Walker (Pianoforte maker, Accountant, and Railway Clerk) and after his death Edith married Thomas Alfred Williams (Station Master). Her younger sister Hannah married William Henry Laity (Grocer).

Richard James started out as a Railway Porter in the 1870's. It was not long before he was promoted to Foreman, a position he maintained for about twenty years. As Foreman Porter, Richard James Colenso would have been waiting with his team when the first through train from London arrived at Penzance.

A railway porter was a very responsible person, requiring politeness, a willingness to serve, efficiency, care, cleanliness, pride in appearance and uniform, a friendly disposition and above all, trustworthy. Over time, Richard would have known, by name, all the 'regulars' who travelled to and from Penzance. He would have been a party to many comings and goings, but like any person in service, he would keep his observations to himself. He and his team would be akin to a friendly welcoming party. Lessons would be given on how to address certain people of varying importance, with acceptable levels of 'polite conversational banter' perhaps enquiring of the weather in London, if the Prime Minister was looking well or the latest news from South Africa and other parts of the globe. More importantly would be to know to avoid particular topics where certain travellers were concerned. Of course it was customary to use the services of a porter and also to tip them. It was in the porter's own interest to show utmost respect and concern for their clients and their luggage, collecting and depositing all accordingly, without fuss, if they were to secure a personal bonus in this way.

Rail travel had become all the rage! The popularity of people wanting to travel to the seaside resorts for days out, weekend breaks, and longer holidays meant that GWR had to spend the next few years making all routes in the southwest double track, developing a longer carriage design which could accommodate more comfort for the passengers, including heating and lighting. In turn, more efficient engines had to be designed and built to pull these carriages. The average travel time from London to Penzance was six and a half hours, which was amazing enough. Soon there would be a through service from Aberdeen to Penzance taking 22 hours!


William Colenso
1784 - 1832

Elizabeth Davis
1788 - 1859

William Tyack



John Colenso
1814- 1868

Mary Tyack
1821- 1900

William 1840 - 1840

Mary 1844 - 1887

Emily 1850 - 1937

Henry 1856 -

William 1841 -

John 1846 -

Richard 1854 - 1857

Edwin 1860 - 1940


John Rodda - Engineer 1881 GWR (1841 - 1892)

John and Mary Rodda lived here on the left in
Walpole Street Melcombe Regis Weymouth.
Not far to go to work! A 90 degree turn to the right shows Weymouth Railway Station on the right hand side.

Photograph of Radipole Street with Weymouth Railway Station on the right hand side

Photograph of Walpole Street Weymouth
The Great Western Railway was wide gauge (7ft wide track) until 1892, when it was converted to standard gauge


Weymouth & Portland Railway

The line was authorised as part of the Act of Parliament for the Weymouth & Portland Railway. It was constructed to mixed gauge and jointly available to the LSWR and the GWR. However the LSWR were not involved directly with the day to day operation of the quay line and to all intents and purposes it was a GWR line.

Goods traffic commenced on 16 Oct 1865 and ran until 1 Jul 1940 when it was terminated due to the war and the German occupation of the Channel Islands.

Passenger traffic commenced on 4 Aug 1889 (Approx) to 9 Sep 1939  

Melcombe Regis - Weymouth's other station. Gerry Beale. 145-57.

The Weymouth & Portland Railway was opened on 16 October 1865 and was operated jointly by the LSWR and GWR. It was difficult to operate as trains had to leave Weymouth station and then they had to run-round before leaving for Portand as the Board of Trade did not trains to be propelled. There were complaints from senior Naval officers, one of which is reproduced, about delays to their crews, and these delays were magnified when the breakwater was completed and fleets couild be stationed there. In 1904 the two railways agreed to renew the viaduct and this was completed on 1 February 1909. Melcombe Regis station was opened on 30 May 1909 to obviate reversal in the station approaches. The Borough Council developed Radipole Park Drive on reclaimed land and some of this land was used for Jubilee sidings.


1889Antelope 609 GWR (purchased Weymouth and Channel Islands Steam Packet Co. in 1888) Weymouth Built by Laird Brothers with two 1600hp engines could make 16 knots making this the faster service than L&SWT. Sold in 1914 to Greeks


1889 Gazelle 609 GWR (purchased Weymouth and Channel Islands Steam Packet Co. in 1888) Weymouth Built by Laird Brothers with two 1600hp engines could make 16 knots making this the faster service than L&SWT. Sold in 1925


1889 Lynx 609 GWR (purchased Weymouth and Channel Islands Steam Packet Co. in 1888) Weymouth Built by Laird Brothers with two 1600hp engines could make 16 knots making this the faster service than L&SWT. Sold in 1925


1891 Ibex GWR Weymouth Built by Laird Brothers

photo jpegWeymouth Pier & Pavilion Train GWR arriving Steamer Ibex Built 1891 1150 tons

at the Pier side waiting for passengers for the Channel Isles 1917

1897 Reindeer GWR Weymouth Built by Laird Brothers. Sold to scrappers in 1928

photo bitmap Steamer SS Reindeer Ferry Built 1897 1281 tons at Weymouth Pier 1902



1897 Roebuck GWR Weymouth Built by Laird Brothers. Renamed Roedean & sunk by torpedoed at Scapa Flow in 1915



1851 Wilts Somerset & Weymouth Railway [inc 1845 .... opened 1848]



AfricaBritain Index