Our story begins in 1898
The Inn was originally one of the main stations on the Lynton-Barnstaple railway. A narrow gauge steam railway that operated from 1898 until its closure in 1935. We are situated at Blackmoor Gate which is roughly midway between Lynton and Barnstaple, Ilfracombe and South Molton. About ten miles in each direction and approximately 1,000 feet above sea level on the edge of the National Park Exmoor.
The main occupation in this area is, and always has been, sheep farming. Across the road from here is the Blackmoor Gate market where frequent Monday morning sheep sales still take place.
This part of the country is also well known as hunting country, for the fox and the stag. A big meet is traditionally held at The Old Station House Inn on Boxing Day.
Prior to the motorisation of transport the main mode of travel was by horse. Stagecoaches pulled by four or six horses were operating between Lynton and Barnstaple and from Lynton to Minehead. Some coaches also came to Blackmoor Gate from Ilfracombe. The trip from Lynton to Barnstaple cost 5/6d single and 7/- return and would take three hours each way.
In 1885 the wealthy couple, Sir George and Lady Newnes visited North Devon and fell in love with Lynton, as many people do. They soon had a house built near the Valley of the Rocks called Hollerday House (burnt down in 1913). Sir George was an affluent publisher and Liberal MP for Newmarket. His name is still well known in the publishing world. His three very successful publications were: ‘Pall Mall’, ‘The Strand’ (which became very popular when printing the stories of Sherlock Holmes ), and a periodical called ‘Tit-Bits’. If you happen to own a first edition copy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ published in 1902 by George Newnes please take good care of the book, it is worth around £92,000 on today’s market!
Sir George funded the building of Lynton town hall and also the Cliff Railway which connected Lynton and Lynmouth. Running entirely on water the railway is still working today one hundred years later. He also invested in the hydroelectric plant on the East Lyn river thus ensuring Lynton became one of the first towns in England to use electrical lighting.
Sir George was the entrepreneur of the 1890’s, he was the Richard Branson of the period. Not unlike Branson he invested in railways. He proposed to build a railway from Lynton to Barnstaple. The line would be nineteen miles long with over eighty bridges, a viaduct and many cuttings. The job was put out to tender and an offer of just over £42,000 was accepted from Nutall’s of Manchester.
A second firm tendered for the work but their offer to build the line was rejected. Instead they were given the job to build three railway stations: Lynton, Woody Bay and here at Blackmoor Gate. These stations were built in the ‘Nuremberg’ style.
The Blackmoor station consisted of two platforms (not raised) and a station building on the upline side, with two waiting rooms, a ticket office and a refreshment room. The double storey section was for private accommodation with a kitchen and parlour on the ground floor.
The railway was opened in 1898, twelve months later than schedule, and due to the escalating costs of the project the Nutalls firm went bankrupt and therefore could not honour any maintenance contracts for the line. From day one the Lynton-Barnstaple railway was running virtually at a financial loss.
The first train left on 14th March 1898 and the running time was one hour and fifty minutes reducing the travelling time set by the horse for this distance by over an hour.
There were three locomotives used on the narrow gauge and another was required. Unfortunately this was unobtainable from Manning Wardle of Leeds as their workers were on strike. However, an additional engine was purchased from Baldwin of Philadelphia U.S.A., shipped across the Atlantic and put together at Pilton Yard, Barnstaple. All four locomotives were named after local rivers: Yeo, Exe, Taw and Lyn.
The railway was not a financial success and in 1903 Sir George decided to try to increase passenger numbers by forming a motorised coach shuttle service from Ilfracombe. He purchased two motor coaches (very rare in 1903) from Milnes Daimler of Birkenhead. The number of passengers on the railway soon increased as the coaches to Blackmoor for the trains to Barnstaple made catching the train a lot easier. However it didn’t last long. One of the motor coaches was caught speeding at 8mph. This may sound unbelievable but remember the speed limit at the time was governed by the speed of the horse. Sir George was taken to court and fined three pounds. This upset Sir George to such an extent that he immediately sold the two coaches to G.W.R. for the link between Helston and The Lizard, the people of Ilfracombe were left to find their own way.
In 1910 Sir George died, a very sad loss for North Devon. strangely between 1910 and 1920 the railway attracted more passengers and freight service than ever before.
In early 1920 the financial losses increased. In 1923 it was decided to cut the losses and the railway was sold to Southern Railway. With the new owners sweeping changes were made, an additional locomotive was purchased from Manning Wardle, the lines were re-laid, fences and walls were repaired.
However the railway continued to run at a loss and in 1935 it was decided that the railway was never going to be viable and the railway was closed.
The last train left Blackmoor for Barnstaple on 29th September 1935. Soon after the buildings and lines were divided up into many lots for the auctioneers and in November 1935 everything was sold off.
The station building here at Blackmoor Gate was sold for £750. After some time it became a private residence, then it was turned into a tea room and finally the restaurant and bar you see today.
We hope you enjoy your time in North Devon and perhaps visit us to enjoy a meal in our restaurant, or have a drink in our garden and enjoy the view down the valley.
The Old Station House Inn,
Blackmoor Gate, Kentisbury, Devon, EX31 4NW
Tel 01598 763520