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Local history

You are in: Devon > History > Local history > Capturing Devon's railway history

A train at Starcross in 1957 (Peter Gray)

Train near Starcross, 1957 (Peter Gray)

Capturing Devon's railway history

Peter Gray has spent 60 years photographing trains and railway stations in Devon, creating an archive of images which depict a landscape which has largely disappeared.

When Peter Gray started taking photos of railways in the South West, he had an inkling he was capturing scenes which would soon become a part of history.

Peter, from Torquay, began taking pictures of trains in the late 1940s, and it seemed he was born into it.

"Both my parents worked in the railways," explained Peter. "My father started work at Paddington Station in 1908 when he was 16. Then when his father moved down to Teignmouth in 1922, he was transferred to the Torquay station booking office.

"That's where he met my mother, who had worked there since 1915. She joined the service to help out during the First World War.

Peter Gray

Peter Gray

"So yes, you could say I was born into it and it's hardly surprising I've always had an interest in the railways."

Peter took his first train photos in Basra, of all places: "I was called up in 1945-48 and served in Basra, which was a British protectorate. It was very quiet and quite boring actually - not like it is out there now.

"A lot of English train engines went out there to help supply lines to Russia during the war, and they were still there.

"That's when I took my first photos because I spotted two engines at Basra station.

"I didn't have a camera so I borrowed one from one of the other lads and decided then I needed to buy myself a camera.

Yelverton to Princetown train 1956 (Peter Gray)

Last day for the Yelveton-Princetown train, 1956

"We used to develop our films in a dish of developer at the billet, which was certainly a learning process. It was difficult to get it right at first.

"When I returned home in 1948, I decided I would get out and about at weekends (he worked in the accounts department at SWEB during the week), taking photos of trains - largely in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset.

"Everyone at first thought it would go on forever, but to me, it became evident this would change.

" I realised I was recording something which would be lost so I decided to photograph as much as I could.

"I knew the writing was on the wall when the line to Princetown closed in 1956.

Thorverton Station (Peter Gray)

Peter's favourite station, Thorverton (Peter Gray)

"I thought well, if they can close such a lovely line like that, it was obvious nothing was safe. It was just a matter of which lines would go first."

Peter, took hundreds and hundreds of pictures of stations which have long since gone, such as Halwill Junction, Kingsbridge, Torrington, and his own favourite, Thorverton.

But he wishes now that he had taken more: "There were quite a few Saturdays in the early 1950s when I went to watch Torquay United instead, when I could have been out taking more photographs.

"I bought a new camera in 1955 which was very much better than my previous one, so I starting taking more photos at that point because the results I was getting was so much better.

"I was doing all black and white until 1957, when I started taking colour photos as well - but not many at first because it was expensive. A 36 exposure film cost 36 shillings, so it was a shilling a shot which was a lot of money in those days."

"I realised I was recording something which would be lost so I decided to photograph as much as I could. "

Peter Gray

And then, in 1963, along came Dr Richard Beeching and his report which proposed the closure of almost a third of the rail network nationally.

"It has to be said a lot of the lines had to go," said Peter.

"In fact some of the lines should never have been built in the first place because they were never going to be viable. They were serving such small places

"But some of the lines could have been retained, and should have been retained, I think."

Peter has had eight books of his train photos published, and can still be spotted alongside railway tracks, camera in hand: "I still get out and take photos," he said.

"They are all colour slides these days - I haven't taken black and white photos since about 1970. Those days are gone." Just like the steam trains and railway tracks he used to photograph.

You can see some of Peter's work by clicking onto the photo gallery linked on this page.

last updated: 16/10/2008 at 16:29
created: 13/10/2008

You are in: Devon > History > Local history > Capturing Devon's railway history

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