All aboard for 1871 – celebrating 150 years of Okehampton’s railway – UPDATE

Public Dinner in Fore Street, Okehampton, for 500 to 600 guests on 30th August, 1871, marking completion of the line from Okehampton Road (nowadays Sampford Courtenay) to Okehampton.

While work to reopen the Dartmoor Line between Okehampton and Exeter later this year continues, over the coming weeks, as reported in the last edition of The Moorlander, a programme of events and exhibitions will celebrate 150 years since the railway first arrived in Okehampton.

They will include an exhibition of historic photographs in the town’s Charter Hall, displays in Okehampton shop windows and the Museum of Dartmoor Life accompanied by street banners, flags and bunting all leading up to the anniversary weekend itself, Saturday, 2nd and Sunday, 3rd October.

On Saturday, the Charter Hall will host a Victorian tea party to which all are invited. Victorian dress will be encouraged. The plan is that this will look back to 1871 and indeed beyond that to the Parliamentary debate which led to approving the building of the line in 1862.

The tea party will start at 10am and run until 1pm. Doors will open to the general public at 9.30 and an ‘urchin’ will be at the main door handing out free copies of a ‘Victorian’ interpretation of The Moorlander which will also be available throughout the town over the weekend. On the Sunday, which is the actual anniversary of the first public train to arrive at Okehampton, there will be a broad recreation of the events of 1871 which will start outside the Town Hall in Fore Street at 2pm. The Okehampton Silver Band will play a melody of music before the party moves to the station where there will be a ceremony and the presentation of a Golden token/key to the ‘Station Master’.

The programme is being masterminded by Cllr Paul Vachon with the help of a small committee chaired by Cllr Dr Michael Ireland and assisted by Richard Burningham, manager of the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership who is a veteran of similar celebrations across the Devon and Cornwall branch lines.

Cllr Vachon said: “I think this is a really fun event for the townsfolk to take part in a very significant period of Okehampton’s history. We are inviting people to embrace the spirit of 1871 by becoming ‘Victorians’ for the weekend of celebration.”

Cllr Ireland said: “Working with the Okehampton 150 team has shown me what can be achieved when we all work together to celebrate this important anniversary of the opening of the railway to the town. 2021 will be a transformative year for Okehampton and its rural hinterland with the reinstatement of a seven-day-a-week rail service to connect with the national network.”

Richard Burningham said: “It is so great that we can celebrate the 150th anniversary of trains in Okehampton at a time when the full reopening of the Dartmoor Line to Exeter is just a matter of weeks away. My thanks particularly to Paul Vachon for putting together a great programme and to everyone who is helping make sure we have a fine celebration of this important event in the town’s history.”

Local schoolchildren will be involved in the celebrations, thanks to the Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust that runs schools in the town and wider hinterland. Children will write poems and design artwork, including special bunting.
Melissa Trudgill, Community Engagement Manager, Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust, said: “It is a real pleasure to work on town events with community groups and local councils, which create lasting links and partnerships between our schools and their community. We are really looking forward to this celebration weekend.”

A full itinerary of the weekend’s celebrations will be published in the next edition of The Moorlander.

One note of caution is that COVID-19 may still be a big factor by the time of the event, so organisers will ensure advisory information is available and ask all participants to observe and adhere to any precautionary measures requested.

Details of the 150th Anniversary celebrations will also be made available on www.dartmoorline.com, the official project website for the reopening. This is packed with information, photos and videos about the work being undertaken to reopen Okehampton’s railway and is very regularly updated. After a near 50-year gap, year-round, regular services between Okehampton and Exeter are set to start by the end of the year as part of the Government’s ‘Restoring Your Railway’ programme.

Author: Eric Partridge

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