Arthur Westlake Museum reopening
A ceremony was held at Okehampton station on Saturday 15th August 2015 to mark the official opening of the Arthur Westlake Museum. It brought together community representatives and DRSA volunteers with some of the men who worked on the railway during the days of steam.
The museum is named for Arthur Westlake, who was born in 1918 and began his career with the Southern Railway aged just 15. He worked his way up to become a driver, and used to drive steam locomotives over the North Cornwall line through Okehampton to places including Bude and Padstow. Later he became area manager at Okehampton station, and worked hard to keep the line to Okehampton open when it was threatened with closure. Sadly Arthur passed away in 2011, but his efforts helped ensure that the line and station are still here today.
Arthur’s son, Devon County Councillor Richard Westlake MBE was the guest of honour at the ceremony. Richard followed his father onto the railways and became a train driver himself, eventually driving HSTs between London and the southwest. Other former local railwaymen Gerald Smallacombe, Les Glidden, Len Phare and Terry Midgley participated in the event, and provided a fund of fascinating anecdotes about life on Okehampton's railway.
Former local railwaymen (l to r) Terry Midgley, Leonard Phare, Les Glidden, Gerald Smallacombe and Richard Westlake
Also in attendance were representatives of Okehampton Town Council, owners of the line Aggregate Industries, Okehampton United Charities, and Okehampton's Museum of Dartmoor Life. We were pleased to welcome the renowned railway photographer and former railwayman Colin Marsden, who freely contributed to John Caesar's research into Lab 11's history, and Dave Trant, without whose engineering skills Lab 11 wouldn't have a generator. The event was an opportunity to thank the DRSA Carriage & Wagon and Station Maintenance volunteers who contributed to the refurbishment of the museum and Lab 11.
After an introduction by the Reverend Philip Wagstaff, DRSA's acting Chairman, Okehampton's deputy mayor Councillor Jan Goffey said a few words about the value of the railway to Okehampton. Richard Westlake then spoke about his father's life on Okehampton's railway. He and his father watched in 1972 when the last train left Okehampton station before passenger services ceased, and he expressed the wish that passenger trains will once again regularly visit the town. Councillors Goffey and Westlake then unveiled the plaque on the museum door.
Rev Philip Wagstaff's introductory remarks to the museum ceremony guests
l to r: Councillor Richard Westlake, Councillor Jan Goffey, Reverend Philip Wagstaff
Richard Westlake unveils the Arthur Westlake Museum plaque
Photographer: Jon Kelsey
The party then moved along the platform to Laboratory 11, a unique railway carriage formerly used by British Railways for research. DRSA acquired the coach in 2011 with the assistance of the Okehampton United Charity, and then carried out a 3 year restoration, returning it to its BREL orange and blue livery and fitting out the interior as a lounge for events such as this one. It entered service in 2015. The chairman of OUC, Allenton Fisher, praised the efforts of DRSA's volunteers, both in restoring the carriage, and in keeping the town's historic railway station in such good condition. He spoke of the fruitful relationship between OUC and DRSA, before unveiling a plaque commemorating the endeavours of the DRSA volunteers, and the financial contribution of OUC and the anonymous benefactor who funded the restoration work.
Allenton Fisher, chairman of Okehampton United Charity, speaking about the Lab 11 restoration
Allenton Fisher unveils the Lab 11 plaque
The Lab 11 plaque
Seated at the tables in Lab 11, the attendees then enjoyed tea and cake, reminisced about Okehampton's railway past and pondered its future. An enjoyable day was completed by travelling on the scheduled Granite Line/DRSA service to Meldon on class 205 Thumper 1118, where they admired the magnificent views from the viaduct, and the station's smart new Meldon Viaduct running in board.
Tea and cake in Lab 11
The guests disembark at Meldon
The event was the brainchild of Museum Administrator John Caesar, and was planned and executed by a group of DRSA volunteers too numerous to mention, to all of whom we extend our gratitude. Our grateful thanks are also due to Granite Line Ltd for providing a free return trip to Meldon for the guests, to Mary Trant for the tremendous cakes, and to the BARS crew who pulled out all the stops to ensure Lab 11 was back at Okehampton in time for the event.
(note, at the time of the reopening, DRA was known as DRSA, i.e. the Dartmoor Railway Supporters' Association)