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Listed Building
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Teignbridge (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SX 97741 81752


KENTON THE STRAND, Starcross SX 9681-9781

14/268 The Starcross Pumping House (formerly listed as Pumping 11.11.52 Station)


Pumping house of the South Devon Atmospheric Railway, projected to run between Exeter and Plymouth. 1845, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the South Devon Railway Company. Ashlar red sandstone with Bath stone dressings; hipped Roman tile roof(a 1980s replacement of the original); massive brick chimney built within a rectangular sandstone ashlar tower, tower and chimney reduced in height by 50 foot after storm damage in the late C19. Italianate, the style of all the pumping houses on the line. Plan: L plan, with the chimney in the angle between the 2 blocks. The west block contained the boilers, the beam engine was contained in a taller block to the east. The construction of the chimney, built without scaffolding, is said to be a unique survival. After the economic failure of the atmospheric line in 1848 various alterations to the pumping house were carried out including adaptation of the west block as an engine shed for steam locomotives. In 1869 the east block was partly converted for use as a Wesleyan Chapel until 1950 (Stell). The building was semi- derelict until 1981 when it was sold away from British Rail, repaired and opened as museum of the Atmospheric Railway. Exterior: West block single-storey, east block 2 storey. Impressive external details with variation to the heavy stone window surrounds. The east block, with 2 tiers of windows, has a deep plinth, a moulded string below the upper windows and deep eaves with a moulded eaves cornice carried on well-detailed moulded stone brackets. Symmetrical 1 window north elevation with a 2-leaf door with glazed fanlight below a round-headed window with a stone sill, a keystone and projecting jambs with bases and capitals. Paired first floor window with a stone sill on brackets, keystones and eared architraves. Asymmetrical 3-bay east elevation, the left hand lower tier window with a sill on brackets, a moulded cornice and left and right windows with keyblocks with a rounded niche in the centre. 3 first floor windows with keyblocks, stone sills and eared architraves, identical to the first floor windows in the other elevations. Blocked round-headed doorway to the left. The south elevation has a ground floor doorway with heavy moulded architrave with a keystone and windows above identical to those in the north elevation. The west block has a lower roofline and plinth. The north elevation has 3 windows, a central tripartite window with a stone sill on brackets, moulded architrave and keystones, flanked by similar one light windows. The south elevation has 2 2-light windows with stone sills on brackets and keystones. The west gable end, originally symmetrical, was altered after the atmospheric railway was closed but preserves an original round-headed doorway to the left with a recessed rusticated Bath stone arch with a keystone. Round-headed upper opening blocked. To the right a tall round-headed opening dates from the period when building was adapted as an engine shed for steam locomotives. The tower, rectangular on plan and treated as a companile, has a deep plinth and rusticated quoins between the plinth and moulded string course with clasping pilasters above and pilasters in the centre of each face. The south and west elevations have round-headed slit windows with keystones and voussoirs above the plinth and similar windows without voussoirs lighting the spiral stair round the chimney. The tower was originally crowned with a heavy cornice on moulded brackets. Interior: No machinery survives but the shell of the building is intact including the roof trusses: queen post and strut to the boiler house, king post over the taller block with original iron ties. Many details survive to indicate the original function of the building: the duct that carried smoke from the boilers to the chimney; recesses cut into the walls of the taller block for the flywheel, and the original massive crossbeams in the taller block, supported on corbels. These were used for access to the upper parts of the machinery before they were used to support a floor. The chimney, the only existing one of its type, was erected without scaffolding. The cylindrical brick shaft is enclosed by a spiral stair with slate steps that allowed both shaft and tower to be built simultaneously without scaffolding. Other features associated with the pumping house, including a massive water tank, exist below ground and are of historic and archaeological interest. Starcross is the only complete Pumping House to survive from the 3 operational atmospheric lines in the British Isles. The only other surviving artefacts from the short-lived South Devon Atmospheric Railway are 2 sections of atmospheric tubing, one held by the museum, another by the museum at Swindon. Brunel's son is said to have destroyed many of the papers relating to his father's work on the railway, on the basis that the scheme reflected poorly on the reputation of his father (information from owner of the museum). A building of considerable architectural distinction (and suprisingly well-preserved considering its history between 1848 and 1981) and of outstanding historic interest. The Italianate treatment of the chimney, five years before the publication of Ruskin's Stones of Venice, reflects Brunel's "consciousness of design and current architectural ideas" (Douet) and the only other example of the winding stair constructon for a chimney known to date is Thomas Cubitt's Thamesbanks works (1846), demolished. An account of the railway, including 2 views of the pumping station when the tower and chimney were complete, is given in Charles Hadfield's Atmospheric Railways (1985). Information on the chimney from Jim Douet, unpublished notes.

Listing NGR: SX9774181756


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Hadfield, C, Atmospheric Railways - A Victorian Venture in Silent Speed, (1985)
Stell, C, An Inventory of Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting Houses in South West England, (1991)
Douet, Jim , Notes on the Chimney at The Starcross Pumping House Starcross Devon,


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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Date: 18 Apr 2002
Reference: IOE01/04830/11
Rights: © Mr Robert Vickery. Source: Historic England Archive
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