Richard Walter Wolston, 1799-1883

by | 19 Sep 2023

On a website devoted to commemorating the heritage of the Brixham Branch, it is fitting that there should be an article about the man who brought the railway to Brixham – Richard Walter Wolston.

Although Richard Walter Wolston was born in Bloomsbury, London in 1799, his family had been in Staverton, Devon since Saxon times.

Marriage to Maria Murly

Richard Wolston met Maria Murly, a lady from Merriott, Somerset and they were married in August 1825 at St Cuthbert’s, Wells, Somerset. The Marriage Licence is shown opposite.

Richard Wolston moved to Brixham soon after he married, he can be found listed in Pigot’s Directory 1830 as an Attorney with his practice in Fore Street. He became a Freemason, the first time he appears on their register is 1838.

Torbay Iron Paint Works

In 1841, Richard bought some land and a Windmill at Furzeham Common. It was there that the iron ore was discovered which enabled him to set up the Torbay Iron Paint Works. His son in law, a Chemist, discovered a formula that could be used to create rust proof paint.

Unfortunately, they neglected to patent the paint formula, which allowed a rival company to set up a successful  rival business in New Road, Brixham.

Richard Walter Wolston and Maria Murley marriage licence in the year 1825

Marriage Licence

Photo by kind permission of
Brixham Heritage Museum

The picture on the left shows the Torbay Iron Paint Works in the centre, with it’s tall chimney.  Iron Ore was sent from the building on the top of the cliffs down a chute to the Paint Works.

Robson’s Directory of 1839 lists Richard Wolston as ‘solicitor, merchant, ship owner and notary public’ living at Parkham Wood.

The picture (right) was taken between 1913 and 1919 when the Parkham Wood was a private residence.

Parkham Wood House, Brixham in the 1800's

Photo by kind permission of
Jane Brown

Home at Parkham Wood House

The 1851 Census (pictured right) lists the Wolston family at Parkham Wood, Richard and Maria’s children are Cleofe, Walter Thomas Prideaux, Zoe and Maria. 

A later 1861 Census shows Richard Wolston living in Liverpool as a businessman and lodger.

A page from the 1851 census, Brixham, recording the Wolston family at Parkham Wood

1851 Census

The South Devon Railway

The South Devon Railway at this time was only concerned about building a line to Kingswear, which would not cater for Brixham. Not content with this decision, Richard Wolston decided he would build a railway to Brixham from Churston.  Unfortunately, the contractor he commissioned to build the line defaulted and this left Richard Wolston to pay for the railway from his own pocket. This eventually led to his financial downfall.

The Torbay & Brixham Railway

The railway opened on 28th February 1868, using a Broad Gauge locomotive ‘Queen’, also purchased by Richard Wolston.

Queen only had small water tanks, so needed a ‘top up’ frequently. Richard Wolston had a pumping station installed in what is now Glenmore Road with permission to extract water from Bolton Leat, the water was then pumped up to Furzeham.


Queen, the first steam engine used on the Torbay & Brixham Railway in 1868


Richard’s Bankruptcy

Sadly, by 1871, Richard Wolston was declared Bankrupt. A copy of the hearing details from the London Gazette is below.

The Bankruptcy Act, 1869. In the County Court of Devonshire, holden at Exeter. In the Matter of Proceedings for Liquidation by Arrange* ment or Composition with Creditors, instituted by Richard Walter Wolston, of Brixham, in the county of Devon, Attorney and Solicitor, also carrying on business as a Lime Merchant and Paint Manufacturer.

A MEET ING of the creditors of the above-named Richard Walter Wolston will be held at the Bolton Hotel, Brixham, in the county of Devon, on Saturday, the 15th day of April instant, at half-past twelve o’clock P.M., to consider and determine on

1. A proposal by Arthur Hill Wolston, of Heavitree, in the county of Devon, Esquire, a creditor, to take for his own benefit, a transfer from Mr. Thomas Andrew, the trustee, and the above-named Richard Walter Wolston of all the real and personal estate of the said Richard Walter Wolston and thereupon to pay to the creditors of the said Richard Walter Wolston a First and Final Dividend of 2s. 3d. in the pound on their respective debts, the said Arthur Hill Wolston giving to the trustee such security for payment of the Dividend as he may think necessary.

2. An application by the said Richard Walter Wolston that his Discharge be granted to him at the expiration of one calendar month from the said 15th day of April instant.

3. That the Liquidation be closed on a day to be named at the said meeting of creditors and that the trustee be released from such day.  Dated this 5th day of April, 1871. THOMAS ANDREW, Trustee, No. 13, Bedfordcircus, Exeter.

Despite the sadness of the Bankruptcy, there is no doubt that Richard Wolston was a very distinguished Brixham resident. He also held positions of Portuguese Vice Consul, this was due to his involvement with imports and exports between Dartmouth and Oporto.

When more land was need for burials at St Mary’s Church in Higher Brixham, he became a Trustee to ensure the required land was purchased.

He took a great interest in Brixham’s fishing industry, many tons of fish were transported each year on the railway, and he was a Clerk to the Harbour Commissioners. Richard Wolston was a member of the Plymouth Brethren, his son Walter becoming very distinguished within the Brethren.

Richard’s Death

Richard Wolston and his family moved away from Brixham to Weston super Mare where they took up residence in a large house called Glenfall, which still stands today. His wife Maria, died in 1881 and Richard passed away 10th April 1883. They are both buried in Milton Road Cemetery in Weston super Mare.

Recommended reading:

  • The Brixham Branch by Chris Potts.
  • The Torbay Paint Company by Bridget Howard

Brixham Heritage Museum stock both the above books. The Museum is well worth a visit, the displays and information are brilliant. There is no entry fee and dogs are welcomed.