The coming of the railway was a major factor in the development of Newquay. By 1849 Joseph Treffry completed the line from St. Denis to Newquay harbour. With horse-drawn trams, its route rose from the harbour to the Whim, along Manor Road where it crossed into East Street at the bottom of Marcus Hill, before crossing into Cliff Road past the present day station. As it left the town it continued over the Trenance Viaduct and into the countryside beyond.
The Cornwall Mineral Railway took over the line in 1873. However, because the iron mines, together with the china clay industry, did not develop as fast as had been expected, the company was forced to diversify. In 1876 the line was opened to accommodate passengers thus heralding the birth of tourism to the town.
The current railway station was built in 1877 and the Great Western Railway, affectionately known as God’s Wonderful Railway, bought the line in 1896. The G.W.R. embarked on the now famous poster campaigns enticing city dwellers to discover the hidden and magical land of Cornwall and the English Riviera. This campaign was so successful that it fuelled the continuing hotel building program. The Great Western Hotel was one of the town’s first major hotels. Horse drawn taxis, known as Jingles, lined up outside the station to take passengers to their chosen hotel.
Walking along Narrowcliff you will see a row of hotels built between 1900 and 1920. These were originally built as private villas and constructed from local stone probably from a quarry on Tolcarne Beach opposite. These villas were used as holiday homes for the gentry but were sold off as the number of visitors to the town grew. The new owners added extensions enabling them to be converted into the hotels you now see. Before The Hotel Bristol opened for business the original villa had been converted to the Newquay College, an establishment for educating the sons of gentlemen. Donald Healey, the Cornishman famous for designing the Healey Sports Cars was educated here and some of the cars which bear his name can be seen at the Automobilia Motor Museum in St. Stephens.
During the Second World War many of the hotels and villas along Narrowcliff were used to help the war effort. Some were used as evacuee schools while others converted into convalescent hospitals or billets for service personnel.
Opposite these hotels is Tolcarne beach and drainage holes known as adits can still be seen in the cliffs. These were connected to the Tolcarne Lead and Silver Mine. Along with other mines in the area, a considerable amount of copper ore was extracted here.