The Broad Gauge Railway at Watchet

cover illustration
The Broad Gauge Railway at Watchet

Chris Saunders

64 pages. 275x215mm. Printed on gloss art paper, card covers.

ISBN13 : 9781911038085


contents and extra information for this book »

For a brief period in the second half of the 19th century, the tiny West Somerset port and town of Watchet became one of the most important places in the county. The harbour provided an outlet to South Wales for iron ore mined on the nearby Brendon Hills and two separate railways were built to the town. The first was standard gauge, did not connect to any other line and was built mainly to bring the ore down to the coast. Shortly after it opened in 1861, construction of a second line commenced, a broad gauge branch to Watchet from the Bristol & Exeter Railway’s main line at Taunton. Opened in 1864, it was built for both passengers and freight, and was a success from the start. In 1874, the station at Watchet ceased to be a terminus when the extension to Minehead was opened, whilst the broad gauge era came to an end in 1882, when the line was narrowed to the standard gauge. We are fortunate that, throughout this period, from the beginning of construction of the broad gauge railway at Minehead in 1861, through to the first trains and the development of the harbour and its sidings, Watchet was also at the forefront of early photography. At least two local individuals took up photography and one of them seems to have been engaged to record much of the work undertaken in the 1860s through to the 1870s. Chris Saunders has spent over twenty years collecting together as many of these early and historic images as possible and those featuring the broad gauge railway, the harbour and some of the important buildings constructed during this period are gathered here together for the first time in print. They are accompanied by knowledgeable captions, the dates which they contain for each photograph having often involved hours of careful comparisons and detective work. This marvellous collection of pictures is sure to interest railway enthusiasts and West Somerset historians alike, as well as local residents and visitors to this delightful seaside town.

The Broad Gauge Railway at Watchet - Sample Images

cover illustration

Empty Wagons on the Harbour Lines, by James Date, Summer 1871. In the foreground is the recently completed quay workers’ shelter and beyond it are two contractors’ wagons, one of which looks quite new. In the left middle distance, the nearest wagon parked on the goods loop appears to be a brake van. A selection of B&ER open wagons feature in the right foreground and details regarding them are given with the enlargement which follows on page 39. On the left, just below the water tank, are two target type point levers. The shelter protecting Goviers Lane Crossing may have been the one beneath the signal, probably moved in order that the policeman was on hand to guide the public over the crossing. The gradients, from the running line down to the yard and down from there to the harbour, are well shown in this view. On 4th October 1862, James Curry, a supernumerary porter, was fatally injured when riding a wagon down these slopes. He was standing on an axlebox when he slipped and his leg was caught between the rotating spokes of the wheel and the frame; he died later that day from his injuries. Another accident was reported in September 1874, when John Saunders, the 13-year old son of a guard on the B&ER, lost a leg while playing on wagons on the harbour lines. He caught his toe under a wheel and then his right leg was caught in the spokes before the horse pulling them could be stopped.cover illustration

Bristol & Exeter Railway No. 68 at Watchet with the First Train for Minehead, by James Date, July 1874. Taken between 13th and 16th of July, this is a posed photograph of a special train, as indicated particularly by the document being exchanged by the two men on the platform on the right. It is now believed that this picture shows Alexander Gibson, the B&ER’s Area Superintendent, accepting an authorisation to proceed from the contractor and that this was the first train to travel over the newly opened Minehead Extension – carrying railway officials, workmen and staff for the new stations – rather than being the first ‘official’ public train. Note the clean appearance of the engine, 4-4-0T No. 68, which was built by the Vulcan Foundry in May 1867. It had a short life, however, becoming GWR No. 2041 in 1876 but was then withdrawn in March 1880. Visible on the platform edge by the buffer beam is a large flagon of what could be cider. Note, too, the fine stone work of the platform face; it is still in place today, over 140 years later. The first carriage behind the engine is a B&ER 6-compartment Second Class with oval windows and a ventilated dog box between the compartments. Constable John Meeds poses with the engine crew of three and a number of onlookers. There appears to be a fourth engineman sitting on the platform bench and, by deduction, Henry Parker, the stationmaster, is the man standing in front of the engine.

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Updated : 04 October 2017