Reprinted from Newsletter 121, dated 2006 December

Evercreech to Burnham on the S&D

Adrian Pearse

John Coles provided a capacity audience after the society’s AGM on December 1 with an evocative glimpse of the final years of the Somerset and Dorset railway in moving pictures. An additional bonus was coverage of the fate of some of its few surviving features in the four decades since closure in March 1966.

An old black-and-white photograph of a steam train in a station. A building the right has a sign reading “West Pennard”. No people are visible on the platform.

Heading for Glastonbury from West Pennard station, May 31 in 1965 — ten months till the end.

Optimism still prevailed in the film showing the centenary celebrations of the opening of the Somerset Central Railway from Glastonbury to Highbridge held on 28 August 1954, when a special train with guests in costume traversed the route viewed by a multitude of spectators and recorded for a celebratory brochure.

However, the situation had deteriorated considerably by the time the BBC filmed John Betjeman’s journey from Evercreech to Burnham in 1963. Many stations were semi-derelict and overgrown, the rollingstock rusting and shabby, and passengers few. The sense of decay was highlighted as Betjeman sought out the monuments from better days: the extensive deserted locomotive works, silted-up wharf, and even the bronze war memorial and ornamental cast-iron benches at Highbridge.

Neglect was apparent in all departments for at least six years before the line closed — freight had been transferred to road as distribution needs changed (Clarks shoes were a particular example, in contrast to the founding Clarks as keen backers of building the railway); there was no feeling of a future in the railways and staff morale had collapsed. The slow death of the line was even exacerbated by the reluctance of civil servants to give the closure order.

Finally, film of constructing the Glastonbury relief road in 1993 showed some of the remaining sections of trackbed near the town being removed and replaced by tarmac. While the occasional relic from this now-remote era has been preserved, its disappearance is now as complete as the majestic elms the films showed once bordering its course.

A model steam train. It is dark blue-green in colour, and has a locomotive and 5 cars. It stands on a track.

Dick Green brought along a “rake” of five passenger coaches with a locomotive he made to match, all done up in the old Somerset & Dorset livery of 1870: dark Prussian blue with gold lettering. He bought the coaches, badly damaged, from an executor’s stand at a Gauge O Guild show in Telford in September and refurbished them. Dick’s other models were mainly of the Great Western Railway.