Friday October 24th 1975
On Thursday last week I went for my first and probably what will be my last ride on the footplate of a steam engine, writes ERIC POSSART.
The occasion was the last time the crossings in the Radstock town centre were used before they are ripped up for work on a road improvement scheme to be started there.
The steam engine on which I was riding belonged to the Somerset and Dorset Railway Circle, who for several years had their headquarters at Radstock, but due to lack of funds have had to move from the district.
The engine, 50 years old, is a 2-8-0 numbered 53808 which was rescued by the Circle from a South Wales scrapyard and is in the process of being rebuilt by them.
As the crossings are being pulled up the engine, which was stored in a shed on the Somerset and Dorset line, had to be moved to the GWR side before it travels through Frome on its journey to Taunton later this year.
On Thursday morning a British Rail diesel arrived to move the engine and rolling stock belonging to the Circle. The rolling stock included two brake vans, and three coaches. With the exception of two of the coaches, when the process of restoration is completed, they will be offered for use by the Circle to the West Somerset Railway at Taunton.
Came the time to move the locomotive and
slowly pushed, tender first, the 110 ton giant moved away from its home
for the last two years with shrieks of protest from the track.
As it moved towards the crossings the event was filmed by scores of enthusiasts, flashlights and detonator's enlivening what for many of them was a nostalgic occasion.
I was one of those privileged to ride on that journey, accompanied by former Somerset and Dorset driver, 73 year old Mr Jack Kemp, of Waldegrave Terrace, Radstock. Jack drove similar engines for 30 of the 45 years he was employed by the company, and during his working career used the crossings many times hauling passenger trains.
He told me as at five miles an hour we trundled along, The railway is my blood. I worked over the Somerset and Dorset system with these engines. It is a sad day for me and the town - the railway should never have left Radstock. It is the end of an era.
Although the movement of the rolling stock and loco from one line to another took a total of two hours, and at times when the crossing gates were closed long lines of traffic formed each side of the gates, motorists were not impatient, but content to gaze at an institution in the town which has finally ceased after 101 years.
Councillor Cecil Jones, of Radstock, and a former chairman of the old Norton Radstock Urban Council, which fought for years to get the crossings removed, told me: This is a time when sentiment has to go. The crossings were a bad bottleneck in the town.
He said the Urban Council fought for years
to get the crossings removed, instituting traffic censuses in 1970 and
in 1973 called to the County Council to install traffic lights at the
junction of Frome Road and the Bath to Shepton Mallet road to get rid
of the replorable conditions which exist at the Junction.
Councillor Jones said that although the crossings should go, the marshalling yard on the GWR side should be retained.
He went on: Norton Radstock is a growth area and I think it is time that British Rail had an appraisal of the GWR section to Frome. Surely they could run two or three trains a day to Frome where people I could catch connections there to London and many I other parts of the country.
With the size of the marshalling yards on the GWR line I am sure there are several concerns who would be able to utilise them for their work and with an outlet to Frome there would be no transport difficulties.
When the Somerset and Dorset Railway was planned in the early 1870s the risk of being detained by two sets of gates was soon visualised by the people of Radstock so the Board of Trade, the body responsible for railway safety, suggested that a bridge should be built.
Nothing was done, and in 1877 the Board of Trade threatened the Somerset and Dorset Railway and the Bristol and North Somerset Railway with legal proceedings to enforce the substitution of a bridge to replace both level crossings.
The threat was not carried out and for the next 100 years the gates continued to hold up traffic.
The first railway to build a level crossing at Radstock was the Bristol and North Somerset Railway, which ran from Bristol to tap the Radstock coalfield.
Work on the line began at Clutton in October 1863 and after delays through financial difficulties, one of which occurred when its secretary, J. Bingham, was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment with hard labour for defraud, was opened in September 1873.
Closed to passengers In November 1959 it continued to be used by mineral and freight trains, though after a flood washed away part of the line near Bristol on July 10, 1968, the section was closed and the Radstock to Frome section used to take coal via a very circuitous route to Portishead power station and the Imperial Smelting Processes Ltd plant at Avonmouth.
The reason for the line's existence came to an end when Writhlington and Kilmersdon collieries closed on September 28, 1973 and the last load of coal was brought to the surface.
The second level crossing at Radstock was built by the Somerset and Dorset Railway. This company, formed in 1862 with the amalgamation of the Somerset Central Railway and the Dorset Central Railway, ran from Burnham-on-Sea to Bournemouth.
The S and D realised that to be a profitable concern it was necessary to seek through traffic and so proposed building an extension from Evercreech to Bath which would connect with the Midland Railway, the scheme having the added attraction of tapping the Radstock coalfield en route.
The necessary Act of Parliament was obtained in 1871 and the difficult task of building the line over the Mendips began the following year.
Messrs T. and C. Walker were the contractors and undertook to finish the work by the end of 1873 - a short time considering the very heavy work needed.
As many as 3,000 men were employed on building the line and it was ready for inspection by the Board of Trade in June 1874. Several minor improvements had to be made before the line was given a Board of Trade certificate on July 17, and the line was opened to traffic three days later.
Surviving threats of closure, the line
eventually succumbed on March 7, 1966, though as Writhlington Colliery
remained open, the section of the S and D between Radstock station and
the colliery was retained and a connecting spur built west of the level
crossings, linking the S and D with the BNSR.
Back to Top
|To return to the History Page - Simply close this window|