The Western Daily Press
Thursday 4th September 1873



From Bristol to Radstock

At last the Bristol and North Somerset Railway is open for passenger traffic. Had the directors but waited till the 7th of next month they might in opening the line have celebrated the tenth anniversary of the day when amidst general rejoicing, Mrs Milward of Paulton, turned the first sod at Clutton. The history of the undertaking from that time has been often written, but yesterday the end of the long chapter was reached, and sixteen more miles of railway are added to the Great Western system.

Tuesday was the date fixed for the opening, but after the visit of Colonel Rich, the inspector, it was found impossible to run the first train till yesterday. All along the line of railway, however, the Somerset folk had got the idea that Tuesday would be the day, and so they turned out at six o’clock in strong numbers and waited for the train that never came. They were not to be disappointed twice, and so at 6.15 yesterday morning the first train started quietly away from Radstock station almost unnoticed. There were about fifty passengers in this pioneer train, and amongst them were – Mr D Veitch, the resident engineer of the line; Mr Simpson, of the Great Western Railway Company, the engineer who is taking charge of the new undertaking; Mr Lindsley, the general locomotive superintendent; and Mr Dawson, the district locomotive manager. The train arrived in Bristol with tolerable punctuality, and the working of the line gave every satisfaction to the official passengers.

It must not be taken as an earnest of future management but the first train from Bristol started a quarter of an hour late. “She ain’t overcrowded,” remarks one of the porters as the train leaves the platform, and the number of passengers was probably about equal to that conveyed in from Radstock. Up to the bridge over the Feeder is on often traversed road, but now turning to the right, the train passes along an embankment from whence the passengers get as good a view of Knowle, with the high Redcliff spire standing up from the city, as the mist, together with the smoke from many intervening factories, will allow. Crossing a bridge over the New Cut we get a passing glimpse of the Arno’s Vale Cemetery on our right and soon afterwards enter a cutting made through old red sandstone, to the length of two or three hundred yards which brings us to Brislington station. As all the stations on the line are similar in construction, if not equal in size, we may here mention that they are neat buildings, sufficiently commodious for the traffic of the line, and presenting a solid and substantial appearance. They are not aesthetic, but Mr Ruskin, we know, detests beautiful railway stations as misplaced, and perhaps the directors are of his way of thinking, and prefer utility to splendour. The contractors for this part of the work are Messrs Brock and Brace. There are a few idlers about Brislington station, but efforts are being put forth to make up for the time lost at the Terminus, and after but a brief stay we hurry alternately through cuttings and over embankments towards Pensford, four or five miles farther on. A great curve brings us parallel to the Wells road, and here we see Dundry Tower, some three miles on our right. The next hundred yards of embankment gave the engineers some trouble, owing to the treacherous nature of the soil composing the banks, but we are soon past it, and are solving the problem of “How to bisect an orchard with a railway”. A hundred yards to the right we just recognise the square tower of the church that we suppose once was white, but the Whitchurchites are not destined to have a station, and putting on the pace we whirl by banks gleaming with poppies, catch glimpses of trim pastures, and then another brief cutting passed we get such a view as can only be seen in England. Far away to the left, the familiar tree-crowned hill of Twerton stands against the sky, and we know that Bath lies hidden a little to the right. A broad expanse of undulating country fills up the middle-distance, the furthest extremity stretching away towards the famed White Horse of Wiltshire, whilst immediately below us is Pensford Church, and the village straggling up the hill. It is, perhaps, as well that we were occupied by the scenery for we were passing over that pert of the line known as the “Great Slip.” And a glance back at it will show that it earned its title. It is a high embankment and the Whitchurch difficulty here occurred with doubled force. By pluck and skill combined the danger has been averted, and passengers need fear this part no more than any other portion of the journey. Here is Pensford station, and now we have come to the lion par excellence of the Bristol and North Somerset Railway. Our passage is cut out in the sides of the hills, and a wide valley intervening at this point connection is kept up by a noble viaduct, decidedly the finest in the neighbourhood, and bringing back to passengers who know South Devon recollections of Ivy Bridge and Cornwood. Its length is 995 feet, and its height very little short of 10 feet. It is supported by 16 arches, some of which have a width of 51 feet with arise from the spring of the arch to the ground of 28feet 2 inches. The cutting we now enter is perhaps the most difficult on the line and gave some arduous work to the contractors. Three miles of thoroughly English scenery, and we arrive at Clutton, noticing on our transit that coal-measures are here cropping up among the clay. On the left, all along the route the country is beautifully wooded, and the trees, we find, have just and autumn tinge. It is getting later in the day now, and more people are here to see the train arrive. Some of the inhabitants seem to have taken tickets to Anywhere and back again for no apparent reason other than the generous desire to encourage enterprise, and whilst they are getting into the train we learn that we are now at the highest part of the line. We have come up something like 400 feet since leaving Bristol, and have to descend half that height to get to Radstock. Only a mile and a half farther is Hallatrow, where we seem to have taken the station-builders by surprise, and come upon them with their work half done. Their excuse is ready, and it must be admitted, plausible – for it has only recently been decided to give Hallatrow, the centre of the Paulton district, a station at all. Now, among the woods, we find evidence of coal-mines and discover the primary object of the line. We are near Welton, and there is a mine on our left which has a curious local name. “It has two names.” Says our informant, and having given us one, Old Mills, he proceeds to give us the other, and utters what we imagine to be two words, the second being Abbott. It ultimately appears that there was a manager once at these works who, when asked for employment, responded with the prompt “Strip and at it.” This phrase has become shortened to a word, and has given a second name to the Old Mill workings. Welton, in the parish of Midsomer Norton, is the commencement in earnest of the series of mines of which Radstock is the central point. Signs of industry are on every hand, and one wonders how it is that till this very train, this very morning, there was no direct communication from Radstock to the north and west. The present line – it has been so long the future that it is a satisfaction to call it the present – will shortly be crossed by a new line from Bath to Evercreech just outside Radstock, so that this is not the only new advantage that the coalowners of Radstock will possess. Considerable interest is evidently felt now by the inhabitants in the train’s approach, and there is a large crowd as we arrive at the station only four minutes late in spite of the bad start. The line we see joins that which already runs from Radstock to Frome, and the Great Western Company intend to put down the narrow gauge right through to Salisbury as soon as possible, so that a more direct communication than at present will be effected between Bristol, Weymouth, and that part of the south coast. Land has been taken all through for a double line, which will be added – some day. So the first train has run from Radstock to Bristol and back, and whiling away the allotted twenty minutes before the return journey, we are yet back in Bristol by 10 a.m., and have in conclusion to thank Mr Veitch, to whose courtesy we are indebted for many particulars.


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