THE November meeting of the Wells Railway Fraternity was a presentation given by Nick Waton, a volunteer since 1983 and a passenger guard for 25 years on the East Somerset Railway at Cranmore, who spoke about the history of the line and the more recent developments.
The East Somerset Railway reached Wells as a broad gauge line in 1862 followed by the line from Yatton in 1870. However, they were initially unable to meet up as the Somerset and Dorset Railway goods yard was in the way. Conversion of the ESR to standard gauge was made in 1874. Through running was enabled in 1878 once suitable track work alterations and safety provisions were made. The main freight loads were crushed stone from several quarries, including at Cranmore where 60 full churns of milk were dispatched a day and another 60 empties received. The Cheddar Valley part of the line carried strawberries and other fruits during their seasons, which could be smelt as the trains ran through Cranmore station. Later bitumen trains ran to the tanker sidings at Cranmore from where the bitumen was transported by road to the quarries to make tarmac. Three tramways brought stone from the quarries for trans-shipment on the ESR. There were between four and six passenger trains a day but these were generally loss-making and with the quarry traffic going over to road haulage the line inevitably closed in 1963.
However, the wildlife and steam engine artist David Shepherd needed a home for the two steam engines he had bought from British Railways. This led to establishment of today’s East Somerset Railway. After David Shepherd’s financial support ceased, closure occurred, but with a sympathetic landlord, a group of supporters led by Dick Masters managed to quickly reopen the line. Today volunteers and a small paid staff run a thriving line by diversification into themed events such as Pepper Pig, Wine and Dine and Cream Tea trains, which are very popular, footplate experiences and Santa specials. Additionally, the commercial arm, CTMS, overhauls carriages and the Locomotive Engineering Shop overhauls steam engines for outside customers. By the end of this year, it is expected that ESR will have carried around 39,000 passengers.
Wells Railway Fraternity’s next meeting will be on December 14 in Wells Town Hall at 19:30 Hours when the AGM will be held, to be followed by the traditional quiz. New members and guests are always welcome. For further information about the Wells Railway Fraternity see the website Railwells.com
• Picture from East Somerset Railway