Published: 27th January 2016
The last passenger trains ran over what remained of the one-time Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway (S&DJR), between Bath (Green Park) and Bournemouth (West) and over the branch between Evercreech Junction and Highbridge, on March 6 1966.
In March 1996 the West Somerset Railway staged its first ever major Spring Steam Gala to mark the 30th anniversary of the S&DJR closure. Over the ensuing two decades WSR’s spring event has grown in stature and adopted a number of themes, including S&DJR again in 2006 marking the 40th anniversary of closure. For its 2016 Spring event over March 5-6 and March 10-13 the WSR returns to the S&DJR theme to commemorate the 50th anniversary of this much lamented line closing.
No less than six visiting steam locomotives are confirmed supplemented by two members of the home fleet, the gala promises to deliver eight examples of classes appropriate to the S&DJR.
The guest list comprises S&DJR 7F 2-8-0 No. 53809 (owned by The 53809 Preservation Society and based at Midland Railway – Butterley), BR Standard 4MT 2-6-4T No. 80072 (Llangollen Railway), 'Black Five' No. 45379 (Mid-Hants Railway), ‘Battle of Britain’ No. 34070 Manston (Southern Locomotives Ltd visiting from the Swanage Railway), rebuilt ‘Battle of Britain’ No. 34053 Sir Keith Park (Southern Locomotives Ltd based at the Severn Valley Railway) and 9F 2-10-0 No. 92214 (Michael Gregory/Cromwell Tools from Great Central Railway). The Minehead-based locomotives will be S&DJR 7F 2-8-0 No. 53808 and LMS 4F No. 44422.
7F No. 53808 will be returning to action following overhaul, its boiler having recently passed a steam test. While a WSR regular over the years, in the past it has run as S&DJR No. 88 carrying a non-authentic Prussian blue livery. For its new ticket it will be painted black – and paired with No. No. 53809 (also nearing the end of an overhaul) this will be the first occasion in over 50 years two S&DJR 7F 2-8-0's will be together in the same BR black livery. The pair did run together at WSR’s 2006 event, but were not carrying the same livery.
Two 7F's hauling a passenger train was a relatively rare occurrence on the S&DJR, only occurring when Bath MPD got particularly short of motive power for summer Saturday through holiday trains. Such a pairing during the WSR gala is sure to be a significant attraction.
Former Somerset & Dorset based 4F No. 44422 (also undergoing overhaul – at LNWR Heritage, Crewe) is expected to be completed in time for the gala to undertake ‘light duties’ - which may well include appearing as pilot engine on some double-headers. It is likely to appear in a work-worn condition prior to entering the WSR's workshops for finishing off jobs and post-gala painting.
Bulleid Light Pacific’s were a feature of the Somerset and Dorset from 1951 until the end of through trains in 1962. Rebuilt ‘Battle of Britain’ No. 34053 Sir Keith Park has been at WSR in the past, little more than a hulk of boiler, frames and wheels considered a source of parts to assist the original restoration of sister No. 34046 Braunton then being undertaken at Williton – the gala will be its first appearance on the Minehead branch as an operational locomotive. ‘Spam Can’ No. 34070 Manston has previously run at WSR.
The first ‘Black Five’ to run on the S&DJR arrived in 1938 with the type continuing to run on the line until the early 1960’s, with BR 5MT’s (a development of the ‘Black Five’) active until the end of 1965 when regular services were replaced by an ‘emergency timetable’ pending the introduction of replacement bus services which lasted until final closure in March 1966.
Although 9F’s were intended to be heavy freight locomotives they proved to be fast and free running at the head of passenger trains, sometimes appearing on express services. A number were allocated to the S&DJR route, based at Bath Green Park locomotive shed with the aim of reducing the amount of assisting engine work required to lift heavy passenger trains over the gradients of the Mendip Hills between Bath and Evercreech Junction. 9F No. 92220 Evening Star worked the last northbound Pines Express over the S&D in 1962.
WSR stations will be named after S&D locations during the gala. Norton Fitzwarren will become Midsomer Norton (obviously!), Bishops Lydeard becomes Templecombe (with train movements similar to the reversals regularly seen at Templecombe), Crowcombe will be Shepton Mallet while Stogumber will adopt the identity of Henstridge, the smallest station on the S&D main line.
Williton will be Evercreech Junction (the half way point!), Doniford Halt will be Stourpaine & Durweston Halt, Watchet representing Burnham-on-Sea (on the grounds of being a seaside location albeit a through station), Washford will be Midford (since there is a recreation of Midford signalbox on the platform) and Blue Anchor will be Bailey Gate (being a country station with crossing gates!). Dunster will adopt the identity of Shillingstone while hardly surprisingly Minehead will become Bournemouth West.
Bulleid Light Pacific No. 34053 Sir Keith Park will adopt the guise of long-scrapped class mate No. 34098 Templecombe at a naming ceremony on March 9 at Bishops Lydeard station and retain this identity through the second gala weekend. Templecombe station closed in March 1966 but reopened for services on the Waterloo-Exeter Central line 17 years later and is thriving with the support of an active Friends of Templecombe Station support group, which is sponsoring the name and number plates for the identity change.
In addition, BR Standard 4MT 2-6-4T No. 80072 will assume the identity of No. 80043 - one of 4MT’s which worked on the S&DJR between 1963 and closure in 1966 - for the gala.
The intention is for trains to also be adorned with headcodes and reporting numbers corresponding to appropriate S&D workings.
Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust, based at WSR’s Washford station for over 40 years, is hosting a range of special events while The S&D Railway Heritage Trust is planning activities at Midsomer Norton.
A photography event hosted by famed professional photographer Don Bishop is being planned for March 8 when a number of the S&D locos will be lined up for photography outside Minehead shed, with the view from the main platform to be kept clear to present plenty of picture opportunities.
Taunton Model Railway Group’s club room at Bishops Lydeard station will be open on March 5, 6, 9 (not a gala day but some guest engines will be in action), 11, 12 and 13 for operation of the 4mm scale model of the S&D’s Bath Green Park station. Stock on the 4mm scale model railway in the adjacent Gauge Museum will feature models of classes of engine that once worked the S&D with, subject to availability of volunteer operators, running on all gala days. On March 11-12 a 2mm scale model of Burnham-on-Sea station will also be running in the Gauge Museum.
In addition to the gala marking the 50th anniversary of S&D closing, March also sees the 40th anniversary of the start of WSR passenger services in the preservation era.
To celebrate this a special commemorative ale will be produced by Quantock Ales, whose brewery and shop can be found adjacent to Bishops Lydeard station. The brew will be launched at the gala on March 5. On that date, and between March 10-13, Quantock Ales will have a sales stand on the platform at Minehead station selling the beer from the cask. For the rest of the year it will be available exclusively in bottled form from buffet cars on WSR trains (which will also stock it during the Gala) and from the brewery shop.
Discounted advanced price rover tickets for the event are on sale via www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk or by calling 01643 704996. Return tickets can be purchased at WSR booking offices or travelling ticket inspectors on the day of travel.
The closest national network station is Taunton served by trains from Penzance to London and Scotland. Although there is a rail link enabling special trains to run onto the WSR at Norton Fitzwarren the link is not available for passenger services, hence onward travel to the gala will be by bus.
Buses of Somerset service 28 runs from Taunton bus station to Minehead calling at Taunton railway station and Bishops Lydeard station en route and via stops close to Watchet and Washford stations. This runs half hourly Mondays to Saturdays and hourly on Sundays. Webbers service 18 runs from Taunton town centre Mondays to Saturdays via Watchet and Washford but does not serve Bishops Lydeard.
On Saturdays and Sundays there will be a free bus between Taunton Railway station (the stop beside platform 2 on the down side) and Bishops Lydeard supplied by Crosville Motor Services. These will depart from Taunton station in the mornings at 07.45, 08.45 and 09.45 on the 5th and 12th and 07.30, 08.30 and 09.30 on the 6th and 13th. Crosville will also run a free bus from Bishops Lydeard back to Taunton station at 16.45, 17.45 and 18.45 on the 5th, 6th, 12th and 13th March.