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HISTORY

North Somerset is rich in the remains of its heritage, a heritage which includes lead and coal mining, stone quarrying, iron works and the cloth industry. The canals, tramways and railways were built to transport the raw and finished materials, including the vast output from the 25 collieries that were directly connected to the railway.

The 5.5 mile section of the line from Hapsford Junction to Radstock has become disused following the closure in July 1988 of the Marcroft Wagon Repair Works at Radstock. The section from Hapsford Junction to Frome is still in use for quarry traffic.

BRIEF HISTORY OF THE LINE

The Somerset Coalfield contained just under 80 collieries. Clearly this required many transport facilites - the first being the Somerset Coal Canal, built in 1798. This was followed by more canals and aqueducts. After the railways began their development around the country, and notably the Great Western Railway between Bristol and Bath (opened 1840), the railways seemed a perfect method of transportation for the coal that was extracted from the collieries.

The Wilts Somerset and Weymouth Railway (WS&WR) reached Frome in 1850; it was taken over by the Great Western Railway (GWR) after falling into financial difficulty. The broad gauge Frome to Radstock branch was completed on 14th November 1854; it was a single freight line carrying minerals only.

Approximately half way between Frome and Radstock railway is the Mells Road site. Here there were two branches: the line was connected to the Newbury Railway that served Mells, Newbury, Vobster and Mackintosh collieries. It was joined in 1857 and some of this line still remains today. The second branch was a standard gauge line connected Bilboa quarry. At Newbury Colliery there were coal ovens and a tramway connected Newbury colliery to Vobster Quarry. Vobster quarry had a lime kiln that was last used in the early 1900s.

Track at Radstock Goods Yard, 1976 - click to enlarge In 1873 a standard gauge line opened from Radstock to Bristol, by the GWR. In 11 days in June 1874 the GWR converted the Radstock to Frome section from broad gauge to standard gauge. This was followed on 5th July 1875 by the first direct passenger service from Bristol to Frome via Radstock - up until this point the Radstock to Frome section had remained freight only.

The Whatley quarry extension was added in 1894, followed by a new route in 1974. This was to enable main line locomotives to reach the quarry, this involved adding two tunnels and a bridge across Mells River and is still in use today.

There were two branches at Clutton to collieries. In total, 25 collieries were connected directly to the line, and there were 5 inclines (four at Radstock: Kilmersdon, Huish, Writhlington and Wellsway; and the fifth was at Pensford Colliery). Four stone quarries were connected to the railway, plus a gasworks and ironworks at Frome. There was also a tile works at Mells Road, and Marcroft's Wagon Repair Works at Radstock.

Other freight was also transported in great amounts on the line. A sample is that 32,539 churns of Milk were dispatched from Mells Road in 1911.

Frome Station, 1950 - click to enlarge The through services from Bristol to Frome via Radstock ceased on 2nd November 1959, but the line was retained for other uses, mostly freight. The line north of Radstock to Bristol was closed around 1968. Radstock and the line south to Frome remained in use for traffic from the pits. The last coal train left Radstock on 16th November 1973, from Writhlington Pit. The line remained open, however, for access to the wagon repair works, until it closed in June 1988.

At Hallatrow there was a branch to Camerton, opened 1882, and later extended in 1907 from Dunkerton to Limpley Stoke. Through passenger services from Hallatrow operated from 1910 to 1915. It was not a success, but was tried again in 1923, which sadly only lasted for two years. The line remained open for Goods traffic until 15th Febuary 1951. This section of the line was famous for the filming of the 1952 Ealing comedy The Titfield Thunderbolt.

The total length of the Bristol to Frome line was 24 miles, compromising 16 miles from Bristol to Radstock, and 8 miles from Radstock to Frome.

The stations on the full route were:

Bristol Temple Meads > Brislington > Whitchurch Halt > Pensford > Clutton > Hallatrow > Farrington Gurney > Midsomer Norton & Welton > Radstock > Mells Road > Frome

RELATED BOOKS

Frome to Bristol
Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith
Middleton Press
ISBN: 1 873793 77 4

SHORT HISTORY OF THE LOCALITY

COALMINING

Agriculture was originally the dominant local industry before coalmining in Somerset. The "Somerset Coalfield" was the largest single influence on the life of the locality up until quite recently.

The Coalfield was worked from medieval times until the 1970's, with concentrations of pits along the Cam Brook, Wellow Brook and Nettlebridge Valleys. These pits initially served only local needs, distribution was restricted by the expense of poor road transport. By the end of the eighteenth century, the growing demand from Bath and beyond provided incentives for improved transportation.

Tonnage increased throughout the last century, reaching a peak in 1901, by the 1930's the decline started. Narrow seams made production expensive, limiting profit and investment,and a reduced national demand together with competion from more economical coalfields led to the closure of the last remaining pit in 1973.

Mining has left an important local legacy in the coalfield. The pattern of settlements and communications owe their very existence to the needs of the pits. There are still pit head buildings, often now used for other purposes, and spoil tips now largely reclaimed by natural vegetation.

The routes of former tramways and dense network of public footpaths, to former pits, transects the mining areas.

It has left a proud local tradition- "A shared experience of work in the pits".

QUARRYING

The Mendips have been a quarrying area for centuries, initially demand was for the softer stones for building purposes in the locality.

The advent of the turnpike roads, in the eighteenth century, not only made transportation cheaper but gave call for a different sort of stone, crushed and graded hard (carboniferous) limestone. This was required for the formation of the macadam road surfacing. Canals and railways further improved transportation and production increased of the stone. During recent decades production has been concentrated at a small number of larger quarries, with road and rail access, some of which are still in use today.

There are many disused small quarries in the locality, most sited on the sides of the steep valleys where old working faces are still visible through screens of trees. Several disused quarries with deeper workings are now water filled.

OTHER INDUSTRIES

During the eighteenth century, ironworks were set up in the Mells Stream and River valleys. Powered by water wheels, in the main producing edge tools and agricultural equipment. With competition from the industrial centres of the north, production ceased by the late nineteenth century. A significant group of buildings remain at Mells.

Frome at the beginning of the eighteenth century was a main centre of woollen cloth manufacture, where production was of national importance. Again the water of the streams from the Mendips provided power for mills and water for fulling and stamping. By the early nineteenth century the industry was declining and the prosperity of the town had decreased.

Today many of the buildings in the central Frome and the local area date from this earlier period of prosperity, thanks in part due to the absence of pressure for redevelopment during the Victorian period.

Other industries flourish to continue Fromes' growth particularly in engineering and foundry work.

LOCAL INDUSTRIAL TRANSPORT

CANALS

The incentive of more economical transport of coal was apparent to the local coal owners at the start of the Canal boom, during the late eighteenth century. Work was begun on a tributary of the Dorset and Somerset Canal, intended to link the Somerset Coalfield with the Bristol and English Channels, in 1797 but was suspended in 1803 and abandoned in 1825 without having ever operated. Today remnants of the canal works may be found at Coleford, Vobster, Mells Road, Murtry and near Frome.

During the same period, the Somersetshire Coal Canal was constructed, beginning at the Kennet & Avon Canal at Limpley Stoke and dividing at Midford into two branches to serve Paulton and Radstock. Construction costs soared beyond the sanctioned funds and inclined planes were substituted for expensive flights of locks. The resulting high 'trans-shipment' costs doomed the canal to a marginal existence and early closure.

RAILWAYS

The railway age saw the advent of a more rapid means of transporting bulk materials than by canal, an advantage soon identified by the coal owners. The line between Radstock and the Great Western Railway main line at Frome was promoted and opened in 1854. 'This led to the demise of the Somersetshire Coal Canal and soon several collieries had direct rail connections, or were linked by inclines and tramways. The line was later extended beyond Radstock to Bristol.

Radstock Station, 1950 - click to enlarge Part of the route of the Somersetshire Coal Canal was utilised by the Somerset and Dorset Railway for its line between Bath and Bournemouth.

The twentieth century saw a steady decline in both goods and passenger traffic, the last passenger train on the GWR line ran in 1959 and the coal traffic finally ended with the closure of the last colliery. When the Radstock Wagon Works closed in 1988, the Radstock part of the line became redundant. From Hapsford Junction to Frome, up to 10 heavy trains a day carry stone away from Whatley Quarry.

Radstock to Frome Railway

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NORTH SOMERSET HERITAGE TRUST: REGISTERED CHARITY NO. 1022770
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