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The Colliers Way (NCN24)

Features & Places of Interest Along the Route

NCN24 - Dundas to Frome Map

Dundas Aqueduct

Designed by John Rennie, this is one of two impressive aqueducts that cross the River Avon. It is slightly shorter than the Avoncliffe Viaduct, but more dramatic. There is much to see here - a stone warehouse, a wharfside crane and a toll office. Nearby is the start of the Somersetshire Coal Canal which has been restored as a private mooring. There is a visitor centre here with refreshment and other facilities and a large car park.

 

Radstock

Radstock was an industrial, mining community but it was set in some of the most beautiful Somerset countryside. It was the centre of the North Somerset Coalfield and the activities associated with coal mining dominated the town. Two railway companies (with two separate stations) operated here and their respective tracks crossed just to the west of the town centre. The resulting level crossings caused major road congestion for many years. The Somerset & Dorset Railway ran from Bath’s Green Park Station to Evercreech Junction and Poole, and the Great Western Railway route ran from Bristol to Radstock and on to Frome.

 

The Somerset and Dorset Railway

The S&D Line was an almagam of the Somerset and Dorset Central Railways. This section of the line (from Evercreech Junction to Bath) was opened in July 1874 and was closed to passenger traffic in March 1966. It was affectionately (and perhaps unfairly) knows as the “Slow and Dirty” line. The railway is best remembered today for the double-headed Pines Express that brought passengers from Birmingham to Weymouth on summer Saturdays.

 

The Radstock to Frome Line

The first railway to reach Radstock was the Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth Railway’s (later to become the GWR) branch from Frome and this enabled the company to transport the profitable coal traffic that had previously relied upon the inadequate Somerset Coal Canal Tramway. It was originally opened to coal traffic in 1854 and passengers were first carried in 1875. The line was closed for passenger traffic with the closure of the Bristol to Frome line in 1959. Sections of the line continued for various goods traffic to 1988. Interestingly, the line was originally constructed to the broad gauge. The railway from Radstock to Bristol (The Bristol and North Somerset Railway) was opened in 1873 as a standard gauge railway and this created a break of gauge at Radstock. This was obviously very inconvenient and the broad gauge Radstock to Frome line was narrowed in 1874 and adapted for passenger traffic in 1875.

 

Coal-mining

Coal-mining in the North Somerset Coalfields has been carried on for hundreds of years. In the Radstock area, mining was continuous from 1763 until 1973 - the last collieries to be closed were Lower Writhlington and Kilmersdon. Little is obvious to the eye now, as most of the tipping areas (known locally as batches) associated with coal-mining have been landscaped. It is difficult to believe that within the pleasant undulating countryside around Radstock there have been over 50 collieries serviced by tramways, railways and canals. However, there are a few obvious signs: the batch (tipping area) of Old Mills Colliery a little to the north-west of Midsomer Norton is the most obvious one, and the tell-tale ranks of miners’ cottages clinging to the sides of the hills are another.

 

Radstock Museum

The long and fascinating history of mining and life in the North Somerset Coalfields can be discovered in the museum. The arduous conditions experienced by miners can be seen in the reconstructed mine tunnel, and the importance of the contribution of the railways and the Somerset Coal Canal are explained (tel: 01761 43772) (web:www.radstockmuseum.co.uk).

 

Foxcote (Near Shoscombe) Accident on the Somerset & Dorset Railway

On 7th August 1876 when the 7.10pm relief excursion from Wimborne to Bath (packed with people) and the 9.15pm from Bath to Radstock collided, 13 people were killed and 51 injured. The crash was caused by a number of reasons: it was a busy bank holiday with over 17 extra trains running that day; neither of the two trains appeared in the timetable; the down train was very late; and errors were made by two young telegraph clerks and a young signalman at the Foxcote.

 

The Somersetshire Coal Canal

This canal was planned by a group of colliery owners who were concerned that coal from South Wales could be made available more cheaply that their own local coal. The canal was planned to join the Kennet & Avon Canal at Limpley Stoke and from there it would follow the Midford Brook to Midford and then would fork into two arms following the Cam Brook to Paulton and the Wellow Brook to Radstock. Tramroads transported the coal from the collieries to wharves along the canal. There was not enough money to complete the southern branch and a mile-long railway was built between Midford and Twinhoe causing the great inconvenience of switching from canal to railway and back to canal again. By 1812 this canal was hardly used and a major length from Radstock to Midford was converted to a horse-drawn railway. Traffic was at its peak in 1838, but its success was threatened by the Radstock to Frome Railway from 1854. Eventually this southern branch was bought by the Somerset and Dorset Railway to lay their railway line to Bath.

 

Jack and Jill at Kilmersdon

It is thought that Kilmersdon’s Jack and Jill of the nursery rhyme, were a 16th century couple who climbed every day to a well at the top of the hill for water, until one day Jack was hit by a boulder from a nearby quarry and tumbled down the hill. The Jack and Jill Millennium project re-discovered a medieval well shaft in 1999 and a new well-head has been built over the 38 feet deep well shaft.

 

Little Jack Horner at Mells

The legend is that Richard Whiting the last Abbot of Glastonbury, at the time of the dissolution hoping to appease Henry VIII sent his steward Jack Horner to London with a Christmas gift. This was a pie, in which was hidden the deeds of twelve manors. On the journey, Jack opened the pie and removed the deeds of Mells Manor, in the village of Mells. True or not, Thomas Horner took up residence at the manor shortly after the dissolution and one of his descendants was still living there in 1975. The story that deeds were hidden under a pie crust is not as unlikely as it may first seem, as  Highwaymen were common and travellers would hide their gold, jewels and other valuables. Although Horner’s name was Thomas, he could have been known as Jack if he was a ‘bit of a lad’. The church has examples of Arts and Crafts stained glass, and the village boasts items built by Lutyens, numerous thatched cottages and the Talbot Inn. Remains of the Fussell’s Ironworks can be found between Mells and Great Elm.

 

Quarrying at Great Elm

A notable feature of the landscape between Frome and Radstock are the quarries (including one of largest man-made holes in Europe). These quarries supply limestone aggregate across the whole country.  Material from the quarry to the south of Great Elm is transported by the only remaining active section of the Radstock to Frome Line. The Colliers Way leaves the line of the railway at this point and continues to Frome mainly along quiet country lanes.

 

Frome

Frome is a town of great charm, with its wealth of beautiful old buildings, steep streets and friendly, relaxed atmosphere. It has more listed buildings than any other town in Somerset, many of them reminders of a rich Wessex industrial history of cloth, agriculture and country market trading. The cloth industry was started in the 14th century and by the end of the 17th century, it was growing in importance and Frome was prosperous. Competition from the woollen towns of the north began the decline of the industry in the 19th century, although the cloth trade hung on until the 1960s. It is the biggest of the five Mendip towns and is renowned for its thriving Arts and Crafts community. It is older than Bath, and its history dates from AD685, when St Adhelm founded a mission on the River Frome. The river continues to meander through the town, past the unique, Grade 1 Listed Blue House. The town has largely escaped insensitive redevelopment, giving it a legacy of 18th century cloth merchants' homes and Trinity, one of the country's best examples of industrial housing from the 1600s. Catherine Hill and Cheap Street are excellent for shopping and the Frome Museum has exhibitions showing local industries and artefacts, including the Dorset and Somerset Canal, Fussell’s Ironworks and local blacksmiths.