Railways

The West Somerset Mineral Railway opened in 1855 to transport iron ore from the Brendon Hill mines to Watchet for shipment to South Wales. It was not used officially for passenger traffic until some years later. The mines were closed in 1882, but were reopened in 1907, but a slump in the steel industry led the mines being finally closed in 1909. The rails were taken up during the First World War. Displays appertaining to the Brendon Hill mines and railway can be seen at the Museum and the old tracks of the railway can be seen on Watchet’s West Pier.

The arrival of the Metropolitan Railway No. 37 4-4-0 for the re-opening of the West Somerset Mineral Railway’s passenger service in 1907 caused quite a stir. Photo : Mike Jones

The broad gauge West Somerset Railway was opened for passengers from Taunton with a terminus at Watchet on 21st March 1862. Its extension to Minehead in 1874 greatly increased the influx of tourists to the area. The original engineer was Brunel, though he apparently handed over to his assistant Brereton in the early stages of the work. The line was a creditable feat of engineering for those times. When completed the line was leased to the Bristol and Exeter Company, which used and maintained it for an annual rent. The Minehead Railway Company was taken over in 1897 by the Great Western Railway, and the West Somerset Company survived until 1922 when it was absorbed by the Great Western. The line closed in 1971, but was partially re-opened from Minehead to Blue Anchor by a private company in 1975. Watchet and Williton stations were re-opened a year later and the line was further extended to Bishops Lydeard in 1979. It is the longest private line in the country offering steam and diesel services, and great efforts are being made for it to reach its ultimate destination of Taunton.

Train pulled by ‘Victor’ steaming into Watchet station from Minehead in February 1982. Due to the roads being blocked by heavy snowfalls, this was the only means of transport in or out of Watchet at the time.