The East Somerset Heritage Railway.
The East Somerset Railway is a 2 1⁄2-mile (4km) heritage railway in Somerset, running between Cranmore and Mendip Vale. Prior to the Beeching Axe, the railway was once part of the former Cheddar Valley line that ran from Witham to Yatton, meeting the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway at Wells.
The East Somerset Railway Company was incorporated under the East Somerset Railway Act on 5 June 1856 and was built as a 7ft1⁄4in (2,140mm) broad gauge line. The line was originally between Witham railway station and Shepton Mallet and this line opened on 9 November 1858. It was planned by Mr. Brunel and built by engineer Mr. Ward and contractor Mr. Brotherwood. The station buildings at Shepton and Witham Friary, as well as the bridges along the route, were constructed of Inferior Oolite from nearby Doulting Stone Quarry. Shepton was now 129 miles (208km) from London by rail, a journey of just over four hours.
Four years later the line was extended to Wells; this part of the line was opened on 1 March 1862. The East Somerset Railway was bought by the Great Western Railway on 2 December 1874, shortly after it was converted to 4ft8 1⁄2in (1,435mm) standard gauge.
In 1878, the GWR joined the East Somerset line with the Cheddar Valley line to Wells, which had been built by the Bristol and Exeter Railway, by obtaining running rights over a section of the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway and running its trains through the S&DJR Wells station at Priory Road, though GWR trains did not stop at Priory Road until 1934. At this stage, the main traffic became the through trains from Yatton to Witham and the East Somerset Railway station in Wells closed, with Wells (Tucker Street) becoming the station for the city on the line. The Yatton to Witham service remained in use with the GWR and later BR until passenger service finally ceased in 1963 as a result of the Beeching Axe, however trains carrying bitumen continued until 1985.
In 1971/72, the artist David Shepherd came across, viewed and later purchased Cranmore station and a section of the track to house and run his two locomotives; the BR 2-10-0 Class 9F No. 92203 “Black Prince” and BR Standard 4 4-6-0 No. 75029 ‘The Green Knight’. In 1973, the line opened offering Brake Van rides before extending first to Merryfield in 1980 and then to Mendip Vale and into Cranmore station itself in 1985.
Today the railway plays host to a variety of preserved diesel and steam locomotives.
The East Somerset Railway only operates the line between Cranmore, Cranmore West, Merryfield Lane Halt and Mendip Vale. Between the last two sections, the train runs through the Doulting Railway Cutting Site of Special Scientific Interest. The section between Cranmore and the mainline is used for heavy quarry traffic to the nearby Merehead Quarry.
In 1991, a new station building was constructed at Cranmore which now includes a cafe, booking office, gift shop and toilets. The platform then extends to the old station which is now a museum. On the platform is an old K4 red telephone box which incorporates a stamp machine and post box. It was made around 1927 and is one of only 50 made to that design. Opposite the platform is a signal box dating from 1904 and is the standard GWR pattern of the period. Close to Cranmore station are the engine sheds and workshop (known together as Cranmore Shed) which were built in 1973, (during the preserved line’s restoration at the time).
Cranmore Traincare and Maintenance and Services (CTMS) was set up in 1995 at the Cranmore base of the ESR. They carry out professional repairs to carriages and bodywork overhauls on Diesel Locomotives. CTMS is based opposite the ESR loco workshop in a separate preservation era shed.
In recent years the ESR has gained a reputation for restorations and overhauls at its Cranmore headquarters. In 2014, LMS Ivatt Class 2 No. 46447 was restored to working order from scrapyard condition, being followed by LMS Ivatt Class 2 2-6-2T No. 41313 in 2017 for the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. It is currently overhauling GWR 5205 Class No. 5239 Goliath for the Dartmouth Steam Railway.
Cinematic (Sting) by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
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