John Speller's Web Pages Somerset Central Railway

John Speller's Web Pages - GWR Broad Gauge - B&ER

Somerset Central Railway (S&DJR)
While not strictly Great Western, the broad gauge Somerset Central Railway was run in its early years by the Bristol & Exeter Railway. The Bristol & Exeter Railway bent over backwards to help its partner and among other things donated the Highbridge Canal, which it owned, to the Somerset Central Railway. Part of its right of way was built along the bed of the former canal. The line opened from Highbridge to Glastonbury on 28 August 1854, from Highbridge to Burnham-on-Sea on 3 May 1858, and from Glastonbury to Wells on 3 March 1859. The merger with the Dorset Central Railway and subsequent sale to the MR and L&SWR in 1875 was, in retrospect, very much to the detriment of the Somerset Central, since after the building of the S&D's Bath extension it became little more than a backwater of the Somerset & Dorset Railway, and began a steady decline that lasted until its closure in the 1960s. The Glastonbury - Wells section had already closed in 1951. The sale of the Somerset & Dorset to the Midland and London & South Western Railways (due entirely to the incompetence of the Great Western in failing to appreciate the importance of the Somerset Central) came as a big blow to the Bristol & Exeter Railway, since the B&E had been running a lucrative service from Bristol to Glastonbury, Wells and Burnham-on-Sea; in order to avoid bankruptcy the B&E had to merge with the Great Western.
This view from an old postcard shows the fine Brunel-style brick elliptical-arched bridge that carried the Somerset Central Railway over the River Brue at Highbridge, twenty miles downstream from where, according to the legend, Sir Bevedere threw Excalibur into the river after the fall of King Arthur at the Battle of Camlann in 537.
B&ER-style Signalbox at Wells Priory Road
B&ER-style Disc-and-Crossbar signal at Spettisbury on the Somerset Central Railway, in use until 1901
James Clarke (1812-1906), the Quaker entrepreneur who with his brother Cyrus founded the shoe company C. & J. Clarke, Ltd., and was one of the promoters and a Director of the Somerset Central Railway
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