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West Somerset Mineral Railway Project go to homepagelink to heritage lottery fund website

A Mineral Railway in West Somerset

As early as 1839 Sir Thomas Lethbridge, investor in a South Wales ironworks and the early railways, investigated the possibility of a tramroad from Roadwater to Watchet once he had established the presence of iron ore on his land on the Brendons. 


Transport of ore by horse and cart was unworkable and narrow gauge (initially horse drawn, then by steam engine) tramroads were a long-established method for the transport of materials to the nearest waterway.   


Already the signature of the first land lease granting the Brendon Hill Mining Company effective mining rights in 1853, committed the partners to building a railway within five years from the mines to the Bristol Channel.  Time was of essence as until the railway was in operation the ore had to be stockpiled and was of no benefit to the Ebbw Vale company.  


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Wax impression of the WSMR seal
Wax impression of the WSMR seal

In 1855 the West Somerset Mineral Railway Act incorporated the company and gave permission for the construction of a line from Watchet Harbour through Roadwater through to Brendon Hill to a terminus near Heath Poult Cross. 


Building works formally started with the turning of the first sod in May 1856 and were completed in 1864.


There was only one feasible route from Watchet to Roadwater, following the valley of the Washford river, but from Roadwater on two possible routes were being considered.   


The map below shows the variations of the route, as surveyed, planned and built.


Route plan

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Route Plan.  Drawing by Mike Jones



Go to the railway in pictures
A scene at the foot of the incline, perhaps in the 1870s