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Watchet Harbour and the Mineral Railway

Watchet and its harbour have an ancient history characterised by cycles of destruction and revival after great storms.  At the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the town was considered as port for the transport of iron ore, business was expanding.  The coming of the Mineral Railway and the West Somerset Railway improved the infrastructure and economy of Watchet . 

 

The harbour was owned by the Earls of Egremont who had the Town Slip and the Esplanade built in 1843.  However the pier was not fit for purpose and although the West Somerset Mineral Railway Act of 1855 authorised the rebuilding of the harbour it took litigation, a public enquiry and a further royal act before building work could begin in 1860.

 

The improvement contract for Watchet harbour included the rebuilding of the west quay with a timber breakwater extension and the construction the new east quay (6.7 m wide on top), which terminated 30 metres from the end of the western breakwater.

  

Messrs Tredwell constructed the piers to James Abernethy’s drawings and completed the work in February 1862.

 

Initially eight small vessels began regular crossings to Newport with iron ore, returning with coal and mine timbers once or twice a week.  The transport across the channel gave the ship-owners constant employment, but was not without risk.  Between 1859 and 1883 25 Watchet vessels and 26 crew members were lost at sea.   

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Watchet harbour from the east, about 1870
Watchet harbour from the east, about 1870
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Damaged boats in Watchet Harbour following the great storm
Damaged boats in Watchet Harbour in December 1900

 

In 1902 to the town of Watchet formed an urban district council to pay for the repairs.  Instead of timber the new work was constructed of precast mass concrete blocks.  The former lighthouse that had been saved from the wreckage of the storm was re-erected at the end of the west pier.  The new harbour was finished in 1907. 

 

 

 

 

On 29 December 1900 a tremendous storm swept across the South West, and had a devastating impact on Watchet harbour.  The storm destroyed most of the west pier including the mineral pier and about half of the eastern pier.  It also wrecked several vessels in the harbour.  

 

 

 

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Rebuilding on the WSMR sidings in Watchet in 1904
Rebuilding on the WSMR sidings in Watchet in 1904
go to Bill of Landing
Bill of Landing for rails shipped from Newport to Watchet 1859
go to Watchet Harbour in pictures
The cast iron lighthouse at the end of the rebuilt west pier