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Timeline

A chronological list of events tracing the history of the West Somerset Mineral Railway (WSMR).

Timeline 3 phases
Pre-history – 1852 1853 – 1898 1899 – 1925
Pre-history – 1852

From iron mining in pre-history to the formation of the WSMR.

 

 

1853 – 1898

The period of construction and operation of the West Somerset Mineral Railway.  Iron was mined until 1883.

 

1899 – 1925

The West Somerset Mineral Railway declined and re-opened for three short lived ventures before the company was finally wound up.

 

Pre-history - 1852

 

Date

Events

Pre-history

Archaeological evidence in the form of extraction pits and openworks from early miners is difficult to date but are thought to go back to the Iron Age.

AD 43–ca 410

Roman Britain.  The proximity of Roman occupation sites to extraction pits on the Brendon Hills lends weight to the possibility that they were worked directly or under contract.

AD 450-1800

Archaeological evidence of intermittent small-scale mining and smelting on the Brendon Hills. 
1750+              Development of the South Wales Iron and Coal Industry.
1790 The Ebbw Vale Iron Company was formed in South Wales.
1794 John Lethbridge, father of Sir Thomas Lethbridge, acquired a ‘sporting estate’ on the Brendon Hills including much of the parish of Withiel Florey and parts of the parish of Luxborough.
1796 James, Richard and John Harford and John Partridge, Bristol bankers, bought the Ebbw Vale Company.
1825+  Expansion of the South Wales ironworks.  Production of wrought iron railway and tramroad rails in quantity.  Locally sourced supplies of iron ore began to become depleted.
1836  Sir Thomas Lethbridge became a principal shareholder in the Monmouthshire Iron & Coal Company. 
1838 Sir Thomas announced the discovery of ore on his Brendon Hills estate in the Mining Journal of 18 August 1838. 
1839 Sir Thomas Lethbridge established Lothbrook Mine and proposed a tramroad from the Brendon Hills to Watchet.  His attempt to acquire land from the Earl of Egremont for this purpose failed. 
1840 The South Wales ironworks struggled to produce enough iron to meet the increasing demand at the height of the railway building boom.  Inreasing pressure to find new sources of iron ore.
1842 The Mines & Collieries Act prohibited the employment of women, children and boys younger than ten years of age underground.
1849 Following a visit to the Brendon Hills the ironmaster Samuel Holden Blackwell and colliery owner Ebenezer Rogers formed the Brendon Hill Mining Company and obtained a two year mining licence from Sir Walter Trevelyan.
1851-52 Blackwell presented British metallic ores at the Great Exhibition of 1851, among them samples of Brendon Hills haematite ore.  In his lecture, published in the Journal of the British Iron Trade Association, he stated: ‘the haematites of West Somerset are at present entirely unworked; there are however, many lodes of very superior quality known to exist along the entire range of the Brendon Hills.’
1852 Thomas Brown, the Ebbw Vale Company’s general director visited the Brendon Hill mines and decided to invest his own money in their development.
   

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1853 – 1898

Date 

Events 

1853 The Brendon Hill Mining Company under its partners Brown and Joseph Robinson, gained effective mining rights for the Brendon Hills and started developing the mines with a predominantly local workforce.
1854 Brown and Robinson had Raleighs Cross, Gupworthy and Bearland Wood mines in operation.  The quality and volume of ore raised was below expectations.  The ore had to be stockpiled as no adequate transport was available.
1854 Brown and Robinson decided to build a railway from the Brendon Hills to Watchet.  The route was initially surveyed by William Doyne.  The consulting engineer Rice Hopkins completed and amended the survey and drew up specifications after Doyne’s dismissal. 
1855 West Somerset Mineral Railway Act.  The company was incorporated to rebuild Watchet Harbour and a railway from Watchet to the Quarme Valley to Hopkins design.
1856 Henry Bessemer took out a patent for his process which provided a cheap method of producing bulk steel.  The price reduction allowed steel to be widely used and replace wrought iron.  The process worked on the principle of removal of impurities through oxidisation.  It had a serious flaw until Robert Mushet’s experimentation hit on to the solution of adding ‘spiegeleisen’ during the blow stage of the process.  
1855-61 Mines worked:  Ralegh’s Cross, Carnarvon, Colton Pits, Gupworthy, Eisenhill, Bearland Wood and Burrow Farm.
1856 July:  Construction of the railway at Watchet started.  September: The Neilson locomotive was delivered in to assist with earthmoving.
1857 May:  The first train ran from Watchet to Roadwater; by December the rails had reached the foot of the Incline.  Work on the Incline started.
1857 Replacement locomotive Rowcliffe ordered following a collision at Kentsford.  One Neilson loco was sent for repair.
1858  The Incline was partly opened, laid with narrow gauge track.
1858 Morgan Morgans appointed manager of the mines and engineer to the WSMR.
1859  The Ebbw Vale Company leased the WSMR for seven years, paying £3,375 p.a.
1860-62 New Act for enlarging and rebuilding Watchet harbour passed.  Construction started in February 1861 and was completed a year later.  The extension of the line to Minehead harbour had been approved but was rendered unnecessary.
1861 Completion of work on the Incline including installation of winding drums. 
1864 The expanding Ebbw Vale company was floated on the Stock Exchange to raise capital for investment in Bessemer bulk steel production.  Ebbw Vale Company Ltd renewed the WSMR lease until 1919 for an annual payment of £5,575.
1855-67 Mining community formed on the Brendon Hills:  chapels and churches, shops and schools were established.  Miners’ company housing was built, including the mine manager’s house and some community facilities. 
1863-64 Construction of phase two of the railway to Goosemoor under Morgans including station buildings on the lower section of the line.
1864-66 Mines expanded and productivity increased:  Roman, Carew, Withiel Hill and Smallcombe Bottom mines were started.  A shaft at Gupworthy Adit was raised and a winding/pumping engine installed.  Permanent pumping engines installed at Raleigh’s Cross mine, Kennisham Hill and at Langham Hill. 
1865 The lower section of the line was opened to passenger traffic.
1866 The Pontypool locomotive arrived.  Daily train service upgraded to four trains in each direction.
1867 Morgans resigned and was replaced as mine manager by Henry Skewis.
1866-77 The Ebbw Vale Company started making Bessemer steel with Brendon Hills ore and production at the mines peaked.
1877-79  The effects of Spanish competition felt, and the Long Depression took hold.  The Mines were closed and the train service was reduced to two daily trains in each direction.
1880 Mines re-opened and the full train service re-instated.

1883

 

Surrender of all leases.  Mining ceased and all mining equipment was removed for disposal.  Material from mine buildings and dwellings was sold.  A Robey engine was installed to operate the Incline winding drums.
1883- 89 Decline of the railway:  Low level operation of the line with minimal repair and maintenance. 
1898         November: The West Somerset Mineral Railway line closed to all traffic.  All rolling stock fit to travel taken to Ebbw Vale.  Buildings boarded up and rails left in place.

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1899 – 1925

 

Date 

Events

1900        December: A great storm ruined Watchet Harbour and destroyed the Mineral quay.
1905 Watchet harbour rebuilding completed.

1907

Investors formed the Somerset Mineral Syndicate Ltd to take advantage of rising steel prices and leased the railway as far as Brendon Hill.  Work began at Coltonpits mine and on a new adit at Timwood.  The Incline was re-opened.
1907  2”(60 cm) gauge Tramway constructed from Coltonpits mine to the top of the incline at Brendon Hill.
1909 The syndicate failed to sell stock piled soft ore to the Ebbw Vale Company due to the quality of the material (too crumbly) and falling steel prices.  The investors formed the Watchet Briquetting syndicate in an attempt to improve the iron ore by pressing it into blocks and sintering them in a brick kiln at Washford.
1910 The Mineral Syndicate and the Briquetting Syndicate went into liquidation when the Ebbw Vale Co. refused to buy the blocks as the works were on reduced production.
1911 Arthur R Angus, a solicitor from New South Wales, leased the length of the WSMR from Watchet to Washford for trials of an automatic train control system.
1912 July: Successful public demonstration of the Angus system
1913 Angus left for Russia but failed to sell his system there.
1917 Following the issue of a ministerial order commandeering the rails for the war effort the rails were lifted and the Incline winding drums blown up and taken to Watchet.
1923 The West Somerset Mineral Railway (Abandonment) Act
1924 Auction sale at Watchet of the land and buildings owned by the WSMR
1925 July: Last directors' meeting was held at the Great Eastern Hotel, Liverpool Street in the City of London.

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