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West Pier at Watchet

The West Pier at Watchet Harbour is where the tracks of the West Somerset Mineral Railway ended and the iron ore was loaded onto waiting sailing vessels to be shipped to the iron works in South Wales. 

 

An important part of this project was to mark out the former alignment of the tracks of the Mineral Railway on the Pier.  However, identifying the position of these tracks proved difficult due to the various phases of pier and railway building.  

 

The construction of the east and west piers was completed in 1862 when the Mineral Railway was fist opened.  But this original arrangement was swept away together with the West Pier itself in the great storm of the night of 28th/29th December 1900. 

  

The West Pier was rebuilt with the wooden brake water replaced by the concrete block pier that stands today.  This work was undertaken by T.A. Walker who set up a casting yard and depot in the area now known as the Mineral Yard.  The railway reopened in 1907 and iron ore was tipped directly from the pier into ships.

 

 

Evidence of former rails in the paving of the West Quay, Watchet Harbour
Evidence of former rails in the paving of the West Quay, Watchet Harbour

 

  

Trench 1. in the tarmac (picture opposite) revealed a pair of rails set in a well-made lias sett surface.  The position of these rails matched with photographic evidence . 

 

However, their spacing apart of 1.46 m exceeded the 1.435 m (4’ 8.5’’) expected for standard gauge.  The rail on the left, nearest the harbour edge was lower than the rail on the right suggesting it may have sunk over time. 

 

There were no wooden sleepers but there would have been metal ties below the paving to keep the rails the right distance apart.  This was similar to a street tramway rather than a railway. 

 

 

Shoe rail fixing in trench 2
Shoe rail fixing in trench 2
 

 

A public consultation day was held at Watchet Council Chambers on the 6th and 7th March 2009 where a number of improvement options for the Pier where presented.  Taking into account the results of the public consultation and incoming tenders the original proposals were amended.  West Somerset District Council has now commissioned a contractor and the improvement works are scheduled for autumn 2009. 

 

 

[ Zoom ]
Watchet West Pier - Proposed railtrack and new pedestrian entrance at the Market Street end
Watchet West Pier - Proposed railtrack and new pedestrian entrance at the Market Street end

 To investigate reports and photographic evidence of the survival of tracks a day of archaeological investigation was conducted on January 28, 2009. 

 

The team, consisting of Nic Wall, Conservation Officer, Ian Lewis, Conservation Craftsman for Somerset County Council and consultant archaeologist James Brigers, decided to cut two small trenches to establish the presence and location of any rails. 

 

 

Trench 1
Trench 1
 

  

Trench 2. in the concrete revealed parallel gullies of a width apart comparable with that between the rails in Trench 1., indicating that the tracks had been removed at sometime. 

 

By chance, the Trench contained an intact ‘chair’ or ‘shoe’ rail fixing (see picture opposite).

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[ Zoom ]
West Somerset Old Mineal Line Project - Revised West Pier Proposals
West Somerset Old Mineal Line Project - Revised West Pier Proposals
 

Summary of improvement works:

 

  • Expose an element of the former Mineral Line rails and paving.
  • Replace the current railings along the harbour edge on the West Pier with cast iron railings.
  • Enhance the entrance to the Mineral Yard by creating a separate pedestrian access.  A white lined footpath laid around the perimeter of the yard will give walkers a safe access through the yard and out to the West Pier.
  • Display Interpretation Panels on the front wall of the Mineral Yard and on railings on the West Pier to explain the history of the MineralLine.

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