West Somerset Railway THE 150 EVENT 16TH - 21ST JULY 2024

2024 marks a very special year for the West Somerset Railway as it marks the 150th Anniversary of the opening of the line between Watchet and Minehead.

We have a wide range of activities happening throughout the week of 16th-21st July in order to commemorate this special occasion.

In the 1850’s, iron ore began to be mined in commercial quantities in the Brendon Hills. Between 1856 and 1864, the West Somerset Mineral Railway was constructed and ran from the hills to Watchet Harbour, where the ore was sent in ships across to South Wales for smelting at Ebbw Vale.

The West Somerset Railway Company was also formed in the 1850’s. They were a separate company, who’s focus was to build a line from Watchet to Taunton, to connect with the Bristol and Exeter section of the main line, which was completed in 1845.

Due to the success of the construction of the railway to Watchet, the people of Minehead wished to extend the line to ensure the prosperity of their town. The main promoters of the expansion were the Luttrell family of Dunster, who had visions of the Minehead area rivalling popular tourist locations such as Weston-super-Mare and Burnham-on-Sea. They could see Minehead becoming very popular for holidaymakers and Blue Anchor being ideal for day-trippers. A new company, the Minehead Railway Company was formed to extend the line to Minehead.

The new section of the line between Watchet and Minehead was opened on 16th July 1874. It was to be the penultimate broad gauge to be built, the last being the St Ives branch line, which opened in 1877. The people of Minehead decorated the town in celebration.

The first up train left Minehead at 6am and on its return at 9am it brought around 200 passengers. When the next train arrived at 1pm, it brought approximately 800 more, including the company directors. 180 schoolchildren met the train while a band played and they then marched through the streets, waving flags. Each train was greeted by the cheering public and also salutes from cannons!

On the day of the opening, a grand luncheon was held in a marquee near the station for around 150 dignitaries. Grace was said by the vicar and speeches were made by the directors. After the meal, various sports were played and poems recited, before prizes were given out to the successful competitors.

The next day was the turn of the navvies. 160 men marched with Minehead Brass Band along the parade, with ribbons in their hats and were treated to a dinner and plenty of beer in the same marquee as was used the day before. The men were joined by their wives and had a very pleasant afternoon dancing and running for prizes, amongst other activities.

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