Sellick, Roger: The West Somerset Mineral Railway & the Story of the Brendon Hills Iron Mines
Book Number: 13376
David & Charles Devon, England 1970 126 pages b/w photos - The West Somerset Mineral Railway was a standard gauge line which operated in the UK county of Somerset. It ran from ironstone mines in the Brendon Hills to the port of Watchet on the Bristol Channel. From there the ore was carried across the Bristol Channel by ship to Newport and thence to Ebbw Vale for smelting to extract the iron. The line included a rope-worked inclined plane 3,272 feet long to bring the ore down a 770 feet vertical interval on a 1 in 4 gradient. The line opened fully in 1861, and for a period passengers were carried, but the mineral extraction declined and the railway's fortunes declined too. It closed in 1898. A new mineral venture was attempted in 1907, and the line was partly re-opened, but this failed too and the line closed again in 1910. The massive inclined plane is a listed structure. n the mid-nineteenth century, the proprietors of the Ebbw Vale Iron Works acquired an interest in iron ore deposits in the Brendon Hills on the north side of Exmoor. Iron ore had been known there for centuries but not exploited industrially until the Brendon Hills Iron Ore Company was formed, in 1853. At an altitude of over 1,000 feet and remote from usable roads, the deposits needed a form of transport to get the ore to South Wales. Thomas Brown, managing partner of the Ebbw Vale company realised that a railway to the quay at Watchet was the solution. The line was designed by Rice Hopkins.The Ebbw Vale proprietors formed the West Somerset Mineral Railway for the purpose, and obtained Parliamentary authority on 16 July 1855 for a standard gauge (4 ft 8½ in, 1,435 mm) line from Watchet Quay to Heath Poult (or "Exton"). The authorised capital was £50,000. Work started on construction in May 1856, and a locomotive was obtained in November 1856; however it was "put out of action" by serious damage to the boiler. The line was ready for traffic from Watchet to Roadwater by April 1857, and for the time being that acted as the railhead for the minerals; the line was extended to Comberow by December 1857, making an extent of 7½ miles (12 km). However in the interim period another accident occurred when two locomotives collided, killing three men. An Act was obtained on 27 July 1857 to extend the line to Minehead, with a branch to Cleeve; an additional £35,000 capital was authorised. This work was never carried out. The formidable rise in altitude to reach the mines was to be accomplished by a gravity worked incline, three-quarters of a mile long, on a gradient of 1 in 4. To achieve the constant gradient, formidable earthworks were necessary, and construction took four years. Mining had been proceeding apace, and by now large stocks of ore were waiting at the incline head to be conveyed to the Harbour. Ore was brought down the incline while it was being completed, from 31 May 1858, and it was not fully finished until March 1861, when two 18-feet (5.5 m) diameter winding drums were installed on a single axle, located below the track, at Brendon Hill. Public goods traffic had been accepted from 28 September 1859. The plane was 3,272 feet (1 km) long and the vertical interval was 770 feet (235 km). A single wagon containing five tons of ore could be lowered down the plane in twelve minutes. Fixed railway-type signals were used to indicate that an ascending wagon had been attached to the rope; the brakesman at the upper level then levered the descending, loaded wagon to the brow of the hill, and the descent and ascent began. The descent was controlled by braking. The WSMR line was leased to the Brendon Hills Iron Ore Company for seven years from 1859, and the latter was to work the line. The lease was extended and transferred to the Ebbw Vale Iron Company on 24 June 1864.