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The Somerset & Dorset Railway. This famous cross-country line, which conveyed millions of passengers from the Midlands and the North to their annual holidays on the South Coast, closed 50 years ago on 6th March 2016. To mark this event – one of the most controversial of all the Beeching closures – we publish below a few memories from the northern end of the line. Author Robin Atthill and Binegar station master Norman Down went to great lengths to expose some of the 'dirty tricks' employed by British Railways to get the line closed; one of the most damaging ploys was to carry out passenger surveys during summer holiday weekends when services were disrupted by multiple engineering works, and when thousands of regular school passengers were on holiday. Dr. Beeching always maintained that his closures were essential 'surgery', but the S&D is not the only lost line about which there hangs a whiff of 'closure by manipulation', e.g. by the diversion of all its freight traffic on to other routes. By the 1960s, both government and BR management believed that the railway network 'had' to be reduced; so it is difficult to avoid wondering to what extent BR managers might have helped unwanted lines to fail.
Above: The imposing frontage of Bath Green Park station, which looks down Bath's St. James Street West, reveals that this was not a small station, and the fact that it was closed gives a sense of scale to the removal of the entire Somerset & Dorset network from Britain's railway map. Trains used to depart from here to destinations as diverse as Blandford Forum, Bournemouth, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Poole and Sheffield – actually a better range of destinations than is served today by direct trains from the surviving Bath Spa station. 21st July 1962. (Ben Brooksbank fromWikimedia Commons, used under the terms of this Creative Commons Licence)
 

Above: The S&D station at Radstock was called 'Radstock North' and is seen here looking north towards Bath. Note the large but wire-less telegraph pole in the left of the picture, which hints at the former importance of this line. The lack of signs and lamps on the right hand platform reveals that this photograph was taken after passenger closure in 1966, i.e. during the 'half life' period when Radstock yard – out of sight in the far middle distance – was used as a collection and marshalling point for coal from Writhlington Colliery. Only a short length of the S&D was retained for this traffic, for the coal trains headed south towards Midsomer Norton but soon stopped and reversed over a new BR link which enabled them to reach neighbouring Radstock West and Frome via part of the former GWR line through the town. August 1967. (Robin Summerhill)

 
Above: 45 years after the above photograph was taken, the site of Radstock North looked like this, the distinctive gable of the building on the left providing a point of reference. The road in the foreground is the A362 where the S&D level crossing was situated; the parallel GWR level crossing was to the right, just out of view beyond the trees. The existence of two level crossings in such close proximity caused great disruption to road traffic, especially during the summer holidays, and has been suggested as another reason for the authorities wanting to 'do away with the trains'. However, one needs to remember that the 1960s were the age of the car; to an extent, motorway building and railway closures were different sides of the same coin. 5th November 2012. (Robin Summerhill)
 
Above: An enlarged view of a 3rd class ordinary adult return from Radstock North to Chilcompton issued by the Western Region of British Railways. The 1/2d fare is just under 6p in modern money. The right hand side of the ticket is the outward portion and should have been torn off and retained by the ticket collector at Chilcompton. (Robin Summerhill Collection)
 

Left: One of the few places nowadays where one can see any part of the former Somerset & Dorset Railway as it used to be is Midsomer Norton South, which has become the home of the Somerset & Dorset Railway Heritage Trust. The Trust currently operates a third of a mile of railway, which – thanks to landowner lease agreements – is being extended towards Chilcompton, the next station to the south. 24th September 2011. (Jeff Vinter)

 

Above: Heading south from Midsomer Norton, the Somerset & Dorset approached Chilcompton Tunnel via this cutting, where a southbound express is seen on its way up the grade to the summit at Masbury. This is a summer Saturday service, the 07.00 from Cleethorpes to Bournemouth West, which before the war left the S&D at Templecombe on its way to Sidmouth and Exmouth. The photographer asked, 'Who on earth would have travelled the whole way?!' The answer is, 'Members of the Cleethorpes Boys' Brigade', who found this service unbelievably convenient for their annual seaside holidays in east Devon. The train is headed by LMS 2P 4-4-0 No. 40564 piloting SR Bulleid Light Pacific No. 34101 'Hartland', which took over at Bath Green Park. 22nd August 1959. (Ben Brooksbank from Wikimedia Commons, used under the terms of this Creative Commons Licence)

 
Above: The south-facing portals of the twin bore tunnels at Chilcompton once echoed to heavy freight and long distance passenger trains, like that seen above. Now they are used by the Midsomer Norton Target Shooting Club. 5th November 2012. (Robin Summerhill)
 
Above: In years gone by, when stations used to have parcels offices, a parcel label like this would be affixed to any item making an unaccompanied journey in the guard's compartment. The Southern Railway obligingly recorded the month and year of printing on these little bits of railway ephemera, so we can tell from this example that it was printed in July 1927. The '787' in the top right hand corner was the SR's stock number, a practice inherited from the LSWR; occasionally, this number would be missing from an SR label if the printer forgot to typeset it. (Jeff Vinter Collection)
 
Above: An extract from the timetable published by the Southern Region of British Railways for the period 11th September 1961 to 17th June 1962. Note the 9:45 departure from Bournemouth West, which was the famous Pines Express (Bournemouth–Manchester), a 'restaurant car train' with through carriages for Sheffield and Liverpool. Bear in mind that the timetable for the peak holiday period between June and September would have featured many more trains than this, including services like the Saturdays only Cleethorpes–Bournemouth West express seen above. Click here or on the image above for a printable version of this timetable page. (Jeff Vinter Collection)
 
Above: An enlarged view of a special ticket issued for the final year. A number of specials ran over the Somerset & Dorset Railway in 1966, this example by the Stephenson Locomotive Society being unusual in that – despite the January date on the ticket – it actually ran on 6th March 1966, the very last day of operation. (Robin Summerhill Collection)