Bristol Times and Mirror
Saturday 6th September 1873
The Opening of the North Somerset Railway
The line of railway between Bristol and Radstock which was commenced about ten years ago, but down to financial and other difficulties has only now been finished, was opened for public traffic on Wednesday. Years ago we should have been in a position to make this announcement had the North Somerset Railway experienced ordinary good fortunes, but those of our readers who are acquainted with the history of this line must know that that history is one of the most calamitous that the railway world has ever had to contend with. How long ago the subject of opening up the coal-fields of North Somerset by constructing a line of railway through the district was mooted, is scarcely known but we believe the first effort dates back to as early as the year 1836, and from that time till the North Somerset Railway Bill was sanctioned by Parliament a great number of schemes had been set on foot by engineers and others, with and without the countenance of the great lines of railway, the Great Western and the South-Western, to whose systems a railway through North Somerset would have been a feeder. Between Bristol and Radstock there exists a very rich coal-field, which has hitherto not been worked at so many points as would have been the case had there been greater facilities for the transit and shipment of that valuable commodity; and we cannot doubt that now these means are provided we shall hear of energetic action being taken to increase the find of coal, as the present high prices form more than ever an inducement to speculation in this direction. Besides coal the tract of country touched by the railway is rich in agricultural products, and there are also several extensive breweries to whose proprietors the new line must be a great convenience.
We have referred to the calamities which have marked the progress of the construction of the railway since it was started some ten years ago. The first sod was turned by Mrs. Milward, the lady of the Rev. Prebendary Milward, vicar of Clutton, in a field at Clutton, the property of the Earl of Warwick, who owns a very large portion of the land through which the line runs. The event took place amid much rejoicing, in the presence of some 5,000 or 6,000 persons, more than half of whom were colliers employed at the neighbouring pits. But financial difficulties followed thick and fast the one upon the other, and if we were to produce a history of the quarrels and contentions at the half-yearly and special meetings of the company, and the extraordinary phases of railway finance which came before the London law courts, or to lift the veil of privacy and tell of the ruin of families through the speculations of the too-confiding heads of those families, who were talked into risking their tens of thousands when the company was really in a state of bankruptcy, we should furnish such a fund of romance as has never before been experienced in the railway annals of the West of England. It can, however, be of no advantage to rake up again details so unsavoury in their character, or to state how or by whom the finances of the company became so hopelessly embarrassed. It will be sufficient to say that the works, which had been commenced in several places at the same time were stopped when the climax of misfortune was reached, and it was feared for a long time that those who had invested their money in the undertaking would never see their way out of the confusion and chaos that ensued, and that the line would be abandoned. Eventually the Earl of Warwick came to the rescue and at a special meeting of the company held at Midsomer Norton, in 1867, a resolution, proposed by Mr Dawson, who attended as his lordship's representative, was adopted, after a poll, by a majority of four votes, to the effect “ that the appointment of directors be postponed until the accounts of the company from its formation to the present time has been examined by a body of shareholders not being creditors.” The original object of the meeting, as stated in the requisition, was “to consider the present state of the board of directors of the company, to fill up four vacancies on such board, and to determine upon the propriety or otherwise of proceeding with a Bill introduced into Parliament by the directors for the purpose of arranging the pecuniary affairs of the company.” Mr. K Colthurst was chairman of the company at that time, and Mr. John Bingham its secretary. After a long period of inactivity, during which nothing was done towards the completion of the line, and the accounts of the company were being investigated, a new company was constituted by Act of Parliament in the latter part of the year 1870; and it is rather significant, and not less encouraging, that the gentleman appointed secretary in Mr. Bingham's place was, and is now, Mr. Frere, one of Lord Warwick's solicitors. In fact, but for Lord Warwick it is doubtful whether the work would ever have been taken up again. The liabilities of the company having been ascertained, an arrangement was made by which, if we recollect rightly, the creditors of the company were to receive shares at par in lieu of their debts, this being the only practicable mode, which presented itself to the scrutineers of the accounts by which the company could ever hope to keep its head above water. The financial difficulties being settled, a contractor was looked for, and Messrs. Perry and Co. undertook to complete the line on very liberal terms, for it was at this juncture highly desirable that the contractor, whoever he might be, should be in a position to go on with the work without being too exacting in regard to ready cash. The Great Western Railway Company were applied to, and that company consented to work the line when completed; and from that time to the present the work has progressed rapidly, and in spite of the failure and necessary reconstruction of the most expensive portion of the operations – the Pensford viaduct – the work has made rapid progress and is now completed. This viaduct is a magnificent work. It is of sixteen arches, its height to the level of the rail being 95 feet and its length 995 feet. The viaduct is of stone, and it is surmounted by a parapet wall 18 inches in thickness.
The length of the line is about 15½ miles. The junction with the Great Western at Bristol is opposite the Avonside Tannery, in St. Phillip's marsh. There are stations at Brislington, Pensford (for Chew Magna ad Chew Stoke), Clutton, Hallatrow, Welton (for Midsomer Norton, Farrington Gurney, and Paulton), and Radstock, which is the terminus. At present only a single line of rails has been laid, but the arches are wide enough for a double line if necessary. The narrow gauge system has been adopted. The journey occupies an hour. The gradients are very heavy, and this accounts for the seemingly undue length of time. The railway arrangements for the present month are as follow: - The first train leaves Radstock at 6.15 a.m., and there are three other up trains during the day, at 9 a.m., 1.15 p.m., and 5.45 p.m. The down trains from Bristol to Radstock start at 7.40 a.m., 11.15 a.m., 3.30 p.m., and 7.30 p.m. The distance between the stations are:- Bristol to Brislington, two miles; Brislington to Pensford, 4 ½ miles; Pensford to Clutton, three miles; Clutton to Hallatrow, 1 ½ miles; Hallatrow to Welton, 3 miles; Welton to Radstock, two miles. There are four different sets of single fares, viz., first, second, and third class, and Parliamentary. The single fare through by Parliamentary train is, of course, one penny per mile (1s. 4d.). The third class fare from Bristol to Radstock is 1s. 9d.; second class, 2s. 6d.; first class 3s. 9d. A first class return ticket costs 6s. 3d., and a second class return 4s. 3d. Third class carriages will be attached to every train. The opening was quite a formal matter, there being no ceremony whatever. The stations are at present in a very unfinished state, and it must be some time before they are completed.
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