Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway

Highbridge Collett 2251 class loco Nº3210 on Highbridge turntable, 30th October 1962. Highbridge once had busy Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Works but these closed in 1930, laying off 300 men and causing large unemployment in the small town. Looking rather derelict this was the turning point for the engine before returning to Evercreech, Highbridge being just one station before Burnham-on-Sea.

photograph by Peter Richards

Highbridge was once a very important railway centre with stations on both the Bristol to Exeter line (Highbridge West) and the S&D line (Highbridge East). Originally opened as a terminus by the Somerset Central Railway on 28th August 1854, Highbridge East could boast of having five platforms, three more than the West station. The line continued on, crossing the main line from Bristol to Exeter on the level, at an angle of some 45º and underneath a road bridge, at first just to Highbridge Wharf (which was a busy place for coal, timber, rails, dairy and agricultural products) then to Burnham. The S&D owned a fleet of its own ships the last two of which lasted until their marine interests were wound up in 1934. The wharf continued to be used by commercial shipping until 1950 and finally closed in 1964. The 1½ mile extension to Burnham ran beside the wharf line, giving the false impression of double track, and opened on 3rd May 1858.
Burnham-on-Sea station, looking back towards Highbridge. The station had a lovely brick and stone train shed which was very necessary for protection from the off-shore winds blowing across the Bristol Channel!

Burnham was the end of the line for passengers, but a short spur continued on from the station, down a 1:23 slope and out onto a pier. This pier was used by shipping for a limited time and the trucks for the pier were lowered and retrieved by wire ropes. The building on the right was, until 1930, the Lifeboat station which had its own siding leading to the line to the pier, down which the Lifeboat would be launched.

photograph by Peter Richards

Unusually, despite the station "closing" on 29th October 1951, holiday excursion trains still used the branch and station up until 8th September 1962, shortly before this photograph was taken! The station is long gone thanks to a road widening scheme, but the Lifeboat building still exists, as the Scout Hut it became in 1930. Nearby is the Somerset & Dorset Hotel which has smart signs commemorating the long-gone railway.

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