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Evercreech to Burnham on the S&D
Summary of a talk by John Coles
John Coles provided a capacity audience after the society’s AGM on December 1 with an evocative glimpse of the final years of the Somerset and Dorset railway in moving pictures. An additional bonus was coverage of the fate of some of its few surviving features in the four decades since closure in March 1966.
Optimism still prevailed in the film showing the centenary celebrations of the opening of the Somerset Central Railway from Glastonbury to Highbridge held on 28 August 1954, when a special train with guests in costume traversed the route viewed by a multitude of spectators and recorded for a celebratory brochure.
However, the situation had deteriorated considerably by the time the BBC filmed John Betjeman’s journey from Evercreech to Burnham in 1963. Many stations were semi-derelict and overgrown, the rollingstock rusting and shabby, and passengers few. The sense of decay was highlighted as Betjeman sought out the monuments from better days: the extensive deserted locomotive works, silted-up wharf, and even the bronze war memorial and ornamental cast-iron benches at Highbridge.
Neglect was apparent in all departments for at least six years before the line closed — freight had been transferred to road as distribution needs changed (Clarks shoes were a particular example, in contrast to the founding Clarks as keen backers of building the railway); there was no feeling of a future in the railways and staff morale had collapsed. The slow death of the line was even exacerbated by the reluctance of civil servants to give the closure order.
Finally, film of constructing the Glastonbury relief road in 1993 showed some of the remaining sections of trackbed near the town being removed and replaced by tarmac. While the occasional relic from this now-remote era has been preserved, its disappearance is now as complete as the majestic elms the films showed once bordering its course.