Weston, Clevedon & Portishead
Conceived and built as a "tramway" from Weston-Super-Mare to Portishead in the 1880's, construction proceeded slowly, the railway opening between Clevedon and Weston in 1897. New light railway powers were obtained and the extension to Portishead opened in 1907. Colonel Stephens took over as manager in 1911 and W H Austen continued in this capacity until the line closed under wartime pressure in 1940. The picture shows 2-4-0T Hesperus at Weston with American style bogie carriage, c.1920.
A Short History
Although the three towns in the title of this railway were served from early railway days by branches from the West of England mainline, a direct link between the towns arrived only slowly. Parliamentary Acts of l885 and 1890 authorised a link but construction was very slow for a variety of reasons, largely financial. Opening from Weston to Clevedon on 1st December 1897 the line had evolved from the originally authorised tramway into a light railway. Vestiges of the tramway origins remained till the end in the form of very low platforms at most stations and halts. Powers required for the extension to Portishead had lapsed and a further Act of 1899 was required which formally changed its status to a Light Railway, although it did not operate under the Light Railways Act
After a promising start operation and management proved poor. The extension to Portishead finally opened on 7th August 1907 but resultant financial difficulties drove the company into receivership in November 1909 from which it never recovered. Several attempts were made to attract a takeover by the GWR by threatening connection with the S&DJR but they proved nugatory. Benign creditors in the shape of the Excess Insurance Company, and in particular its controlling force Cuthbert E Heath, ensured the lines continuation and through them Holman Stephens was appointed manager in 1911.
Stephens' vigour, with the active support of Heath, made several proposals for improvements, including an ultimately abortive coal field branch and a wharf on the River Yeo to import and potentially export coal. These came to little, as first the Great War, then increasing road competition bit into traffic. Nevertheless Stephens gradually introduced economical methods of operation Including railcars and a small petrol engine shunter for use on the wharf when it was completed. The coasting vessels that Stephens bought to exploit the wharf proved less successful.
Although day-to-day operating paid, the historic debt burden remained a huge encumbrance. As became customary with light railways in the late 1920s and 1930s investment in equipment was extremely limited. Summer traffic was buoyant but winter passenger traffic was thin. There was a severe blow with the loss of the important and, formerly growing, Black Rock quarry traffic following change of ownership in the mid-1930s.
The year 1939 brought severe problems. Black Rock quarries finally withdrew their business, transferring to road early in 1939. Then on 3rd March Heath died and the Insurance Company became increasingly nervous about the utility of keeping the railway going. In May 1939 the Government were considering what minor railways should be taken over in wartime and decided not to include the WC&P. With the advent of World War ll in September 1939, the all important holiday traffic bringing in 80-100,000 passengers a year was clearly likely to disappear.
Despite Austen's efforts the Government and the creditors refused support and the line closed on 18th May 1940. Had it survived the War, returning holiday traffic might have ensured a form of survival for the line, but it was not to be. The line closed and there followed a confusing legal situation arising from the line's long Receivership. The GWR apparently purchased an interest in the line for a nominal sum and took on the movable stock. The track was finally lifted in 1942.
Weston Clevedon and Portishead Railway. C Redwood. Sequoia Publications. 1981.
Weston Clevedon and Portishead Railway. Colin G Maggs. Oakwood Press. 1990.
There is an exellent website devoted to the Railway www.wcpr.org.uk
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