Although well-known and loved today as one of the UK's premier heritage railways, the story of the Minehead Branch begins in the mid 19th century and this is the first time the line's colourful history has been told in detail. The first section, from Norton Fitzwarren to Watchet, was opened by the West Somerset Railway in 1862, with the extension to Minehead, built under the auspices of the Minehead Railway Company, opening twelve years later, in 1874. Both lines were broad gauge and operated from opening by the Bristol & Exeter Railway. Conversion to standard gauge took place under the Great Western Railway in 1882, although the Minehead Railway was not officially absorbed by that company until 1897 and the West Somerset Railway until 1922. Traversing some of the finest countryside in the west of England, from rolling hills to coastal plains, the branch carried generations of holidaymakers to the beaches at Blue Anchor, Dunster and Minehead, as well as providing a vital goods link to the docks at Watchet. However, it also served several remote villages, such as Stogumber and Crowcombe, which were quite removed from their stations and, as the age of the motor car arrived, the branch was always likely to be a candidate for closure. Goods traffic too, from the docks and the paper mills at Watchet, was also lost to road transport. In the end, it was only thanks to the seaside traffic to Minehead that the line survived as long as it did, BR finally closing it in 1971. The story of the preserved West Somerset Railway has been well documented elsewhere, so no attempt has been made to take this history on beyond closure in 1971. The author, who has been closely associated with the preserved line for many years, has produced a detailed account of the branch's history, looking at all aspects of its traffic and operation., from the earliest days right up to closure. The book is illustrated with a wealth of photographs, many of which have not previously been published, along with the 2-chain survey, as redrawn by the author and here reproduced in full. In addition, he has produced scale plans of nearly all of the major structures at the end of the stations, which modellers will find particularly useful. There is also a chapter on the Camp Coaches, a nostalgic feature which may bring back fond memories of the line for older readers. Historians, regular travellers and members of the WSR, as well as local people, will find much to enjoy in this history, whilst anyone who ever had a relative who worked on the branch may well find a familiar name in the List of Employees at the end of the book.
Hardcover, 392 pages.