Reminiscences given by Mr Ron Andrews to the North Sedgemoor Local History Group in October 1986.
The Somerset & Dorset Railway ran from Bath to Poole, with branch lines from Wells to Cheddar, from Glastonbury to Highbridge & Burnham, and from Edington to Bridgwater, and this was where I spent most of my working life.
I began as a Cleaner’s Boy in the Highbridge Railway Works, working 12 hours a day, six days a week. For those hours I was paid 5/7d per week. The paint, Body & Running Shops employed between 300 and 400 men before the First World War and, after passing through these shops , I was promoted to Cleaner at the Wells Depot. From Wells I moved to Bath and I became a Fireman; then back to Highbridge , eventually becoming a driver. Tank engine cleaning was done at night for over £4 a week in the Highbridge Works.
The S&D livery was blue with a gold and red line. In the Highbridge Paint shop Harry Ramsay was the sign-writer and , when stock was to be repainted , he could draw the red and gold line free-hand. To prepare any of the rolling -stock for painting, boys used to burn off the old paint- work with charcoal.
At Highbridge Station there were 12 drivers and 12 firemen. plus all the station staff. There were six lines at the Station, with the G.W.R crossing the S&D line.
Both the G.W.R. and S&D had Station Masters with a house for each one. When I was young I was a keen swimmer and belonged to the Swimming Club – behind (the old) U.B.M. building in Highbridge. We swam in the River Brue with an annual swim from Burnham Jetty to Steart Island. Later I kept bees and was permitted to keep hives in the Station Master’s garden at Burnham.
Coal was brought by ship from South Wales to Highbridge Wharf, where it was off-loaded by steam crane into the waiting trucks. These were pulled into place by two horses. The horses were stabled by the cattle market and belonged to Fred Wiltshire, who lived at 1, Market Terrace. The ships which were used for this work were the ‘Alfred’, the ‘Julia’ and the ‘Radstock’.
Big coal yards were needed to supply fuel for the kilns at the brickworks in Burnham, Highbridge and Bridgwater.
In Burnham the yards were owned by Edward Slocombe and Percy Williams. Apex Brickworks was very busy and a line went into the Works for the trucks to be off-loaded. We then transported the finished bricks and tiles, together with bath-bricks from Bridgwater, to Bath.
Other cargoes included beer from Holt’s Brewery in Burnham and Starkey’s in Bridgwater, milk from Bason Bridge, shoes from Clarks at Glastonbury ( right and left shoes were packed separately to stop pilfering); bacon from Highbridge Bacon Factory, and, in season ,strawberries on the Cheddar Valley Line, and blackberries, for which the pickers received 1d per pound. The blackberries were used for jam and dye making. There were also the Pigeon Specials which travelled from up North to Bournemouth or Weymouth.
Summer was a busy time with all the excursions and extra farm produce to move. We had to work all hours and weekends. To get to Bournemouth the G.W.R. used S&D track for the Pines Express, and another of our jobs was to pilot these trains. Because of all the excursions, Burnham had an extra long platform. As well as bringing excursions into Burnham we also took Burnham people to Bournemouth. The fare was 2/9d return and the journey tool two hours. Other special trains included taking Roman Catholic pilgrims on their annual journey to Glastonbury, and performers for band contests, which were also held in Glastonbury. Circuses also arrived in Burnham by train and there was a Mail-bag pickup at Springfield road in Highbridge.
Working a rural line sometimes had problems, such as cows or hounds straying on the track. As the Highbridge/Glastonbury line was laid on peat , it had to be inspected daily for subsidence.
We used to take water and coal to the gatekeepers across the Moors.
Sometimes there was an unexpected bonus, such as Lady Gass’ Christmas gift of rabbits, or at West Pennard cider for the driver, fireman and guard.
In 1922 I purchased my first house for £150, and worked on the railway until I reached retiring age when I was given a pension of £17 per week.