Weston, Clevedon & Portishead
Conceived as a “tramway” from Weston-Super-Mare to Portishead in the 1880’s, this railway opening between Clevedon and Weston in 1897, extended to Portishead 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.
Although the three towns in the title of this railway were served individually by branches from the West of England mainline from early railway days, Parliamentary Acts of 1885 and 1890 authorised a direct link. Opening from Weston to Clevedon on 1st December 1897 the line evolved from an authorised tramway left permanent traces in the form of very low platforms. Powers required for the extension to Portishead had lapsed and required a further Act in 1899.
After a promising start operation and management proved poor. Portishead was finally reached on 7th August 1907 but resultant financial difficulties drove the company into receivership in November 1909 and it never left. 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 or minerals. These came too little, as first the Great War, then increasing road competition, bit into traffic. Nevertheless Stephens gradually introduced economical methods of operation Including railmotors and a small petrol engine shunter. The coasting vessels that Stephens bought to exploit the wharf proved less successful.
Unfortunately the historic debt burden remained a huge encumbrance. The railway remained in a pretty precarious position, despite buoyant summer passenger traffic, quarry traffic from the Black Rock and the Conygar Pennant Quarry Company quarries, and Clevedon Gas Company traffic. 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 keeping the railway going. In May 1939 the Government were considering what minor railways should be taken over in wartime and although the Ministry of Transport’s initial decision was that it should be on 1st September the WC&P was excluded. With the advent of World War 2 in September 1939, the all important holiday traffic bringing in 80-100,000 passengers a year was clearly likely to disappear.
Despite strenuous efforts by W H Austen the Government and the creditors refused any 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. As a result of the line’s long Receivership following closure a confusing legal situation arose. The GWR apparently purchased an interest in the line for a nominal sum and took on the movable stock. The track was finally lifted by the Government in 1942.