Dorset Joint Railway
The Clandown Branch
This pages describes the Clandown Branch of the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway (S&DJR) at Radstock in the county of Somerset. Although the title "Branch" was used in many S&DJR documents to describe this line, in reality it was little more than a very long siding which served a number of collieries in the immediate area of Radstock. In compiling this page the author has drawn heavily from the two volumes of the late Chris Handley's excellent work "Radstock Coal and Steam" and his assistance is acknowledged with gratitude.
The Clandown Branch began life as one of the many narrow-gauge feeder tramways to the Somersetshire Coal Canal at Radstock, in this case as a connection to Middle Pit and Old Pit collieries. This tramway was known to have been in existence by 1806 and at that time it is believed to have been of 3' 5½" gauge, but about 1875 it may have been converted to 3' 2" gauge along with the rest of the tramways in the Radstock area. About 1811 the new Clandown colliery itself was connected to the tramway by means of an incline down to the end of the tramway near Old Pit. When the S&DJR opened their "Bath Extension" main line through the Radstock area in 1874 the tramway remained in use, but obviously without a direct connection because of the gauge difference. The S&DJR line superseded the now-defunct canal and followed its route through the Radstock area, the new railway station being built approximately on the site on the former canal terminal basin.
Immediately to the west of the new Radstock station the S&DJR had a level-crossing over what is now the main A367 road to Bath. The Clandown tramway served the area to the north of the railway and west of the Bath road. Coming from the Clandown direction the tramway passed under the new railway to the west of the level-crossing, then turned east and ran parallel to the line under the main road and behind the Down platform to reach the goods yard on the down side. From here it continued eastward to join with other parts of the local tramway system in order to reach the waste tips at Tyning. Later in 1881 the section from Radstock goods yard to Middle Pit had standard gauge added, to avoid the need for transhipment of outgoing coal, but the narrow-gauge remained in use for the removal of colliery waste to Tyning. In the following year the standard-gauge was extended to Clandown Colliery itself and opened on 18-September-1882; a connection was provided also into Radstock Gas Works from one of the adjacent Middle Pit sidings.
In 1886 the S&DJR main line from Radstock to Chilcompton was doubled and a new connection was provided to the Clandown Branch. This was a trailing connection in what became the Up line, located at 10 miles 17 chains from the S&DJR zero point at Bath, and from this connection a short length of new track swung north-westwards to join the existing (ex-tramway) alignment. The standard-gauge part of the old route to the goods yard became defunct, but it remained in place for many years until its removal was authorised in 1912. In 1906 additional sidings were constructed on the Branch at Middle Pit; these "New" sidings were to the west of the branch line, whereas the original "Old" sidings were on the east side.
This plan shows the Branch circa-1900 (before construction of the Middle Pit 'new' sidings) - click on the plan to see an enlarged version.
From its junction with the Up line the Branch fell steeply on a sharp north-westerly curve to gain the original route of the tramway, before reaching Middle Pit. The 'old' sidings forked off to the east of the line, while the branch continued onwards over an occupation level-crossing and some yards further on the 'new' sidings formed a parallel set of loops on the western side of the line. Beyond there the branch continued up the valley close to Coombe End road, crossing over another minor track and past the site of Old Pit, before reaching an exchange siding at the foot of the incline to Clandown Colliery. This siding took the form of a loop on the western side of the branch, with an additional crossover about mid-way along its length. At the far end of the loop the branch crossed the old Fosse Way on the level and continued up the incline to the colliery.
The first 4 chains of the Branch from the main line junction were S&DJR property, but the next 3 chains ran through the original Middle Pit tramway yard and was leased from the Earl Waldegrave estate. Beyond Middle Pit the S&DJR had control again for a further 37 chains as far as the foot of the incline to Clandown Colliery, which marked the limit of its maintenance at 10 miles 61 chains from Bath immediately before the Fosse Way level-crossing. The actual incline was maintained by the colliery; it was rope-worked and rose about 150' over a length of about 8 to 10 chains. Click here for an extract from the 1933 S&DJR Working Timetable Appendix, which describes the working arrangements for the Branch. Because of the layout of the branch junction, any trains proceeding onto the branch from the yard at Radstock had to run "wrong direction" through the station on the Up line.
The 1883 Ordnance Survey map appears to show a signal post on the tramway north of the main line, but its purpose is unclear and it is possible that 'proper' signalling may not have arrived on the Branch until the opening of the new junction in 1886. S&DJR Working Timetable (WTT) Appendix No 7 dated 1-March-1886 describes the signalling arrangements at that time and the wording therein is continued virtually unchanged through successive Appendix issues until the Middle Pit 'new' sidings appear in the 1914 edition. The WTT Appendix also states that "Only one engine may be on either the Clandown, Middle Pit or Ludlow branches at one and the same time" - a rather curious restriction, given that Ludlows Colliery was at the other end of Radstock station on a separate siding.
At the exit from the branch there was a trap-point to protect the main line and adjacent to this was the "Middle Pit Siding Up Home" stop signal. Further back along the branch there was the "Middle Pit Siding Up Distant", sited about 100 yards beyond the Middle Pit level-crossing. Movements onto the branch were controlled by a ground signal fixed next to the main line junction point. All these signals and points were controlled from Radstock West signal-box. In 1894 a replacement lever-frame was fitted into the existing signal-box and a contemporary signal diagram yields the following details:-
|5||Middle Pit Siding Up Distant|
|6 PULL||From Middle Pit Siding Up Stop|
|6 PUSH||Shunt to Middle Pit Siding|
|9||Up Main to Middle Pit Sidings Points|
The signalling descriptions all seem to hark back to the origins of the Clandown Branch for serving Middle Pit. The associated locking-table shows that the lever 5 was released by both 6 PULL and the main line Up Starting signal (No 7) at the east end of the station. Provision of a Distant signal on the Branch might seem a little excessive, but in view of the sharp curve and rising gradient at the approach to the main line it was probably helpful to give the driver of a train coming from Clandown an early indication that he had a clear route through the station.
In 1908 a replacement signal-box was opened at Radstock West (S&DJR Signal Instruction 207). As far as can be determined this did not result in any significant alterations to the overall signalling, other than changes to the lever numbering for the various signals and points. The branch points became lever 24, the disc leading onto the branch lever 23 and the Middle Pit Up Home lever 26 (at this time the latter signal was 108 yards from the signal-box). Note: One published signal-diagram for Radstock West circa-1912 marks a signal 27 with co-acting stop arms located further along the Branch at 374 yards from the box, but the evidence for this is unknown. It is believed that this diagram was 'reconstructed' from a later version and it is suspected that signal 27 was in fact originally the Middle Pit Up Distant, which is known to have existed as late as 1933. Unfortunately the source diagram for the 1894 layout is missing the part which shows the actual Up Distant signal, so it has not been possible to determine its original form.
In addition to the signals controlled by Radstock West box, there were two further stop signals on the Branch. These were both worked by Colliery Ground Frame (GF), which was located in the Middle Pit area and existed apparently to protect the nearby occupation level-crossing; there seems to be no indication that it worked any points. In 1939 this GF was shown as being positioned on the west side of the branch 94 yards from the Middle Pit Up Home. One of the GF signals was sited beyond the Middle Pit Up Distant near to the "old pumping pit" and faced trains coming from the Clandown Colliery direction (this signal is not marked on the plan above, but it was sited by the level-crossing near the stables). The other signal controlled trains coming onto the branch from the main line and it was located as a lower arm on the same post as the Middle Pit Up Home, but facing in the opposite direction.
The photograph here (click for larger image) shows the two-arm signal at the entrance to the Branch in the 1950s/60s, and the absence of any apparent fixings for lamps or spectacle glass suggests that perhaps these were never fitted. This would accord with the S&DJR WTT Appendix instruction that the line was to be worked only during daylight. This signal was one of several examples in the Radstock area which had the unique S&DJR design of rail-built post. As the earliest date for this method of S&DJR signal-post construction has yet to be determined, it is interesting to speculate whether this signal may date from 1894 (or even earlier), but certainly it seems to have been in that style by about 1910. One of the arms from that signal, and also the finial, are preserved now in the Radstock Museum.
S&DJR Signal Instruction 346 dated 19-December-1933 states that on the following day "The 'from Middle Pit' distant signal operated from Radstock West and the 'from Middle Pit' home signal operated from Colliery Ground Frame will be abolished". This alteration ties in with the abandonment earlier that year of some of the line north of Middle Pit and relates to the signals on that section of line, although the description 'from Middle Pit' for that home signal is rather confusing, as really it should have read 'from Clandown'. The other signal worked from Colliery GF (part of the two-armed signal mentioned above) remained in use as of course the lower part of the branch was still in use. These alterations appear to have been the only significant signalling changes on the Branch prior to its eventual abandonment and closure.
Clandown Colliery closed in November 1929 and thereafter the upper part of the branch fell into disuse, although it was not until 1933 that the top 10 chains were lifted, leaving the remainder of the line beyond Middle Pit in use for wagon storage. Middle Pit itself closed in June 1933 and the last section of the tramway was abandoned at the same time. The first section of the Branch remained in use to supply coal from Ludlows Colliery to Radstock Gas Works, previously fed direct from the adjacent Middle Pit. In 1942 the former Middle Pit sidings were brought back into use for the Anglo-American Asphalt Co, but they ceased trading in 1946. All traffic on the Branch ceased about 1955 after closure of the Gas Works and the Branch was closed formally on 5-February-1961, when the junction was severed during relaying of the main line. Nevertheless remnants of the Branch survived for many years, slowly disappearing from view in the undergrowth.
Finally, an intriguing 'might have been'. About 1873 the Camerton Mineral Railway was proposed, which would have followed the route of the tramway up the Clandown valley and then made its way around and over the hills and past the Somersetshire Coal Canal basin at Timsbury to run eastwards to Camerton.
© CJL Osment 2002-17
Signal photograph © Colin Maggs, branch plan © Chris Handley.