Tag Archives: axbridge

STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES Feature: A guide to the railway line back in 1899 when Axbridge had Petty Sessions in the Court House and it cost 2/- to visit Cheddar Caves

Axbridge Square before the arrival of the motorcar

What was it like to visit the Strawberry Line in 1899? Using an 1899 guidebook Harry Mottram took a trip from Clevedon to Wells in a tweed Norfolk suit in search of Victorian Somerset.

Cyclists should dismount when descending Cheddar Gorge and Clevedon is not condusive to bathing but does have smart shops. These and other useful tops help to make up an 1899 copy of Black’s Guide Book sold for one shilling in Winscombe’s stationer of the same era. Edited by A R Hope Moncrieff the author notes in his preface that as may be expected in a pocket guide to the British Isles that “everything has not been said that might be said; but so far as our limits allow, we have tried to point out to strangers what is best worth seeing in this most attractive corner of England.” And so with guide in hand having first put on a very stiff and itchy Norfolk suit I set off in search of Victorian Somerset travelling from Clevedon to Wells – by bicycle. Traffic excepted and also the considerably greater number of houses built in the last 113 years there are surprisingly many things that haven’t changed a jot.

Judge for yourself with these notes:

Clevedon: “This town straggles roomily on and beneath heights overlooking the Bristol Channel, and has an agreeably informal aspect in its winding lines of villas and open terraces. To the right for the Pier, the smart shops, and the cliff quarter known as Walton, the Bristol end, where a sea walk leads along the edge to a nook called Ladye Bay.” It’s a description that wouldn’t be incorrect today of the town that’s “sheltered from cold winds by the bank of Dial Hill”. However the guide warns that bathing is not tempting due to the beach not being “very salt or sea-like,” but recommends Ladye Bay where “a good swim can be had when the tide is up.”

Somerset, Clevedon
Clevedon Bay back in the day

Yatton: “A thriving-like village, just outside of which on the east side stands a solid tower, capped by the uncommon feature of a truncate spire, marking the church, which contains a fine altar tomb and other monuments of the Newton Family.” Sadly there’s no record of the shops, blacksmith or pubs in the guide although it suggests a walk to Weston – now nicknamed Weston-super-Mare – because it’s a pretty town and quite lively. Presumably due to the vast numbers of Welsh miners who descended on the resort by paddle steamer and the day trippers from Bristol’s growing suburbs in search of fun and frolics on their high days and holidays.

When Yatton was just a small village

Congresbury: “A village graced with a fine church with a pleasant walk to wooded Wrington just four miles away.” The guide notes Congresbury is pronounced “Coomsbury.” The walk to Wrington warns of a ruined mill and a circuitous route along a river bank in order to approach the little town of 1,500 people noted for its connections with John Locke and Hannah More. It describes a path to Goblin Combe via The Golden Lion pub to “the savage glen, edged by Limestone cliffs and banks of screes.”

Winscombe station in 1905

Winscombe: For some reason the author glosses over Banwell and Sanford and arrives by train in Winscombe – no longer called Woodborough – which he describes as a scattered village. Like all good Victorians he heads to the church “with its fine yew” and “fine outlook”. He quickly embarks by trains for Axbridge through the tunnel from whence “we glimpse Brent Knoll; to the south swells the broken ground of Wedmore, and beyond an isolated hillock is seen the tower of Glastonbury Tor.”

Axbridge: “One the chief towns still having such dignity as petty sessions, a workhouse, and two banks can give but only 700 inhabitants.” He notes the “quaint old houses and stately church,” and claims to see the River Axe “below on the plain”.

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Cheddar: “The station is about a mile from the entrance of the gorge, for which conveyances (4d) are usually in waiting. The Cliff Hotel, near the foot of the gorge is the goal of driving excursions.” The guide is clearly taken with Cheddar as it affords more space than anywhere else in the pocket book – even than Wells. It describes the fierce rivalry between the owners of both main caves, Gough’s and Cox’s – both charging 2/- entrance fee and both lit up to display their “stalactite wonders” for the “patronage of pilgrims.” We also get considerable description of the gorge and the surrounding country which clearly was the big draw for visitors seeking something of a lost wilderness that once covered England from end to end. He cautions cyclists to dismount once they arrive at the end of the wooded part of the top end of the gorge due to “not knowing what may be around each corner.” Something that some motorists should pay heed to today.

An early coloured postcard showing the road to the Gorge in Cheddar

Wedmore: Our guide instructs us to take a short four mile walk across the pastures to Wedmore, a village of 3,000 people with its “rambles pleasant by contrast to the environing flats.”

Wells: “A city of under 5,000 inhabitants, wears a look of quiet diginity.” He describes the Town hall and Council Chambers with its exhibition of portraits, the two stations within easy reach of the cathedral and reiterates the truism that nowhere is a city with so many buildings still being used for their original purpose.

Wells at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries

For more reviews, news and views on theatre and much else visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

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Cheddar Reservoir: recent photographs of the magical scene at dawn in July as the waters greet the new day under the shadow of the Mendip Hills

Summer dawns on Somerset’s large strawberry shaped reservoir between Axbridge and Cheddar are often glorious affairs. Golden sunrises at around 5am are a particular feast as the 1930s reservoir acts as a mirror to the sky. Here a few images of the last few days in July 2019.

AXBRIDGE NEWS: the website for the 2020 Axbridge Pageant is now live



The new website for the 2020 Axbridge Pageant is up and running at
axbridgepageant.com

In 1963 the former Cheddar Valley Railway often called The Strawberry Line was closed after almost a century of use. A few years later the line above the town was turned into the bypass ending the traffic jams that had dogged the town for years. To celebrate a pageant was proposed to chart the town’s history in the square soon after.
It was a huge success prompting further pageants in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010. Each time the Square was turned into a vast arena and stage – to portray the long and extraordinary story of the town through drama, spectacle and pageantry. And so we gather once again in August 2020 to maintain this tradition – that in its own way has also become part of the town’s history. The website will carry news, views and features about the pageant and will carry photos of the past productions and updates on the next one on August bank holiday weekend in 2020.

Visit: axbridgepageant.com



AXBRIDGE NEWS: a report on the funeral service for Wendy Mace (with bitter sweet stories, great speeches and the day one of Axbridge’s finest was remembered)

Back stage Wendy – helping behind the scenes with ACT

Harry Mottram reports on the funeral service for the bon vivant Wendy Mace of Axbridge who (along with her husband Robin) were part of the ‘greatest sitcom the 1970s never made.’
Sun light streamed through the stained glass windows of St John the Baptist parish church in Axbridge, in Somerset, lighting up the sandstone a golden yellow as the coffin carrying the late Wendy Mace was carried from the church. It had been a memorable, amusingly bitter sweet and ultimately uplifting service presided over by the Reverend Tim Hawkings.

Macbeth: the witches get ready – but can you guess which one is Wendy?

It was about a year since the church had been filled with a near identical audience for Wendy’s Civic Award to mark her work with many of the town’s organisations including the youth theatre group Young ACT. Now the church was again packed with standing room only with friends, family and residents who came to pay tribute to her and her work. Those activities included: the pageant, the youth theatre, the museum, the community theatre group, the book club and the carnival – to name but a few.
Born in 1944 before the D-Day Landings and the final act of World War II in the Kent village of Harrietsham Wendy Mace was a teacher, a thespian, a designer, a youth worker, a mother, wife and grandmother all wrapped into the robes of a party hostess, chef and bon vivant. Before 2002 Wendy lived in the south of England teaching English and Drama at Fernhill School in Hampshire where she lived with her husband Robin and her son Toby.

Civic award: Toby, Wendy and Robin

The funeral was marked by remarkable speeches and tributes, none more powerful than one from her son Toby who spoke of her self-deprecating humour. His voice cracking at times with emotion he related stories which brought laughter and tears of joy. For there is a strange conflict of emotions as bereavement and humour intermingle creating a surreal atmosphere where one moment you laugh with a sudden release of tension before finding your throat has become swollen with emotion and tears fill your eyes. Toby recalled the time she drove her car into a man dressed as a Roundhead at a Civil War re-enactment – who was driving of all things a Vauxhall Cavalier. Laughter he said was her greatest gift as if you can laugh at yourself then nobody can laugh at you, but instead with you. He spoke fondly of how she opened the family home to a variety of guests from around the world when he was a child dubbing her the Greatest Ambassador of Nibbles the United Nations never had, and with his father Robin created a household that should have been turned into a 1970s’ TV sitcom.
Toby’s young son spoke with an assured confidence about his granny and of her love of poetry and in particular Haiku poetry and how she had passed that enthusiasm on to him. He had written four seasonal Haikus with the one for spring reading: “Daffodils appear, lambs are here, it’s that time of year.”

Book Club – raise a glass Wendy – a summer meeting at Dave Parkin’s house

The Reverend Tim Hawkings essentially played the straight man in this production. He hit the right tone balancing empathy, a Christian voice and yes, a quiet anger, at the cruelty of cancer. He reminded those present of the impact Wendy had made with the youth theatre group in the town, her acting career with the theatre group ACT along with her Christingle services that had involved and impressed so many. He described Wendy’s ‘incredible courage’ in the face of the cruel disease and quoted the words of Seneca: “In the presence of death, we must continue to sing the song of life.”
Paul Passey who admitted his life had in part been scripted and directed by Wendy was one of Wendy’s longest friends dating back to teenage years when he and his wife Diana and Wendy’s husband Robin were a happy quartet back in the early 1970s in Hampshire. In his eulogy entitled ‘On the Subject of Winning’ Paul spoke of get-togethers at the Roe Buck Inn, of late nights ending with Wendy’s mum providing nocturnal snacks in her parlour, and it has to be said of incomplete stories of seduction, rivalry and much more. As his mate Colin said there were lots of stories that were not appropriate for church. Using a euphemism for the facts of life used by the nuns at Wendy’s school of two separate canoes mooring together in the river bank of married life Paul played on the idea that as teenagers the foursome had deliberately misconstrued the word canoodling as an extension of the nuns’ idea. They say canoodling and the nuns say canoeing – despite it all the quartet stayed in touch and ended up in Axbridge some 16 years ago.
Janie Gray read one of Wendy’s favourite poems The Scholar and his Cat, Pangue Ban, from a ninth century poem translated by Robin Flower. And the Axbridge Singers (of whom Wendy had been an enthusiastic member) performed En Tout, La Paix Du Coeur (In all, Peace From The Heart) and the melodious Santo, Santo, Santo conducted by Stella More. There was also music by Nigel Hess from the movie Ladies in Lavender and a departing song as Time Goes By from the film Casablanca.
This was one of those occasions when we realise we are all mortal, that despite the hymns and prayers implying life is a just a transient step on the way to an afterlife, we are just a collection of atoms with just one shot at life. It is a bleak conclusion that all but the most fervent believers must face. We can delay the date but we can’t put it off. But in that delay and in that decision – we can make the most of life – and that is perhaps the most important point. Live life is the simple motto. Or as a Scottish proverb underlines: “Be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead.”
That does sound dark. But people like Wendy show how while we are alive we can light up the world by simply embracing life, making friends and being ourselves. Dr Samuel Johnson echoed perhaps how Wendy herself may have put it: “It matters not how a man (or woman) dies, but how he (or she) lives.” Or even more succinctly Clarence OddBoddy in the film It’s a Wonderful Life recalls Mark Twain’s words that: “No man (or woman) is a failure who has friends.” You only had to look at the packed church to see the truth is this last statement.

Harry Mottram

There is more from Harry at www.harrymottram.co.uk

The next Axbridge Theatre production is Our Country’s Good at the end of April is dedicated to Wendy.

STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES – NEWS (VIDEO) when snow fell on the first day of spring and turned Axbridge white (and perishingly cold)

Axbridge on Friday, March 2, 2018

It may have officially been the first day of Spring but on Thursday March 1st, 2018, snow began to fall in Axbridge in the afternoon. The weather had been icy cold for days and the forecast had predicted Storm Emma would bring warmer but snowy weather as it moved up from the south. Across Devon, Somerset and much of England and South Wales it met the so-called Beast from the East – a cold front streaming in from Russia – and it created a blizzard as a wind of over 40mph turned Somerset into a Siberian landscape. Parts of Cheddar Reservoir froze, there were power cuts and the M5 and A38 were all but closed for several hours. But for many it meant a day off work or school.

A video of the snow in the town can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZg26Mu-3j0

More stories by Harry Mottram can be found at www.harrymottram.co.uk

STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES – NEWS – Axbridge Civic Service 2018 by Vicky Brice, town clerk for the town

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Axbridge Civic Service

Sunday 25th February 2018

The sun shone brightly, and the church bells rang out, on Sunday afternoon as the community of Axbridge celebrated it’s 8th Civic Service in St John The Baptist Church and presented awards to three very special residents.

Town Crier, Nigel Scott announced the Mayoral Party which included the Deputy Lieutenant, Brigadier Tom Lang and his wife Amanda and the Mayor, Pauline Ham. John Hawkins, Sergeant at Mace, led the party, supported by Peter Yusen, Town Bailiff.  The Party entered the church to a rousing fanfare from the Cheddar Valley Brass Ensemble.

The service was attended by many visiting Mayors, Chairmen, members of local councils and James Heappey MP. The remainder of the church was full of residents of Axbridge, members of local groups and organisations together with friends and family of the award recipients. The church provided a stunning setting, with a lovely flower display arranged by church warden Judith Strange.

Reverend Tim Hawkings welcomed all to the service, which had a nautical theme, given the achievements of the award winners.  The Brass Ensemble of the Cheddar Valley Music Club, guided by Ann Higgs, gave an outstanding performance of Hallelujah Drive and Steppin’ Out by Chris Hazell. Cheddar Valley Voices were delightful in their rendition of Wonderful World (Weiss & Thiele) and We’re All Made of Stars (Barlow & Kennedy). Abigail Campbell captured the audience with her violin solo of Allegro (GF Handel) and Somewhere over The Rainbow, from the Wizard of Oz.

The chosen hymns complimented the service, as did the poem “Sea Fever” (John Masefield) read by Pauline Ham, Mayor of Axbridge and the reading from Mark’s Gospel (Chapter 4, verses 35-41) read by Councillor Taylor.

The highlight of the service was the presentation of the awards by the Deputy Lieutenant, celebrating the community of Axbridge as a whole and the outstanding contributions made by the award recipients. The Mayor introduced the awards and Francis Rabbitts, Bob Wainwright and Peter Downing read the individual citations.

The Civic Award was presented to Barry Hamblin for his outstanding contribution to the community, particularly the time, effort, enthusiasm and sheer hard work he had put into establishing and managing the Axbridge and Cheddar Valley Sea Cadets TS Goathland Unit. His full and varied contribution to Axbridge, from actor in Axbridge Community Theatre, a founding member of the Chamber of Commerce to Mayor of Axbridge (twice) is difficult to summarise, but the establishment and development of the Sea Cadet unit within the Cheddar Valley will stand as a lasting legacy to the Town. He was honoured to receive his award, which followed nominations from the community, and this was one of the few occasions which had rendered him speechless!

The newly-introduced Young Person’s Awards were presented to Jamie Harris and Katherine Sousa both of which were a credit to themselves, their families and Axbridge. Jamie Harris felt privileged to receive his award which recognised his incredible sailing achievements, with many early successes leading to him becoming Cadet World Champion in Argentina.  He has since moved into the 2-man 420 dinghy, a feeder class for Olympic sailors and continues to perform at the highest level, travelling extensively around Europe in his continuing stellar sailing career. Jamie thanked all those who had supported him in the pursuit of his ambitions.

Katherine Sousa was honoured to receive her Young Person’s Award, in recognition of her contribution to youth and civic life.As one of the first cadets to join Axbridge & Cheddar Valley Sea Cadets, she remains an enthusiastic and hard-working member, leading by example and contributing greatly to the high team spirit. This commitment led her to be appointed as the first Mayor’s Cadet to the Mayor of Axbridge in 2014, a high profile civic role, and in 2017 she became Lord Lieutenant’s Cadet to the Lord Lieutenant of Somerset. She also finds time to be an Ambassador for Kings of Wessex School. Katherine thanked all those who had supported her in the roles over this time.

After the service, which finished with the National Anthem accompanied by the Brass Ensemble, guests and residents were invited to the Town Hall, where amazing cakes were on offer!  The guides from Cheddar and Axbridge worked tirelessly serving teas and coffees   under the direction of Beverley Davies and Liz Foster. The cakes had all been made by local residents and were a lovely way to conclude the afternoon.

Photographs of the whole occasion were taken by Tim Hind and Andy Corp and will shortly be available on the website http://www.axbridge-tc.gov.uk/

Vicky Brice, Town Clerk, Axbridge

RAPSCALLION MAGAZINE – FEATURE: The art of the conman – in Rome amongst the tourists and in a hamlet in Somerset

The Chase - charcoal

The conman – one step ahead of the law

You’d think a village in Somerset would be the last place Italian con men would operate in – but the other day Harry Mottram almost fell for a scam that is more common to the streets of Rome than Cross near Axbridge.

I was crossing the road to the New Inn at Cross to deliver magazines when a white sporty looking new car pulled up. Inside were two prosperous looking well fed Italian men (they introduced themselves as Italians). They asked for directions to Gatwick saying they were lost – I showed them the route on their map and in thanks they immediately handed me what appeared to be a Rolex watch. They insisted I have it as a thank you – but I tried to hand it back. They then thrust a second watch into my hands saying it was for my wife. Again I tried to give the watch back – and then they said as they had given me a watch could I lend them cash for petrol as their card wouldn’t work at a cash machine. I smelt a rat and threw the watches back through the window of their white sports car.

The car sped off at high speed leaving me somewhat bemused. According to the police these chaps have been operating in the area – although whether they managed to con anyone is a mystery. A quick scan of a tourist guide to Italy and travel websites revealed how common these scams are. This is from bq125 Belfast writing on Tripadvisor: “There is also a mature Italian man stopping unsuspecting tourists and asking directions. He thanks you and then offers some cheap clothing samples and then he says that he is out of petrol and could you lend him some money. As he has given you something for nothing you almost feel obliged to help. A refusal will see him grab the clothes back and make of at great speed.”

And this is from Brenda Reed at the website Virtual Tourist: “We were walking to the Colosseum area when a small oldish car pulled up to us and the driver asked if we spoke English. He proceeded to tell us how he was running late and needed directions to the train station (which was right around the corner). In the process he told us that he was from Milan and worked for a famous designer – even showed us a well-worn notebook of pictures. We used his map to explain how to get there and he wanted to thank us with a gift. He ‘just happened’ to have a really nice leather jacket in Hubby’s size and a designer handbag for me, and he was sure to point out how much they cost. When we refused, he said we offended him and he tried to talk us into keeping them. As we stood there holding the stuff trying to get out of this conversation politely, he then showed us his broken credit card and asked for gas money. Hubby quickly threw the “gifts” in the car and we walked away.”

Brenda said that normally the gift bearer demands more than a token for gas (after all, he gave you such nice things) and once the duped tourists walk away with their jacket and handbag, a motorcyclist quickly rides up and grabs the stuff so it can be reused on the next victim.

On the Fodors website Europe Forums Tom had this story again in Rome: “I have been approached by three scam artists in the last 24 hours. The first was yesterday as I was headed to Castl st Angelo. It was the ‘found ring’ scam. I must admit, the lady was pretty smooth. But as soon as I saw her bend over and come up with a gold ring, I just kept walking. The other two happened today about 30 minutes apart. The first one was the ‘Versace Salesman Gift’ I was near Ponte Palantino, when he pulls over and asked for directions to the French Embassy near the Vatican. After I showed him how to get there he offered me a ‘gift’ which at this point I kept walking. “The third one happened less than 30 minutes later as I was walking be Circus Maximus. It was the ‘Phoney Cop – Let’s See Your Money’. It was instigated by a man acting as a tourist stopping me and asking for directions. As I was showing him on the map, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a slight wave of his hand. Within 30 seconds, another man showed up in ‘uniform’ with a badge and an ID that saying “police”. He then goes into this spiel about fake money and asks us both to see our passports and wallets to see if we had fake money. His partner whips out both. But for some reason, his partner only has $100 bills US. I tell him that I have no money or wallet and just show him the photocopy of my passport. Then I just turn and left. Off to my left I see their third partner, a lady that I had seen earlier up the street reading the newspaper.”

Ironically I played the spiv in the Axbridge Pageant in 2010 – and performed a comedy show entitled Harry The Spiv at the Roxy in the town based on an incompetent dodgy black marketeer. Judging from these stories – incompetent spivs are not as unusual as you might think. All I can say is thank goodness I didn’t fall for the scam in Cross – I might never have been able to live it down.

More stories at www.harrymottram.co.uk

STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES – FEATURE: the scandal of why the Strawberry Line Railway was closed back in the 1960s (and the extraordinary last ever passenger service along the line)

 

Axbridge Station in the 1950s

Axbridge Station in the 1950s

It’s more than 50 years ago since the Strawberry Line was closed by the infamous Beeching axe writes Harry Mottram. A regrettable and wholly unnecessary act of industrial vandalism. Now the line is partly a forgotten and overgrown track and partly a walkway and cycle path. It’s slowly being rediscovered by a new generation who never knew the rail service that connected Draycott to Didcot and Winscombe to Westminster.

Those of a certain age can still recall those long lost days when steam trains puffed their way through Shute Shelve tunnel or up the branch line to Clevedon with a carriage full of revellers from a night out in Yatton. Reading back through the archives of the summer of 1963 Britain seemed like a different country. The media was gripped by the Profumo affair, the Great Train Robbery and the naming of the ‘third man’ in the Russian spy case as being Kim Philby. Closer to home a trial was about to get under way with a hearing in Axbridge following the murder of a girl in Banwell, the Hillman Imp went on sale in garages in Weston-super-Mare and Bristol Lulsgate Airport’s runway was extended to cater for the passenger jets connecting Somerset to Spain. The previous winter had dominated life in the first months of the year with the Big Freeze. It left the county looking like Siberia as trains were snowed in at Draycott, the A38 was blocked for days at Redhill and the sea froze at Clevedon. By March there were still mountains of slushy ice piled up in the streets as the thaw finally set in.

Sandford and Banwell Station back then - it still looks the same now - but there are no trains alas

Sandford and Banwell Station back then – it still looks the same now – but there are no trains alas

 

On 27 March the Western Daily Press reported an announcement by Dr Richard Beeching on behalf of the Government. It called for massive cuts to the nation’s rail network with the closure of more than 2,000 railway stations, the scrapping of some 8,000 coaches and the loss of 68,000 jobs. As the year progressed more details were released and a feeling of gloom descended on those employed by the railways, the passengers who depended on the service and the scores of strawberry growers who used the line to move their produce to market. The reason according to Beeching was simple: the railways were losing money – and being in Government ownership it meant the tax payer was picking up the bill. However, many at the time disputed the way the railways were run.

The Government didn’t look to privatise parts of the network or even to turn some over to heritage lines – or simply to mothball some of the track with an eye to reopen them in the future. With railways being upgraded, high speed trains being planned and passenger numbers at an all-time high it seems from today’s perspective the Beeching axe was a big mistake. But that was then and the Government of the day didn’t have today’s hindsight. Jim Lukins of Axbridge who used the line for transporting farm produce said the railways were slow to modernise – with no facilities to forklift goods on and off the train. Everything took ages to load compared to the convenience of lorry transport – with the eternal problem of shunting goods wagons into place – something that was very time consuming.

From Shirley Hudd's collection - at cheddar station - blackberry barrels - fruit collected locally for jam making - 1930s

From Shirley Hudd’s collection – at cheddar station – blackberry barrels – fruit collected locally for jam making – 1930s

Many farmers and small holders had at one time owned their own rail wagons – but it was a practice that was dying out in the 1950s. By 1963 much of the freight that had been carried by train had transferred to road including milk. Under the Milk Marketing Board most milk in the district was collected by lorry and taken to either Cheddar Valley Dairies at Rooksbridge or to the London Co-operative Group Dairy at Puxton. There is was purified and pumped into milk tankers and driven to London. Before the war there had been eight daily milk vans from Wells alone heading for the capital – so it was a big loss to the railways. Other contracts ended – even the one taking barrels of blackberries from Axbridge – but including in the 1950s some 200 growers of strawberries sent their produce by rail in the Cheddar valley. Now there are just a handful of strawberry growers left. Somerset’s loss has been Spain’s gain. From the 1920s the rise of the car and the lorry as forms of reliable transport foretold the end of the golden age of steam.

By 1931 passenger transport was discontinued on the branch line to Wrington and Blagdon. In Wells Priory Road Station closed in 1951 when the Somerset and Dorset branch line from Glastonbury and Street was shut down while over in Clevedon the Clevedon and Portishead Light Railway closed in 1940. Reading the national press of the time it is clear the fate of the railway branchlines was under threat. There was talk of future uses such as relief roads and bypasses – which eventually happened in Yeovil and Axbridge. During the spring and summer of 1963 the transport ministry was busy releasing news of the impending closures to the railways. Promises were made about providing a national lorry freight network, more buses would be put on to cover rural areas hit by the cuts and as many workers as possible would be found new work in other industries. Such is the stuff of Government spin – no different then to what it is now. The brutal reality was thousands of workers would be out of work and many in isolated communities would be left to stranded. The newspapers and trade journals of the time were filled with adverts for cheap cars and bikes – no coincidence that thousands of rail commuters would have to find new ways to get to work. A new NSU Prinz 4 car that featured a heater, a clock and four gears could be bought for £526, while a 175cc Lambretta scooter would put you back £109 and ten shillings.

Travelling by steam train back in the day - this image is from http://missvictoryviolet.com/2015/02/vintage-trains-and-tweed/

Pic http://missvictoryviolet.com/2015/02/vintage-trains-and-tweed/ – style back in the day

And so it came to the last few day of the line. In recognition the train used for the last run on Saturday 7th September was a cleaned up 0-6-0 Collett GWR locomotive. Some 93 passengers crammed onto the train at Yatton including the parish chairman Maurice Crossman who cheerfully admitted he’d never caught the train. Wilf Hodges of Eastvillage was the driver and Tony Harris was the fireman. Colin Forse of Yatton was also onboard. The late Mr Forse was the driver stranded in a snow drift earlier that year when his locomotive was buried under 12 ft of snow at Draycott. From Wells the last train was driven by Harry Vile while David Shepherd was on duty as fireman. Some 250 passengers were on board by the time it left Axbridge, and some high spirited youths placed a coffin marked The Strawberry Line RIP in white letters on the tender as the train huffed and puffed its way back along the cutting and over the bridge towards Shute Shelve tunnel and history.

There’s more features about the past in the area on the website www.harrymottram.co.uk

STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES – NEWS (VIDEO): Behind the scenes with David Parkin – staging The Ladykillers in Axbridge – building a theatre, creating the house in Kings Cross and recycling the last set (all with the help of a chocolate biscuit or two)

Ladykillers low res DSC02387

The Ladykillers: a still taken from ACT’s stage play

When Axbridge Community Theatre staged The Ladykillers in the Town Hall in 2016 a team of talented folk worked behind the scenes to make it happen. This is the story of part of that team – the set designers and builders of Axbridge Community Theatre (ACT). The production was directed by Peter Honeyands and was adapted by Graham Linehan as a stage play in 2011 from the screen play written by William Rose for the 1955 film .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ec-ASnsm8SI

ACT’s next production is Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker directed by John Bailey. It will be staged in the town hall in Axbridge in Somerset on May 2-5, 2018.

Tickets will be on sale online from 23rd March 2018, and from Axbridge Chemists and Post Office from 1st April.

Observed by a lone, mystified Australian aboriginal , the convict ship arrives in Botany Bay in1788, crammed with England’s outcasts. Colony discipline in this vast and alien land is brutal. Three proposed public hangings incite an argument: how best to keep the criminals in line, the noose or a more civilised form of entertainment? The ambitious Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark steps forward with a play. But as the mostly illiterate cast rehearses, and a sense of common purpose begins to take hold, the young officer’s own transformation is as marked and poignant as that of his prisoners. The play is far from grim. Actually it’s mostly funny! “All people tend to become what society says they are! In performance the convicts challenge their definition.” 

For more films about ACT visit www.harrymottram and for the drama group see www.axbridgecommunitytheatre.org.uk

STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES – NEWS: Specially for foodies – the date of the Next Axbridge Progressive Supper is confirmed (and if you go please don’t fall in a water filled ditch) 

Axbridge Progressive Supper

Diners tuck in at the Axbridge Progressive Supper in 2016

This year’s annual fund raising Axbridge progressive supper will take place on Saturday, November 17. Last year the event attracted scores of couples from the town and nearby and raised £1,000 for the town’s pageant held every ten years.

The Progressive Supper involves a three course meal eaten at three different locations. Participants either provide one course at their home, or travellers who pay to dine and do not need to provide food and drink. Cash is raised by those taking part and also by a raffle with the prizes announced at the end of the evening. The evening begins with everyone drawing lots from a hat to discover where they will be dining meaning the evening is a total surprise to all.

The unexpected nature of the evening has led to a number of hilarious incidents over the years due to the nature of the meal – spread out across the town at various homes. Guests have got lost and ended up in the wrong house while on one occasion an unnamed woman fell in the rhyne (a water filled ditch by Moorland Farm) when looking for a house down on the moors. And for hosts it’s meant an annual spring clean of their homes for fear the guests will be shocked at the state of their loo or kitchen.

Each course is for a set time, at the end of which everyone gets up and scrambles, or staggers as the night wears on, to get to the next course – which could be anywhere in Axbridge.

The event is on Saturday 17 November. See the event’s Facebook site for further updates and information.

Or contact Harry on 07789 864769 or email harryfmottram@gmail.com for more details.