Tag Archives: cheddar

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”.


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

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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

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

STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES – FEATURE: memories of the Big Freeze in the winter of 1962/63 and when steam trains connected Wells and Banwell (and when naughty school boys could lark about in the compartment carriages)

A steam train emerges from Winscombe Tunnel

An article in the Strawberry Line Times magazine four years ago about the winter of 1962/63 triggered lots of memories from readers. Terry Watkins who now lives in Australia recalled how he used a jack hammer to break the ground when installing cables in trenches in the lawns of residents. He got married that year in Axbridge – but it was in October before the freeze took place just after Christmas. He said: “As for it being cold, I worked at HV Cable Jointing and we had to have a heater trained on the cable drums to warm the cables up before they could be put in the ground. When we installed cables services into houses we had to use a jack hammer to dig trenches across people’s front lawns where the frost had made the turf solid.”

Meanwhile Pam Avery of Winscombe was at school in Churchill. She wrote: “I remember the winter very well. It was my last winter at Churchill Comprehensive. Hilliers Lane was narrow then before the widening for the many coaches. The snow came up to the top of the hedges. My father worked for Somerset County Council at Shipham Quarry at the time and, as he could not get to work, he was asked to help with clearing the snow. I remember the snow had blown into some beautiful shapes.” The Big Freeze 50 years ago clearly had a lasting impression. George Branch of Cheddar was a Shipham school boy at the time and his mother took a snap of the milkman. George had lent his sledge to the milkman Mr Wells who along with his son Geoff managed to deliver the milk to the villagers despite the ice using the sledge. Mr Evans had an open sided Bedford van for the round based in Winscombe and George said Shipham’s school was closed for two months in that winter due to the pipes freezing.

1962/63 Big Freeze: delivering the milk with Mr Wells – photo from George Branch

Alex Duncan of Axbridge wrote in: “I found Hugh Alsop’s article on the Strawberry Line very interesting. In 1946 I lived in Banwell and gained a place at Wells Blue School. To get there I had to cycle over a mile to Sandford and Banwell Station, store my bike in an outhouse and board the train. It was a harsh winter back in 1946/47. I had a half size bike with no gears and toiling up through Towerhead on snowy roads was an arduous experience. There was no thermal clothing either in those days. Every schoolboy wore grey shorts, long socks, lace-up shoes and an inadequate gaberdine raincoat Can you imagine it, shorts during that winter! Oh! I forgot something. We also wore a school cap – not much comfort in that. Anyhow, what of the train itself?

“I recall the 0-6-0 pannier tanks with great affection. Bossy little engines that accelerated quickly on their small wheels and somehow personified the eccentricity of the Great Western Railway. I never got half the thrill from the lordly Kings and Castles whistling their way out of Temple Meads. I was always mildly disappointed when a conventional tank engine turned up but I did like the diesel cars. They looked like something designed for a Flash Gordon movie and if they didn’t work that well; did it matter? After all this was God’s Wonderful Railway being clever.”

“Railway carriages were not open-plan in those days. The compartments provided a degree of privacy. There was room for six people seated three each side or more if you squeezed up and a corridor along the side of the carriage linking them together and also leading to the toilets at either end. However, Hugh Alsop is right. Many carriages were of the non-corridor type which had room for eight people per compartment and no toilets. They were OK on short commuter routes but to a bunch of school kids they were a godsend. I will leave to your imagination what went on with us naughty boys during the trip through Shute Shelve tunnel.

Brrr: this gives a view of the crossroads at Cross during that winter when motorists attached chains to their cars to grip on the ice

“The school day in Wells finished half an hour before the train home and we were supposed to stay on the premises for some of that time. However, we soon learned from our elders that if we walked to the other station, the old Somerset and Dorset one, we could get the pick of the seats and also ‘enjoy’ what only this type of station could provide. Let me explain. The designer must have been a farmer at heart. The station building was basically a big barn with an arch at either end for the train to get in and out. Imagine it, an enclosed barn for a steam train! Of course, it always filled up with a choking cloud of steam and smoke – fun if you were 11 but would I enjoy it now? I doubt it.”

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STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES – FEATURE: when you could earn six shillings a week on the railway, blackberries were loaded by the barrel in Cheddar and everyone looked slim, fit and healthy (but there were chocolate machines at Cheddar Railway Station)

Cheddar Railway Station before the Second World War: a staff photograph

This article appeared in the Strawberry Line Times Magazine in 2013 following a meeting with Shirley Hudd of Cheddar who spoke about some family photographs back in the day. Harry Mottram reported at the time.

They are the faces that never fade. Those of the railwaymen who once peopled The Strawberry Line. Standing in their working clothes for the camera they reveal young men in the prime – now all dead – for these were the workers of the Edwardian railway. The images are from a collection of family photos owned by Shirley Hudd of Cheddar who approached the Strawberry Line Times after reading the first issue of the magazine.

With shunting pole in hand Bert is in front of steam engine 2302

In the first of the images we see her father Bert Adams and three of his work colleagues at the shunting yard at Cheddar Railway Station. With shunting pole in hand Bert is in front of steam engine 2302. He sits on his haunches sporting a Palermo hat, waistcoat and pocket watch on a chain. He looks in charge, at the height of youth – a man happy at work with his mates taken in the 1920s when the memories of the First War were still all around while the fears of another were yet to sink in.

Shirley said: “He used to earn about six shillings a week then. The trains would back up to the station to collect stone and rock from the Batscombe – and they’d tip the stones into a hopper. There was a square area there by Lower New Road where the lime was brought down from the kiln by steam lorry.”

Uncle Bert with another railway man in front of what Shirley believes were barrels containing blackberries – once harvested along the valley for jam makers and transported to the factories by rail

A second photo from the same inter-war years reveals Bert with some more colleagues. He has the uniform of a railway man complete with peak cap, buttoned collar and neat tie. Shirley said he worked for a time as a van boy as they were called – delivering parcels. His workmates wear the clothing of their tasks – with boots and heavy jackets – and note how their trousers are all short in length so they don’t trip over the hems while working. Perhaps you might be able to name the chaps standing in the light of a bright sunlight at Cheddar some time in the late 1920s or early 1930s.

Bert with some more colleagues in the 1930s

A third photo in the collection shows Bert with another railway man in front of what Shirley believes were barrels containing blackberries – once harvested along the valley for jam makers and transported to the factories by rail. If the nation’s taste for blackberry jam had taken off – then rather than the Strawberry Line it could have become the Blackberry Line instead!

Uncle Bert at Cheddar Station

The fourth image is of Bert in his uniform standing on the platform in Cheddar with the station in the background with a neat white picket fence running along the side of the down side of the platform. He appears again in a more formal study – this time of a station staff in the village grouped on the platform near the Booking Office and Waiting Room. A poster concerning coal and Victory in the First World War help to date the image as does the prevalence of moustaches – clearly in fashion in era when all working men appeared to require a hat to complete their wardrobe. The lady in the photograph is thought to be an office worker – and she doesn’t feel at all coy about revealing her ankles in the shot – another sign of the times. One of the striking aspects is nobody appears to be over weight – there was rationing of some food in the 1914-18 war but life was generally more frugal in those days – plus of course everyone walked or cycled much more.

It interesting to see there’s sweet and chocolate vending machine on the wall behind the group – and in the foreground to the right a milk churn awaits the attention of the workers. We would like to hear from anyone who can shed further light on these images – perhaps they can give some names to the faces – or any more background to the photos from the time when steam trains still ran along the Strawberry Line. Contact harryfmottram@gmail.com

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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: Friends of Cheddar Library demonstrate over threat of the library’s closure by Somerset County Council

The Friends of Cheddar Library have organised a protest demonstration over the planned closure of the library

The Friends of Cheddar Library have organised a protest demonstration over the planned closure of the library

A ‘consultation’ over the planned change to Cheddar Library by Somerset County Council takes place this winter as the county seeks to save money by closing libraries across Somerset.

The consultation gives a number of options for residents to choose from. In a document the county reports: “Cheddar: Provide library services through either: · a partnership with the local community to maintain a library building in Cheddar (supported by some funding from the County Council), or · an additional mobile library stop.”

They add on the county’s website: “We stress that library services will continue across Somerset, whatever the outcome of this consultation. If we are unable to keep library buildings open in communities, we will deliver library services in other ways, such as through outreach (i.e. in alternative venues within communities), online or mobile library services.”

There is scepticism amongst members of the Friends of Cheddar Library who feel the consultation is little more than a public relations exercise with the outcome already decided at County Hall in Taunton. In a document available online called Somerset Library Service Consultation 2018 Appendix 1: Library Service Proposals for Consultation the numbers of those using the various libraries in the area are shown. The numbers of users are listed along with footfall which show Cheddar to be used by fewer people than Wells and Shepton Mallet. This say the Friends is because fewer people live in the Cheddar area and it is open for fewer hours.

The Friends of Cheddar Library have launched a campaign to fight the plans. They have made a video outlining the reasons why the library should be retained and are lobbying councillors to retain the community facility as it is more than just a library as it is used as a meeting place, gallery and social hub. They are urging residents to engage in the consultation to send a message to County Hall that the library must not be closed.

The consultation in Cheddar is at the Cheddar Library on Friday 23 March with hourly sessions at 2:30pm, 3.30pm and 4:30pm but opens online before that on Monday 29 January 2018. More details at http://democracy.somerset.gov.uk

The Friends have a Facebook site where their activities and campaign plans are announced.

STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES – NEWS: Christmas comes to Axbridge with Santa in the Square 


On Saturday, December 16th, Axbridge Square in the Strawberry Line District is closed to traffic from 5pm as Christmas celebrations take place. Pictured above is a scene from Cheddar’s Festive Night earlier in the month, and similar scenes of live music, carol singing and the arrival of Father Christmas will take place in Axbridge. Every child in the town of primary school age receives a gift from Santa who usually arrives in the Square by horse drawn trap. There’s a pig roast and mulled wine on offer in the community event organised by the Axbridge Sports and Social Club led by Pauline Ham the current mayor of the town.

Axbridge Sports & Social Club was formed on 29th July 1981 to “promote and encourage sporting and social activities within the parish of Axbridge”. If you are interested in helping the club call Pauline on 01934  732062.