The replacement buses for the Somerset and Dorset rail line
SOMERSET AND DORSET RAIL LINE
2016 - 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF CLOSURE IN MARCH 1966
note - this is a site of historical record and does not contain current
The bus services operated by Somervale Coaches were introduced on 7th March 1966 after the long contested closure of the Somerset & Dorset rail line. There were several alterations to bus services in the area at this time, including a new Hants & Dorset service 24A from Poole to Blandford, Sturminster Newton and Stalbridge. Also the existing service between Blandford and Sturminster Newton operated by Bere Regis & District as part of their Blandford - Woolland route was improved with the addition of workspeople journeys to the existing shoppers journeys. The longest of the replacement services (some 52 miles in length) was the route operated by Somervale Coaches running the full distance four times a day between Blandford in Dorset - via Sturminster Newton, Gillingham, Wincanton, Bruton, Evercreech and Shepton Mallet - to Glastonbury in Somerset. One afternoon journey went to Midsomer Norton instead of Glastonbury and some northbound journeys operated via Templecombe instead of Gillingham. Rail connections were available at Gillingham station, on the line from London via Salisbury to Exeter.
Somervale was the trading name of J. Chivers and Sons, coach operators of Welton near Midsomer Norton. (Founded after the war in 1946 they registered as a company Somervale Coaches Ltd in 1964. They later reverted to trading under the Chivers family name again, and in 1990 James Chivers handed the coach business over to his son Andy). Two mauve liveried ex-Western Welsh Tiger Cubs with Weymann bodies provided the mainstay of the bus service, with JBO62 working from the Welton depot whilst JBO124 was out-stationed at the southern end at Blandford Forum in Dorset. A third Tiger Cub for the route was KDB696 (ex-North Western Road Car) in a yellow and red livery; it was known to the Somervale drivers as "The Yellow Submarine". The bus that was based in Blandford was worked with two drivers on alternate early and late shifts forming the 0630 and 1430 departures northwards from there, returning southwards from Glastonbury at 0955 and Midsomer Norton at 1803 respectively. The 1430 service went to Midsomer rather than Glastonbury to make contact with the home depot and to refuel. The other 'trunk' journeys (0725 from Shepton and 1511 from Glastonbury, returning north from Blandford at 1030 and 1930) plus the 'shorts' were worked from the Midsomer Norton end. With a route of this length each of the two Tiger Cubs was clocking up ten thousand miles a month.
Somervale had come
late to the party as it had
originally been proposed that Wakes Services (Sparkford) Ltd should
operate this route, and it had originally been intended that the
Somerset & Dorset rail line should close earlier on 3rd January 1966.
was also D for Diesel Day when steam was to have ceased to operate on
the Western Region. However Wakes withdrew their application to run the
route at short notice and it had to be retendered. The
last-minute withdrawal of applications for these routes by Wakes led to the postponement of the rail closure,
originally planned for January 3rd. Wakes withdrew their applications
because the hearing had been fixed for December 15-17, which the
company claimed did not leave them time to organize the bus services,
if granted. This took a
little time and a minimal interim
rail service continued to run until March 1966 and the start of
Somervale service. This meant, inter alia, that steam operation
on Western Region was similarly prolonged. (When closure of the rail
line was initially discussed in 1963 Commercial Motor reported that the
proposal at the time was that the Southern National company would
operate the route from Blandford to Glastonbury).
It is not generally remembered that Somervale also ran another S&D rail replacement bus service, a minibus from Shoscombe Vale to White Hill where it connected with Bath Tramway's own rail replacement route, the 56A to Bath. This was in fact the only route that Somervale had originally bid for. A few miles east of Midsomer Norton in the hamlet of Single Hill was Shoscombe and Single Hill Halt, a small railway station on the Somerset and Dorset line serving small villages between Wellow and Radstock, about seven miles south of Bath.
The rail replacement bus operations by Somervale continued until 5th February 1972 when the subsidies for the services ceased after six years. One of Somervale's two drivers based in Blandford was Ray Cuff and when his employers stopped running the route he started on his own account, purchasing KDB696 and JBO124 from them. From 7th February 1972 Ray provided shopping-type services over parts of the former Somervale route, primarily on Tuesdays and Fridays, and also added a Saturday service to and from Yeovil, as well as a Wednesday service to Gillingham and a Monday service to Sturminster Newton on market day.
Somervale Tiger Cub JBO62 44-seater (ex-Western Welsh) parked at Gillingham Station in February 1968
(photo courtesy of Simon Brown)
Tiger Cub JBO124 waiting at Glastonbury to work the 0955 departure to
Shepton Mallet, Gillingham and Blandford Forum on 19th March 1966. This
vehicle ended its life as an office and store for Brutonian in
the station yard at Bruton.
(photo from the Roger Grimley collection)
|JBO62 again, this time at
Shepton Mallet on 19th March 1966, on route southwards from Glastonbury to
(photo from the Roger Grimley collection)
JBO124 again, a little the worse for wear. Awaiting departure at
1355 hours from Glastonbury on Saturday 29th January 1972 on the lengthy
journey south as shown by the list of places on the destination blind!
Jeff Grayer recalls that he travelled with a friend and they were
the only passengers as far as Shepton, after which there were never
more than five on board as far as Wincanton where he alighted.
Somervale operation ceased shortly after the date of Jeff's trip on 5th
(photo courtesy of Jeff Grayer)
|The first Somervale timetable, March 1966. The timings were specified by British Railways and included provision for several rail and bus connections (eg at Gillingham station, Sturminster Newton and Shepton Mallet). Although Cole station featured prominently in the bus timetable it was simply a convenient mid-journey layover point as the station closed with the Somerset & Dorset rail line. There was a historical significance though as it was at Cole that the Somerset Central Railway was joined to the Dorset Central Railway in 1862. Later that year the two companies combined to form the Somerset and Dorset Railway.|
some experience of operating the initial timetable above it was
simplified by elimination of most of the short journeys, except for the
1705 northwards from Stur Newton which connected with the arrival of the
Hants & Dorset 1550 departure from Poole on their service 24A.
- - - Thanks for additional information from Jeff Grayer, Simon Brown and Michael Wadman - - -
A book by Jeff Grayer about the closure of the Somerset & Dorset rail line in 1966 has information and pictures about the replacement buses too.
Sabotaged and Defeated was published in 2006 by Kingfisher Productions, price £9.95. ISBN 0-946184-78-X
2010 Jeff returned to the theme with Sabotaged
and Defeated Revisited: Pre and
Post Closure Views on the Somerset and Dorset