How often do people speed along the B3190 from Watchet, or the B3224 from Bishops Lydeard, towards Wheddon Cross? At the fork in the road near Raleigh’s Cross they notice Beulah Chapel, standing alone. The village Brendon Hill, where some 200 miners and their families lived between 1861 and 1881, has disappeared. Turning left they may pass some humps and bumps in a field; all that remains of the tall engine houses of the Raleigh Cross Iron Mine. Turning right through the tunnel of beech trees they may spot the shell of the winding house on the right, and briefly wonder what it is. They slow down for the narrow part where there was once a bridge, and spot a cream coloured house on the left. Then they are on their way!
In the 19th century this was the centre of iron ore mining; there were over 80 shafts and adits across the Brendon Hills. These were linked by a railway which ran from Gupworthy to Watchet, over the bridge at Brendon Hill. You may find traces of it on the West Pier at Watchet; you can walk along its track from Watchet to Washford. You can pick it up again at Torre, Roadwater and Comberow, if you know what you are looking for! This track followed the valley, but a huge Incline was required to reach Brendon Hill, 800 feet above. Building this took four years, new engineering techniques and a vast amount of money. Inside the winding house were two great wheels with a common axle. Strong cables wound round them and to these the trucks were attached. The heavy iron ore descending in one truck raised the second truck carrying coal or building materials to the top. There was a station, now hidden in the trees, and two "box" engines plied between the mines and the winding house. The cream-coloured house was a shop, a favourite destination for Sunday School picnics. The chapel hosted Temperance meetings and processions of the Fife and Drum band.
But the iron mines were less productive than the Ebbw Vale Company hoped; cheaper iron was available from Spain; the mines closed in 1883. The enterprise never paid for doing!
You can visit the winding house, and climb to the top of the Incline to see the marvellous view over the Bristol Channel towards Newport, the port to which small boats carried the iron. You will notice the Mine Captain's house, now called Hill House. You can walk down the incline to appreciate the engineering achievements. The route on to Gupworthy can be found in some places, and many relics of the iron mining remain, if you know where to find them.
The West Somerset Mineral Line Association leads free walks along the line, which you are welcome to join. Visit our website: www.wsmla.org.uk for our latest events leaflet or download our information leaflets to help you explore independently.
Dates for your diary:
We have an exhibition at Cleeve Abbey on October 14th – 15th 2017
August 23rd 2017 as part of the Watchet Festival
September 16th 2017
October 21st 2017
November 11th 2017
December 7th 2017
Information is available from Exmoor National Park: 01398 323841 or 01984 634177 or Watchet Visitor Centre
The West Somerset Mineral Line Association