The replacement buses for the Somerset and Dorset rail line



Please note - this is a site of historical record and does not contain current service information

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 the Chivers family, coach operators of Welton near Midsomer Norton. Thanks to Christopher John Chivers we know that the coach company was started by his father William George Derrick Chivers in 1946. Working in the garage were Christopher's uncles Fred, Jim, and Arthur.  In later years from 1972 his brother Paul had his own coach business in the Bath area (Olympic Coachways). In 1964 the Chivers business was registered as a company Somervale Coaches Ltd but 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 (Christopher's cousin).  

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.  This 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 the 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 at gillingham

Somervale Coaches Tiger Cub JBO62 44-seater (ex-Western Welsh) parked at Gillingham Station in February 1968

(photo courtesy of Simon Brown)

JBO124 at Glastonbury 1966
Sister 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 at Shepton Mallet 1966
JBO62 again, this time at Shepton Mallet on 19th March 1966, on route southwards from Glastonbury to Blandford Forum

(photo from the Roger Grimley collection)

124 again, a bit the worse for wear
And 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. The Somervale operation ceased shortly after on 5th February.

(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 in the timetable it was simply a convenient mid-journey layover point as the station closed with the 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, the companies combining as the Somerset and Dorset Railway.
After some experience of operating the initial timetable on the left it was subsequently simplified by elimination of most of the short journeys, whilst retaining the longer through journeys. An exception was the 1705 northwards departure from Sturminster Newton to Evercreech which connected with the arrival of the Hants & Dorset 1550 departure from Poole via Blandford on their service 24A.

1966 timetable

later timetable

shillingstone station project

Shillingstone Station was built and opened by the Dorset Central Railway (DCR) on 31st August 1863 and survived until 1966 when it fell victim to the infamous Dr. Beeching’s cutback of the railway network. It is the last surviving station built by the DCR so it is vital this remarkable building is preserved, for both architectural and historic reasons.

This was a small station built to the north east of the mile-long village of Shillingstone (formerly known as Shilling Okeford). The main station buildings were situated on the up platform, which was the shorter of the two. The much longer down platform had no buildings on it, apart from a small but attractive wooden shelter. 

The Somerset Central Railway and the northern part of the Dorset Central Railway were amalgamated on 1st September 1862 under the title of the Somerset & Dorset Railway. The new company opened the missing link from Blandford to Templecombe on 31st August 1863, and the original concept of a link from the English Channel to the Bristol Channel materialised.

The Shillingstone Railway Project aims not only to restore the station and available surrounding area to how it was in the early 1950s and 1960s, but also to enhance and improve it, whilst restoring the historic track bed and eventually relaying track northwards.

- - - Thanks for additional information from Jeff Grayer, Christopher Chivers, 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

In 2010 Jeff returned to the theme with Sabotaged and Defeated Revisited: Pre and Post Closure Views on the Somerset and Dorset