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Brynton & Snaed Light Railway

The History of the Brynton & Snaed Light Railway

In The Beginning - Now, in the normal way of things, a light railway comes into being in order to serve the needs of local industry, whether it’s for the transport of slate, stone, coal, timber or any other commodity. Then, as that industry wanes, the line goes into decline until one day it is unable to support itself and is forced to close. If it is lucky, a group of people will form a preservation society and re-open the line as a tourist attraction. The conveyance of people therefore tends to come much later and usually long after the line has served its useful industrial purpose. However, the BSLR does not operate in the normal way of things, as the following history will show.

Brynton is a small sleepy picturesque town located somewhere in the beautiful county of Kent. It was once served by a regular branch line service, now sadly long gone. In its hay-day, Brynton was a thriving community that prospered from the tourist trade due its proximity to the famous Snaed Pools, a feature of outstanding natural beauty located some miles to the east of the town. Indeed, the BSLR was specifically built to transfer the ever-increasing number of Victorian day-trippers visiting the pools.

The original plan called for a single-track affair with run round loops at each end. The line was to run east from Brynton station, located five minutes walk from the branch line station, across the River Great Stour and terminate at Snaed station, a short distance from Snaed Pools. The route was duly surveyed, however local farmer Ted Moody whose land the line would need to pass through refused to sell his land to the BSLR thereby forcing them to seek an alternative route. Despite several surveys being commissioned there was no suitable alternative route eastwards. Subsequently, and much to the annoyance of the fledgling BSLR, the line was to be built westwards, swing south of Brynton and then run east and terminate at Snaed. Although this route avoided the expense of a bridge over the Great Stour, it did entail the boring of two short tunnels through the Rockery Hills to the south. The cost of construction was inevitably higher, mainly due to the blasting of the two tunnels and the route being significantly longer than anticipated. However, every dark cloud has a silver lining and for Brynton this came in the form of the Jolley Gypsum Quarry sited to the southeast of the town, as will be explained later.

The BSLR initially purchased a light steam locomotive and a number of wagons for building and subsequent maintenance of the railway. When the line was completed the company's first passenger steam locomotive was delivered. This was a 0-3-0 tank engine which, after much pomp and ceremony, was named Olga. Rolling stock initially comprised of a three-compartment 1st class carriage, a two-compartment 3rd class carriage and a two-compartment third class brake. All were painted in the company livery of midnight blue and cream. The original light steam loco was replaced in the 1920's with a box-car diesel which was also used for passenger services. And so the BSLR came into being.

Sleepy Brynton - It was quite by accident that Brynton became as bigger attraction as the Pools themselves, offering the passing visitor a convenient stop-off point on their journey back from the pools. Apart from being picturesque, the town capitalised on this passing trade by opening numerous shops selling everything from souvenirs and craftwork to local produce and afternoon tea.

Victorian sightseers would arrive at Brynton on the branch line train and change onto the BSLR for the trip to the pools. Having spent some time at the pools, travellers would return to Brynton and spend a few hours in this pretty little town before heading back along the branch line. In later years the timetable was cunningly designed to ensure that this would indeed happen, and returning travellers arriving back at Brynton would find that they had just missed a branch line train and that the next train wasn’t due for another two hours. And so the coming of the BSLR, which served as a link to Snaed Pools, turned this quaint rural sleepy town into a hive of tourist industry.

Branching Out - However, a dark cloud hung over Brynton in the form of the Jolley Gypsum Quarry located to the southeast from whence the quarried gypsum was transported by road to Wobbly Wharf, located just to the north of Brynton. This meant that the traffic passed through the centre of town, this being the only route available. As the gypsum industry blossomed the traffic became increasingly heavier resulting in a near constant stream of wagons passing through Brynton. Having built up a thriving tourist trade and put Brynton on the tourist map, the townspeople soon began to resent the industrial traffic passing through their town and spoiling its chocolate box image. And so, on behalf of the townspeople, the BSLR approached Mr Jolley with a business proposal and, after much debate, an agreement was reached whereby the Jolley Gypsum Quarry would transport its gypsum by rail.

This necessitated the building of a branch line from a point east of Rockery Hills to the Jolley Gypsum Quarry and the extension of the line from Brynton to Wobbly Wharf. Once again farmer Ted Moody was approached and offered a substantial sum of money to enable the line to be extended east from Brynton in order to reach Wobbly Wharf to the north. The BSLR were astounded and dismayed when Ted once again flatly refused. To this day nobody knows why Ted was so against the railway passing over his land, but he has gone down in local folklore with his stubbornness being remembered in song. And so the line was instead to be extended east from Snaed, swing westward across the Great Stour and on to Wobbly Wharf. As this joint venture was to the benefit of all concerned it was to be financed by the BSLR, Mr Jolley and a consortium of local shop owners.

Disaster Averted - Due to the topography of the land, it was not possible to build the branch line to enable direct running between the quarry and the wharf via Snaed, or even to build a loop west of Quarry Junction to allow the loco to run round. This would mean that the gypsum trains would have to go all the way into Brynton station for the loco to run round before the train could go forward. However, the townspeople had insisted that a clause be included in the original agreement to prevent this from happening. 

The problem was circumvented by the simple expedient of propelling the gypsum train along the branch line and onto BSLR metals at Quarry Junction. Here the train would reverse and go forward via Snaed, negating the need to perform a run round move. However, this procedure was far from satisfactory and a number of moves became derailed while propelling along the branch line. A heated argument was soon raging between Mr Jolley and the townspeople regarding the clause prohibiting a run round move at Brynton station.

Mr Jolley finally got his own way after an incident at Quarry Junction whereby a passenger train from Brynton was almost involved in a head-on collision with some runaway wagons that had broken away from a propelling move on the branch line. Disaster was narrowly averted when the wagons became derailed on the points at Quarry Junction and plunged down the embankment. On witnessing this, the driver of the passenger train acted quickly and was able to pull up short of the accident scene. From that day on propelling moves were prohibited on the branch line. All gypsum trains were now to be hauled from the quarry to Brynton station and the loco run round, much to the consternation of the townspeople. However, no further safety related incidents occurred on the BSLR. A reversing loop was subsequently built many years later which enabled the gypsum trains to run direct to Wobbly Wharf and thereby avoid Brynton altogether.

A Bright Future - The line continued to prosper as did the local tourist and gypsum industries. Farmer Ted Moody eventually passed away – gone but not forgotten. His only son inherited the farm, then promptly sold up and emigrated to New Zealand and so the BSLR were finally able to extend the line to the east where it joined the original extension at the new Bridge Junction, located on the west bank of the Great Stour. This final extension transformed the BSLR into a circular route which enabled trains to operate in both directions, effectively doubling the capacity of the line. There was also the added benefit of not having to run the locos round the passenger trains at Brynton or Snaed. The BSLR subsequently purchased a second diesel loco and additional rolling stock to cater for the enhanced service.

From Riches To Rags - No sooner had the enhanced service commenced than the BSLR became a victim of line closure. However, it was not the BSLR that was to close but the branch line that served Brynton. That vital artery that for so long had brought prosperity to this once sleepy rural town had been cruelly severed. With this vital link gone the tourist trade disappeared over night. No more souvenirs and afternoon tea, no more local crafts and jars of honey and homemade jam.

Snaed Pools still continued to draw the crowds, mainly by way of coach parties, though the crowds were not as big as in times gone by. Brynton itself was left to wither on the vine, returning to its natural state of a small picturesque sleepy rural town. Passenger services on the BSLR soon ceased and over time the majority of the line fell into a state of disrepair. The railway was taken over by the Jolley Gypsum Quarry and a section of the line maintained only sufficiently to allow the continued operation of the gypsum trains between the quarry and the wharf. In fact, if it were not for the Jolley Gypsum Quarry the whole railway would have closed long ago.

A New Lease Of Life - So there you have it, a complete history of the Brynton & Snaed Light Railway. Well not quite complete, for new history was made in the life of the BSLR by the efforts of the BSLR Preservation Society, a group of railway enthusiasts. The society got together with the local council and the Jolley Gypsum Quarry and, together with an army of volunteer workers, the BSLR was restored to its former glory with steam-hauled passenger trains once again chugging through the picturesque Kent countryside. We are now in the 1950’s where the story really starts.

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