Originally the West Huntspill Model Engineering Society was formed in the early sixties by a group of like-minded individuals with a passion for miniature steam locomotives. Then known as the Weston-super-mare Live Steam Society
As the original name suggests, it was based in Weston, sometimes meeting in local hostelries in the town but most often at the home of a founder member, Mortimer Street, in his rather large shed. Mort to all his friends was a signwriter and grainer by trade, so had plenty of space in the shed, and he produced some exquisitely lined and lettered engines.
He also had a 3½”/5″g up and down track in the garden, which was rather steep, so heavy braking was the order of the day or one ended up in the fruit bushes!
During the early to mid-sixties the Society had grown considerably and the decision was made to find a permanent site for a raised 3½”/5″ gauge track.
The first site chosen was in the grounds of Ellenborough Park West, Weston, and the owners of the land and the Convent School close by were approached. However they wanted rather a lot of money for the use of the park and placed so many restrictions on its use that in the end it was unviable to proceed further and the track never built.
In the meantime the membership had grown and was now quite widely spread. A number of members from Highbridge and West Huntspill approached the West Huntspill Parish Council in 1966.
By 1967, the Society had a permanent home on its present site at the Memorial Playing Field, which is held by the Council in trust as a War Memorial to the men of the area who fell in the First and Second Wars. At the same time the society changed its name to the Weston-super-Mare and Westhuntspill Live Steam Society
The Society was given a 100-year lease on an area previously occupied by a defunct Tennis Club, of which our present Running Shed is a relic, as are some patches of the asphalt court, which remain under a thin layer of soil in the conservation zone in the centre of the track. The original track was an oval with a length of 520 feet, which was to be officially known as the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway Memorial Track.
Many of the members at this time were ex-Somerset & Dorset railwaymen. Most of the materials used in the construction of the line came from the old S&D station and works in Highbridge. (The works had closed on the 31st December 1929. Although locomotive maintenance and wagon repairs continued until 1955 when the buildings took fire and burned down the shell was still standing when the line closed on 6th March 1966.)
Our first track was completed the following year in only six weeks and opened by local dignitaries, by which time the name had changed to the Weston-Super-Mare and West Huntspill Live Steam Society.
A short while later the station building was acquired from British Rail and came from the down platform of the S&D station, Evercreech New. (It can be seen in this 1967 colour photo: http://www.somersetanddorsetrailway.co.uk/the-railway/stations/evercreech-new/ -Ed)
Some years later the club was renamed the West Huntspill Model Engineering Society to reflect the new direction in 1992 and become a Limited Company in May 1996. Owen Jones was then Secretary. Time now called almost all of the original founder members to report to that great Locomotive Shed in the sky. Old engine men do not die; they just go to another shed. There were many great characters amongst them with many stories to tell, another time.
In 1987 the Society decided that as it had grown so much we needed to extend the track. The new extension increased the length to 732 feet.
It is important at this point to mention Bernard Escritt a long-standing member and one of life’s gentlemen; he donated the monies required for the entire rail as a memorial to his late wife. A plaque in the clubhouse commemorates this generous gift. Sadly I am afraid recently stolen.
The well-known railway author O.S. Nock accepted our invitation to open the extension, the tape being broken with “Ozzie” riding behind Percy Napper driving his locomotive Earlstoke Manor.
Following the success of the extension the Society continued with its development, and invested in signalling to upper quadrant semaphores following Southern signalling practice. Shades of the old Somerset and Dorset Railway were still around. All were managed from a purpose-built signal box and fully interlocked.
David Shepherd the railway artist was formally invited to switch in the signals and presented the Society with one of his paintings.
The society is still growing and the desire grew to extend the track once again to the fullest extent available. The work being carried over the winter of 2010/2011 and was completed and opened in time for the new running season at Easter 2011.
This extension takes the running length to 1072 feet and completes the raised track for the future. The signal box was relocated later that year and the station area redesigned including a new water tank.
The next project is the new clubhouse and buildings, which are well underway and should be completed in time this year 2017 for our 50th Year celebration of the railway on the Memorial Playing Fields