“On the slow train from Midsomer Norton….”
Although there were once two separate stations on two different lines through Midsomer Norton, the Great Western Railway from Frome had already closed by the time the Beeching Report was published, so the song must be referring to Midsomer Norton South (1874-1966).
This is the second of the pair of Somerset & Dorset Railway stations mentioned in the lyrics; Blandford Forum was in Dorset, so it is perhaps fitting that Midsomer Norton is in Somerset. It was opened nine years later than its southern counterpart, but it closed in the same year.
Midsomer Norton South is the only station in the song to be located on a preserved or “heritage” line. It boasts a set of fully preserved station buildings as well as a length of track stretching about a mile or so. It is all down to the hard work of the Somerset and Dorset Heritage group who are based here.
The X on the map shows the approximate location of the station in relation to the current British Railway network. The nearest open stations are Oldfield Park and Bath Spa about 8.1 and 8.6 miles away. The approximate position of the closed Somerset and Dorset Railway is shown in red.
The red dot on the map below shows the approximate location of the station in relation to the local area.
Services: Past, Present & Future?
In 1958 Bath was a 25-minute journey away; Templecombe could be reached in 70 minutes. The station was served mainly by Bristol to Bournemouth stopping trains; there were 8 or 9 each weekday but just 1 on a Sunday.
Today the journey into Bath takes about 50 minutes by bus. Despite ambitious plans to extend the heritage line, there seems to be little chance of the railway ever reopening in a modern public transportation role.
The volunteers are endeavouring to recreate how the station would have looked in the 1950s and they have done a magnificent job with lots of effort and paint. The line currently only stretches south to the in filled cutting and tunnel, but there are plans to extend it one day maybe towards Chilcompton.
We wandered around the site. There was a café in an old railway carriage, a little museum, and a shop. It was all very well worth visiting.
The line here was on quite a gradient as it climbed through the Mendip hills towards the summit a few more miles south at Masbury. There was a footpath alongside the line and walking along it gave us a great view of the town down in the distance.
Eventually, we returned to the station and wandered down the hill into the town itself.
Midsomer Norton has played quite a role in British culture; the nursery rhymes Jack and Jill, Little Jack Horner and Ring o’ Roses are thought to have originated around here. More recently it has lent its name to the TV series: “Midsomer Murders”.
Nevertheless, unlike any of the quintessentially picturesque English villages that feature in the programme, this “Midsomer” is an old mining settlement in the middle of the Somerset Coalfield. The collieries nearby first opened in 1700 and remained in existence until the 1960s and 1970s.
Midsomer is certainly not an unattractive place though. We wandered along the River Somer which runs through the centre and admired the work that has been done to beautify it. It was all very impressive.
The town centre is also home to quite a few historical buildings and perhaps the most interesting of them was the old Palladium cinema. It opened in 1913 and is counted amongst the oldest of its kind in the country.
The building features an attractive art deco Interior and although it closed (fittingly with a last performance of Cinema Paradiso) as a cinema in 1993, it has recently been taken over and renovated by the pub chain Wetherspoon’s.
We thought it was a great place to sit and have a glass of Somerset cider whilst admiring the interior, the old movie posters they had on display and some of the atmospheric photographs of Midsomer in days gone by.