Return light engine movements
of 6201 Princess Elizabeth and 47746 - Laira to Penzance.
Today, Sunday 18th September was anything but a day of rest for the thousands of spectators who invaded Westbury and the surrounding hillside to witness the demolition of the 51 year-old chimney at the former Blue Circle (later Lafarge) cement works situated to the east of the town below the famous White Horse. The demolition was scheduled for 07.00hrs but with local and national media/social media having been widely publicising the event large crowds were naturally to be expected. My wife and I arrived at 05.10 to find hundreds already gathered and for the next 80 minutes a constant stream of cars, vans, campers, 4x4s motorcycles and, as it got light, pedal cycles continued to slowly make their way along the narrow single track road to fill every available space on the top of the hill, the occupants then making their way across to the edge of the site overlooking both the cement works and a large area of west Wiltshire. At 0655am as daylight broke silence gradually descended as the warning siren indicated only 5 minutes to go. Then at 07.00hrs and ten seconds a large muffled boom was immediately followed by the 400 foot stack toppling in a north westerly direction to come crashing down exactly as planned in a large plume of dust, the show being all but over only twenty seconds after it started. As soon as the dust cloud started to rise we were in the car and away as quickly as we could, leaving thousands of others with the same idea to follow on...
The Westbury chimney demolition had mixed opinions, some were happy to see it go as it was a source of controversy for many years due to the smoke and dust pollution it was claimed it produced, a final row over the increased burning of refuse and, more so old tyres, may possibly have helped seal the fate of the plant as it is located in an area of outstanding natural beauty. However, while it was open the works provided much needed employment and benefited the local economy. At the time the works opened in 1962 the railway, another major employer, was in decline with the loss of dozens of firemen's jobs and the impending Beeching report seeing many stations and several local branch lines closed. Indeed some men transferred to Blue Circle from British Railways at Westbury and later redundancies saw more railwaymen join the expanding Somerset Quarries such as Yeomans at Merehead and ARC at Whatley. Both these firms now have a major rail presence at Westbury as many will know. The chimney was a notable landmark for just over half a century, visible from west country-bound trains as far away as Crookwood east of Devizes and from all other lines approaching Westbury. Many will miss its towering presence as their HST or, soon, Bi-Mode IEP whisks them along the main Paddington-Penzance railway line through the Westbury area.
Guy Vincent 18.09.2016
Thank you very much indeed for your article detailing not only the destruction of a 'local monument' but how employment has changed as the years roll by.
of 6201 Princess Elizabeth
Penzance to Laira
Hewish Crossing's in '81
They most certainly are interesting, many thanks John.