Many thanks to David and Roger.
at Portbury near Portishead
The text on a plaque fixed to a side wall of the carriage began by noting that “In 1892 Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s broad-gauge railway system (G.W.R.) was replaced by the standard gauge of 4’8½”. It continued: “this broad gauge railway carriage was used for several years as the Portbury Mission Room at the site of the present water works [?] by the railway station. It was then towed to its present position by Mr E H Shopland and his good horse “Smart”, on the erection of the present church in 1899”.
The “present church” was in fact a small chapel of brick, some 31 feet by 20 feet – but large enough to be shown by a ‘+’ on my Seventh Series One-Inch Ordnance Survey Map, sheet 155 of 1953 (grid reference ST 498754). It and the carriage were sited a few hundred yards south of the railway station, closer to Portbury village centre. They stood on the east side of the Bristol-Portishead road, then known locally as Station Road, later to be designated the A369. (The road subsequently returned to a quieter life in the 1970s when a new A369 alignment was built to Portishead, bypassing Portbury village, from the junction 19 roundabout of the M5 near Gordano Services.) The carriage, minus its chassis, stood just to the north of the chapel. Once in place there it would appear to have served the function of a church hall for feasts, celebrations and also a Sunday school for children.
The chapel and carriage continued in use until 1966, it seems, when the site was vacated. This may well have been due to declining attendances; my notes record that the site was put up for sale, and a planning application had been submitted to Long Ashton Rural District Council for planning permission, either to convert the chapel to become a small house, or to demolish it for a new house. Reading of that in the local paper encouraged me to visit and take the black-and-white photos shown below. I did not record the exact date of that visit – I think it was in autumn 1966. However, by then the route of the proposed M5 motorway had been published. The overall ‘land take’ for the wide highway was shown to pass through the site of the chapel and carriage, and this route – when subsequently approved – made the proposed conversion or redevelopment of the chapel site as a dwelling into a non-starter. I further visited the site on a pleasant spring day in May 1967 and took two colour photos. Later that year the Council announced that the carriage was to be removed for preservation. By then I had moved to London to start work. In 1969 I was in touch with a Mr John Wood in Shrewsbury who I had read was involved in plans to retrieve the carriage. He wrote to me in June 1970 to advise that the carriage had indeed been moved into a Council store in December 1969.
After that I lost track of it – no pun intended – until I read a four-page article about Portbury Methodism, the carriage, and the chapel in Posset Pieces No. 12, a periodical publication of 2012 by the Gordano Civic Society, from which some of the historical notes above were drawn. It is still in print as I type this – see https://www.gordanosociety.org.uk/pp3.html. In it I read that the carriage was then with Bristol’s M Shed Industrial Museum, still awaiting restoration after what was then four decades.
In preparation for drafting these notes and photo captions for the CRS website, I went to the Bristol Museums’ own website and searched using the term ‘Portbury’. This turned up no fewer than 221 entries, many relating to documentation on the Royal Portbury Dock, built in the late 1970s but (inexplicably) not provided with a national rail connection, via an upgrading of greater part of the mothballed Portishead branch, until 2002. In amongst these, I was pleased to find http://museums.bristol.gov.uk/details.php?irn=139196 – Object Number J1071, “railway carriage body … dismantled into component sections for removal from site”, with colour photos of end and side wall sections and doors together with black-and-white photos, similar to mine below, of the carriage when in situ in Portbury. The plaque has, it must be hoped, also been saved and stored.
It remains to be seen whether this rare survivor of broad gauge rolling stock will eventually be restored