Sodor China Clay is based at Brendam. It operates the private line from Brendam to the clay beds to the west.
As many stories do, this one starts with a death, in this case Lady Margaret Cranstal. The daughter of an East India Company ”nabob”, she was a wealthy woman in her own right, besides inheriting her husband’s estate on the hills above Brendam. When she died in 1870 (a childless widow) she left her house and estate for the establishment of a school for girls “so that they may enjoy the same advantages as their brothers do at Cronk Abbey”.
An entrepreneurial young man, the son of a Brendan fish merchant, saw the break-up of the estate as the opportunity of a lifetime, purchasing a large plot to begin China Clay workings using money borrowed from his father. It is said that every penny of the Quayle’s family savings was invested into this new venture.
The company now known as Sodor China Clay was founded in 1870 as the Benjamin Quayle China Clay Company. Quayle had been exploring the possibility of China Clay workings since 1864. The coming of the Wellsworth and Suddery railway marked the beginning of a new era of industrial growth.
By 1892, the harbours at Brendam and Suddery were woefully inadequate for the local trade (including China Clay exports), and it was the BQCC Co., who co-funded the joint extension of the W&SR and TK&FR to Tidmouth.
Originally a lightly laid, horse-worked tramway around the peninsular, this line was devastated by a gale during the winter of 1896-1897, which swept the trackbed away. In order to preserve the business, a tunnel was cut through the rock face. This tunnel was cut to be the height of the tallest wagon they had at the time, and is a limiting factor for motive power to this day.
Quayle sold the company to a group of local businessmen in 1901 and the company was renamed Sodor China Clay.
In 1907, the line was upgraded to steam traction and two ancient locomotives were purchased from the Sodor and Mainland Railway. The two Neilson box tanks had their domes cut down, and chimneys hinged so they could lie flat while in the tunnel. The conditions in the tunnel were horrible for engine crews, and a stalled train could be disastrous, so double heading of loaded wagons became common practice.
Traffic slowed during WW1 but grew in the inter-war period. The original workings were abandoned by 1908, but new workings further north were opened up.
By 1939, the two locomotives were utterly worn out, it’s a miracle their crews were able to keep them going for so long.
In 1937, Bagnalls of Stafford had produced a reduced-height 0-4-0ST ‘Judy’ for the Par China Clay line. Thus, in 1939, two similar locomotives were delivered to the SCC. These locos took the numbers 1 and 2 of the Neilsons, which were unceremoniously dumped at the old China Clay workings.
In 1952 the two Bagnalls gained the names ‘Bill’ and ‘Ben’ after the popular characters on the children’s television programme Watch With Mother.
Wartime pressures on NWR locomotives meant that the Bagnalls were being pressed into making trip workings to the junction at Wellsworth. Their coal and water capacity and small wheels were not up to the job, and so an order for another, larger locomotive was placed, this time with Hunslets of Leeds.
The new locomotive, a 50550 class 0-6-0ST was not permitted West of Brendam, but was used exclusively for shunting and trip workings of wagons to Wellsworth and Tidmouth, the SCC having running powers over NWR metals. This practice continued after the war.
The Hunslet was supplemented by two ex-mainline locos.
Ex-LMS 3F 0-6-0T No.7663 had been requisitioned by the War Department and sent to France as WD 13. Captured in 1941, it was subsequently used by the SNCF before being repatriated in 1949, seemingly being picked up cheaply by the SCC Co.
In 1957, an ex-GWR 8750 0-6-0PT was purchased from BR, No. 8755.
It appears that the ‘Jinty’ was little used after this, the pannier being in better condition. A railtour to Brendam in 1965 saw the Jinty engaged in shunting duties at Brendam in a terrible state and it’s unlikely that the NWR management would have liked the idea of it on the main line. Photographs from the following year show the LMS loco dumped out of use behind the loco sheds.