Road & Rail
Our railway was built to connect the main line with Yeovil. It opened in 1853 using the broad gauge. At that time the route between London and Taunton was via Bath and Bridgwater, but a more direct route was formed through Athelney. The new route reduced the length of the journey from London to Penzance by 20¼ miles.The new through route was opened in 1906, and the route was then the main line for express passenger trains to Devon and Cornwall.
The station handled many goods from Stoke, including poor quality hay for the South Wales pit ponies. It was particularly important in delivering the huge quantities of locally grown willow destined for the large urban basket making workshops. In the 1950s, as car ownership increased, and willow and local basket production dwindled, traffic was greatly reduced. The branch line to Yeovil fell victim to the Beeching Axe. Stoke's station at Athelney closed in June 1964.
The Athelney signal box was transported to Devon and rebuilt just north of Staverton station on the South Devon Railway. The waiting room was dismantled and reassembled on the village playing fields, where it still functions as the sports pavilion.
Athelney Station Waiting Room on 13th June 1964, the last day of passenger services from Taunton to Yeovil.
Photo courtesy of Michael L. Roach ©
The neolithic timber causeways known as the the Post Track and the Sweet Track are not many miles from Stoke, and the soil of West Sedgemoor may well hide similar early roads, but the peat in this area has not been subject to the same excavations as in the Brue valley, so we may never know for certain. Later road systems served the village for local horse transport and occasional trips to the market towns of Taunton, Bridgwater and Langport, but were never part of the turnpike system. Stoke was in the middle of the turnpike triangle of Taunton, Othery and Langport, so has always been somewhat isolated.
Within the parish, it is recorded that some roads were dug out by hand to form easier gradients to move wagon loads up the hills. This became more important as the moors were drained and were able to support crops of hay. New roads were created when the final enclosures took place, including Woodhill, which was the boundary of the old Woodhill Green common, and the road through Meare Green, also originally a common.
The droves of Stoke are not what people would recognise as drovers' roads, winding across large tracts of Britain. They were all built or laid down to provide access to parcels of agricultural land within the village. Early ones would have led from the village to the common lands on the low lying moorland, where there was some summer grazing. When the moors were enclosed and the land was divided into fields by 'wet hedges' - ditches and rhynes - the new droves provided access for the owners of each new plot of land.
An Unsurfaced Curload Hill
Tractor Meets Cart on Pincombe Drove