In December 1904 the Somerset Quarry Company secured a 21 year lease of land at Tadhill, Downhead, on which to work Pyroxene-Andesite at the eastern end of the Basalt outcrop (Silurian Inlier). When it first opened, the stone from the quarry was taken by a short tramway to Luxton’s Lane, Downhead, where it was loaded into wagons for delivery by road. A tippler frame for tramway tubs survives beside the lane, as does a shed which may have housed the engine for a crusher.
In February 1905 the surveyor of Shepton Mallet RDC reported that the company planned to haul the stone with traction engines, but by February 1906, when the council was planning to seek compensation for damage to local roads, it was using steam lorries. The quarry company’s problem with the council was solved by the building of a branch of the Waterlip tramway from the crossroads at Longcross to Downhead Quarry. In December 1906 Mendip Granite sought permission for level crossings in connection with the proposed branch, one at Longcross and another further along the Old Frome Road at Walltyning. Shepton Mallet RDC readily approved the application on the grounds that it “will be a very great boon to the Council, as it will take the whole of the heavy traffic between Downhead and Cranmore Station off the district roads.”
The new line was constructed in 1907, the work being completed by the autumn of that year. It was worked by steam locomotives from Waterlip to the top of a double-tracked incline, up which loaded trucks were hauled up from the quarry level by an endless rope powered by a Brown & May portable engine. From the foot of the incline to the quarry horses seem to have been used, since rails still in situ in the plant area of the quarry are smaller and lighter than surviving lengths of rail from the locomotive-hauled section of the line.
Two quarries survive on the site, the earliest of the two being the east quarry. The tramway from this runs east towards the original plant areas at Luxton’s Lane. Following the building of the line to Cranmore in 1907 plant was erected at the quarry, and new workings opened at a higher level. Tubs from this could be pushed to a crusher chute, the stonework of which still survives. The two stone walls of the screen house and bins also remain, as does the foundation of the engine house. Power for the new plant was provided by a Crossley suction gas engine.
The last years of the Downhead venture are something of a mystery. The quarry had been established by the Somerset Quarry Company, but by 1908 was reported to be in the hands of the Somerset Basalt Stone Company. At the end of World War I this business was operating the quarry with a workforce of around 20 men and was managed by John Hamblin of Mendip Granite. However, by 1925 the quarry had been returned to the Somerset Quarry Co., but was said to be working only intermittently with a workforce of nine men. The quarry closed at the end of the year, but the remains of some structures and lengths of narrow gauge track still survive in the plant area.
NGR: 368400 - 146100
Lat : 51.2132214668
Long : -2.45378366646