Tribute to David Shepherd

David Shepherd, 1931 – 2017

The East Somerset Railway mourns the loss of founder

A tribute from ESR Chairman, Richard Masters


In November 1971, artist David Shepherd paid his first visit to a derelict and almost forgotten Cranmore Station.
It had been a victim of the Beeching axe that closed so many rural branchlines and brought to an end the railway which served the local community for over a hundred years. David was not put off by the depressing dereliction and in this site he saw the potential to bring his ambition to life, to establish a heritage railway, and from this the present East Somerset Railway was created. It is down to the vision of our charismatic founder that we have a thriving heritage steam railway here today.

Cranmore was to become the home for David’s two steam engines which he bought direct from British Rail for just £5,000 in 1967. From there the first public steam services were started in 1974. Brake van rides ran up and down outside the engine shed but David soon realised that to be successful, a heritage railway had to provide all the amenities that the public would need. As he often said, clean toilets are just as important to visitors as the engines they have come to see. In the early years of the East Somerset Railway he spent a great deal of time and much of his own money building a new engine shed and a station at Cranmore with a ticket office, gift shop and café. In 1985 the line was extended to its current terminus at Mendip Vale.

In the 1990s David felt he should devote his time to his wildlife foundation for which he was as well known for as his love of railways. He said, you can always build another steam engine but once they have gone you can’t make another tiger. He became less involved with the running of the Railway but still took a keen interest in its progress and often visited Cranmore to meet many of his old friends. Today, visitors still like to talk about the time they met David, recounting the stories he loved to tell and remember what a fascinating man he was.

Sadly, this week David passed away but he will not be forgotten at Cranmore. His legacy to us is the friendly steam railway that you are visiting today. We are proud to continue the dream of our wonderful creator.