On this day 160 years ago, at noon on 31st October 1860, a special train double-headed by two London & South Western Railway locomotives left the original Poole station, located in Lower Hamworthy at what today is the end of the freight-only Hamworthy branch. The train proceeded to Wimborne, where it reversed and awaited the arrival of a train from London (Waterloo) conveying L&SWR officials. The train set off again at 12.55 and became the first passenger train to traverse the new Dorset Central Railway from Wimborne via Sturminster Marshall and Spetisbury to Blandford. The lead locomotive was 2-4-0 Minerva followed by 2-2-2 Sussex class engine Mars, both well tank locomotives designed by Joseph Hamilton Beattie and carrying the Indian Lake livery of the L&SWR. The three wooden four-wheeled carriages were also designed by Beattie, who was amongst the dignitaries on board that first train.
The event was reported in the Western Flying Post “On Wednesday last the inhabitants of Blandford and its vicinity celebrated the opening of the first section of the Dorset Central Railway line between Blandford and Wimborne. The day proving exceedingly fine the fondest anticipations were realised. The bells at 10 o’clock in the morning rung a merry peal, and continued at intervals the whole of the day. At 12 o’clock the majority of the tradesmen closed their shops until four in the afternoon. A procession was formed in the market place at noon which consisted of the Rifle Band, the 8th Dorchester Rifles, the Sergeant at Mace, the Worshipful the Mayor and the Corporation of the town; then followed many of the inhabitants, Mr. Perry’s Grammar School, the National and Infant Schools and the British School. The procession marched to Blandford St Mary to welcome the arrival of the first train into the town. The embankments on either side of the line for several hundred yards beyond the station were completely lined with spectators who were anxiously looking for the train. The number present was estimated at not less than 2,500. During the half hour which elapsed previous to the entrance of the train, the children of the different schools were supplied with a bun each, and no doubt they enjoyed themselves far more than those who had nothing to occupy their attention during the half hour. At last the long looked for engine appeared in sight, covered with mottoes, such as “Success to the Dorset Central Railway,” which was the signal for a loud cheer, which rent the air. The Directors were received by the Mayor and Corporation with greetings of pleasure and the procession proceeded to the town. At the luncheon several excellent speeches were made to a crowded audience. A ball was given at the Corn Exchange in the evening, commencing at 9 o’clock. Mr R. Eyers’s band was in attendance. The hall was filled, and dancing continued until four in the morning.”
The line officially opened to passengers the following day There were up to five trains in each direction daily, the journey taking around 35 minutes each way.
At first the railway terminated at a temporary station at Blandford St Mary due to delays in bridging the River Stour into Blandford itself. According to the Sherborne Journal, the station was ‘unpretentious, and unsuitable for anything but the brief use which all Blandford residents must fervently wish’. The Dorset Central Railway later went on to become part of the famous Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway, which closed on 6th March 1966.