Photographs and documents relating to Spetisbury station, as well as personal recollections. Read the station history for a full history of the station and the railway which ran through it.
The Ivo Peters Collection
If you are familiar with the Somerset & Dorset railway, then you have probably heard of Ivo Peters. Of the many photographers who recorded the line in operation, Ivo is perhaps the best known, and his superb black & white still images and colour ciné film cover most aspects of the line. Although Ivo never actually visited Spetisbury station as far as we can tell, he did take photographs nearby and we are grateful to his son Julian Peters for allowing us to reproduce these images from The Ivo Peters Collection, most of which have not been published before. Thanks also to Mike Arlett for scanning these images for us.
The S&DRT Collection
We are grateful to the Somerset & Dorset Railway Trust for providing these images from their extensive photographic collection.
Mike Baker recalled a bit of excitement on the footplate one day in 1965. Along with driver Lou Long he was working the 9.55am train from Bath hauled by 5MT class engine 73001 with two unofficial guests riding on the footplate. After leaving Blandford, the regulator was opened up and the speedometer showed 95mph as the train raced through Spetisbury! The official line speed here was 60mph but the easy gradients and gentle curves south of Blandford allowed for much faster speeds which was useful for making up lost time on a late-running train.
Locals could set their watches by the punctuality of the S&D’s principal train ‘The Pines Express’ which ran between Manchester and Bournemouth from 1927 to 1962. According to memory, ‘The Pines’ used to roar through Spetisbury at 4.20pm each afternoon, which for one family meant it was time for tea!
One of the best-known S&D engine drivers was the late Donald Beale, who began his S&D career in 1919, becoming a driver in 1936 and retiring in 1966. Donald was one of the leading drivers based at Branksome shed and told a story from 14th May 1940 when he was working as fireman on the Royal Train carrying King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to inspect the troops stationed at Blandford Camp. Roaring through Spetisbury early that morning with a ‘Black Five’ class engine 5374 and seven coaches Donald recalls “It was a beautiful, clear night, no moon but the stars shone so brightly that as we passed through Spetisbury and approached the overbridge I saw the silhouette against the night sky of a British Tommy with his rifle over his shoulder come to the centre of the bridge and watch us pass. I realised the whole line was being guarded and many eyes were watching unseen as we sped along at about 60mph”.
Donald also recalled a well known Spetisbury passenger. “The track now climbed the hillside through a small cutting, with a short row of wood framed bungalows spaced evenly apart, looking downwards onto the Railway Hotel in the street below. One was painted green, and occupied by a young lady who worked in a solicitor’s office in Blandford, so I was told. She travelled to Blandford on the 9.10am ex-Bournemouth, but her return journey was not so straightforward. Work might prevent her catching the 4.10pm ex-Templecombe. The next train at Blandford was the 6.10 ex-Templecombe, the return of the 11.40am Bournemouth-Bath. Branksome men worked this turn throughout in the 1930’s, but this train was booked non-stop from Blandford to Broadstone, although passengers could be set down at Bailey Gate, on request to the guard, who would advise the enginemen. Gradually the young lady became known to all five sets of enginemen at Branksome, and it became regular practice, if ‘Miss Spetisbury’ was standing on the platform as we ran into Blandford, we would ‘tip her the wink’, and with a smart departure from Blandford, we would slide to an unscheduled stop at Spetisbury. ‘Miss Spetisbury’ joined in the time saving – hardly had we come to a stand then she was out of the compartment, the door slammed shut, and we were on our way, the time regained by Broadstone. As in all such cases, someone would inform the Traffic Superintendent at Bath, that the 4.0pm ex-Bath was making a special stop at Spetisbury. We would find a notice pinned up on the Notice Board, where we signed on and off, that the practice must stop forthwith. It never did, ‘Miss Spetisbury’ was one of our regular customers, and we liked to look after them all.”
Donald also had other memories of Spetisbury. “Spetisbury had platforms on the ‘up’ and ‘down sides’, the track still rising right through the station; a station with a gorgeous view eastwards to the Tarrants, and the long line of trees that stretched for over a mile on the horizon and hid Badbury Rings. In the 1930’s, there was a little signal box at the north end of the ‘up’ platform. At this spot, passengers descended to the roadway below the archway; some dozen or more steps, and it was next to this stairway that the signal box was tucked right into the hillside – a box something like Templecombe Upper ‘B’. I believe it was used like Stourpaine, to break up the long section from Blandford to Bailey Gate.”
Eddie Skinner recalled one incident at Spetisbury whilst firing for driver Donald Beale. Any large lumps of engine coal used to be put aside for a platelayer called Charlie who lived in a cottage below Spetisbury station. As the train passed Spetisbury one day, a lump of coal was kicked off the footplate for Charlie. Unfortunately, this piece of coal wandered off course a bit as it gathered speed down the embankment and went straight through Charlie’s greenhouse!
George Skinner recalled a similar story involving runaway coal, but one which could have had a much worse outcome. “I was working a down semi-fast from Bath one evening. The driver had a friend at Spetisbury and we use to push off some coal for him. This particular day the driver decided to this big lump of Yorkshire hard coal off himself. It much have been half a hundred weight or more. It left the footplate at speed and went down the bank and sailed over the fence. Of course at the time of delivery there was no one in the garden. However from behind a row of blackcurrant bushes, surprised by the sound of the engine’s whistle and the first bounce of this lump of coal, appeared the head of the old lady of the house. I saw the face of the driver go white as this huge lump of coal bounced like the bouncing bomb of the wartime inventor Barnes Wallis. It went over the old lady’s head, bounced once again to disappear through the hedge at the bottom of the garden and the driver by this time was in a state of shock!”
Driver Reg Darke recalled driving the last passenger train to stop at Spetisbury station with fireman Basil Foot on 17th September 1956. According to Reg the train was the 4.10pm from Evercreech Junction to Bournemouth West, hauled by 2P class engine 40696. “On this particular evening we stopped at Charlton Marshall Halt and picked up a family of four who alighted at Spetisbury Halt, the next stop along. They then wanted to go over the other side of the platform. The guard had to conduct them across the track. I asked the guard later what they were playing at; he replied that they wanted to take their two young children on the last train. We were the last ‘down’ train and the 5.18 was the last ‘up’ train to stop at the halts. The facts had not sunk it that it was the last official stop at these halts; they were closed that day.”
Mike Lees lived in Spetisbury from 1955 to 1960 and has shared the following memories of the railway with us – thanks Mike!
“One day I walked to the village shop at Spetisbury then on up to the station. Most times there was a locked iron gate at the base of the steps but this time it was open so I walked up to the station. I remember the back painted wall of the demolished ticket office and wondered why they did that. Crossing the track on to the up platform, I found out that if you put your ear to the line you could hear a train coming when it was some distance away. All was quiet so I thought I would give it a try. I jumped off the platform and out my ears to the rail and sure enough I could hear the vibration sound. Wow! It works, the next second I could hear the train and it was getting very close, then it appeared coming round the corner towards Blandford. I could easily see the metal polished front wheels – time to panic, there wasn’t time to run to the end of the platform, at about 4ft tall I managed to just about struggle back on to the platform in time as this freight train went by at high speed. The driver hung out of his cab shouting something but because of the noise I couldn’t make out what he said. I think maybe leave it to the imagination! Phew! A close encounter.”
“One fine summer’s evening I walked along the embankment past Spetisbury school. I could hear a heavy echoed puffing sound, it was ‘The Pines’ leaving Blandford. I carried on walking then eventually all went quiet as the train went through a cutting just before Charlton Marshall. I then saw the train in the distance, there was a slight dip in the line at this point which I think trains made use of to get more speed. The embankment was too steep to get clear so I decided to make a dash for the nearest telegraph pole near the water cress beds, I ran like hell as the train was approaching fast. I knew it would create wind rush, I managed to grab hold of this telegraph pole in the nick of time and remember hanging on to it with all my might. The noise and clatter and wheels so close and the wind rush was scary, I could see the driver looking back as it went by. Phew that was close!”
“The engine fireman occasionally threw a shovel of red hot coal out on to the embankment to burn off the overgrowth, in some cases starting big fires. I noticed a fire one day and went to put it out thinking I was doing the right thing, only realised after it was intentional.”
“A school friend Alan Hobbs and I attended Spetisbury primary school at the time, we walked up to the line at the Blandford end of the Spetisbury cutting and put a threepenny bit on the line. We went back the day and it was clearly imprinted on the line.”
“I lived at Gannets Mead in Spetisbury next to the rectory, had some fantastic times there and I attended Spetisbury Primary School. Loved watching the trains go by and being told off for not paying attention. I clearly remember the sound of the ‘Pines’ thundering through the village from our garden bang on time every day. I used to watch from over the bridge at the cutting through Spetisbury and wait for the ‘Pines’ as it passed through, that unforgettable oily steam aroma.”
“One wet Saturday morning we climbed down on to the track by the bridge over the cutting and noticed there were new concrete railway sleepers leaning along the embankment to replace the wooden ones, we crossed the line and hid behind them as this freight train went buy at speed, heck of a clatter but exciting all the same.”