At this time of year the main task at the station is almost endless grass cutting and hedge trimming to keep the site looking neat and tidy – not an easy job given we are only a small team that meets once a fortnight, and we have quite a large area to manage. Additional volunteers are therefore urgently needed to help us with the above jobs, also general landscaping, maintenance of the platform furniture and painting, etc. If you are interested in joining us, please see the membership page.
We have recently been in talks with station landowner Dorset County Council to acquire a long-term lease to allow us to continue the work at the station. As part of this lease, we have negotiated a slight extension to our boundary and we are now responsible for the trackbed 25m off either end of the platforms. Importantly, this includes the site of the former signal box so in the near future we plan to further excavate these foundations in the hope of bringing to light further artefacts, as well as answering a few questions concerning the signal box.
This fascinating cine film footage of a family waiting for their train at Spetisbury Halt has just been shared with us. Click here to watch it, the Spetisbury sequence starts at 8min 40sec into the film. The remains of the signal box can be seen, and this was intact until at least August 1952, so this dates the film to between 1952 and 1956 when the halt was closed. The brick-built waiting room on the ‘down’ platform is shown, but not the earlier timber buildings which had already been demolished. The concrete foundation of this building can still be seen at the station site today, where the picnic benches are located. It looks like the family were catching the train to Poole as they are shown at the Poole Park Miniature Railway, which is still running today. Although only a brief glimpse, the film shows aspects of the station we haven’t seen before such as the sign warning passengers not to cross the line. This is something we’ll look to recreate in time.
Visit our archive for photographs of the station during its heyday, such as this one.
Despite the warm sunny weather, not many visitors made it up to the station today – word had obviously spread that our tea and cake lady was not about so refreshments were not available! Undaunted by this lack of tea and home-made cake, other members carried on the job of clearing the overgrowth from the embankment behind the ‘up’ platform. This will really open up the station site and in time should look good with a carpet of grass, ivy and wild flowers. As mentioned previously, the bushes at the top of the embankment will be trimmed to form an attractive hedge, similar to that created behind the ‘down’ platform, which will also encourage wildlife. Gaps in the hedge will be filled either with new plantings or fencing. The colourful flowers that have been planted in the borders by our green-fingered volunteers really looked at their best in the fine spring weather.
Don’t forget we are always on the look out for new supporters or members, further details can be found on our membership page.
After the heatwave and sunshine of last weekend, today was decidedly chilly and grey but the team cracked on with the jobs at the station. One member mowed the grass on the ‘up’ platform whilst the others continued clearing the embankment of overgrowth behind this platform. The vegetation along the top of the bank will just be trimmed and in time this will form an attractive hedge, providing some shelter to the station site. In the process we uncovered the tensioner for the railway telegraph pole which used to stand on this embankment. One of the aims of the station project is to encourage wildlife, and several habitats have been created, including one for slow worms. Several new signs have recently been provided to welcome visitors to the station, and more signage is planned for this year. Finally, a selection of second-hand railway DVDs has been generously donated to the station project, and these are available to purchase on work parties or special event days.
Our friend Mike Lees has just sent us a link to his completed rail simulation video of the Somerset & Dorset railway between Spetisbury and Charlton Marshall, including archive footage and commentary. You will almost think you have stepped back in time! More of Mike’s superb rail simulations can also be viewed on YouTube.
For once the south of Dorset didn’t escape the wintry condition that brought a lot of snow to the UK during March! One of our members took this great photo of Spetisbury station covered in snow on 18th March. It’s a reminder of the harsh winter of 1962/63 when the Somerset & Dorset railway was overwhelmed by heavy snow and blizzards from the end of December until the end of February. The northern half of the line, especially over the Mendip Hills, was affected worse of all with parts of the line completely blocked for several days.
Occasionally an old photograph will come to light which helps us tell the story of Spetisbury station, and just about the best of the lot is this one, made even better because it is in colour! On a gloriously sunny 22nd July 1966, a train of military vehicles on flat wagons hauled by two British Railways Standard class 2-6-4 tank locomotives numbers 80146 and 80134 passes through Spetisbury. The photographer was probably stood on the earthworks of the Spetisbury Rings iron age hill fort, which is also known as Crawford Castle, looking north over the Stour Valley towards Blandford Forum. The vehicles, identified as Humber and Morris Commercial one ton lorries, originated from the nearby Blandford army camp, home of the Royal Corps of Signals, and were loaded onto the wagons at Blandford goods yard. The Somerset & Dorset railway had closed to passengers during March 1966 but the line from Broadstone to Blandford was kept open for freight traffic until January 1969.
Despite it being a bit cold and breezy at the station today, it felt like spring was in the air with daffodils and snowdrops beginning to show their colour on the embankments. The fine weather brought plenty of visitors onto the Trailway which passes through the station. Even the station robin made an appearance. The team divided their efforts between clearing overgrowth from the embankment behind the ‘up’ platform, and clearance work in the foundations of the former signal box. Both of these projects will significantly improve the station site when completed.
Not quite Spetisbury, but this train would have soon been passing through. Here we have a 2-4-0 tender locomotive number 16A at Blandford station in August 1892 with a ‘down’ goods train from Templecombe to Wimborne. A cattle wagon is coupled next to the tender. It is unlikely that this train would have stopped at Spetisbury, as there were no sidings to handle goods wagons, and any small goods traffic such as milk, watercress or parcels would probably have been carried in the guard’s compartment of passenger trains. This locomotive was originally built as number 20 for the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway in 1866 at the Vulcan Foundry. It was one of six identical engines ordered by the company, but due to financial difficulties on the S&DJR only two (numbers 19 and 20) were actually delivered. Number 20 became number 16 during 1873 and both engines were heavily rebuilt in 1881. Due to the introduction of newer locomotives, it was renumbered 16A in 1891, the A suffix denoting engines with a limited life expectancy. In 1899 it was pressed into service at the S&DJR’s locomotive works at Highbridge whilst one of the works’ boilers was being repaired. Number 16A generally worked trains from Templecombe, then Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge before withdrawal in January 1914. Notice how clean and polished the locomotive is, and the smart appearance of the driver and fireman too – all very typical of the era.
Over the years the Spetisbury Station Project team has compared itself to the ‘Time Team’ from the tv series, and it has been very interesting work excavating the station site and piecing together its history. But it has been equally fascinating doing behind-the-scenes research and coming across historical documents, plans and photographs. This was published in The Times newspaper on 3rd November 1857 :
“INTERESTING RELICS – The navvies employed on the first section of the Dorset Central Railway, extending from Wimborne to Blandford, on making a deep cutting in Castle-hill, one side of the road leading through the village of Spettisbury, disinterred on Monday, the 19th ult., a large quantity of human bones, among which were as many as 70 skulls. The whole of the bones were detached, and when found presented a crushed and broken appearance. In one of the skulls was discovered a spear head firmly fixed, the shaft having been evidently broken off before the body was interred; various weapon of war, such as swords, daggers, spear heads, with ornamental buckles and other fastenings for the dress, and a brass boiler-shaped vessel, evidently used for culinary purposes, exhibiting superior workmanship, were found with the human remains. The probability is that the disturbed burial place was a large grave, in which the bodies of the slain were hurriedly and promiscuously deposited with the fragments of the weapons of war they had used in the fight. No doubt can be entertained but that the spot where the remains were discovered formed part, 1,600 or 1,700 years since, of a Roman encampment, surrounded by earthen outworks, and was probably occupied at the time the Romans advanced from the western coast into the heart of the country. The weapons of war and other ancient curiosities found have been compared with those of known Roman character, and correspond in every essential particular. The whole of the remains have been carefully preserved by Mr. Davis, the contractor of the railway, who appears to feel much gratification in exhibiting them to those who are curious to examine them“.
Evidently the railway company tried to keep this quiet so as not to delay construction, but word soon got out! If you would like to find out more about the history of the station, please click here.