Today was our last work party of 2018, and as has become tradition the team (just Kevin and Dean today) had a little festive lunch on one of the platform picnic benches. But we managed a bit of work too, and continued excavations around the site of the former signal box. A piece of rusted chain came to light, and we wonder if this was part of the signalling mechanism. We thought more remains of the iron framework we had previously uncovered were still buried, and in true ‘Time Team’ fashion we found another piece in the last hour of the last work party of the year!
A few nearby residents had spoken to us about recent hedge cutting which has created large gaps and disturbed the privacy of adjacent properties. We would like to reassure residents that this cutting back was not done by the Spetisbury Station Project, but Dorset County Council contractors using a flailing machine. We shall be passing on residents’ concerns to the DCC ranger responsible for this area.
Dean, Kevin, Moira, Mick and other members of the Spetisbury Station Project would like to thank all those who have supported us over the past year, and look forward to seeing you in the New Year.Click here for work party dates for 2019.
It has become a tradition at Spetisbury station that the remains of the booking office fireplace are decorated on the run up to Christmas. This year something extra special has appeared thanks to a letter we received from a teacher at a local primary school. This lady asked for a post box where her Year 2 children could post their letters to Santa. Only too happy to oblige, the Spetisbury team has made and painted a festive postbox, and arranged for each child to receive a written reply from Santa or one of his helpers. This is just one example of how we are getting involved with the local community – why not come along to the station and have a look?
On 4th November we took our sales and display stand to the annual Poole & District Model Railway Society exhibition. Unfortunately, a problem with our laptop computer on the day meant we weren’t able to put on the slideshow of ‘then and now’ photos, but otherwise it was a very successful day with lots of interest raised about the Spetisbury Station Project. The star attraction, and winner of the Barry Peacock award for best layout as voted by members of the public, was the superb ‘OO’ gauge model of Bournemouth West station. Sadly now demolished, this was the southern terminus of the Somerset & Dorset railway and trains from the North and The Midlands would have passed through Spetisbury heading south to the seaside at Poole and the end of the line at Bournemouth West.
We decided to cancel the work party today due to heavy rain which was forecast to last well into the afternoon. Unfortunately we have nowhere to shelter from the elements at the station site and we would not expect many visitors on a day like this. This was a pity as we had hoped to put the finishing touches to our replica disc & crossbar signal, the top part of which was brought up to the station earlier in the week. Never mind, we will carry on at the next available opportunity. Our carpenter Mick has done a great job and the 2/3 scale signal will be a real feature of the station when finished. Seen here on the left in black & white it really looks like the old 1901 photograph on the right.
At the end of September we made good progress in the signalling department at Spetisbury station. We had already started excavation work at the site of the old signal box, and were lead to believe any interesting artefacts may be found just outside the front foundations. Sure enough, a little digging around revealed a piece of ironwork still bearing traces of red paint and stamped with the words ‘RAILWAY & GEN ENG CO LTD NOTTINGHAM’. According to our friend Chris Osment, the Railway & General Engineering Company of Nottingham was one supplier of signalling equipment to the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway. This ironwork was likely to have been part of a structure for supporting the lead-off bed for the cranks and pulleys which operated the signals and pointwork, and we hope a little more digging will reveal more pieces like it. The top portion is broken off and missing but the remaining bit is secured very firmly to the ground, so we assume it was simply broken up during demolition of the signal box as any ironwork would have had a scrap value. A variety of nuts, bolts and other metalwork has also been found here.
Work has also started on installing an approx. 2/3 scale timber replica of a disc & crossbar signal. There were two of these early signals at Spetisbury used to indicate whether trains were required to stop at the station. One was situated on the ‘up’ side of the line but we believe it was moved slightly during work to double the track around 1899/1900, then removed altogether on 16th April 1901 when this work was completed and newer signalling introduced. The base of our replica signal has been placed very close to the site of the original, and at our next work party on 14th October we hope to fix the upper half of the signal in place.
It was good to meet a couple of visitors today who remember using the station when trains were still running, also John from the nearby Shillingstone Railway Project who stopped by to say hello, have a cup of tea with us and deliver some leaflets.
Today we continued clearance of the site of the signal box, which as regular readers of this blog will know is the last building foundation on site we have yet to properly excavate. When we have satisfied ourselves that any railway artefacts have been discovered, and maybe answered some questions about the signal box workings, we plan to tidy up this area and provide information boards on what it looked like and how it worked. We unearthed some burnt material and we wonder if this dates back to when the signal box was demolished – perhaps the timber was burnt before the brickwork was pushed over into the foundations? In one corner though are pieces of glass which are the remains of Leclanche jars, which are early forms of battery and which would have generated electrical current for some of the signal box equipment. We found a couple of intact Leclanche jars when we first started excavations here a few years ago, surprisingly having survived being buried under demolition rubble for over 60 years!
Well, not strictly one of our usual Sunday work parties, but members do go up and work at the station at other times. Today one member (me….) cleared the vegetation from the site of the signal box. Eventually this area will be fully cleared and some minor ‘Time Team’ excavations made to see if any artefacts remain. In time we hope to provide information boards here explaining how the signal box worked. These foundations remain fenced off due to their proximity to the bridge parapet. Several passers-by remarked how much they enjoy visiting the station, which was good to hear. I also noticed a large hole in the bank behind the ‘up’ platform and wondered what animal lives here. A rabbit maybe? Or a fox? Either way it’s good to know wildlife has made the station its home.
One of the best-known engine drivers on the Somerset & Dorset railway was Donald Beale, who began his S&D career in 1919, becoming a driver in 1936 and retiring in 1966, the same year the line closed. He was one of the leading drivers based at Branksome shed near Poole. In his memoirs Donald 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.”
For more tales from the railway at Spetisbury, visit the station history page.
What a glorious June day at the station today! Because of the recent spell of hot, dry weather, the grass had become very long so we have our work cut out trying to keep it all looking neat and tidy. Long grass on the embankments actually looks attractive and forms a habitat for wildlife, but we like to keep the grass on the platforms and alongside the trailway as short as possible. So whilst one of the team cut the grass, another strimmed the edges. But with two platforms each 300′ long, this takes a lot of work! We were also joined by Frances, one of our gardeners, who tended her flower bed near the ‘down’ platform.
Ever since we started work at the station in 2012, an unofficial footpath has existed from the ‘up’ platform into the adjacent field, to give access to the Spetisbury Rings hill fort. Recently the landowner has blocked off this path, and we ask visitors to respect this and instead use the signposted footpath across the field up to the Rings. This can be found by walking a short distance up the lane from the station bridge, then over the stile in the hedge on the left.
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.