160 years of the Dorset Central Railway

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 first public train at Blandford St Mary (artwork by Felicity Baker)

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.

work party 25th October

Unfortunately we took the decision to cancel today’s work party. The very wet conditions yesterday and further heavy showers forecast for today meant that it would have been difficult to actually get much work done. So, fingers crossed for better weather for our next work party on Sunday 8th November.

The Project’s media correspondent and web master (me!) has just finished this artist’s impression of the signal box which used to stand next to the road bridge. We think though that the wooden barge boards would have been the same shade of yellow as the gable ends, but never mind. This small ground level signal box controlled the crossover points in front of it, also the station signals. It was brought into use during April 1901 with the introduction of double track operation through Spetisbury, but saw little use and was permanently closed on 10th August 1952.

the signal box (artist’s impression)

work party 11th October

It was another bright day at the station, with the foliage really now showing its wonderful autumnal colours. We were joined by Frances, one of our gardeners. The flower beds do add such a splash of colour to the site and are a reminder of when country railway stations used to make such an effort with their floral displays. Indeed, many railways including the Somerset & Dorset line, made annual awards for the Best Kept Station. And if Bea (another one of our supporters) is reading this, then we hope you feel better soon and will be able to join us again in the near future.

A local metal worker also joined us on site and we discussed potential ideas for the renewal of the large station running in boards that we provided not that long ago, but which have already suffered badly from the elements.

The team also made an inspection of the site and listed items that need working on over the coming year or so. We are only a small (but very friendly) team and would welcome new volunteer members to help with these jobs:

  • grass cutting and general landscaping (an ongoing task….)
  • completion of signal box work including a new interpretation panel
  • renewal of station signage and provision of new railway-style signs
  • maintenance of platform furniture and other timber items
  • improvements to wooden platform steps
  • clearance and tidying-up of the building foundations
  • SPETISBURY spelt with rocks set into the embankment to recreate a feature of the old station


Spetisbury Station Guide

If you are visiting the station, why not download or print our Spetisbury Station Guide? This handy PDF file explains what there is to see on site today. As well as the site plan (below), there is a brief history of the station, a couple of images of what the station looked like in its heyday as well as a floor plan of the remains of the ‘up’ platform station building. Don’t forget, the station site is always open for you to explore or just sit back and enjoy the peaceful surroundings!

work party 27th September

Today was a beautiful autumnal day with nice warm sunshine after a chilly start. Only two members working on site today, but we both took advantage of the dry, fine weather. Moira busied herself cutting the grass, which is quite a job as there is a lot of it to cut at the station! But after a few hours’ work the site was looking very presentable once again. Kevin carried on working at the site of the signal box. The remaining metalwork was cleaned with a wire brush then given a coat of Hammerite paint which not only enhances it, but will hopefully help preserve it as well.  This metalwork consists of two lengths of old rail which would have supported the signal box floor, also the remains of the cast iron framework which was part of the mechanism that operated the points and signals. In time, an information panel will be provided here to explain what the signal box looked like and how it all worked. 

The replica gradient post has now been installed near the site of the original at the south end of the ‘up’ platform.  It is made of wood, but painted to resemble concrete. This indicated to the engine crews any change of gradient, in this case from level through the station itself changing to 1 in 100 towards Bailey Gate. 

One lady visitor today remarked how she remembers catching the train from Blandford when she was a child. She also told us how the Blandford brewery of Hall & Woodhouse (still in business today) used to send their workers on day trips to the seaside by train.  Finally, we were really pleased to receive an email from a supporter who commented “I continue to find your website a very peaceful place to visit in these confusing times, and really admire the work you’re doing.”

seat back signs

What are seat back signs, I hear you ask? Well, the railways used to like lettering many items with the company initials or station name, including platform benches. This early photograph probably from Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway days just about shows the name SPETISBURY painted on the back support of the bench on the ‘up’ platform. The station master seems to have an important piece of paper in his hand whilst the porter takes a break from sweeping the platform whilst the photographer gets his picture!

Interestingly, a seat back sign from Spetisbury still survives in private ownership but this appears to be a later enamel version provided by the Southern Railway. Of course, we will aim to provide something similar to one of the benches at the station to add an air of railway authenticity.

we-re back! work party 5th July

Today we resumed organised work parties now that COVID-19 restrictions have eased a bit. However, members observed social-distancing guidelines and we made sure hand cleansing facilities were made available. Some members had been working on site individually over the past few weeks including repainting of the platform furniture and grass cutting. At the site of the old signal box, levelling of the ground has now been completed and  a start made on landscaping. An attractive railway-style fence is also being placed around the foundations. In time this area will be further tidied-up and an information board provided. A small new waiting shelter has also been provided on the ‘up’ platform.  The area on the ‘down’ platform where we hope to provide a future cafe has also been cleared and sown with grass seed, and a picnic bench placed there. Work we intend to tackle next as a matter of priority is renovation of the station signage, which has suffered from the elements over the past winter.

Today the steps up from the lane were cleared of weeds and a start was also made on cutting back the ivy which has began to cover the station building remains again. Other members attended to the flower beds and the log train and worked on the signal box fence. The nice weather brought lots of visitors to the station and it was good to see them making use of the seats and picnic benches. It is just a shame that we are unable to offer refreshments at the moment.

station update

We have not yet started official work parties again, but we hope to soon! At the moment it is difficult to hold work parties whilst maintaining social distancing, and we wouldn’t be able to offer refreshments. Keep checking our events diary for the latest updates. However, a couple of members have been up to the station on occasions to keep everything looking neat and tidy so do please stop by and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. Don’t forget, the station site is always open for visitors and entrance is free!

So a good time maybe to delve into the archives again. All railway bridges are allocated identification numbers, and often names to. For instance, the bridge over the lane at Spetisbury station was, according to the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway, bridge number 213 ‘Spetisbury Station Bridge’. Bridges along the line had a cast metal number plate fixed to them, although all items of scrap value were removed during demolition (if not already taken by collectors of course)! Luckily, plate 213 survives in private ownership and was displayed along with other railway items at a local exhition a few years ago. We aim to make a wooden replica of this plate to fix to the bridge in due course.

new at the station

Two members of the team, Moira and Mick, have just built this great new addition to the station. This little platform is modelled on the one from the Harry Potter films but, instead of The Hogwarts Express, we have The Pines Express (which used to run through Spetisbury on its way to the south coast, and named after the many pine trees around Bournemouth).  A great photo opportunity for the little ones and grown ups too!