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.
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.