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.
Today was our first work party of 2018, in bright but cold and windy conditions. Our first job was to clear the steps leading up to the platforms of leaves and moss. The steps are not actually our responsibility, but we sweep them a couple of times every year to make them safer and more welcoming for visitors. Then we divided our efforts between weeding some of the flower beds, and starting work clearing the foundations of the old signal box. The signal box work is one of our projects for 2018, and we plan to reveal and preserve the foundations and provide an information panel detailing its history and explaining how it worked. Basically, it was built around 1901 when double track was laid. It was probably a Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway Type 2 signal box and cost £450 to install. The nine lever frame controlled the signals as well as the crossover between the two tracks. However, it saw very little use and seemed to have been allowed to deteriorate into a poor condition, and was permanently closed on 10th August 1952. Other projects for this year include spelling the name SPETISBURY in rock on the bank behind the ‘up’ platform, as seen in old photographs of the station, also constructing a replica disc and crossbar signal which was a feature of the station in its early years. A replica gradient post has already been made, and just awaits final painting before it is fixed into position.
On Sunday 17th December we held our usual Christmas get-together at the station. Considering the cold, damp weather we were pleased to see so many visitors, many of whom stopped for a chat and something to eat and drink. Bearing in mind we have no electricity or running water at the station site and everything has to be carried up to the platform, we managed to supply hot freshly-cooked bacon, brie and cranberry baps, warm mince pies and other festive savouries washed down with tea, coffee or a hot mulled fruit drink. It was good to see several regular visitors and supporters of the Project too. It has become a tradition that Santa makes an appearance in the old booking office, and this year was no exception!
Two members of the team have been busy making a wooden replica of a concrete gradient post that used to be positioned at the southern end of the platforms. This indicated to southbound engine crews the change of gradient from level through the station to 1 in 100 up towards Bailey Gate. Once a final coat of paint has been applied, this will be fixed in place in the new year.
The team will be at the station for a final time this year on Christmas Eve from about 10am until 1pm (sorry, no refreshments that day….) and we would like to wish all supporters of the Spetisbury Station Project a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. For dates when we shall be on site during 2018, please click here.
It was a crisp, frosty start up at the station this morning. Our main job was starting clearance of the site of the signal box, which has become a bit neglected and overgrown lately. We want to uncover as much of the remains as possible here, and eventually provide an information panel explaining what the signal box looked like, and how it worked. One member has made a replica gradient post, which stood at the southern end of the ‘up’ platform where the gradient changed from ‘level’ through the station to ‘1 in 100 up’ heading towards Bailey Gate. When painted and lettered, this will be positioned as close to the original as possible. One visitor to the station today remembers travelling on the Somerset & Dorset railway when it was operational back in the 1960’s, and we were pleased to have a good chat with him.
If you are familiar with the Somerset & Dorset railway, then you probably know the name Ivo Peters. Of the many photographers who recorded the line when in operation, Ivo is perhaps the best known, and his superb black & white still images and colour cine 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 a selection of images from The Ivo Peters Collection, most of which have not been published before. Click here to view all six images plus others in our photographic archive.