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 But it has been equally fascinating doing behind-the-scenes research and coming across historical documents, plans and photographs.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.
Join the Spetisbury Station Project team from 10am on Sunday 17th December for CHRISTMAS AT THE STATION. We shall be serving hot drinks, delicious homemade hot bacon, brie and cranberry baps and other festive goodies in exchange for a small donation to the Project. Chat to the team and see for yourself the progress we have made this year, and our plans for next year. A selection of artefacts and archive station photographs will be on display, along with a small range of sales items. It has become a tradition that Santa can be seen at the station at this time of year – come and see if you can find 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.
Well here we are into October but the first work party of the month was a bit of a wash out due to the wet weather, although despite this there was a steady stream of walkers, runners and horse-riders passing through on the North Dorset Trailway. Instead the team took the opportunity to discuss plans for the coming winter and next year. Apart from the ongoing task of keeping the site neat and tidy, we hope to improve the station signage and provide better information panels around the site. We also plan to clear the site of the signal box which has become rather overgrown and neglected again. New hedging to protect nearly residents’ privacy and more benches are also in the pipeline.
Progress on the proposed café and information kiosk has unfortunately stalled whilst we await approval for a licence from Dorset County Council. Likewise, work by DCC on the improved Trailway access at the station site has stalled as reported previously, due to higher than expected costs. We shall continue to try and persuade DCC to resolve both of these issues as soon as possible.
Our friend Mike Lees has kindly shared his computer simulation of a First Class trip on ‘The Pines Express’ as it was in the late 1950’s and 60’s. From Shillingstone to Stourpaine and Durweston Halt, Blandford Forum for Bryanston School, Charlton Marshall, Spetisbury Halt, and Bailey Gate. Includes amazing views from the First Class carriage and a look around the goods yard at Blandford and the Bailey Gate cheese factory.
We think you’ll agree it is quite incredibly realistic! Click here to view it on Mike’s Youtube channel.
Lately we have been reporting on progress on the two new running in boards for the station. Here they are all finished with fresh paintwork glistening in the sunshine – we are quietly proud of how they have turned out.
A special work party was held on Monday 14th August when members of the team installed two replica running in boards on site. Until the station closed in 1956, large timber boards such as these would have been located one on each platform, clearly visible to passengers as the train ran in to the station. Thanks to a grant from Spetisbury Parish Council, we have been able to construct and paint these boards and provide concrete to secure them firmly into place in the approximate position as the originals. Firstly the ‘up’ platform (trains for Blandford and north to Bath) sign was located, then the ‘down’ platform (trains for Poole and Bournemouth) sign. For the latter, we made use of an old and still very firm railway concrete fence post to secure one of the wooden sign posts to. All they need now is a final coat of paint to finish them off. They really help make the station come alive again, and we hope to provide other authentic looking station signage in the future.