Spetisbury station history

  • 1854 : Meetings in Blandford and Poole were held to form the Dorset Central Railway, one of the many independent companies which made up Britain’s railway network at that time. Also this year the Somerset Central Railway was opened between Highbridge and Glastonbury, with a later extension to Burnham-on-Sea.  From the outset the linking of the two railways to create a through line between the Bristol Channel and the English Channel was always anticipated.
  • 29th July 1856 : An Act of Incorporation authorised the construction of a new 10 mile single track railway linking the London & South Western Railway station at Wimborne (on the L&SWR line from Broadstone and Poole) with Blandford, at an estimated cost of £128,000.
  • 13th November 1856 : The first sod of earth was cut in a ceremony at Blandford St Mary by Frances, Lady Smith of the nearby Down House. A procession of horse-drawn vehicles had earlier left the Town Hall in Blandford, followed by railway navvies, crowds of towns people and school children. They crossed the bridge to Blandford St Mary and took the turnpike road to Poole, turning right at the first drover’s track where they entered an archway of decorated hoops leading to the top of the field. The Dorset Central Railway engineer Charles Gregory presented Lady Smith with a ceremonial spade with which she dug a loosened turf and dropped it in the ornamental mahogany wheelbarrow, presented by railway contractor Charles Waring, after which everyone moved to the Blandford Assembly Rooms for a grand lunch. The expenses of the day amounted to £224 13s 2d, including £71 for wine – clearly everyone enjoyed themselves a great deal! The ceremonial spade and ornamental mahogany wheelbarrow survive today (see photo below).

Henry Danby Seymour, MP for Poole and chairman of the Dorset Central Railway addressed Lady Smith as follows: “Lady Smith, allow me to present you with a glass of wine in which to drink success to the Dorset Central Railway. You have this day performed an important duty in turning the first sod of this great undertaking, which we hope through the blessing of God will be fraught with benefit both to agriculture and commerce, by connecting the Bristol and English Channels.” He also spoke of bringing clay to the new potteries in Poole and increased travel by passenger steamer to Cherbourg (and hence by rail to Paris) made possible via the railway line to Poole. 

spade and wheelbarrow used in the first sod cutting ceremony
  • 10th August 1857 : An Act of Parliament authorised the DCR to construct an extension northwards from Blandford to connect with the Somerset Central Railway. 
  • 3rd November 1857 : It was reported in the press “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, on 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”.
  • October 1860 : Following an inspection by the Board of Trade, the new railway was proclaimed ready to be opened. There were two intermediate stations at Sturminster Marshall and Spetisbury (originally spelt Spettisbury).  At first the railway terminated at a temporary station at Blandford St Mary due to delays in bridging the River Stour into Blandford itself. Although temporary, the timber built station was provided with a booking office, goods shed and engine shed, as well as a run-round loop and turntable. According to the Sherborne Journal, the station was ‘unpretentious, and unsuitable for anything but the brief use which all Blandford residents must fervently wish’.
  • 31st October 1860 : At noon a special train double-headed by two London & South Western Railway locomotives left the original Poole station, located in Lower Hamworthy. At Wimborne the train reversed and awaited the arrival of a train from London (Waterloo) conveying L&SWR officials before departing at 12.55, the first passenger train to traverse the Dorset Central Railway from Wimborne to Blandford St Mary. 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.”

  • 1st November 1860 : The line opened to passengers, worked by the L&SWR under a five year agreement.  The 2-2-2 Sussex class well tank Mars worked the line for the first three years. There were up to five trains in each direction daily, the journey taking around 35 minutes each way.

Spetisbury station originally consisted of a single platform on the ‘down’ side of the line with a timber-built waiting room and separate booking office. Levers on the platform controlled the disc and crossbar signals, used to indicate whether a train had to stop or not. Facilities were basic with no electricity or gas, and it is thought water was delivered in churns. The paraffin for the lamps was stored in a separate brick hut. Access for passengers and carts was up a rough track from the main road. A milk dock allowed milk churns to be unloaded onto the platform for dispatch by train.

an early view of Spetisbury station
  • 1st September 1862 : The Dorset Central Railway amalgamated with the Somerset Central Railway, the new company becoming known as the Somerset & Dorset Railway. The DCR was extended northwards from Blandford whilst the SCR was extended southwards from Glastonbury. The two lines met near Wyke Champflower just north of Cole in Somerset.  Estimated costs to build the new line between Blandford and Cole were £9,000 per mile. Thus ended the short life of the independent Dorset Central Railway, but it now formed an important part of the larger Somerset & Dorset Railway.
  • 31st August 1863 : The Somerset & Dorset Railway was opened throughout from Burnham-on-Sea to Poole via Wimborne. Shipping services also ran from Cardiff to Burnham-on-Sea, and from Poole to the French port of Cherbourg, with onward rail connections to Paris. The new Blandford station located in the town centre was opened at the same time, whilst the temporary terminus at Blandford St Mary was closed and later removed. Sturminster Marshall was renamed Bailey Gate to avoid confusion with the new station at Sturminster Newton.
  • 20th July 1874 : At Evercreech Junction an extension was opened northwards to Bath over the Mendip Hills. This line passed through the Somerset coalfield, which became a major source of revenue. The S&DR was now an important railway linking the south coast and Bath with connections to the Midlands and further north. The original line from Evercreech Junction to Burnham-on-Sea became known as ‘the branch’. Other branch lines ran to Bridgwater and Wells in Somerset.

  • 1st November 1875 : Due to financial difficulties after completing the extension to Bath, the S&DR was leased to the Midland Railway and London & South Western Railway, to become the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway. Their new crest combined the arms of Bath with the seal of Dorchester, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway Company Ltd.

  • 11th July 1882 : It was recommended that the decision to provide a station master’s house at Spetisbury be postponed. In 1885 this matter was again postponed.
  • 26th June 1883 : It was recommended that the suggestion to provide a flight of steps from the approach road to Spetisbury station be postponed. The following year this matter was again postponed.
  • 4th November 1886 : The Electric Train Tablet method of single line operation was introduced by the S&DJR between Blandford and Bailey Gate. After this date the signals at Spetisbury were used only for ‘request stop’ purposes. 
  • 1888 : Approval was given to extend the platform at Spetisbury and construct a brick-built ladies’ waiting room adjacent to the original timber buildings at a cost of £94.
  • 1st February 1889 : The S&DJR working train timetable stated “The normal position of the Signals…. must be at the “Off” position, except when required to be used to stop a Train which is marked to call by Signal only, or to protect any impediment or obstruction which may be on the Line, in accordance with Rule 157 of the Committee’s Book of Rules and Regulations. In accordance with this Rule, when a Train has stopped at the Station, the Signals in both directions must be placed at “Danger”, and remain so until the Train has again started, and has passed out of sight.”
  • 1897 : Inhabitants of nearby Charlton Marshall petitioned the S&DJR to rebuild Spetisbury station at another location more convenient to both villages and with easier access. The estimated cost was £2,000 plus £670 for a goods siding. This plan was not approved, and the residents of Charlton Marshall had to wait until 1928 before they got their own station.
  • 1899 : Work began to widen the trackbed between Bailey Gate and Blandford for a second set of rails, at an estimated cost of £35,000. Most of the bridges did not need any alteration as they had been originally constructed for double track. The Parish Council again petitioned for the station to be moved to a more convenient location to allow for a goods siding, but this was again refused.
  • 16th April 1901 : Spetisbury’s remaining disc and crossbar signal, one of the last on the entire line, was removed following the introduction of newer signalling.
  • 29th April 1901 : The new double track line and replacement signalling was opened through Spetisbury. This plan shown below, dated 1901, shows double track but still only one platform (marked in yellow).
1901 plan showing double track but only one platform

Spetisbury station was substantially rebuilt for double track operation. The original ‘down’ platform was again lengthened and a new ‘up’ platform 300′ long was added with a substantial brick-built booking office and ladies and general waiting rooms. A flight of steps were built to access the new platform from the lane below, and a foot crossing was provided to allow passengers to cross from one platform to the other.  There were no goods sidings, however milk and watercress were dispatched daily by train.  Crossover points between the ‘up’ and ‘down’ lines were also provided, worked from a ground level signal box built adjacent to the road bridge. The signal box was probably a S&DJR Type 2 design and cost £450 to install. It had a nine-lever frame controlling the signals as well as the crossover points. The S&DJR working train timetable stated “The Signals at Spetisbury will be worked only for Trains stopping at the Station, except on special occasions, when it will be opened as a Block Section, of which due notice will be given, as the ordinary Block Section will be as between Blandford and Bailey Gate. The Cross-over Road must not be used except whilst the Station is open as a Block Post.” The Special Instructions issued for the working of Spetisbury signal box can be viewed here.

the rebuilt Spetisbury station circa 1901

  • 23rd January 1918 : It was recommended that the crossover points at Spetisbury be removed.
  • 1922 : The Redhead Commission reported on cost-cutting measures throughout the S&DJR system. It was recommended that the Spetisbury station master be made redundant, saving £200 a year. His duties were undertaken by the Blandford station master.
  • 1st January 1923 : Britain’s railway were grouped into ‘The Big Four’ companies. The S&DJR fell into the hands of the Southern Railway and London Midland & Scottish Railway.
site plan 1923
Southern Railway station plan 1923
  • 17th July 1933 : S&DJR trains ceased to run to Wimborne and instead ran direct to Broadstone and onto Poole and Bournemouth on the new line that had opened between Corfe Mullen Junction and Broadstone in 1895.
  • 13th August 1934 : Spetisbury was downgraded to an unstaffed halt. The timber buildings were probably demolished around the same time.
  • 1st January 1948 : The railways were nationalised. Spetisbury now came under the control of the Southern Region of British Railways.
  • 10th August 1952 : Spetisbury signal box was permanently closed it having been noted that “The condition of the locking-frame and much of the signalling apparatus at Spetisbury is worn out. Also the box structure is in need of considerable renewal. It has not been found necessary to open the box for a number of years and there is no apparent reason to anticipate such a course being necessary in the foreseeable future. In the circumstances it is recommended….. the box to be abolished.” This closure saved around £28 a year in maintenance costs.
  • 17th September 1956 : Spetisbury Halt closed but as this was a Monday, and no Sunday services ran on the line, the last trains called on the Saturday. On that day ten trains were booked to call at Spetisbury – four down’ and six ‘up’ trains. However, some trains continued to pick up and set down passengers unofficially after that.
  • 1958/1959 : The remaining station buildings at Spetisbury were demolished.
  • 6th March 1966 : The entire Somerset & Dorset line closed to passengers. The line from Broadstone to Blandford remained open for goods traffic.
  • November 1967 : The ‘up’ line from Blandford to a point south of Spetisbury was lifted, leaving only a single track.
  • 3rd November 1968 : ‘The Hampshireman’ enthusiasts railtour became the last passenger train to pass through Spetisbury. It was hauled by class 74 electro-diesel number E6108 with Brush type 4 (class 47) number D1986 at the other end and ran from Broadstone to Blandford and back again.
  • 6th January 1969 : The Poole to Blandford section closed to all traffic.
  • December 1969 : Tracklifting began at Blandford.
  • April 1970 : The remaining track through Spetisbury was taken up. Recovered materials were loaded by a mobile crane into open railway wagons, hauled mostly by class 33 diesel locomotives.  After nearly 110 years as a railway, nature began to reclaim the trackbed.
  • mid 1990’s : Dorset County Council established a path along the trackbed for walkers, cyclists and horse-riders. Today this forms part of the North Dorset Trailway.
  • May 2012 : The Spetisbury Station Project Group began clearing the station site with a view to eventual restoration.

Find out more about the history of the Somerset & Dorset line, and visit our archive for a look back at historical images and documents relating to Spetisbury station, as well as railway recollections. Our thanks go to Chris Osment for sharing his signalling knowledge and supplying details from his informative website.

railway staff

In its heyday there were a station master and three porters at Spetisbury. The station master from around 1881 to 1901 was Thomas Parmiter. He was followed by Robert Cook (on the left in the photo), who was station master until 1915, having previously been a porter at Blandford. Later station masters were Charles Moores in 1920, then finally Harry Roberts, who was Porter in Charge from 1926 to 1934, when Spetisbury was downgraded to an unstaffed halt. The cleaning and lighting of the platform oil lamps during the winter months was undertaken by Blandford station’s junior porter. This involved cycling to Charlton Marshall Halt and Spetisbury with a can of paraffin and cleaning materials in the front basket. In the late 1940s this was undertaken by Roy Miles, who later became a guard based at Templecombe station. Apparently this was a pleasant job if the weather was fine, but sometimes a train was caught there and back. Railway gangers, who lived in the village, were each responsible for a length of track which they had to walk daily. They checked that the track gauge was correct, also the gaps between the rails to allow for expansion in hot weather. One ganger was Peter Charles Christopher, who worked the line around Spetisbury and Charlton Marshall into the 1950s. In 1901 quite a few railway workers lived in the village, including one ganger, four platelayers and four navvies, no doubt involved in the work to double the track.

Robert Cook (left) was station master from 1901 to 1915

incidents and accidents

  • 28th October 1876 : It was reported in the Blandford Express “On Tuesday afternoon a somewhat serious accident occurred to the train from Bath, which is due to leave Blandford at 2.36pm. The axle and other parts of the iron-work of the van next the engine broke, causing two wheels to leave the metals near Charlton Barrow. Fortunately, the guard and engine-driver both saw the danger, and the train was brought to a standstill on the embankment near the Endowed School in this village without doing any further damage than tearing up the permanent way for about 100 yards. The engine did not leave the rails, neither did any of the carriages. The passengers were somewhat shaken, but did not receive any further injury.  The engine was as soon as possible detached from the van, and proceeded to the station, where a telegram was despatched to Blandford for assistance.  A gang of men was soon on the spot, fires were lighted by the side of the line, and the line was clear for traffic shortly after nine o’clock. The passengers by the disabled train were conveyed by a relief train to Wimborne at about six o’clock”.

  • 1878 : A goods train became divided into two parts after a coupling broke near Spetisbury. The first half of the train had passed through the station when the rear half arrived at the platform, much to the surprise of the station staff!
  • 27th May 1878 : Mr J. Cox was fatally injured whilst attempting to cross the railway near Spetisbury.
  • 1883 : A coupling on a passenger train broke and the driver carried on to Blandford before realising half the carriages were still at Spetisbury!
  • 9th July 1885 : A goods guard, working a return excursion train from Portsmouth, sustained an injury through being knocked down at Spetisbury by the open door of his guard’s van.
  • 7th December 1893 : Mr A. Martin was fined 15 shillings (75p) for using obscene and abusive language at Spetisbury.
  • 1905 : A female passenger was indecently assaulted by a man who got into her carriage at Blandford. The lady jumped out of the moving train half a mile from Spetisbury, and walked to the station to report the incident. The station master telegraphed ahead to Wimborne station, where the man was arrested. He was later sentenced to two years’ hard labour.