- 13th November 1856 : The first sod of the new Dorset Central Railway between Wimborne and Blandford was cut at Blandford St Mary by Lady Smith of the nearby Down House. The expenses for the ceremony amounted to £224 13s 2d, including £71 for wine, which was a very tidy sum at that time. Clearly everyone enjoyed themselves a great deal! For a full history of the Dorset Central Railway, click here.
- November 1857 : Workers excavating the line through Castle Hill at Spetisbury unearthed two massed graves containing 90 human skeletons from the former Roman encampment here. The DCR tried to keep this discovery quiet so as not to delay construction of the railway, but word soon got out.
- 31st October 1860 : At noon a special train double-headed by two London & South Western Railway tank 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. This was the first public train to traverse the Dorset Central Railway from Wimborne to Blandford and it caused quite a sensation at Blandford St Mary, where around 2,500 people waited for its arrival.
- 1st November 1860 : The DCR opened for passengers. There were two intermediate stations at Sturminster Marshall (later renamed Bailey Gate) and Spetisbury (originally spelt Spettisbury). Spetisbury station consisted of a single platform 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 – there was no electricity, gas or running water. Lamps were lit with oil, and water was delivered in churns. Access for passengers was up an inclined path from the main road, too steep for wagons so goods traffic never developed to any great degree. The DCR was operated by the London & South Western Railway, with a day’s work for locomotives and carriages involving seven journeys each way totalling 140 miles.
- 1st September 1862 : The DCR amalgamated with the Somerset Central Railway, which connected Burnham-on-Sea with Glastonbury. The new company became known as the Somerset & Dorset Railway, although the two lines were not yet linked together.
- 31st August 1863 : The S&DR opened throughout between Poole and Burnham-on-Sea.
- 20th July 1874 : At Evercreech Junction an extension was opened northwards to Bath enabling through trains to run from the south coast to Bath and further north. The S&DR was now an important cross-country railway. The original line to Burnham-on-Sea became known as ‘the branch’.
- 1st November 1875 : The S&DR was taken over by the Midland Railway and the London & South Western Railway, and became known as the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway.
- 28th October 1876 : The 2.36pm train from Blandford to Wimborne derailed at Spetisbury after an axle on the guard’s van broke. Luckily there were no injuries, although the track was damaged for 100 yards, but services resumed later that day.
- 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!
- 1883 : Similarly, 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.
- 1888 : Approval was given to extend the platform and construct a brick-built ladies’ waiting room adjacent to the original timber buildings at a cost of £94.
- 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 : The station’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 was opened through Spetisbury. During this work an ‘up’ platform 300′ long was added with a brick-built booking office and waiting rooms. 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. The original ‘down’ platform was again lengthened and crossover points installed, 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. There were no goods sidings, however milk and watercress were dispatched daily by train. The Station Inn was conveniently located nearby for thirsty travellers.
- 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.
- 23rd January 1918 : S&DJR Minutes recommended that the crossover points be removed, saving around £28 a year in maintenance costs.
- 1922 : The Redhead Commission reported on cost-cutting measures throughout the S&DJR system. At Spetisbury, expenses were up by 395% and it was recommended that the station master be made redundant, saving £200 per year. His duties were undertaken by the Blandford station master.
- 1st January 1923 : Britain’s railways were grouped into the ‘Big Four’ companies. The S&DJR fell into the hands of the Southern Railway and the London Midland & Scottish Railway.
- 13th August 1934 : Spetisbury was downgraded to an unstaffed halt. The timber buildings were probably demolished around the same time. At some point in the station’s history, the south end of the ‘up’ platform building was remodelled, but we don’t know why or when.
- 1st January 1948 : The railways were nationalised. Spetisbury now came under the control of the Southern Region of British Railways.
- 10th August 1952 : The signal box was permanently closed having seen very little use.
- 17th September 1956 : Spetisbury Halt closed from this date, along with other halts on the line. This was a Monday, and as no Sunday services ran on the S&D, 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 : The Western Region of British Railways gained control of most of the S&D route. A gradual run-down was started with through traffic diverted onto other lines.
- 1958/1959 : The remaining station buildings at Spetisbury were demolished.
- 6th March 1966 : The Somerset & Dorset line closed as part of the Beeching cuts. Goods trains continued to run from Poole to Blandford, although one track was lifted leaving just the ‘down’ line.
- 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 Junction as far as Blandford.
- 6th January 1969 : The Poole to Blandford section closed to all traffic.
- April 1970 : The remaining track through Spetisbury was taken up. Tracklifting had started from Blandford in December 1969 and was completed as far as Broadstone Junction by October 1970. Nature slowly began to reclaim the station site.
- 1986 : The Station Inn at Spetisbury closed, having been a favourite watering hole for engine crew, porters and guards working on the railway.
- 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 team began clearing the station site with a view to eventual restoration.
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 Cooke, who was station master to 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. 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 1950’s. 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.
Spetisbury station then and now
- Fireman Mike Baker recalled a bit of excitement on the footplate one day in 1965. Along with driver Lou Long he was working a 9.55am train from Bath hauled by 5MT class engine 73001 with two unofficial guests riding on the footplate. After leaving Blandford, the regulator was opened up and the speedometer showed 95mph as the train raced through Spetisbury! The official line speed was 70mph but the easy gradients and gentle curves south of Blandford allowed for much faster running.
- Locals could set their watches by the punctuality of the S&D’s principal train ‘The Pines Express’ which ran between Manchester and Bournemouth from 1927 to 1962. According to memory, ‘The Pines’ used to roar through Spetisbury at 4.20pm each afternoon, which for one family meant it was time for tea!
- One of the best-known S&D engine drivers 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. Donald told a story from 14th May 1940 when he was working as fireman on the Royal Train carrying King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to inspect the troops stationed at Blandford Camp. Roaring through Spetisbury early that morning with a ‘Black Five’ class engine 5374 and seven coaches Donald recalls “It was a beautiful, clear night, no moon but the stars shone so brightly that as we passed through Spetisbury and approached the overbridge I saw the silhouette against the night sky of a British Tommy with his rifle over his shoulder come to the centre of the bridge and watch us pass. I realised the whole line was being guarded and many eyes were watching unseen as we sped along at about 60mph”.
- Donald Beale also 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.”
- Donald Beale also had other memories of Spetisbury. “Spetisbury had platforms on the ‘up’ and ‘down sides’, the track still rising right through the station; a station with a gorgeous view eastwards to the Tarrants, and the long line of trees that stretched for over a mile on the horizon and hid Badbury Rings. In the 1930’s, there was a little signal box at the north end of the ‘up’ platform. At this spot, passengers descended to the roadway below the archway; some dozen or more steps, and it was next to this stairway that the signal box was tucked right into the hillside – a box something like Templecome Upper ‘B’. I believe it was used like Stourpaine, to break up the long section from Blandford to Bailey Gate.”
- Eddie Skinner recalled one incident at Spetisbury whilst firing for driver Donald Beale. Any large lumps of engine coal used to be put aside for a platelayer called Charlie who lived in a cottage below Spetisbury station. As the train passed Spetisbury one day, a lump of coal was kicked off the footplate for Charlie. Unfortunately, this piece of coal wandered off course a bit as it gathered speed down the embankment and went straight through Charlie’s greenhouse!
- Driver Reg Darke recalled driving the last passenger train to stop at Spetisbury station with fireman Basil Foot on 17th September 1956. According to Reg the train was the 4.10pm from Evercreech Junction to Bournemouth West, hauled by 2P class engine 40696. “On this particular evening we stopped at Charlton Marshall Halt and picked up a family of four who alighted at Spetisbury Halt, the next stop along. They then wanted to go over the other side of the platform. The guard had to conduct them across the track. I asked the guard later what they were playing at; he replied that they wanted to take their two young children on the last train. We were the last ‘down’ train and the 5.18 was the last ‘up’ train to stop at the halts. The facts had not sunk it that it was the last official stop at these halts; they were closed that day.”
A young Mike Lees lived in Spetisbury from 1955 to 1960. He has shared the following memories of the railway with us – thanks Mike!
- “One day I walked to the village shop at Spetisbury then on up to the station. Most times there was a locked iron gate at the base of the steps but this time it was open so I walked up to the station. I remember the back painted wall of the demolished ticket office and wondered why they did that. Crossing the track on to the up platform, I found out that if you put your ear to the line you could hear a train coming when it was some distance away. All was quiet so I thought I would give it a try. I jumped off the platform and out my ears to the rail and sure enough I could hear the vibration sound. Wow! It works, the next second I could hear the train and it was getting very close, then it appeared coming round the corner towards Blandford. I could easily see the metal polished front wheels – time to panic, there wasn’t time to run to the end of the platform, at about 4ft tall I managed to just about struggle back on to the platform in time as this freight train went by at high speed. The driver hung out of his cab shouting something but because of the noise I couldn’t make out what he said. I think maybe leave it to the imagination! Phew! A close encounter.”
- “One fine summer’s evening I walked along the embankment past Spetisbury school. I could hear a heavy echoed puffing sound, it was the ‘Pines’ leaving Blandford. I carried on walking then eventually all went quiet as the train went through a cutting just before Charlton Marshall. I then saw the train in the distance, there was a slight dip in the line at this point which I think trains made use of to get more speed. The embankment was too steep to get clear so I decided to make a dash for the nearest telegraph pole near the water cress beds, I ran like hell as the train was approaching fast. I knew it would create wind rush, I managed to grab hold of this telegraph pole in the nick of time and remember hanging on to it with all my might. The noise and clatter and wheels so close and the wind rush was scary, I could see the driver looking back as it went by. Phew that was close!”
- “The engine fireman occasionally threw a shovel of red hot coal out on to the embankment to burn off the overgrowth, in some cases starting big fires. I noticed a fire one day and went to put it out thinking I was doing the right thing, only realised after it was intentional.”
- “A school friend Alan Hobbs and I attended Spetisbury primary school at the time, we walked up to the line at the Blandford end of the Spetisbury cutting and put a threepenny bit on the line. We went back the day and it was clearly imprinted on the line.”