The best of Dorset in words and pictures

All change?

Guy Smith takes us on a whistle stop tour of West Dorset’s redundant railway stations

Formerly Powerstock Station
Brian Read at his house, formerly Powerstock station. The garden was once the goods siding.

The railway boom of the 19th century saw hitherto isolated rural communities across West Dorset becoming more accessible to the outside world. It also provided their inhabitants with the chance to venture further afield for the first time. Exuberant celebrations accompanied the opening of new railway lines and special holidays were declared to mark such occasions. Bridport station was, according to the Dorset County Chronicle of 12 November 1857, ‘besieged by passengers’ upon the opening of the Bridport Railway which linked the town with Maiden Newton on the main Yeovil to Weymouth line. Even with the town in the grip of railway fever, station officials were unprepared for what happened, having ‘expected a large influx of visitors rather than a migration of the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood!’

150 years on and Bridport station is no more. The line to Maiden Newton is gone, as are the other branch lines in the west of the county. Left behind are the inconspicuous remnants of a transport system that, in historical terms at least, lasted for no more than the blink of an eye: a chunk of platform here, a converted station building there. For although no trace remains of stations such as Bridport, others do still survive in West Dorset in one form or another.

When the Bridport Railway was originally opened, Powerstock station, formerly Smokeham and then Poorstock, was the only place passengers could alight between the line’s two termini. Actually situated a half a mile from the village of Nettlecombe, its location was designed to be of benefit to residents of both Powerstock and Loders. Although the branch line closed in 1975, the station building had by that time been converted into a house by Brian and Diana Read, who live there to this day. Since 1966, the station had been unmanned and it was only as a result of enthusiastic lobbying that the line remained open as long as it did. Diana has written a book entitled Powerstock Station: All Change about the struggle to buy and convert the station. In it she describes the death of the family pet, ‘Badger’, a Jack Russell terrier which was hit by a train in 1973, as well as rather more mysterious goings-on such as ghostly figures, the inexplicable smell of pipe smoke and the sound of steam trains whistling through the station years after the track was lifted! During an impromptu guided tour of the station and garden (a former goods siding), Brian Read pointed out to me the site of the bridge (demolished in 2006) that once spanned the adjacent road and the remnants of the coal store that can still be seen.

Remnant of Toller Porcorum station
This length of platform is the only remnant of Toller Porcorum station on the branch line from Maiden Newton to Bridport.

Further up the line, Toller station has virtually disappeared, although the wooden station building lives on elsewhere. Six years after the closing of the branch line, it was sold for £500 and carefully dismantled and re-erected at Totnes as Littlehempston station on the Dart Valley Railway (now the South Devon Railway). A length of platform still remains at Toller, although during the summer months it is hard to spot it from the nearby bridge.

In 1844 the Bridport Railway was extended to West Bay, although the working life of the station there, originally Bridport Harbour, was a short one. Opened in March of that year, it closed to passengers in September 1930 when the resort’s growth failed to match expectations. The station building is in very good condition following renovation and has recently been used as a café and information centre. Beside it, two carriages stand on a section of re-laid track and currently house a restaurant. Also part of the 1844 extension was Bridport East Street but nothing remains today of this station.

Bridport station building
The extension of the Bridport line to West Bay closed in 1930 but the station building survives as a railway-themed café/restaurant

The following year, in November 1885, another branch line, the Abbotsbury Railway, opened. It ran for six miles from Upwey Junction, just outside Weymouth, to Abbotsbury via Portesham. In 1948, Abbotsbury station was used as the setting for the classic film The Small Back Room, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and starring David Farrar, Jack Hawkins and Kathleen Byron, but this brief period of celebrity did not prevent its closure, together with the entire branch line, in December 1952. It was not until 1963 that the station building was demolished, although part of the 275 feet long platform and the original goods shed survive to this day. Where once the station building stood, there now stands a modern bungalow complete with a decidedly territorial dog whose bark, I was relieved to discover, was rather worse that its bite!

Abbotsbury station
Although Abbotsbury station was demolished in 1963, its goods shed still stands

A couple of miles away at Portesham, the station building itself still exists: it was converted to residential use in 1962 and is now known as ‘Sleepers’. A portion of the station’s 233 feet long platform can still be seen, bordered by a picket fence. The building’s canopy is now gone and a recently constructed modern porch has been added to the building.

The station at Portesham
The station at Portesham was converted to residential use in 1962. The railway connection is preserved in its present-day name – ‘Sleepers’.

There were two other intermediate stops on the line. Coryates Halt no longer exists but the station building at Upwey (not to be confused with Upwey Junction on the main Waterloo line) can still be seen. Originally named Broadway, the station became Broadwey in 1891 since another station in Worcestershire also had this name, before again being renamed Upwey in 1913, another station of the same name on the Waterloo line having closed in 1886. Viewed from the Dorchester Road bridge near the Littlemoor Road junction, it is easy to miss the stone station building, since it now forms part of a builder’s yard and the old track bed has been filled in. If you are lucky enough to avoid being run over by a fork lift truck, you can still glimpse the old goods shed to the west of the station!

One more station in West Dorset is worthy of note. Lyme Regis station, situated a mile from the town due to the steep gradient, was the terminus for the Axminster and Lyme Regis Light Railway (ALRLR). It opened on 24 August 1903 amid much rejoicing. The 12.25 service for Axminster left, according to the Dorset County Chronicle, ‘amidst a roar of cheering and a fusillade of fog signals.’ The crowded train included 200 children amongst its passengers, who were later provided with tea on the beach to the accompaniment of a band on the promenade. The ALRLR took three years to build and only about a mile of the line lay within Dorset. The Dorset County Chronicle concluded its report on the opening by asserting: ‘A bright and prosperous future is predicted for the town.’ Maybe so, but the branch line did not share the same fate and closed in 1965.

Much of the station still exists but it is no good going to Lyme Regis to see it. The station’s bookstall was moved to St Mary Cray Station in Kent in 1936 and the main station building was dismantled in 1979 and re-erected at Alresford on the Mid Hants Railway (the Watercress Line), where it currently serves as a gift shop. The rest of the site has been redeveloped for commercial purposes but is still remembered fondly by those who used it – as are all West Dorset’s other redundant stations.

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