No-one knows for sure
who built the world's first tracked roadway or where,
but it could well have been in England. The track itself
was probably nothing more complex than strips of wood
laid down over the ground while the 'wagons' were, most
likely, just tree trunks acting as rollers. The whole
set-up would have been constructed for transporting
heavy stones and, even though it might have been somewhat
primitive, it was still an embryonic railway. Indeed,
something of this nature was probably used in the building
the world's first railway wasn't all that far from Dorset.
Early records of a modern type iron-road railway in
our area date back to around 1805, when a section of
track was laid in the Arne peninsula to transport clay
to the southern shore of Poole Harbour. On the other
side of the water, tracks ran along the quay at Poole,
but this was so short it could hardly be classed as
a railway, and neither was it regarded as such. However,
the same couldn't be said for a larger enterprise which
opened on the Isle of Portland some twenty years later.
Known as the Merchants Railway it was used for hauling
stone away from the quarries.
this was, of course, before Stevenson had built his
Rocket. The prime motive force or power source along
all these tracks was still the horse, although stationary
steam engines were in use elsewhere for hauling wagons
on a sort of tracked conveyor belt system. Richard Trevithick
by this time had constructed the very first steam locomotive
which was operating in Cornwall.
of train typically seen in BR days
Even so, what
we accept as the Railway Age really began with the opening
of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway in 1830. With
a length of less than 20 miles it wasn't long, but it
was still more than anywhere else in the world. Another
couple of decades and we had nearly 7,000 miles of track
spread throughout Britain, which was probably still
more than the rest of the world put together. However,
it was a rather patchwork arrangement with no co-ordinated
network being made up of a myriad of relatively small
companies, and not all even using the same track gauge.
But by the mid-1840's the big players were beginning
to emerge and absorbing many of the smaller and dept
In those early
days neither the government, nor the military, could
see any great strategic value in this new transport
system (until the American Civil War proved otherwise),
so it was mostly private financiers who put up the cash.
Of course, they expected to see some return for the
risk, so generally railways were only constructed where
profits were likely to be made.
the Hampshire and Dorset region was a somewhat late
developer in the railway stakes. Although Poole was
a thriving port, the area was otherwise a bit of an
industrial backwater devoid of large population centres
and certainly not enough to warrant the building of
a railway. Nevertheless,
the network was expanding at a pace and, in 1847, the
first railway in the area opened running from Southampton
as the Southampton & Dorchester Railway (although
commonly referred too as 'Castleman's Corkscrew' or
'the Water Snake') it was conceived by a Wimborne solicitor
with the name of Castleman. It was planned to be part
of major link from London to the South West but it was
in a sense out-of-date before it began; another company,
the London & South Western Railway (LSWR), had already
established a line westwards from Salisbury to Exeter.
the Southampton & Dorchester Railway more or less
out on a limb with nowhere of major importance to go
but, having already obtained parliamentary authority
for the line, it was decided to go ahead all the same.
However, money was tight. In order to keep construction
costs to a minimum by using fewer bridges and cuttings
whilst still linking the major population centres, the
tracks were laid in a broad sweep well to the north
of Christchurch and Bournemouth, but taking in Ringwood
and Wimborne, before heading south to Wareham and on
to Dorchester. It was because of this somewhat convoluted
route that the line became known as 'Castleman's Corkscrew'.
itself with a fledgeling population of less than 700
souls wasn't too high in Castleman's calculations, although
a branch line led off to Hamworthy. Later a spur was
laid to Poole.
with so many of these early ventures, the railway as
a whole wasn't a success and just twelve months after
opening the line was taken over by the rapidly growing
LSWR. Meanwhile, another company, the Wiltshire, Somerset
and Weymouth Railway, were planning another line running
through Yeovil and on to the coast at Weymouth, via
the county town of Dorchester.
old station at Holmsley now serves as tea rooms
This was opened
in 1857 with help (both technically and financially)
from the Great Western Railway (GWR). However, the latter's
tracks and rolling stock were all built to Brunel's
broad 7ft gauge and this created something of a problem
at Dorchester where the line met up with the (what was
fast becoming the standard) 4ft 8in gauge of the Southampton
& Dorchester, or rather the LSWR line. Consequently
the stretch from Dorchester to Weymouth was laid with
three rails so that both GWR and LSWR trains could be
Bournemouth was well on its way to becoming not only
a popular resort, but also a major population centre.
For example, the 1851 census showed a population of
695 (even in 1861 it was still only 1,707) but, just
20 years later, after the arrival of the railway, it
had grown to 16,860.
Just as it
was with the trams some twenty or so years later, the
burghers of Bournemouth or, at least the more influential
ones, didn't like the idea of having a railway anywhere
near the resort. Officially this was due to the noise,
smell and destruction of the environment, but really
it was one of elitism. They didn't fancy the idea of
their exclusive resort being invaded by rowdies from
the north - and that meant anywhere north of Ringwood!
But, in the
end, they couldn't prevent it and, in 1870, the town's
East Station was opened on a branch line from Christchurch;
itself on a branch from Ringwood. Bournemouth West station
and the link to Poole was opened in 1874, but it wasn't
until 1888 that a line was established between the two
stations (East and West). In the same year the line
between Christchurch and Brockenhurst was opened, giving
a direct link between Bournemouth, Southampton and London.
just Bournemouth, however, that prospered from the railway
boom. Swanage grew both in size and stature when the
trains arrived in 1881 while, further inland, places
like Blandford, Gillingham and Wimborne found new markets
for their agricultural products. In addition, of course,
the railways themselves provided work, especially during
the construction periods, even though many of the locals
didn't actually care much for the gangs of navvies that
came and went.
Most of the
individual smaller lines left were swallowed up in the
1923 Groupings when Southern Railway became the major
operator in the region and this was, of course, followed
by nationalisation after the Second World War, then
Beeching's cuts of the Sixties and privatisation a few
years ago. Disregarding the large number of closures
resulting from Beeching, the major event during the
nationalised BR era was electrification of the London
to Bournemouth line which took place officially on the
10th July 1967.
didn't allow the third rail system to extend any further
and a push-pull diesel locomotive was used to haul coaches
of the Bournemouth train on to Poole, Wareham and Weymouth.
It wasn't until 1988, some 21 years later, when the
power rail eventually reached Weymouth. This facility
was intended to improve access to the Channel Island
ferry service from Weymouth but soon after electrification
the ferry service (operated by British Rail's marine
branch) was abandoned.