Back on Track
PUBLISHED: 09:29 03 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:34 20 February 2013
Edward Griffiths tells us about an ongoing project that's seeing Shillingstone Station, which closed in the 60s, being lovingly restored.November 08
Slowly rising from the ruins of Beeching's plan to 'save' the railways in the 1960s, Shillingstone Station, which was first opened on 31st August 1863, is unique amongst country stations. The casual observer, distracted by the picturesque views over the River Stour to Hambledon Hill, might not even notice the elegant canopy that shelters passengers from inclement weather. But Shillingstone is the only Somerset & Dorset Railway country station to have one. Why? We'll come to that later.
When District Council Leader Angus Campbell addressed the crowd which had assembled for the dancing and barbecue at Shillingstone Recreation Ground's Festival last June, many of the assembled populace had just cycled, walked or ridden the three-mile stretch of the North Dorset Trailway from Sturminster Newton to get there. The celebration was to mark the completion of the Trailway by the opening of the remaining link at Hammoon. All of the travellers had been applauded as they passed through Shillingstone Station, where rebuilding, painting and maintenance was going on apace.
But, to begin at the beginning, after closure of this Somerset & Dorset Railway branch line in 1966, the Shillingstone track was taken up in 1967 and Dorset Council took over the land, intending to earmark it for a future bypass. At that time, Corfe Castle was third on the 'Bypass List'. As we know, wheels of Government grind extremely slowly, so Corfe Castle is still waiting and Shillingstone is currently languishing at Number 35 on the list. However, these same slowly-grinding wheels resulted in Dorset Council deciding to sell the land in 2002 for the benefit of Shillingstone, but definitely not for housing.
Following an earlier attempt to raise people's enthusiasm in 1988, Sid Howlett roped in Bill Munden, a lifetime railway man, and a couple of other devotees. They managed to secure a 99-year lease on the station and 500 metres of track bed, but work was rather piecemeal at the start and all of their funding had to come from voluntary contributions. Then, in 2007, a Planning Application went in for station restoration and for building an engine shed, with the additional benefit to Shillingstone of employment to local bricklayers, woodworkers, electricians and plumbers.
If the application is successful, and a projected initial grant of £50,000 is received, further Lottery funding is a distinct possibility and work on Phase 1 can begin in earnest. This will involve laying a double track between the two platforms and linking to the sidings. They're also planning to introduce a buffet car for replenishing the many visitors to the Station Project. But, even now, there is already plenty to see at Shillingstone. Work is still progressing on restoring the impressive 'Morning Star' locomotive, but Mike and Dave Clark and Jane have bought a Ruston Hornsby industrial diesel shunter from a North Norfolk Heritage Railway Group and had it moved to Shillingstone. This locomotive will shortly be operational and showing off its repainted Prussian Blue livery.
Following the sad death of Sid Howlett, current operations are organised by the committee comprising Vice-chairman Keith Bottomley, Press Officer Tony Ward, General Secretary David Mouser, Bill Munden and Mark Warr. The whole project is fascinating, and there will always be somebody willing to tell you all about it. The Shillingstone Station Project is supported by the North Dorset Railway Trust and, if you're interested, you can become a member, receive the regular newsletter and
get involved in the restoration work.
Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you about that canopy. Well, the future King Edward VII sometimes came to visit
Iwerne Minster House, where Lillie Langtry was already installed and awaiting his arrival. He always disembarked at Shillingstone Station and, obviously, the royal personage couldn't be allowed exposure to any inclement Dorset weather, so the ornate canopy was erected to protect him. It's still there, and it's quite resigned to sheltering the hoi polloi these days.
So steam down to Shillingstone Station any Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday between 10am and 4pm, walk in the king's footsteps and see what else is going on. You'll find Shillingstone Station is behind St Patricks Industrial Estate in Station Road, off the A357 at the north end of Shillingstone. Telephone the station on (01258 860696) or visit www.Shillingstone-Station-Project.co.uk
Thanks to Graham Rains, Shillingstone's Footpath Liaison Officer, and rock guitarist extraordinaire, for the initial introduction to the Station Project.
Have you any recollections of the station in its working day that you would like to share with us?If so, you can relate them via our forum at www.dorsetmagazine.co.uk