Swanage Railway News Gallery Page 240
From Small Acorns - 25th Anniversary of the first passenger train on the Swanage Railway
Press Release from Andrew P.M. Wright
Official photographer & press officer, Swanage Railway.
Photographs are copyright Andrew P.M. Wright.
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In an important move acknowledging how it all began from nothing, dedicated Swanage Railway
volunteers have marked the 25th anniversary of the very first passenger train running on the fledgling Swanage Railway.
It was on the first Saturday of August, 1979, that the first passenger train ran at Swanage for seven years.
And exactly 25 years later, the trains -
hauled by an ex-BR Standard Class 4 tank and ex-BR Class 33 diesel-electric -
carried special headboards marking the occasion; headboards made by Swanage Railway apprentice Paul
Allwood who was not even born when that first train ran.
And as well as the special headboards, the Class 33 carried the number 25 in its headcode and route indicator box.
It was on New Year's Day, 1972 - a Saturday - that the final British Rail train ran. Composed of two three-coach
Hampshire-class DEMUs laid on specially for the occasion, that last train - after 87 years - ran from a still
gas-lit Swanage station to Corfe Castle and Wareham.
As people on the packed Swanage station platform watched the drab moaning and juddering train disappear into the
darkness under the Northbrook bridge - the throaty sounding exhaust of the diesel-electric engine echoing into the
night air - they thought that was the end of Swanage's Railway.
But a small group of people, first the Isle of Purbeck Preservation Group formed in the late 1960s - and then the
Swanage Railway Society formed in the summer of 1972 as the track to Corfe Castle and Swanage was ripped up -
thought differently. They were a determined bunch.
During the six month period of limbo before the Swanage branch track was lifted - and then as it was being
lifted and cut up for scrap from July 1972 - those determined volunteers fought to first save the line and
then fought to be allowed to rebuild it.
By September, 1972, the six and a half miles of track to a point half a mile west of Furzebrook had been
lifted and a stopblock set up among the pine trees on the heath at Motala.
Thanks to £500 that was paid by the Swanage Railway Society to British Rail, the contractors lifting the
track left the ballast between Motala and Swanage as well as the signal posts.
In March, 1974, Swanage Town Council purchased the station site from BR and demolished the platform as
well as infilling the platform next to the long station canopy.
The next year, 1975, Dorset County Council purchased the railway trackbed from the Northbrook bridge at
Swanage to a point just on the Furzebrook side of the A351 Catseye Bridge at Norden.
It was in 1975 that Dorset County Council agreed to the Swanage Railway Society rebuilding the branch
line back to Furzebrook - but first only to the one mile mark out of the seaside town at Herston.
Early the next year, February, 1976, Swanage Town Council allowed Swanage Railway Society members to
rent part of the disused station building at Swanage. It was big moment when volunteers gained access
to the boarded up parcels office (now the shop) as well as the station shop to start restoration work.
That summer, the first locomotive arrived - a tiny 0-4-0 petrol shunter called 'Beryl' which had been
obtained from Corrall's on Poole Quay. And that autumn, in September, 1954 Brighton-built Standard Class
4 tank No. 80078 arrived at a trackless Swanage station from the Barry scrapyard in south Wales.
Because Swanage Town Council said that no track could be laid outside the goods shed, the rusty locomotive
was put in the goods shed. Later, the first stock arrived in the form of a parcels van and then the mighty
scenery van which was accommodated on a single panel of track at the coal dock by the disused engine shed.
Slowly, track was laid as Swanage station started to reborn - its track slowly extending like the fingers
of a hand. This was progress indeed.
The Swanage Railway Company was formed in February, 1979, while on Tuesday, 15th May, 1979,
Dorset County Council agreed to a passenger train service being run - and to the line being laid to
Herston, one mile from Swanage.
It was on the first Saturday of August, 1979 - a warm summer's day - that the fledgling Swanage Railway ran
its first ever train. And what an historic day it was.
The first train left Swanage from a temporary scaffolding platform under the Purbeck stone arch of the
Northbrook Road bridge - and it only ran a few hundred yards along a winding single track - track that
had been laid by hand using a Great Western Railway hand crane - to a point on the Herston side of the
disused engine shed and the Swan Brook stream.
The first driver of that first train was Geoff Pitman while the second man was Julian Hathaway - and the
guard was John Horrocks.
And 25 years on, Julian's teenage son Ross - now a cleaner on the Swanage Railway and enjoying a working
summer holiday in Purbeck from his home in Scotland - joined Paul in marking the special silver jubilee
anniversary. Ross was not even born when that first Swanage Railway train ran on that August day.
That historic first train was made up of a half-painted Southern Railway Bulleid composite brake
carriage No. 4365 built in 1947 and 1957-built 150 horsepower Fowler 0-4-0 diesel - sporting a
McLaren engine - named 'May'.
The train may only have been a diesel shunter hauling a half painted coach over a short length of
single track, but it was the first passenger train to run at Swanage in seven years since the last
BR train ran from Swanage on the night of New Year's Day, 1972.
The sense of achievement for the early Swanage Railway volunteers was great - from nothing to this
in just three short years; and all against the odds.
The next objective was to lay more track - both at Swanage station and westwards towards the site of
the future Herston Halt.
Herston Halt was reached by 1982 with the first train running to the newly built halt in April, 1984.
The train service from Swanage was extended to the one and a half mile point between Herston Halt and
New Barn - a location called Pole 44 - in the summer of 1987.
The three mile point at Harman's Cross was reached in 1988 with the station welcoming its first train
in December, 1988. With Corfe Castle and Norden being reached in the early 1990s, their new stations
welcomed their first trains in August, 1995.
And the national railway network at that stopblock among the pine trees of Motala near Furzebrook was
reached in January, 2002; exactly 30 years since that special last train composed of two
three-coach 'Hampshire' DEMUs moaned and juddered their way into the night at Swanage on Saturday, January 1st, 1972.
For those pioneering Swanage Railway volunteers watching their tracks reach those of Network Rail,
that depressing night at a decaying Swanage station back in 1972 - when the last BR train left an
empty Swanage station with just the sound of the platform gas lights hissing - seemed a very long way off indeed.
It's a salutary thought but remember that it took BR's scrap merchants, Eagre and Company of
Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire, just seven weeks to lift the rusting Swanage branch track in the
summer of 1972 - a summer that lives on in infamy thanks to the horrific Munich Olympics
massacre - and 30 years for Swanage Railway volunteers to relay.
But there is still so much more to do. To become a part of it, contact Swanage Railway's
volunteer liaison officer Mike Whitwam on 01202 430894.
All photographs are copyright Andrew P.M. Wright.
Last Updated 1st Sept 2004
© Swanage Railway