Experience the evocative atmosphere of Corfe Castle station at dusk - and savour the fact it is lucky to have survived!


Swanage Railway

30th December, 2013


Swanage Railway

30th December, 2013

Standing below the ruins of what was a palace, fortress and prison for more than 600 years, the restored Corfe Castle station has a special atmosphere all of its own - even more so at dusk as the light fades and darkness draws in.

That atmosphere is even more special when you realise that between 1974 and 1986, the station - and the railway trackbed through the picture postcard village - was one of four routes earmarked for a proposed and long-awaited by-pass road.

These evocative pictures were taken at dusk on Saturday, 28 December, 2013, at the end of a successful first for the Swanage Railway - its first ever Winter Warm Up mini-gala event featuring the best of steam and diesel traction. Signalman John Alexander was in the signal box.

It was a very different sight at the station back in 1972, on the night of Saturday, 1 January, when the last British Rail passenger train from Swanage ran through a decaying Corfe Castle station bound for Wareham and the history books.

After receiving the out of section bells for the train from Worgret Junction signal box, Corfe Castle signalman Bob Richards locked the signal box for the last time and left the station to its fate; a station where he had started his British Railways career as a junior porter back in April, 1962.

With the Swanage branch officially closing on the morning of Monday, 3 January, 1972, Corfe Castle station was boarded up and abandoned - left to face an uncertain future, a future which many people feared would bring about its demolition to make way for a village by-pass.

With the enamel arms stripped off the semaphore signals and enamel station signs taken down, the rusting tracks through Corfe Castle were lifted for scrap during August, 1972.

The station's former booking hall had been used as the village's Royal British Legion club from the late 1960s and by ten years later, the important social facility had moved to its current location in East Street.

Former 1960s Swanage station foreman Jack Cannons had lived in the station master's house at Corfe Castle since 1966 but by 1976, he and his wife had moved out with the building no longer featuring the couple's attractive window boxes.

Dorset County Council purchased the railway trackbed through Corfe Castle - including the station - from British Rail in March, 1974, for the purpose of building a by-pass should the route be chosen for the long-awaited road scheme.

With the abandoned station insecure and rotting away, the mid-1980s saw electronics company Eastpoint take on a lease of the station house and attached booking hall for around ten years; an important move that prevented the Victorian building from being vandalised or set on fire.

One of the directors of the high-tech company was Les Hayward whose grandfather, Dicky Dawe, was station master at Corfe Castle during the 1950s. Before that, Mr Dawe had been a senior booking clerk at Swanage station.

While disused, the station was a filming location on two occasions - once for part of a Big Country music video during the early 1980s and then in the late 1980s for scenes in Thames Television's Edwardian drama series 'Hannay' starring actor Robert Powell.

The relaid tracks of the Swanage Railway reached the disused Corfe Castle station during the early summer of 1990 with the railhead pushing on to Norden and arriving at the site of the future highly successful park and ride station in April, 1992.

The first passenger train ran to Corfe Castle for the first time since New Year's Day, 1972, on the hot morning of Saturday, 12 August, 1995 - truly the Glorious Twelfth. It was also the first time since Sunday, 18 June, 1967, that a steam-hauled passenger train had run to Corfe Castle.

On the front of that very special and historic train was Victorian-designed M7 No. 30053, built at Nine Elms in London during 1905, while on the rear was 1940s Battle of Britain class Bulleid Pacific No. 34072 '257 Squadron'.

The late 1990s saw the Victorian goods shed at Corfe Castle station converted into a popular museum - an exhibition and cinema coach being added to the nearby cattle dock a few years later.

In March, 2005, the signalling system at Corfe Castle was introduced so that trains could pass each other at the station via the long 12-coach loop.

The distinctive Southern Railway semaphore signals and the 'up' platform signal box were brought back into use for the first time since the running of the last British Rail passenger train from Swanage to Wareham on Saturday, 1 January, 1972.

That signal box had been created out of an extended porters' lobby in 1956 after the original 1885 signal box, located next to the 'down' platform waiting shelter, had been condemned because its wooden structure was rotting and suffering from subsidence.

After being built from scratch by a dedicated team of volunteers over several years, February, 2012, saw the phased opening of the new Victorian-style signal box on the site of the 1885 original with the national award-winning signal box being officially opened a few months later by a Government minister.

So, the next time you are at Corfe Castle station, spare a thought for its history - and the fact that we are so very lucky that the station survived its years of abandonment and disuse to become a jewel in the crown of the rebuilt and restored Swanage Railway.

Swanage Railway train times - and special event details - are available online by following the menu links on the left or by telephone on 01929 425800.

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