Bring back Somerset & Dorset Railway!

Great praise should be given to Alan and Christine Hammond who wrote ten books chronicling the times and lives of the passengers and railway employees of the Somerset & Dorset railway (S&D) in its last years.

Many railway staff came from established ‘railway’ families where not only more than one member worked on the railway but the cheerful and responsible lifestyle of serving the travelling public was handed down from previous generations sometimes stretching back to Victorian times.

Another revelation is that individual families became socially extended family groups within their collective work-a-day routines at each station and so a name such as Shillingstone eventually became one of the many ‘families’ along the line!

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This ethos resulted in the way the line was still revered as the ‘S&D’ long after it was swallowed up by British Railways following nationalisation in 1949.

BR loco 73049 on up platform at Shillingstone station. British Railways Class 5 No.73049 awaiting the down train before moving off from Shillingstone station with the 15.40 Bournemouth to Bath train. (Keith Barrett collection – courtesy of Alan Hammond)

Alan & Christine have called each of their books by an ‘emotive’ prefix such as the “The ‘Heart’ of……, or the ‘Spirit’ of……, or the ‘Splendour’ of the Somerset & Dorset Railway” and in each case these emotional titles really do imply the serenity and generosity of all those connected with the line.

To produce the books Alan interviewed and collected photographs from hundreds of ex-S&D workers during the 1990s who were working on the line in one way or another up to and around the time of closure in 1966. Many interesting and fascinating intricacies of S&DR procedures are explained punctuated with anecdotal and humorous events!

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At the time of closure in 1966 many S&D staff were unable to be relocated to other regions and were forced to seek alternative employment. Whatever happened to them one thing is clear – as the years rolled by no one forgot their S&D roots whether they had been employees for a lifetime or had not long joined the railway.

1890s up platform stationmaster and staff on parade! A very early photograph of the stationmaster and eight members of the Shillingstone Station staff. (Note to two ladies in period dress on the left) Stationmasters that worked there include Mr Courage 1876 – 1914, George Coles 1923 – 1933, Ken Davey 1965 and Ken Forrester 1965-1966. ( Keith Barrett collection – courtesy of Alan Hammond )

So, this ‘double’ family identity really was deeply ingrained. The travelling public soon missed their cross-country train journey and a most congenial public service.

To delve into the pages of these books reveals a way of life that for those of us young enough to remember the railway when the steam trains passed by at the time took for granted until rationalisation took its toll. Thankfully those connected with the railway were so enthusiastic that they took the photographs that adorn these books.

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Unfortunately, the books are now out of print in their original form although they do from time to time come to light on the North Dorset Railway’s online website: www.Shillingstonestationonline.co.uk.

Alan & Christine Hammond ( 2021 photograph ). Alan & Christine Hammond now live in the west country, but never far from the S&D.

Today North Dorset Railway in its endeavour to bring back a railway service to North Dorset have a membership base of over 500 and more than 100 working volunteers with more than 40 at the station working on any one day on a huge range of projects to bring back the 1950s/60s railway life!

They have a volunteers’ recruitment weekend in August 2021 where anyone can come along to see how the plans are progressing and people can ­­volunteer to help rebuild this famous part of the S&D Railway. Look them up on their website, for dates subject to Covid restrictions: www.northdorsetrailway.co.uk or follow their progress on Facebook: S&DJRShillingstone

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About the Author

Shannon Butcher

Let off some steam...