Heritage railway in Dorset, England
56XX Tank No.6695 on the Swanage Railway viewed from Corfe Castle
|Built by||Swanage Railway Company|
|Original gauge||4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Length||9.5 miles (15.3 km)|
|Preserved gauge||4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Opened||20 May 1885|
|Closed||1 January 1972|
|1979||Line re-opened at/alongside King George’s playing fields|
|1980||Steam returns to the Swanage Line, officially|
|1982||Swanage station re-opens officially|
|1984||Herston Halt opens to the public|
|1988||Swanage Line extends to Harman’s Cross|
|1989||Harman’s Cross opened officially|
|1993||Corfe Castle and Norden Park and Ride extension completed|
|2009||Swanage Line sees first public through passenger service between London Victoria via Wareham and Swanage since closure|
|2014||Lease signed for entire line from Swanage to Worgret Junction|
|2017||Regular passenger service on entire line from Swanage to Wareham|
The independent company which built it was amalgamated with the larger London and South Western Railway in 1886. The passenger service was withdrawn in 1972, leaving a residual freight service over part of the line handling mineral traffic.
After the passenger closure, a heritage railway group revived part of the line; it too used the name Swanage Railway and now operates a 9.5-mile (15.3 km) line which follows the route of the former line from Wareham to Swanage with stops at Norden, Corfe Castle, Harman’s Cross and Herston Halt. It provides a regular park-and-ride service, normally steam-hauled, from Norden to the sea at Swanage including Corfe Castle village and ruins of Corfe Castle. In 2023, regular trains will run through from Wareham (with National Rail connections) to Swanage.
The Isle of Purbeck had extensive quarrying and ball clay activities before Victorian times; some of the clay was processed locally, but much of the mineral output was transported away for use elsewhere. Movement of heavy minerals was chiefly by coastal shipping, and in some cases simple tramways were built for movement within the quarries and to the various loading points situated within the natural Poole Harbour.
By-passed by the main line
The Southampton and Dorchester Railway opened its main line through Wareham in 1847; it was worked by the London and South Western Railway (LSWR), and amalgamated with the LSWR in 1848. The new line gave the area a through railway connection to London, but it did not come close enough to influence the mineral traffic, which for the time being was mostly conveyed by coastal shipping, as before.
The building of the main line railway through Wareham encouraged several schemes to connect Swanage or the mineral workings in Purbeck, but they failed to gain the support they needed.
Swanage Pier Tramway
Stone was exported from Swanage by coastal shipping as before, having been quarried on, or mined in, the Isle of Purbeck. The actual loading of the vessels was primitive, and Captain Moorsom, chief engineer of the Southampton and Dorchester line, encouraged local promoters to found the Swanage Pier and Tramway Company, which obtained an authorising Act of Parliament on 8 August 1859. John Mowlem was prominent in generating local support. The scheme involved about 4 miles (6.4 km) of line, running on to the pier at Swanage, from which coastal vessels would be loaded directly.
In fact, only a short section was built, from the pier to an area on the sea front called The Bankers where stone blocks were prepared for transit. Horse traction only was used.
A second jetty, forming a fork, was added to the pier in 1896, to cater for the growing pleasure steamer passenger business, and the truncated tramway was re-gauged in about 1900 to the track gauge of 2 ft 6 in (750 mm). It was used for bunkering the pleasure steamers, but it fell into disuse at the end of the 1920s.
Connecting to the main line
A scheme for a branch line was successful: the Swanage Railway obtained an authorising Act of Parliament on 18 July 1881, with share capital of £90,000 and permitted debenture borrowings of £30,000. It was built under the supervision of consulting civil engineer W. R. Galbraith.
The line was opened on 20 May 1885 and was operated from the start by the LSWR. The branch diverged from the main line at Worgret Junction, over one mile (1.6 km) west of Wareham station; the branch was 10+1⁄4 miles (16.5 km) in length and single track. An extension from Swanage station to the pier tramway had been authorised by the Act, and would be built “if required by the LSWR”, but the larger company did not activate this requirement…