Station Name: ABBOTSBURY

[Source: Nick Catford]

Date opened: 9.11.1885
Location: North side of B3157
Company on opening: Abbotsbury Railway
Date closed to passengers: 1.11.1952
Date closed completely: 1.11.1952
Company on closing: British Railways (Southern Region)
Present state:

The station building has been demolished and a new house stands on the platform. The platform has a fence along the edge and is heavily overgrown and difficult to see. To the east of the station the stone engine shed is in good condition and in agricultural use. Further east two walls of the long-abandoned engine shed are still standing but are heavily overgrown. A roofless wooden platelayers' hut stands behind the engine shed. A public footpath follows the track bed through the station site.

County: Dorset
OS Grid Ref: SY582853
Date of visit: December 2011

Notes: The Abbotsbury terminus was sited a little to the east of the village because the railway could not buy the land needed to build the station closer to the village. Plans for a westward extension came to nothing and led to the railway petering out in a shallow cutting to the west of the station.

Abbotsbury had a single platform on the down side of the line. A single-storey warm yellowish limestone building with a hipped slate roof and three tall chimneys stood near the west end of the platform. It was similar to the buildings at Portesham and Broadway (Upwey) and was constructed by sub-contractor Edwin Snook of Upwey to a design by William Clark, a freelance railway architect who designed a number of stations on GWR branches. The building incorporated a booking office and waiting room with a flat-roofed stone toilet block at the east end. The building had a wide canopy with a deeply fretted valance supported on six cast iron brackets. There were three gas lamp standards to the east of the building and two to the west; two additional gas lamps were suspended from the canopy. There was one large nameboard at the east end of the platform. Six regularly tended flower beds at the back of the platform gave this delightful country terminus an undoubted charm. There was a run-round loop opposite the platform, but this saw little use following the introduction of steam rail-motors (and later auto-trains) in 1905.

Road access to the goods yard was behind the station building where a weighbridge and office were found. The station had a goods loop and two short sidings. The loop line passed through a typical GWR stone goods shed before rejoining the running line just before the platform was reached. From this line, a siding ran to a cattle dock behind the platform. A second siding
ran diagonally across the yard from the loop to the west of the goods shed; a 5-ton crane stood between the two sidings. Access to the yard was controlled by a signal box opposite the goods shed. In the early twentieth century the box closed and was replaced with a ground frame; the box was quickly demolished.

A stone-built 1-track straight 16ft X 48ft dead-ended shed with a gable style slate roof was provided at the east end of the goods yard accessed from the goods loop. There was a stone-built water tower and a 40ft X 12 ft coal stage at the entrance to the shed. There was also a turntable which was described as 'buried' by 1896. The shed was closed soon after the line was absorbed by the GWR. However it was not recorded as out of use until 1906. In the 1930s the shed was a roofless shell, and two heavily overgrown walls are still standing to full height today. A wooden platelayers' hut stood behind the shed.

Popular tourist attractions at Abbotsbury included a fourteenth century swan sanctuary at the west end of the Fleet and a sub-tropical garden.

By the 1930s the valance had been cut down to half its original depth, and by the 1950s the station was in a very run down state; all the platform lighting had been removed, with a single paraffin lamp suspended from the canopy by a piece of string. The station flower beds were now untended and infested with weeds.

After closure the track was lifted in 1955; the station building survived into the 1960s, but by 1970 it had been demolished and replaced with a new house.

The station makes short appearances in the 1949 film The Small Back Room made by the British producer-writer-director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, starring David Farrar and Kathleen Byron and featuring Jack Hawkins and Cyril Cusack.

The Great Western Railway opened a mixed gauge line to Weymouth on 20 January 1857; this allowed trains from both Paddington (broad gauge) and Waterloo (standard gauge) to operate a service into the town. The Weymouth & Portland Railway Act was passed in 1862 authorising the extension of this line to Weymouth Quay; services would be provided jointly by the GWR and LSWR, and a freight-only line from Weymouth to Portland would be constructed which was operated solely by the GWR.  Both lines opened on 16 October 1865.

In 1872, a six-mile branch from the Weymouth line at Upwey to the village of Abbotsbury was proposed.  Abbotsbury was established in the eleventh century on the site of an existing religious community. It would have been one of the most important villages in the county, with the settlement laid out around a wide market area. After the decline of its monastery, Abbotsbury became the quiet village it is today. It is set amongst the hills behind Chesil Beach and the lagoon known as the Fleet, and is known worldwide for its Swannery and the Sub-tropical Gardens; the swan sanctuary is over 600 years old.

The reason for promoting the line was primarily for freight, anticipating the commercial development of shale oil deposits and stone at Portesham, as well as iron ore at Abbotsbury which would be shipped to South Wales for processing.  It was also suggested that the branch could be extended westwards to Axminster and Chard Junction, providing a direct line to Weymouth from the west for cross-channel traffic. A Bill was put before Parliament, but was withdrawn in 1873 as a result of staunch opposition by a prominent local landowner.  A second Bill was prepared and went before Parliament during the 1876/77 session.  This time the Bill was  

successful, and the Abbotsbury Railway Company was incorporated under the Abbotsbury Railway Act on 6 August 1877 to construct various railway lines to and from Abbotsbury.

Construction was slower than had been hoped owing to the difficulty in raising promised capital.  This caused problems with the contractors, Monk and Edwards of Chester, and all work stopped in 1881 forcing the company to apply to Parliament for an extension of time; they also sought powers to make small changes to the route at Upwey and Portesham after a speculator bought land on the original route and then demanded extortionate terms. Parliamentary approval was received on 19 May 1882.

In February 1883 the local company reached an agreement with the GWR to work and maintain the line on its completion.  After new contractors Green and Burleigh had been appointed, work restarted in October that year.  This was not the end of the line’s difficulties, however, as the contractors were declared bankrupt at the end of 1884. The established consulting civil engineer George Barclay Bruce was given the job of finishing the line. Bruce had an excellent reputation as a railway engineer: he worked for many railway companies in Britain, Europe, Asia and South America and was knighted in 1888. The GWR advanced £10,000 towards the cost of completion and appointed a director to the Abbotsbury board. The branch station buildings were constructed by sub-contractor Edwin Snook of Upwey.

Some of the navvies working on one of the contracts were black men who had been aboard a ship which was wrecked. Instead of returning to the USA they found work in constructing the Abbotsbury branch. A curious cultural legacy of their time in Dorset was that the Negro spirituals that they taught the local people were still sung in the area’s public houses into the
twentieth century.

On 2 October 1885 progress in construction was sufficient to allow a trial trip to operate on the line for directors and shareholders. Colonel Rich inspected the line for the Board of Trade on 28 October 1885 and found it satisfactory. Therefore, after eight years, the short branch finally opened to freight and passenger traffic on 9 November 1885, but with little ceremony. Because the station at Upwey Junction was incomplete, a horse-drawn carriage conveyed passengers between Upwey station on the Abbotsbury branch and the original Upwey station on the Dorchester line, half-a-mile north of Upwey Junction. This arrangement continued until Upwey Junction opened on 19 April 1886, replacing the original station. Intermediate stations were at Broadway and Upwey, and a single-road engine shed was provided at the Abbotsbury terminus for the branch locomotive. From the start the line operated under 'one engine in steam'.  The 1887 Bradshaw shows five up trains and five down trains with an additional evening service in each direction on Wednesday, and two trains in each direction on Sundays.

An incline was constructed at Portesham to link local quarries on the hill near the Hardy Monument. Once the line had opened it was quickly apparent that the expectations for it could not be fulfilled. There was only a little shale oil and it was not of a quality worth extracting; the iron ore was confined to one small area with no more to be found, and the stone at Portesham had no chance of competing with the extensive quarries at Portland. The extension was soon found to be impractical and once it was established that the line was not going to bring wealth to the area, it settled down to handle purely local traffic, with brisk passenger business at holiday times. On Easter Monday 1886, such was the demand that a double-headed eighteen-coach train ran from the branch to Weymouth in the afternoon.  In summer months Abbotsbury Swannery attracted many visitors who reached it by rail.

An accident occurred on 23 January 1894 involving the derailment of an Armstrong tender 0-6-0 locomotive when the train was on the tight curve between Upwey Junction and Upwey stations; this revealed that the curve was sharper than had been indicated in the official plans. A check rail was fitted and a ban introduced on six-coupled locomotives that
nominally lasted until the remaining goods spur was reduced to a siding. This change of rules, ironically, meant that in later years these engines could be used by British Railways to service Upwey goods yard after the closure to passengers, even though the only part of the line operational at this point was the curve that had caused the problems. In the meantime this ban left the motive power duties on the line to other designs, notably the 0-4-2Ts which ran for many years. The '517' class gave way to the '14xx' class which were used for passenger and goods traffic until closure.

In August 1896 the company was vested in the Great Western Railway by virtue of the Great Western Railway (Additional Powers) Act of 7 August 1896. The engine shed at Abbotsbury was closed at the end of September 1894, shortly before the line was absorbed by the GWR. By the turn of the century the Sunday service had been withdrawn but it was reinstated in 1905 only to be withdrawn again a few years later. It was again reinstated in 1933, lasting until at least 1938. The 1902 Bradshaw shows five trains in each direction on weekdays. As with many branch lines, more convenient road transport and the introduction of motor cars and rural bus services would eventually lead to an irreversible decline in passenger numbers.

Early in the twentieth century the GWR reduced maintenance and wage costs by installing ground-frames to replace signal boxes. In 1905, GWR steam rail-motors were tried on the line. In conjunction with the new rail-motor service, Radipole Halt was opened on the main line between Weymouth and Upwey Junction on 1 July 1905 and Coryates Halt was added
to the branch between Broadway and Portesham on 1 May 1906. The rail-motors were intended to stimulate traffic on branch lines, where small and cheap platforms could be built to serve small traffic sources. Unfortunately the lightweight rail-motors could not cope with pulling trailers on hilly lines. After a few years, they were converted into auto-coaches, and the power units were scrapped. Push-and-pull auto trains offered most of the benefits of rail-motor, but because they were operated by 'proper' locomotives they were much more flexible in operation and easier to maintain. The locomotive remained coupled to the carriages and pulled them to Abbotsbury and then pushed them back to Weymouth.

There was a reduction in services during WW1, initially down to four trains a day, but in 1917 this was further reduced to three.  With the high demand for oil during the war there was renewed interest in the shale oil deposits. A siding was laid at Corton (near Portesham) to allow the shale to be loaded onto wagons by German prisoners of war, who were brought each day from their camp near Dorchester.  In January 1918 there was a proposal to close the line and lift the rails for re-use in France, but this never happened. The Corton shale siding was out of use by September 1921. After the war the branch settled back to a quieter existence with diminishing passenger revenue after the war as the popularity of motor cars increased. This decline continued when a local bus service was established in 1925.

There was a brief respite for the line during WW2 due to the activity of military installations on Chesil Beach and around the area. Despite stiff competition from road transport, both cars and buses, the 1949 Bradshaw shows an improved service with seven up six down trains with an additional service on Saturdays. The working timetable for 26 September 1949 shows the 9.50am down service and the 10.25am and 5.35pm up services as suspended. It also shows an 11.20am Monday - Friday down freight service returning to Weymouth as a mixed service at 1.20pm. Friar Waddon milk platform is also shown. This small platform at the two-mile point of the branch, between Upwey and Coryates, opened in summer 1932, was used to serve the local dairies and even had a Sunday train to get the milk to markets early on Monday morning in the days before domestic refrigeration was common. The platform closed with the line.  Additional traffic was brought to the branch in 1935 when
camping coaches were placed at Portesham and Abbotsbury stations; Upwey received one the following year. Track improvements were carried out in 1937/8 when standard GWR bullhead rail replaced the original flat-bottomed rails which had been spiked directly to the sleepers.

By 1949 road transport had lured most of the passengers from the Abbotsbury branch, with an average of approximately five passengers on each of the winter trains, and between eight and nine on the trains in summer. In 1950 seven up and seven down trains operated, with an additional Saturday service in both directions. The 10.25am and 1.40pm Saturday-only trains from Abbotsbury ran into Melcombe Regis instead of Weymouth and then continued to Easton.

When the railway system was nationalised on 1 January 1948 the new British Railways Western Region largely corresponded to the extent of the former Great Western Railway lines. However on 2 April 1950 there was a major revision of regional boundaries, one effect of which was to transfer the whole of the main line from Sparkford (just south of Castle Cary) to Weymouth, together with the Abbotsbury, Bridport and Easton branches to the Southern Region. However the existing operating arrangements were continued, with the Western Region providing the passenger train services and showing them in its regional timetable. The Southern Region passenger timetable for winter 1951/2, for example, did not include the Abbotsbury branch.

The Easton branch was particularly vulnerable to bus competition as it was paralleled by a main road for most of the way to Portland. Apart from the Bridport - West Bay route, the Easton branch was the first Dorset line to close to passenger traffic (on 3 March 1952) but it was retained for goods traffic.  The Abbotsbury branch was also vulnerable to competition from buses, the more so because of the indirectness of a journey to Weymouth and the inconvenient siting of the station at Abbotsbury, some distance short of the village. A further disincentive to use the trains was that they made leisurely progress along the line, limited to 40mph, but with a 25mph restriction west of Portesham and 10mph ¼-mile east of Abbotsbury.

Towards the end of the line's existence GWR diesel railcars were used to reduce costs, but they could not prevent its inevitable closure. As the branch never lived up to expectations for goods traffic, despite local

protests and an improved service it closed completely on 1 December 1952, with only a short section between Upwey Junction and Upwey (originally Broadway, then Broadwey) remaining open for another nine years to serve the goods depot at Upwey.  It was built there because the position of Upwey Junction station on the embankment leading to Bincombe Tunnel had always made that station unsuitable for handling goods traffic. 

West of Upwey, the track was lifted in 1955. The last passenger train to travel on any part of the Abbotsbury branch was the REC ‘South Dorset Rail Tour’ on 7 June 1958 which visited Upwey goods depot. The line to Upwey closed to goods traffic on 1 January 1962, and the remaining track was lifted in 1965.  Radipole (The ‘Halt’ suffix was dropped in 1969) on the main line remained open until 31 December 1983 when the cost of repairs to the platform could not be justified.

Today just over a mile of the Abbotsbury branch can be walked, from the western edge of Portesham to the site of Abbotsbury station.

Tickets from Michael Stewart & Brian Halford, Bradshaw and BR WR working timetable
Chris Totty. Route map drawn by Alan Young.


Further reading :

See also: Portesham, Coryates Halt, Upwey, Upwey Junction & Radipole Halt

Station staff and crew pose with GWR steam rail-motor 65 at Abbotsbury station c1905; stationmaster Weston is seen second from the left. One of Churchwards GWR rail-motors, No 65, was the last of the class to be withdrawn in 1935. They suffered from maintenance problems, especially routine matters such as keeping the passenger compartments clean. They were superseded by the 0-4-2 tanks with auto-coaches, many of which were converted rail-motors. These had better hauling capabilities on some steeply inclined branch lines where they could cope with a second trailer, whilst a rail-motor
often could not.

1902 1:2,500 OS map. The station building is seen at the left end of the site. The entrance to the goods yard was at the east of the station forecourt. A weighbridge is seen at the entrance to the yard. Abbotsbury signal box is seen opposite the goods shed; this closed in the first decade of the twentieth century to be replaced with a ground frame. Two sidings are shown, the longer loop siding passing through the goods shed to rejoin the running line or run into the cattle dock behind the platform. The engine shed is seen on the far right; it was another early casualty and had already been closed for five years when this map was published.

A number of well-dressed visitors have just alighted from the steam rail-motor, which is seen standing in the single platform at Abbotsbury c1906. They may have been visiting the fourteenth century swannery or the sub-tropical gardens, both popular attractions at Abbotsbury at that time. The entrance to the goods yard is seen on the right,
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection

A push-and-pull auto-train stands at the Abbotsbury terminus in the first decade of the twentieth century. The building at Abbotsbury was very similar to other stations on the branch, its wide canopy with a protracted fretted valance providing good weather protection for passengers. A number of wagons are seen in the goods siding behind the platform on the far left.
Copyright photo from John Alsop collectio

A nicely posed scene at Abbotsbury station c1908. In its early years the attractive station was a well-kept with flower beds. An auto-train stands in the platform, and a wagon is seen in the cattle dock which is at the end of the siding behind the station sign.
Photo from John Mann collection
An auto-train stands in the single platform at Abbotsbury station c1910, The locomotive is No. 524 which was one of the first batch of 517 class Armstrong-designed locos, built at the GWR's Wolverhampton works in 1868. A total of 155 of these 2-4-0s were built but none passed into BR service; the last one. No. 848, was scrapped in 1945 after 70 years of service. Note the milk
churn on the platform.
Copyright photo from John Alsop collection

An auto-train stands at the deserted platform at Abbotsbury c1930s. A clerestory coach is seen standing in the cattle dock behind the platform. The typical GWR stone goods shed is seen beyond the station with a van inside. The siding passed through the goods shed before running behind the platform to the cattle dock.
Photo from John Mann collection
By the 1930s the station flower beds at Abbotsbury were still well kept. The run round loop however, seen here on the right, was rarely used after the introduction of auto-trains. Note the long fretted valance has now been reduced to half its original length.
Photo from John Mann collection
Abbotsbury station in September 1952, three months before complete closure. In an attempt to save money GWR GEC diesel railcars were used on the line. These were the 'first generation' diesel multiple units and were introduced by the GWR in 1933. By this time the station looks very run down: the oil lamps have gone and the flower beds are now overgrown and full of weeds.
Photo from John Mann collection

In November 1952, a few weeks before closure, an auto-train waits for passengers at Abbotsbury station. 1403 is a 14xx C.B. Collett-designed 0-4-2- tank was built at Swindon works of the GWR in 1932. Passing to BR in 1948, whilst at 82F, Weymouth shed, it had a short spell at 82C, Swindon shed before returning to Weymouth in 1952. Withdrawn from there in November 1957, it was scrapped at Swindon in January, 1958. Note all the platform lighting has been removed and replaced with a single paraffin lamp hanging from the canopy.

Abbotsbury station looking west c. early 1960s. The track was lifted in 1955.
Photo from John Mann collection
Abbotsbury station looking east c1970; the garage for a new house now stands on the site of the station building.
Photo from John Mann collection

Looking west towards the end of the line at Abbotsbury station in December 2012. The overgrown platform is seen on the left. Although the platform edge is intact for its whole length it is now difficult to see because of undergrowth.
hoto by Nick Catford

Click here for more pictures of Abbotsbury station




[Source: Nick Catford]

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