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Then and Now

Dorset Belle Rail Tour
A 50 Year Then and Now special 

On Sunday 27 February 1966, the Locomotive Club of Great Britain (LCGB) ran the Dorset Belle rail tour. On Saturday the 27th February 2016, I retraced part of the route.

This tour didn't get the coverage as others in the early months of '66. There were the S&DJR farewell tours in January and March plus the final runs of the S15 4-6-0 30837. However it was a good day out and my introduction to rail tours in the closing days of steam on the Southern.


Waterloo Station at the start of the day. These pictures are 50 years apart almost to the minute. 

In 1966 the tour train left from platform 11 behind MN no 35028 'Clan Line'. In 2016, the class 444 unit left from platform 9.

Whilst both pictures suggest you "mind the gap", in 2016 the station is considerably cleaner and the canopies have been replaced. 

In 1966, Clan Line left on time at 9am. 50 years later, the 0905 service train to Weymouth departed promptly. 

In 1966 the tour train went via the Mid Hants line. This isn't possible today so I continued to Wareham via the main line through Basingstoke.


Same place, same time - 50 years apart.

At Wareham two Ivatt tanks (41284 & 41301) took the train to Swanage. On the right they are backing onto the tour train. In 2016, the points have disappeared, as have the semaphore signals and foliage is hiding what in 1966 were relatively new bungalows.

Whilst the tour train went to Swanage, Clan Line was stabled in the branch line bay platform. 50 years on, the site of the bay is now part of the station car park although part of the platform facing survives. In both pictures, the station building can be seen in the distance on the right.






At Swanage in 2016 Standard Tank no. 80104 arrived at around the same time as the 1966 train (right).

The 1966 view of 41284 is no longer possible today so I opted for a shot from the road opposite the goods shed (far right).






After the run to Swanage, Clan Line took the train on to Weymouth. The service train arrived at the same time as the 1966 tour train.

In 1966, the now preserved Ivatt tank 41298 shunted the empty stock to release Clan Line which is seen running light engine to the shed. In 2016, same time, same location, a class 444 electric unit departs for London.


Copyright Mike Morant Collection
In 1966, the tour train continued to Maiden Newton and Bridport behind 41284 & 41301 (far left). 

Today Weymouth seems a quieter station. The long platform (2 & 3) is still there but platform 1 (in the distance on the right) has been realigned and retail warehouses and a car park now take the place of the once extensive sidings.

Copyright Mike Morant Collection
Maiden Newton

After double heading the train from Weymouth, the tank engines were shunted so they could top and tail the train along the branch to Bridport.

Maiden Newton is quite different 50 years on. The footbridge has been replaced by a concrete structure, The station canopy on the right has disappeared and the bay platform fenced off. Although the station buildings have been restored to GWR colours, the whole site has a barren feel to it.

Homeward bound

Dorchester West - a young 14 year old Des Shepherd.



The tour train in 1966 continued from Maiden Newton to Yeovil Pen Mill with the two tanks. Contemporary reports suggest they reached 75mph down Evershot bank. 

At Yeovil the train reversed at Pen Mill and went direct to Yeovil Junction, via a little used wartime connection, thus avoiding the need to go the Yeovil Town and reverse again. 

We were promised a fast run from Yeovil to Waterloo, Battle of Britain no. 34057 'Biggin Hill' was the motive power. The train was scheduled to run non stop from Salisbury to Waterloo in 85 minutes. We actually did the run in 104 minutes. It's interesting to compare this run with more recent trips.

For example, in August 2012, 70013 'Oliver Cromwell' took 59 minutes from passing Basingstoke to arriving at Waterloo (with a set down stop at Woking). In 1966 34057 took 60 minutes from passing Basingstoke but without the stop at Woking. In April 1993 rebuilt West Country no. 34027 'Taw Valley' ran from a standing start at Basingstoke to Waterloo in 51 minutes.

50 years later, almost to the minute, a more mature Des Shepherd on the train to Maiden Newton at Weymouth. These days I very rarely wear a tie!


Personal Note
This trip to Weymouth was a one-off. I wanted to see how much of the original tour could be covered with our current transport system. On reflection, the train service from Waterloo is a great improvement on 50 years ago with trains every half hour to Weymouth. In the 1960's through trains were about every two hours. I look forward to next year when the Swanage Railway is able to offer a service from Wareham. That will be good, not just for the railway, but the local economy and hopefully help keep even more traffic off the roads to Swanage.

I am not generally into 'nostalgia', preferring the present and looking forward. This is particularly the case with music. Whilst I grew up in the 1960's and was greatly influenced by 60's music, I prefer to listen to today's new music and emerging talent. That is not to say I have dismissed the music of my youth and I do play some 60's music on the radio where it is appropriate. 

Whilst I tend to look forward, we can learn from the past. Preserved railways are one way of keeping old skills and demonstrating a former way of life. But a preserved railway can only offer a rose-tinted look at the past and not accurately replicate it. If, say, the Bluebell Railway wanted to be 100 per cent true to the past, there would be smoking in station buildings and on the trains, the Bessemer Arms would only serve alcoholic drinks at lunchtime and after 5pm (with reduced licensing hours on Sundays). Locomotives would be dirty along with tobacco stains and ash in the carriages. Staff would be surly and what about replicating the BR sandwich? 

To survive in today's competitive tourist environment, facilities such as baby changing facilities, increased safety measures and themed activities (Thomas and friends or War on the Line type events) need to be present. Some preserved railways appear too pristine and clinical for my liking. Others give a reasonable idea of what that rail travel was like 50 or 75 years ago.

I enjoy traveling on preserved railways and introducing family members and friends to steam. I will always try to take creative pictures, either ones showing a railway as it is in 2016 complete with passengers in contemporary dress and modern buildings and structures in the back ground. That's how it is today and such pictures will tell the story for historians in 50 or 100 years hence. Lineside photography can offer interesting opportunities and the more creative photo charters, particularly when re-enactors are used, enables me to do more that an engine and train picture. 

Acknowledgements. I am grateful to Mike Morant for allowing me to publish some of his pictures from that day. Also Jurassic Cabs of Wareham for getting me to and from the Swanage Railway and a random passenger on the 1408 train from Weymouth to Maiden Newton for taking my picture. I'm sure she thought I was bonkers!  

Published 5 March 2016

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