Dorset Joint Railway
The passing-loop and signal-box at Stourpaine were located in the county of Dorset, on the southern part of the main line of the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway (S&DJR) from Bath to Wimborne. That part of the S&DJR was constructed originally by the Dorset Central Railway (DCR), which was opened on 1-November-1860 as a single-track line from Wimborne to Blandford. In 1863 the DCR was extended northwards to join with the Somerset Central Railway (SCR), with which it had merged in 1862 to form the Somerset and Dorset Railway, which in turn became the S&DJR in 1875 when the line was leased jointly by the Midland Railway (MR) and London & South Western Railway (L&SWR). After the Grouping of the railways of Great Britain in 1923 the S&DJR became a Joint line under the control of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) and the Southern Railway (SR), who were the successors to the MR and L&SWR respectively. When the railways were nationalised in 1948 the Joint line came under the control of British Railways (Southern Region) (BR(SR)) and the southern end of the line remained in their control until the S&DJR closed on 6-March-1966.
For many years the presence of the S&DJR at Stourpaine was nothing more than a single line of track passing west of the village on its way south-eastwards from the station at Shillingstone to the next station at Blandford. By 1900 most of the northern part of the S&DJR had been converted to double-track, but much of the former DCR remained single-track. The S&DJR considered various proposals for increasing the capacity of the 'Dorset' (eg doubling the line from Shillingstone to Blandford) and decided eventually to create a new passing-loop at Stourpaine, which was opened in 1905.
The new installation at Stourpaine consisted purely of a simple passing-loop; there were never any passenger or goods facilities, although in later years a Halt was opened some distance further down the line. The installation was controlled from a 15-lever interlocking frame (type unknown), housed in an all-timber S&DJR TYPE 3 signal-box (SB) located on the Down side of the line (at 49 miles 13 chains from Bath Junction). According to S&DJR Signalling Instruction (SI) 182 (click here to see a copy) the new SB was brought into use on 29-May-1905. The Up loop was laid out as the 'straight road', as it was used by trains in both directions when the box was 'switched out' - the only such installation on the S&DJR. The Up and Down loops were provided with Distant, Home and Starting signals, but an additional Down Home arm (12) was provided for use by Down trains running over the Up loop when the SB was 'switched out'. (Note: when the SB was 'switched in' then Down trains did not use the 'straight road' even if there was no Up train to pass, as the interlocking prevented the use of signal 12 when the SB was 'switched in'). The Down Distant (No 15) could be cleared for the Down loop when the SB was 'switched in' or the Up loop when the SB was 'switched out'.
|Stourpaine signal-box diagram 1905||Stourpaine locking tables 1930|
|Click an image to see a larger version|
The existing single-line block section from Shillingstone to Blandford was abolished, along with its Tyer's No 1 Electric Train Tablet (ETT) instruments, and replaced by two new 'short' sections SHILLINGSTONE - STOURPAINE and STOURPAINE - BLANDFORD. Both of those sections were equipped with Tyer's No 6 ETT instruments, the first use of that pattern on the S&DJR. Whenever Stourpaine SB was 'switched out' a SHILLINGSTONE - BLANDFORD 'long section' came into effect, which was worked by a McKenzie & Holland (McK&H) pattern of ETT instruments that used square tablets (as opposed to the round examples used by the Tyer machines). According to SI 182 all the new ETT instruments were tested on 28th May and then the new 'long section' was brought into use with the McK&H instruments prior to the opening of the new SB on the next day.
The new installation was inspected by Major Pringle on behalf of the Board of Trade on 29-June-1905 and his report can be found in National Archives file MT6/1383/10. He requested that the interlocking should prevent signal 12 (the Down Home for running over the Up Loop) being used when the SB was 'switched in'; the S&DJR confirmed that the required alteration had been done in a letter dated 5-August-1905. He required also that the lights of the Down Loop Home (14) and Down Loop Starting (13) signals were to be extinguished when the SB was 'switched out' and an instruction to that effect was included in the 1914 edition of the S&DJR Appendix to the Working Timetable (WTT). (The instruction was not included in the later 1933 WTT Appendix, but it is not known if or when it was rescinded.) Both the 1914 and 1933 WTT Appendices included the instruction that no trains were permitted to cross at Stourpaine during fog or falling snow, but instead any crossings should be made at Shillingstone or Blandford; it is not clear whether that practice was the basis for, or the result of, the inclusion of Stourpaine in the list provided in the 1933 WTT Appendix of S&DJR Distant signals at which fogsignalmen were not employed.
Although surviving S&DJR records provide basic instructions for the process of switching in/out the SB at Stourpaine, apart from the use of the McK&H pattern of 'square tablet' ETT machines for the Shillingstone - Blandford 'long section' it is not known for certain what other equipment was provided or exactly what functions it performed. However, from reference to details provided elsewhere  regarding the typical McK&H arrangements for such a location, the following information is provided as a 'best guess' for the likely arrangements.
The 'interlocking lever' (No 8) at Stourpaine was provided with two mechanical locks, each with its own key. These keys were designated as the 'short' (section) and 'long' (section) keys and it would appear that their shafts were of different lengths for distinction between them. The 'short' key fitted the lock which secured the lever in its 'normal' position, while the 'long' key fitted the lock which secured the lever in its 'reverse' position. The arrangements of the locks was such that only one key could be out of a lock at any one time. Also in the SB was a special 'switch instrument', which contained two locks (one each for the 'short' and 'long' keys) and an electro-mechanical indicator. A different pattern of 'switch instrument' (apparently without the locks or indicator) was provided in the SBs at Shillingstone and Blandford.
Switching Out. When the SB was switched 'in' lever 8 would be normal, the 'long' key would be locked in its lock on the lever and the 'short' key would be locked in the switch instrument. The Tyer's No 6 ETT instruments would be in use at Shillingstone, Stourpaine and Blandford for 'short section' working and there would be the normal 'left-hand' running of trains though the passing-loop at Stourpaine. In order to close Stourpaine the signalman would turn the 'short' key to the 'closing' position and then telephone the signalmen at Shillingstone and Blandford and ask them to hold down on the plungers of their respective 'short section' ETT instruments. When they were doing this concurrently the indicator on the Stourpaine switch instrument would show 'LOCK OFF' and the signalman there could turn his key the rest of the way and withdraw it from the lock. (At this point the galvanometers on the ETT instruments at Shillingstone and Blandford would return to zero, indicating to those signalmen that they could release their plungers.)
He would insert the 'short' key into the 'short key' lock on lever 8, turn it to unlock the lever, and pull the lever to its mid-way position. He would pull levers 4, 6 and 7, which would set the road for the Up loop and bolt the Facing Point Locks. With lever 8 in the mid-way position the interlocking between No 12 and the Up direction signals was removed, so then the signalman could pull 12,15,3,2,1 thereby clearing all the necessary signals for movements in both directions over the 'straight road'. With all those levers reversed the signalman was able then to pull lever 8 fully over to its 'reverse' position, after which he could remove the 'long' key from its lock; that would lock lever 8 reverse, thereby preventing any of the signal or point levers from being moved, and the 'short' key would be locked within its lock on the lever. The 'long' key would be inserted into its lock in the switch instrument and turned, becoming locked in the instrument. The signalman would telephone his counterparts at Shillingstone and Blandford and advise them that Stourpaine had been closed, after which they would turn their own switch instruments to 'LONG SECTION' and then exchange bell-codes on the McK&H ETT instruments to ensure that everything was in order for 'long section' working.
Switching In. When the SB was switched 'out' lever 8 would be reverse (as would levers 1,2,3,4,6,7,12,15), the 'short' key would be locked in its lock on lever 8 and the 'long' key would be locked in the switch instrument. The McK&H ETT instruments would be in use at Shillingstone and Blandford for 'long section' working and trains in both directions would be running through the 'straight road' at Stourpaine with all necessary signals 'off'. In order to open Stourpaine the signalman would turn the 'long' key to the 'opening' position and then telephone the signalmen at Shillingstone and Blandford and ask them to hold down on the tappers of their respective 'long section' ETT instruments. When they were doing this concurrently the indicator on the switch instrument would show 'LOCK OFF' and the Stourpaine signalman could then turn his key the rest of the way and withdraw it from the lock. (At this point the galvanometers on the ETT instruments at Shillingstone and Blandford would return to zero, indicating to the signalmen there that they could release their tappers.)
He would insert the 'long' key into the 'long key' lock on lever 8, turn it to unlock the lever, and push the lever back to its mid-way position. This would allow him to replace levers 15,12,1,2,3,4,7,6 to normal, after which he could then replace lever 8 fully to normal and remove the 'short' key from its lock. Lever 8 then would be locked normal and the 'long' key would be locked within its lock on the lever. The 'short' key would be inserted into its lock in the switch instrument and turned, becoming locked in the instrument. The signalman would telephone his counterparts at Shillingstone and Blandford and advise them that Stourpaine had been opened, after which they would turn their own switch instruments to 'SHORT SECTION'. The signalman at Stourpaine then would exchange bell-codes with Shillingstone and Blandford on the respective Tyer's No 6 ETT instruments to ensure that everything was in order for 'short section' working.
Switch Instruments. Although the precise functions of the switch instruments at Shillingstone and Blandford are not known, it is considered probable that they performed one or both of the following actions:-
In the case of the switch instrument at Stourpaine itself, it may be that this also connected/disconnected the line wires for the 'short section' instruments. Although of course there were no 'long section' ETT instruments in that SB, the line wire between Shillingstone and Blandford for their 'long section' ETT instruments must have passed through the Stourpaine switch instrument in order to form part of the release circuit for the 'long' key lock, so it may have been connected/disconnected there as well. When Stourpaine was switched 'in' there were 'tablet out' releases on signals 3 and 13 from the respective 'short section' ETT instruments; when the SB was switched 'out' signal 13 was not used, and the lock on 3 was released by the reversal of lever 12 (according to the Electrical Locking table).
[Note: the official S&DJR instructions stated that, in order to switch in/out, the signalman at Stourpaine had to (1) 'ask' Shillingstone and Blandford if they were ready to open/close, (2) turn the relevant key in his switch instrument, and (3) 'phone' to ask them to plunge. This implies that the 'ask' and 'phone' actions were different and separate. In later years in similar installations elsewhere it was the practice for the signalman to send the appropriate 'Opening Signal Box' or 'Closing Signal Box' bell-code to his counterparts, who would acknowledge it by repetition and hold down their plungers on the last beat in order to release the relevant lock. It is not clear why the arrangements at Stourpaine appear to have been different. One possible scenario is that the 'ask' process used bell-codes to get the attention of the signalmen at Shillingstone and Blandford, who might not both be available to plunge immediately, hence the subsequent use of the telephone to co-ordinate their plunges. It is possible also that the initial turn of the key switched the ETT line wires from the bell circuits to the lock release, after which the Stourpaine signalman would not have been able to send/receive bell-codes anyway until the switching in/out process had been completed.]
Records for Stourpaine are very scarce. Although some photographs were taken in the general area (one of which is believed to show the Down Distant signal in the 1930s, seen below), the picture in the Introduction to this page is the only one known to show any part of the SB or the passing-loop. Despite the fact the passing-loop was constructed specifically to improve capacity of the line, circumstantial evidence would suggest that subsequently it did not see the level of use that might have been expected (perhaps in a similar way to Spetisbury).
When first opened (SI 182) the opening hours for the SB were listed as 9am-7pm weekdays only. SI 184 advised of an alteration for the period from 1-July-1905 until 30-September-1905, when the hours would be 10am-12noon and 2pm-9:30pm weekdays only (the box being 'switched out' between 12noon and 2pm, and on Sundays). On 10-November-1907 (SI 197) the Up Starting signal (No 3) was moved 30' closer to the SB. By the time of a June 1930 copy of the SB diagram the signal distances were listed as follows:- 1@1038 yards, 2@214 yards, 3@118 yards, 13@133 yards, 12/14@213 yards, 15@1028 yards. Later in that year SI 307 listed a series of signal alterations, as follows:-
It is possible that the relocation and replacement of the two Distant signals was related to an general increase in line speeds, as happened at other S&DJR locations around that period. The relocation of the two Homes by a relatively small, but precise distance of 18 yards is more puzzling, but one may speculate that perhaps the loop points had been relayed with longer switches to permit higher speeds and thence the Homes had to be moved back to accommodate them. However such assumptions can not be substantiated without further evidence.
There are a number of surviving Signal Instructions from about 1912 onwards which announced the closure of the SB 'until further notice', only to be followed some months later by one which announced its reopening. In the 1914 S&DJR WTT Appendix the SB was listed as opening on week-days only from 10:00am to 8:00pm, but only for the period July 1st to September 30th 'unless notice to the contrary is given'. SI 252 issued in 1915 advised that the SB would remain open as a block-post from 1st October, whilst SI 256 issued in 1917 advised that it would be closed until further notice from 8th January. It is possible therefore that there may have been an extended period of opening during World War I, but that can not be confirmed as sadly there are no known copies of SIs 254 & 255. Supplement 3 to WTT Appendix 16 issued on 29-September-1919 stated that the SB was 'always closed, unless specially advised'.
The last known SI relating to the SB hours at Stourpaine was No 279, which stated that the SB would be closed 'until further notice' on 21-September-1925. There is a mention in some 1951 BR(SR) correspondence that the box used to be opened "...on a few Saturdays during the summer months and at holiday periods..." prior to World War II, but that "...this had not happened again since the end of the war and indeed the 'loop line' had not been used since it was renewed in 1940....". It seems unlikely that the extensive signal alterations of 1930, or the renewal of what is assumed to have been the Down Loop line, would have been undertaken if the SB had been switched-out permanently by those dates. A 1949 S&D 'Fortnightly Notice' advised that the SB would be opened as a block-post on 4th January (presumably just for the day) for the purposes of cleaning and overhauling the mechanical locking.
About the time that the passing-loop was opened at Stourpaine, various local Parish Councils asked the S&DJR to provide a station with passenger and goods facilities. Minute 5864 of the S&DJR Officers' Meeting of 25-April-1906 records that the request was denied on the basis that it would merely attract traffic already handled at adjacent stations; in 1912 a further request was denied for similar reasons (Minute 6463 of 23-January-1912). However by the late 1920s the S&DJR was beginning to feel the impact of competing road services, and at the Officers' Meeting on 20-April-1928 the Traffic Superintendent proposed to construct a new halt at Stourpaine (and also one at Charlton Marshall), to be served by trains converted to 'push-pull' working; this plan was approved (Minute 7962) with an estimated cost of £242 for the Stourpaine halt itself.
Consequently on 9-July-1928 the S&DJR opened Stourpaine & Durweston Halt, to serve both those named villages. The new halt was 120' long and constructed from prefabricated concrete sections; it was located on the Down side of the line at 49m 52c, about 1/2 mile south of Stourpaine loop, on the embankment just north of bridge 187 which carried the railway over a track which linked the two villages. It would appear that this Halt proved popular, because at the Officers' Meeting on 25-Jan-1929 the Traffic Superintendent reported that 1,732 passengers had booked there up to the end of December 1928; given the exposed location of the halt, it was agreed to meet the villagers' request for the provision of a shelter, at an estimated cost of £98 (Minute 8624). In due course a small concrete shelter was provided on the platform.
The halt was closed on 17-September-1956 (in common with other halts on the 'Dorset'). There was never any signalling at the halt itself, although the Up Distant for Stourpaine loop was about 375 yards to the south of the halt.
On 18-December-1951 the SB and passing-loop were abolished together with all signals, the points being clipped & padlocked for the 'straight road' (the Up loop). 'Short' and 'long' section ETT working was abolished and the single-line section now became simply Shillingstone - Blandford once again. The McK&H ETT instruments were removed and replaced by a set of Tyer's No 6 instruments (see Note below), which appear to have to used former Shillingstone - Stourpaine 'short' section tablets re-labelled accordingly. Subsequently a S&D 'Weekly Notice' for 1952 records that the points would be removed on 24th February and materials "in connection with the disused loop line" would be recovered on 2nd March. After the subsequent closure of Stourpaine & Durweston Halt on 17-September-1956 the S&DJR presence at Stourpaine reverted to that of a plain single line. On 6-March-1966 passenger services ceased on the whole of the S&DJR and the line through Stourpaine was closed.
Note: it is not known if the actual Tyer's No 6 instruments withdrawn from the two 'short' sections were re-used at that time. There is a surviving BR(SR) letter from August 1951 which agreed to those instruments being withdrawn for refurbishment (possibly prior to December 1951 and presumably on the basis that Stourpaine would remain 'switched out' in the meantime), but it is not known whether one set was returned for subsequent re-use in place of the McK&H instruments or whether BR(SR) simply supplied another refurbished set from store.
In the mid-1990s Dorset County Council established a path along some of the former S&DJR trackbed for walkers, cyclists and horse-riders, and today this forms part of the North Dorset Trailway, although in the immediate Stourpaine area it diverges away from the railway between the former accommodation crossing adjacent to the SB and Bridge 187. Bridge 187 is intact and surprisingly much of the structure of Stourpaine & Durweston Halt remains in place (a testament to the longevity of SR concrete components!), although the shelter has gone and the nameboard is now in the Durweston village play area.
© CJL Osment 2018
Acknowledgements to Mike Arlett and the late Dr Peter Cattermole for relevant S&DJR material, and to the Signalling Record Society for information from their archives. Signal-box photograph courtesy the late Peter McGhie, signal photograph HG Ordish courtesy Peter Russell.
© West Country Railway Archives 2018
Page last updated: 11 August 2018