Archive for the ‘Swanage Railway’ Category

For whom the bell tolls

Sunday, 4 October 2009

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne, from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, XVII


Henryk Rutkowski Ship’s Bell, 1992

It was May 1992. I had come to Swanage for a short family holiday and to check out its railways.

Swanage actually has two railways. The best known is the Swanage Railway which was built by George Burt and opened in 1885. Since 1972, the line been the subject of a railway project to run heritage trains and to provide a community service linking with the main line at Wareham. Sadly, while the first objective was achieved some 30 years ago, the second, while seemingly tantalisingly close, remains just out of reach.

Swanage’s other line is the Swanage Pier tramway, a short narrow gauge line built by Burt’s uncle John Mowlem and opened in 1858. As originally planned, the line would have connected the stone quarries at Langton Matravers to the original pier in Swanage, a distance of some 3 km. A balanced inclined plane, similar to that employed on the Merchant’s Railway in the Isle of Portland, would have been built to overcome the 400 ft height difference. Sadly, the staid burghers of Swanage would have none of this, and donkey and horse-drawn carts remained the standard means of bringing stone down from the quarries to the Swanage quayside. All that was built was a short length of single track line connecting two sidings in a stone yard called ‘The Bankers’ to a double track section on the old pier. Halfway along the line a short branch ran into a fish processing building. Though this line has been out of use for nearly 80 years most of the rail is still in place, set in the promenade running from a terrace of houses called ‘The Parade’ up as far as the pier ticket office.

At this stage, regular readers might be forgiven, for concluding that this post was intended for Tunnel Vision and has strayed into Behind The Water Tower by mistake. Patience, dear reader, patience; today’s rambling post will – in the manner of a BWH&AR train – eventually reach its rightful destination. Both Mowlem and Burt left their physical marks on Swanage, bringing redundant material from London such as cast iron bollards and even the frontage of the Town Hall. In a few days time I was about to learn about the quick witted action of two brave Poles whose actions during WWII prevented the Luftwaffe from leaving a different sort of mark the Isle of Wight!

In 1992, Swanage Pier was dreadfully run down. It has since been beautifully restored thanks to a heroic restoration effort, led and funded by local residents – a project comparable in scale to the rebuilding of the Swanage Railway. At the time of my visit most of the pier was closed to visitors, part of the landward side was in use for car parking. Walking along the tramway as far as the pier, I spied a small blackboard that had once carried the notice Parking £1 inscribed in chalk. But that had been rubbed out it now said Henryk Rutkowski, Monday, 11.30am. What or who is the Henryk Rutkowski? I asked the car park attendant. That’s a Polish sailing ship, he replied, You can go for a trip on it if you like. Tickets are on sale in the Tourist Information Office.

Arriving early at the Tourist information office first thing the following day I discovered that the Henryk Rutkowski was a small Polish square-rigged sailing ship which had sailed to Swanage to take part in the town’s Water Festival – an event designed to promote the town as a water sports venue. The first few trips that the Rutkowski was to make with holidaymakers were sold out but I managed to get four tickets for the Wednesday trip. Going for an evening walk along the downs, I heard Polish from a ship’s PA echo over The Downs, the Henryk Rutkowski has arrived.


The old and new piers at Swanage. Photo Sylwia Talach.

Wednesday arrived all to slowly. In the morning, Swanage celebrated the arrival of a new lifeboat, we looked forward to our afternoon trip on the Rutkowski. I apologised to the Bosman, the ship’s mate, who was checking tickets as we clambered on board. I explained that I only had four tickets, but one of my children has brought a friend. Nie ma problemu. I could see that it was going to be a good day. Perhaps, the highlight of the trip was when he invited one of us to hold the ship’s wheel for a photo opportunity and then seeing that my 14 year-old was doing such a good job, he left us briefly in charge while he chatted up some young ladies in the bows.

Wednesday evening was a what Poles call an integracja event. Which is nothing to do with integral calculus, and everything to do with drinking lots of beer and making new friends. The venue was The Red Lion in Swanage High Street. Some members of Rutkowski’s crew sang sea shanties. I practised my skills as an interpreter. The children had their first lesson in playing pool, courtesy of some friendly locals.

All to soon the holiday was over and it was time to return home, but not before I had conceived of a plan to return and hitch a lift on Rutkowski on the first leg of its journey to Poland, when it sailed from Swanage to Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight. I arrived in Swanage really early so as not to miss the boat. I need not have worried. The previous evening there had been a farewell integracja organised by the Swanage locals and the crew were still recovering.

My new mate, the Bosman asked the Captain whether he was prepared to take on board an English  hitchhiker, Nie ma problemu, and I was on board. During the journey I interviewed him and several members of his crew. On board was a famous Polish sea shanty band the Cztery Refy.  In England, sea shanty bands play to a few bearded locals in the back of a pub; in Poland, the Refy had entertained thousands of youngsters at the big sea shanty festivals in Cracow and on the Mazury Lakes. Later on I wrote up my adventures in an article which subsequently appeared in the London-published Dziennik Polski.


A Polish Grom class destroyer arrives in Scotland as part of the Peking Plan. Photo former Polish Government in Exile.

(Click photo to see history of the image on Wikipedia.)

The biggest surprise was still ahead of us. Arriving at the pier in Yarmouth we were told that we were invited to be guests that evening at special reception being organised by the Royal Solent Yacht Club. By now, I has become the ship’s ex officio interpreter so, as everybody seemed to expect it, I came along too. It’s perhaps a measure of the success of that evening that I remember very little about it! The following morning, as we took a number of Club members and their friends for a sail, I was told a most extraordinary story which explained the warmth of our reception.

On 4 May 1942, Cowes on the Isle of Wight was bombed by the Luftwaffe who dropped 200 tons of bombs on the town. The Polish Grom class destroyer ‘Blyskawica‘ was being refitted at J Samuel White’s yard, where it had been built and launched 5 years earlier. Captain Wojciech Francki ordered the ‘Blyskawica’ to leave her moorings, and drop anchor outside the harbour. Here, 1st artllery officer, Lieutenant Commander Tadeusz Lesisz and his gunners retaliated all night with such vehemence that her red hot guns had to be doused with water, and more ammunition had to be ferried across from Portsmouth. But for the brave defence put up by the Poles, the human casualties and damage to the town would have been far worse.

Tadeusz Lesisz, born in Kozienice, Poland on 10 July 1918, naval officer in the Polish Navy and the Royal Navy, architect, chairman of the Federation of Poles in Manchester, died on 23 September 2009.


Lord Adonis travels by train!

Thursday, 16 April 2009


Lord Adonis sits in the driver’s seat of a Class 395 high-speed train. Photo Kentish Times

The ‘Kentish Times’ published an article last December when Lord Adonis launched the
year long acceptance testing process for the Hitachi built Class 395 trains that will be running local services on the HS1 line between London and Kent. Click picture to read the whole article.

As I travel around Poland by train, one of the commonest gripes that I hear from the train crews is that no-one listens to them – there is no effective feedback channel up which information from the people responsible for service delivery can reach PKP Directors and senior managers. I reply, only half jokingly, that if only PKP directors and government ministers had to queue up to buy their own tickets and travelled around Poland by train – instead of rushing about by plane and chauffeur driven limousine – the quality of service experienced by rail passengers would improve overnight.

In Britain, we may be witnessing the death throes of a government on its last legs, but we do have a transport minister who cares about railways! Lord Adonis is travelling the 2,000 miles of Britain’s rail network that he knows least, just to see what’s going on. He is writing about his experiences in The Times. On Tuesday, he wrote about his journey on the Night Riviera sleeper train to Cornwall. (How many people are aware that there is a sleeper train to Cornwall? It must be one of First Great Western’s best kept secrets!) He also discovers that the one coach trains on the Par – Newquay line can be overwhelmed with passengers during bank holidays.

The line to Newquay is not quite the classic case of the branch line fallen on hard times but it is reviving. It kept its holiday express trains to London post-Beeching and also a good deal of china clay freight traffic. Now it has seven weekday local trains winding slowly along the 21-mile line in addition to the Saturday long-distance trains.

The local trains are mostly single-carriage trains like the one I take. Ours is pretty full there and back, including a party of young surfers out for a day from Saltash who quickly take up all the luggage racks with their surfboards. Apparently on Good Friday the train was so full with surfers that a local coach had to be found to take half of them. With Newquay a growing attraction, the future for the line appears bright, although it is now running at full capacity.

On Wednesday, he writes about his visit to the Swanage Railway.

The large, enthusiastic and highly professional team at the Swanage operate steam and old diesel trains along a dozen miles of track from Norden, with a full daily timetable. They want to link up to the London-Weymouth main line at Wareham. There is strong local support and, since the track is all there and the business case is promising, the proposal is highly credible.

Britain’s preserved steam railways are a remarkable part of the railway system and the national tourist industry. As a proponent of new high-speed rail lines, I am keen to build a new technological future for the railways, breaking with our baleful historic tradition of patch-and-mend. The challenge is to celebrate the best of the past – as do our preserved railways – while boldly seizing the latest technology to create anew for the future.

The track on the Swanage Railway may now be “all there” but it was ripped up in indecent haste by British Railways in an attempt to crush the nascent Swanage Railway Project and was only put back thanks to the heroic work of volunteers and the local residents who dug deeply into their own pockets. Yet, in spite of the best efforts of the Swanage Railway Trust, local residents – after 37 years of waiting – are still without the daily link to the main line network that they have worked so far to achieve. Meanwhile the A351, the main road down the spine of the Isle of Purbeck, has had millions of pounds invested in ‘improvements’ which only serve to funnel more day trippers in their motor cars into the congested streets of Swanage and Corfe Castle.

Were Lord Adonis to intervene to assist the Swanage Railway achieve a permanent link up with the main line what a real difference that could make? As well as a daily commuter service for local residents, how about regular summer weekend steam specials from Bournemouth to Swanage and Corfe Castle to bring day trippers without their cars?



DB Schenker makes Swanage history

Thursday, 2 April 2009


The Purbeck Pioneer’ hauled by a DB Schenker Class 66 locomotive No 66152 passes through Corfe Castle Station on 1st April 2009

(Frame captured from BBC TV film. Click to read the BBC News report and view the whole film.)

37 years and 3 months from the day that the last passenger train travelled from the main line at Wareham via Worgret Junction down the branch line to Swanage, DB Schenker Class 66 locomotive No 66152 hauled ‘The Purbeck Pioneer’ a twelve coach special train from London via Leatherhead, Effingham, Southampton, Bournemouth, Wareham, Worgret Junction, Corfe Castle and Swanage.

Although a number of empty stock and light engine movements had been made across the Swanage Railway – Network Rail (previously Railtrack, previously British Rail) connection since 2002, this was the first passenger carrying service to visit Swanage from the main line at Wareham since the last BR train ran down the branch on 1st January 1972, and represents a major milestone in the history of the Swanage Railway project.

The ‘Purbeck Pioneer’ left at London’s Victoria station at 8.45am on Wednesday April 1st 2009. The atmosphere on board the train was one of excitement and anticipation for the historic journey ahead, and many Swanage veterans had made the journey to London to be able to be part of this historic event. The train was met at Wareham by Alan Greatbatch of Network Rail and with Swanage Railway’s Steve Dyer on board the train was signalled down the Swanage branch via Worgret Junction, past Furzebrook and passed onto Swange Railway metals at Motala accompanied by a barrage of popping corks.

The historic train then travelled non-stop to Swanage via Norden, Corfe Castle, Harman’s Cross and Herston Halt. The train was met at Swanage by Swanage Railway Trust Chairman Mike, Whitwam, Swanage Railway’s staff and vounteers and local dignitaries, who all went out of their way to ensure that all the passengers received an extremely warm welcome to Swanage.

After a couple of hours, passengers reboarded the train for the return journey to London Waterloo, this time hauled by DB Shenker Class 66 locomotive No 66142 with 66152 at the rear. None of this could have happened without the efforts of Eastleigh-based DB Schenker men Dave Purvis and Dave Gravell who cleaned the DB loco inside and tested the stock and with Ian McDavid they relieved the train crew at Southampton for the final section through Bournemouth, Poole and Wareham to Swanage. As all were Swanage Railway members and volunteers, everything ran like clockwork!

More on the Swanage Railway:

Railway Memories

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Guest comment

British Steam 1950s & 1960s part 1, Film lewishambill

This letter was left today in the comment box of our 20 July 2008 article Swanage Railway Project has new boss. We assume that Keith Jackman has sent us a copy of a letter that he sent to incoming Swanage Railway Trust Chairman, Mike Whitham, as he concludes with the sentiment, I wish you every success in your endeavour to get the line between Swanage and Wareham reopened. We only wish that the long arm of the Dyspozytor could stretch that far! It’s time that the Swanage Railway achieved the public transport objectives of its founders. Thank you very much Keith for sharing your memories with us.

Dear Sir,

I wonder if this may be of interest to you. As lad of 14, my first job was as a cleaner on the Swanage M7 tank engine that run the push and pull service to Wareham. After 6 months, I transferred to Bournemouth Loco Depot and eventually to Nine Elms Depot, which is now Covent Garden market.

At Nine Elms I rose through the links, to the mainline top link. All my work then was express passenger trains. My engine on the mainline was a Merchant Navy class No. 35017 Belgian Line. They were fine engines and, at that time, had 280 lbs/sq in pressure that would have retained a head of steam even if shovelled with cow pats.

As a passed fireman on occasion, I drove the Atlantic Coast express, the Bournemouth Belle and the Devon Belle. I have nothing but fond memories of my time on the footplate, I could see which way things were heading and as driving electrics never appealed to me I decided to leave the job and become a London taxi driver.

This past Christmas I was back home in Swanage and seeing the trains run on that historic line made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

I wish you every success in your endeavour to get the line between Swanage and Wareham reopened and look forward to once again riding that route in the future, hopefully the near future.

Yours sincerely

Keith Jackman

Dear Keith, Do you have any pictures from your days when you worked on BR? If so BTWT would be honoured to publish them.

Swanage Project has new boss

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Mike Whitham, chairman of the Swanage Railway Trust
(c) Andrew Wright, Swanage Railway Company

The Swanage Railway Trust Council of Management has elected Mike Whitham to be its new chairman, following the resignation of Bill Trite who had lead the Railway for 17 years. After his election Mr Whitham said, “Ever since my first visit to the Swanage Railway in the mid-1980s, I have passionately believed in the railway, its achievements and its objectives. I am honoured to be chosen to take the Swanage Railway into its next exciting venture – an all-year round amenity train service between Swanage and Wareham.” He also pledged, “I will ensure that this does not compromise the Swanage Railway’s current heritage steam and diesel services.” Mr Whitham started as a trainee signalman on the Swanage Railway in 1996. He became the railway’s volunteer liaison officer in 1999 and then took on the role of youth protection officer. Since May, 2007, he has also been a member of Swanage Town Council. Mr Whitam will also be chairman of the operating company, the Swanage Railway Company.

The Swanage Railway has, since the beginning of the project in 1972, always had the twin objective of both restoring a community rail service linking up with the main line at Wareham and running a heritage railway. Inevitably the signalling iimprovements to make this possible would be very costly. However, under Bill Trite, the Trust’s management have always shied away from raising share capital in the manner of other British heritage railways such as the North Norfolk Railway (the first to do so), the Severn Valley Railway (the first to raise over £100,000) and several others. This context makes Mr Whitham’s next statement very interesting, “It is also important that we secure substantial fundraising to achieve all our goals – as well as exploring the possibility of raising capital for specific projects through grants and seeking new methods for general fundraising. I see my role as ensuring the Swanage Railway further improves its services to the public, as well as attracting more passengers and increasing profitability so the railway can achieve its goals while retaining its unique character.”

Mike’s predecessor, Bill Trite became chairman of the then Southern Steam Trust following a stormy annual general meeting of the Trust in 1991 when the Swanage Railway was in a precarious financial position. With the help of local residents and legal advice from David Morgan, Heritage Railway Association (the UK umbrella body) chairman, Bill Trite lead the railway’s financial recovery and then put in the management systems to ensure that such a crisis could never befall the railway again. Under Bill Trite’s management the Swanage Railway became one of the most popular railways in the South. Last year the Railway carried more than 200,000 passengers, had an annual turnover in excess of £ 2 million, had over 4,000 members, some 400 active volunteers and employed 45 people in full and part-time posts.

The Swanage Railway Project was started by Andrew Goltz, at the time a student at Birmingham University. Together with John Sloboda he formed the Swanage Railway Society in 1972. As Society chairman he lobbied the local authorities, ultimately successfully, to withdraw from using the railway formation for a by-pass and to allow the railway Project to go ahead. From 1978 to 1991 the Project was lead by Southern Steam Trust chairman, Mike Stollery, under whose leadership the physical rebuilding of the railway track, and the restoration of historic rolling stock, made substantial progress; and the operation of revenue earning tourist trains begun.

Our 100th post

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Cumulative daily visits each month in April and May

Today’s article is our 100th post. We have now been publishing Behind The Water Tower for three months in its present form as a campaigning blog. (An earlier test version was started a month earlier on another site.) In May we had 3,183 hits which averages out at 100 visits daily.

Rather than bask in out own glory we would like to dedicate today’s post to all the professional men and women who work on our railways and to all the volunteers who work to rescue closed railways and then keep them going. People like Moira Cross.

Moira Cross at Swanage Station (c) Andrew Wright

Moira took part in the original campaign, launched in 1968, to stop the Swanage Railway closing and helped petition the authorities. From 1972, she provided secretarial assistance to the Swanage Railway Society – the pioneers of the project to reopen the Swanage Railway. She was a committee member of the Swanage and Wareham Railway Group – the local resident’s campaigning group – without whose efforts the Society’s efforts would have come to nothing.

When the trains started to run she helped run the railway shop and helped set up the team that ran the refreshment stall. For over 30 years, Moira has been helping the Swanage Railway as an unpaid volunteer. On 6 September, 2002 Moira’s dedication was recognised by the Swanage Railway and Virgin Trains when she was asked to name a Virgin Voyager trainset – the first mainline train to travel down the Swanage line for over thirty years. To Moira, and the hundreds of thousands of men and women, who work our railways, whether as transport links, heritage lines, or both, our grateful thanks.