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  • Andrew P.M. Wright

Remarkable Book of Land Surveyor's Drawings Reveal the Building of the Swanage Railway

A unique and remarkable Victorian book of land surveyor’s drawings has revealed how the branch line from Wareham to Corfe Castle and Swanage was built between 1883 and 1885 – thanks to a generous donation to the Swanage Railway Trust from the Isle of Wight Steam Railway.

Showing, in detail, how the land along the route was changed by the railway’s building, the large 45-page book – printed and bound for the London and South Western Railway Company in 1889 – is entitled ‘Terrier of the Swanage Railway’.

Terrier is an old English legal term for a register or survey of land while Terra is Latin for land.

Excluding the rails, the ten-mile railway cost £76,646 to build – that is almost £8 million in today’s money – with London contractors Curry & Reeves of Westminster starting work south of Wareham as well as at Corfe Castle and Swanage in May, 1883. The completed single track branch line opened to traffic, two years later, in May, 1885.

More than 30 bridges and culverts had to be constructed, along with 12 embankments and eleven cuttings – including a graceful three-arched viaduct of Purbeck stone at Corfe Castle where a cutting had to be dug through the chalk rock of the Purbeck Hills.

Gavin Johns, chairman of the Swanage Railway Trust, said: “We are very grateful to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway for its very kind and significant gift which is a great visual record – a thrilling and startling time capsule that takes you back to the early 1880s to see the route of the branch line through the Isle of Purbeck before and after.

“The book details the land that had to be purchased so the Swanage branch line could be built – from whom, at what cost and under what terms – thanks to the construction of cuttings, embankments, bridges and farm crossings,” he added.

Roger Silsbury, manager of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway’s Heritage & Learning Department, said: “I was delighted to hand over a document of such fundamental interest to the Swanage Railway museum because the book is now in its rightful home.

“I am delighted at the close co-operation between our two volunteer-run heritage railways and I hope that this will continue for many years to come. The book had been previously donated to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway,” he added.

Chris Morgan, the Swanage Railway Trust’s museums manager, said: “The kind donation of such a unique and remarkable book – showing how the building of the railway changed the landscape in the 1880s – is an exciting and important addition to the Swanage Railway Museum's collection.

“The book of detailed and annotated contemporary drawings dating from between 1883 and 1885 is an invaluable resource for people exploring the history of the Swanage branch line and the wider story of the Isle of Purbeck.

“The book will be catalogued, documented and safeguarded for future generations by the museum team at Corfe Castle station,” added Chris.

Operated mainly by a team of dedicated volunteers – and open from 10am to 5pm when trains are running – Swanage Railway Trust’s museum at Corfe Castle station safeguards, explores, shares and celebrates the fascinating story of the Swanage branch line to 1972 and the re-building of the Swanage Railway from 1976.

The Terrier of the Swanage Railway book can be viewed at the Swanage Railway Museum at Corfe Castle station by prior appointment by calling 01929 408490 or emailing

The Swanage Railway always welcomes new volunteers so, for a chat, contact Swanage Railway volunteer co-ordinator Mike Whitwam on 01929 475212 or email him at

Story by Andrew P.M. Wright, Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer.


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