• Andrew P.M. Wright

Swanage Railway 50th anniversary celebrated with loco headboard & long service badges presentation


Photograph: Andrew P.M. Wright

The 50th anniversary of the birth of the Swanage Railway has been celebrated with a special locomotive headboard and the presentation of long service badges to dedicated volunteers by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.


It was in the summer of 1972 – as seven miles of the Swanage branch line’s track was being lifted for scrap – that the Swanage Railway Society was formed with an appeal for members and volunteers appearing in the national Railway Magazine.


Half a century later, on Saturday 23 July, 2022, late 1920s Southern Railway U-class steam locomotive No. 31806 proudly carried a Swanage Railway 50th anniversary headboard as the engine hauled trains between Norden, Corfe Castle, Harman’s Cross and Swanage.


The headboard had been skilfully made by long-time Swanage Railway member and volunteer signalman Malcolm Munro who rode on the last British Rail train between Wareham and Swanage on New Year’s Day, 1972.


As the tracks of the Swanage branch line were ripped up that summer, a keen teenage Malcolm responded to an urgent appeal for members and donations by the newly formed Swanage Railway Society in a national railway magazine.


Marking the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Swanage Railway – the formation of the Swanage Railway Society led by university students Andrew Goltz and John Sloboda – a special presentation took place at Corfe Castle station on the afternoon of Saturday, 23 July, 2022.


A patron of the Swanage Railway, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, in Hampshire, was welcomed to Corfe Castle station by Swanage Railway Trust chairman and trustee Gavin Johns before the presentation of long service badges to dedicated Swanage Railway volunteers.


A life-long railway enthusiast, Ralph Montagu has followed the fortunes of the Swanage Railway for some 50 years and was a trustee of the Swanage Railway.


After presenting the long-service badges, Ralph Montagu said: “The word that sums up this afternoon is gratitude, gratitude for what several generations of dedicated and determined Swanage Railway volunteers have achieved over the past 50 years.


“There were some very dark days for the Swanage Railway over the years as it battled to be allowed to rebuild the line, and then actually rebuild it.


“The determination of those campaigners, many of whom have since died, has to be admired and remembered. Without them, there would be no Swanage Railway.


“One cannot under estimate the importance and the role of volunteers on heritage railways because they just wouldn’t happen without volunteers who do the vast bulk of the work.


“It’s important that the Swanage Railway says thank you and recognises that. The incremental service badges, that I have had the privilege to present, are great.


“There is a great sense of family on the Swanage Railway which is wonderful because it shows a great feeling of community and affection for not just the Swanage Railway but also for each other.


“You heard the cheers and applause from the volunteers as each person came up to receive their well deserved long service medal. That was great to hear, he added.


Regarding himself as a “serious railway enthusiast and a Southern man”, Lord Montagu spent many an hour happily watching trains at his local station, Brockenhurst in Hampshire, as a child.


Ralph Montagu added: “There is only a handful of preserved lines that are truly Southern and the Swanage Railway is the one that I look to most for an authentic atmosphere. There is such wonderful scenery on this line.


“There is a friendliness on the Swanage Railway and that is something that I always notice. It’s so important when welcoming visitors and passengers that the train crews and station staff are welcoming. Visitors come to the Swanage Railway to have fun and that is a very important part of the package.


“I never travelled on the Swanage branch line, from Wareham, as a child but I remember reading about the controversial closure in the Railway World Magazine and feeling very sad.


“When the Swanage Railway Society was formed in the summer of 1972, I remember its strong vision that a rebuilt Swanage branch was not only needed to preserve our heritage but also as a means of public transport to take traffic off the roads. That vision is just as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.


“I was always hopeful that the Swanage Railway would succeed and achieve its aims. The development of the Wytch Farm oil field, north of Corfe Castle - and the export of its oil and gas by train from Furzebrook until 2005 - kept the remaining

three-mile stub of the Swanage branch open until the Swanage Railway could take over that stretch of line from Network Rail in 2014.


“The Swanage Railway has succeeded in rebuilding itself, and connecting with the national railway network, thanks to strong determination and a clear vision which, while rooted in something from the past, could not have happened without the railway being in a popular tourist area where travelling through the beautiful Purbeck countryside behind a steam locomotive is part of an enjoyable day out or a holiday.


“We need more public transport and not less. The closure of lines like the Swanage branch in 1972 was very short-sighted because now we need them more than ever,” he added.


In 2001, the new signal box at Swanage station incorporated a lever frame owned by Lord Montagu which had been rescued from the Brockenhurst ‘B’ signal box when it was demolished in the late 1970s.


A delighted Ralph Montagu said: ““It’s great to see my Brockenhurst ‘B’ lever frame in Swanage signal box and it’s hard to believe that the signal box has been in use for some 20 years. It must be one of the busiest signal boxes on any preserved railway in the country.”


The Swanage Railway welcomes new volunteers who should contact Swanage Railway volunteer recruitment and retention officer Jonathan Evans on 01929 408466 or email iwanttovolunteer@swanagerailway.co.uk.


Story and photograph by Andrew P.M. Wright,

Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer.