• Andrew P.M. Wright

Swanage Railway founders from 1972 return to lay flowers at heritage line’s volunteer memorial


Two pioneering Swanage Railway founders who started the battle to rebuild the Dorset heritage line as university students in 1972 – just weeks before demolition work started on lifting the branch track to Wareham - have returned 50 years later to lay flowers at a memorial to generations of dedicated railway volunteers.


The sons of Polish immigrants, Andrew Goltz and John Sloboda were keen 22-year old railway enthusiasts when they travelled from London to the disused station in the village of Corfe Castle during May, 1972, and walked along the abandoned and rusting tracks just weeks before they were lifted by demolition contractors working for British Rail.


It was during that inspiring afternoon walk around the boarded up Victorian station, in the shadow of the Medieval castle ruins, that the pair decided to form the Swanage Railway Society to re-open the ten-mile branch line from Wareham after it had been controversially closed by British Rail in January, 1972.


Just a few weeks after the Swanage Railway Society was formed in June, 1972, British Rail quickly lifted the tracks for scrap with the Society having to fight a determined four-year battle to be allowed to rebuild the line and relay the tracks - starting at the disused Swanage station – so that steam trains could be returned to the Isle of Purbeck.


Flying in from his home in Poland to visit Corfe Castle station 50 years after that crucial walk around the abandoned station that changed history, and prompted the start of the Swanage Railway, Andrew Goltz said: “It’s very moving and gut-wrenching to be back.”


“With the castle ruins rising above, Corfe Castle station had a powerful magic and I remember walking along the rusting tracks on that warm early summer day with John saying the memorable words: ‘This is all too attractive to be allowed to be swept away for a Corfe Castle by-pass. We have to save it.’ ” he added.


Now aged in his early 70s, John Sloboda travelled from his London home to be reunited with his former student railway campaigner colleague at Corfe Castle

station, the pair having been firm friends since their school days in London during the 1960s.


John explained: “It has been very emotional to see the difference between what we saw in 1972 and what we admire today which is a vibrant and loved working railway to which many people have given the best part of their lives to make the success that it is today. There is such a lot of care and love for the Swanage Railway which is wonderful.”


After being shown around Corfe Castle station by Swanage Railway Trust chairman Gavin Johns and Swanage Railway Company chairman Robert Patterson, Andrew and John enjoyed a steam train trip to Harman’s Cross station – between Corfe Castle and Swanage – to visit a poignant memorial stone paying tribute to generations of dedicated Swanage Railway volunteers.


Joined by Catherine Shaw, a grand-daughter of one of the Swanage Railway Society’s early campaigners - Dorothy Gosling who retired to Swanage with her husband in the 1960s - Andrew and John laid flowers at the simple stone memorial next to a platform at Harman’s Cross, a station that Swanage Railway volunteers built in the late 1980s.


Swanage Railway Trust chairman Gavin Johns said: “It was very moving to meet Andrew Goltz and John Sloboda because without them – and the other volunteers they recruited to their campaign 50 years ago – there would not be the Swanage Railway that so many people enjoy which contributes £15 million a year to the local economy.”


Swanage Railway Company chairman Robert Patterson said: “What the Swanage Railway Society’s dedicated volunteers achieved, against the odds, shows what the power of the human spirit can achieve. I pay tribute to all those volunteers who gave so much over the years to the Swanage Railway, many of whom are no longer with us.”


After four years of determined campaigning against the odds, the Swanage Railway was given a one-year lease of the disused Swanage station by the town council with a small group of dedicated volunteers starting restoration work in February, 1976.


Comprising a small industrial shunting engine and a 1940s Southern Railway carriage, the first diesel train ran over a few hundred yards of hand-laid track at Swanage station in the summer of 1979 with steam trains – made up of a small industrial shunting engine and the single 1940s carriage – starting operating at Swanage from Easter, 1980.


The Swanage Railway welcomes new volunteers and anyone interested in finding out about the many opportunities available should contact the Swanage Railway volunteer recruitment and retention office on 01929 408466 or email iwanttovolunteer@swanagerailway.co.uk.


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