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  • Andrew P.M. Wright

Victorian weekend to celebrate the pioneering era that built the Wareham to Swanage branch line


Photo: James Cummins / The Bluebell Railway

A nostalgic and evocative Victorian Weekend is to celebrate the pioneering era that built the Swanage Railway with two unique steam locomotives from the 1890s hauling the trains - and the public welcome to attend in period costume. 

 

With four steam locomotives in action during all three days, the special event runs from Friday to Sunday, 22 to 24 March, 2024, inclusive, with an intensive steam train service operating between Norden, Corfe Castle, Harman’s Cross, Herston and Swanage. 

 

The Victorian steam locomotives will be the Swanage Railway Trust’s unique London and South Western Railway T3 class No. 563 from 1893 as well as South Eastern and Chatham Railway 01 class No. 65 from 1896 which is visiting from the Bluebell Railway in West Sussex which was the country’s first preserved heritage line in 1960.  

 

Also hauling the trains will be 1920s Southern Railway U class steam locomotive No. 31806 and 1940s Southern Railway Bulleid Pacific West Country class steam locomotive No. 34028 ‘Eddystone’ which are based on the Swanage Railway. 

 

With the Purbeck Mining Museum’s narrow gauge railway also operating next to Norden station, the special weekend will also be celebrating the enterprising Victorian narrow gauge railway system that helped to carry ball clay from the mines at Furzebrook and Norden for export out of the Isle of Purbeck to the potteries in the midlands area of England. 

 

Volunteer Swanage Railway Company commercial director Robert Patterson said: “Our Victorian Weekend will be an evocative and enjoyable three-day celebration of the ambitious and pioneering era that built the Swanage Railway in the 1880s. 

 

“It will be wonderful to see two charming Victorian steam locomotives hauling the trains through the Isle of Purbeck - between Norden, Corfe Castle, Harman’s Cross, Herston and Swanage - along with steam locomotives dating from the 1920s and the 1940s. 

 

“It was the drive and enterprise of the dynamic and determined Victorians that gave us the railway system that we depend on, and enjoy, today – including the Swanage Railway. 

 

“The ambitious Victorian builders of the Swanage Railway built an iron girder viaduct across the River Frome south of Wareham as well as a beautifully proportioned Purbeck stone four-arched viaduct at Corfe Castle and a cutting that was blasted with dynamite through the chalk of the Purbeck Hills below the castle ruins. 

 

“It took determined Purbeck businessmen almost 40 years of campaigning to eventually build a ten-mile branch line railway from a mile south of Wareham to Corfe Castle and Swanage in the mid-1880s – replacing the horse and cart with the faster, and cheaper, steam train. 

 

“Work started on building the Swanage branch line during June, 1883 – starting at both ends of the line, at Swanage and at Worgret, a mile south of Wareham on the London to Dorchester main line – with the first train running from Swanage to Wareham in May, 1885. 

 

“Watching, and riding behind, the LSWR T3 No. 563 and the SECR 01 class No. 65 from the Bluebell Railway will transport our visitors back to the Victorian period of enterprise, development and optimism as railways replaced the horse and cart as well as our waterways,” added Robert who is a volunteer station porter on the Swanage Railway. 

 

Restored by the Swanage Railway Trust in an ambitious and challenging six-year project – after being donated to the Trust by the National Railway Museum in 2017 – the unique London and South Western Railway T3 class No. 563 was built at Nine Elms in London during 1893. 

 

Due to be withdrawn in 1939, No. 563 was saved from being cut up for scrap with the start of the Second World War when every steam locomotive was urgently required. After the coming of peace in 1945, the locomotive again escaped destruction when it was selected to help celebrate the centenary of London’s Waterloo station in 1948 before the T3 was donated to the National Railway Museum. 

 

The Bluebell Railway Trust’s 01 class No. 65 was built at Ashford, in Kent, during 1896 as a Stirling 0 class locomotive before being rebuilt as an 01 class in 1908. Surviving two world wars, No. 65 was withdrawn by British Railways in 1961 after a career in Kent and East Sussex. 

 

Anyone interested in finding out more about volunteering should contact the Swanage Railway volunteer recruitment and retention officer Lisa Gravett on 01929 475212 or email iwanttovolunteer@swanagerailway.co.uk.


Story by Andrew P.M. Wright, 

Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer. 

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