Why did the LSWR not build west of Dorchester?

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Sad Sprinter

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I've always wondered why the LSWR built their West of England main line through Sailsbury and not from Dorchester and along the coast to Exeter. Seems like the wiser choice given the size of Bournemouth and Southampton en route.
 
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Gloster

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Well, they did consider it, which was why the old Dorchester South station was built as a terminal, but railway politics got in the way. The story is quite complicated.

Two points: the line from Southampton was built by the Southampton & Dorchester Railway, nicknamed Castleman’s Corkscrew after the Wimborne solicitor who was mainly responsible for its creation and the indirect route (Southampton-Brockenhurst-Ringwood-Wimborne-Wareham-Dorchester). It didn’t go near Bournemouth as at the time it was a very small fishing village.
 

randyrippley

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I suspect they realised that crossing the South Dorset Downs east-west would be a heck of a challenge.
A choice of a steep switchback route, or else tunnelling through soft chalk with little structural strength.
The route via Yeovil/Crewkerne skirts to the north of the Downs and follows a series of river valleys. The route west of Dorchester would have had to cross the valleys, needing bridges along with the tunnels
 

swt_passenger

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I've always wondered why the LSWR built their West of England main line through Sailsbury and not from Dorchester and along the coast to Exeter. Seems like the wiser choice given the size of Bournemouth and Southampton en route.
I also think you have to consider the sizes of Southampton and Bournemouth in the mid 19th century, not what you see today. The route chosen via Andover, Salisbury Yeovil etc as far as Exeter basically replicates the coaching route that eventually became the A30, perhaps that was the market they were aiming for.
 
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Calthrop

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And -- topographical construction problems aside -- LSW's West of England main line as it actually came about, had the positive aspect of being pretty much a bee-line between London and Exeter -- even though it missed big population centres. An advantage which it had over the Great Western's roundabout route via Bristol, until the GW fully accomplished its cut-offs between Reading and Taunton in the first years of the twentieth century (the old "Great Way Round" jibe). One could feel that if an LSW route to the West Country via Southampton and Dorchester had come to be; it would have been appropriate as an additional route -- supplementing, rather than instead of, the direct one via Salisbury, Yeovil Jun., Crewkerne and the rest.
 

30907

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I also think you have to consider the sizes of Southampton and Bournemouth in the mid 19th century, not what you see today. The route chosen via Andover, Salisbury Yeovil etc as far as Exeter basically replicates the coaching route that eventually became the A30, perhaps that was the market they were aiming for.
Like Calthrop I feel it would have made a useful secondary route, but the rationale for continuing from Dorchester was that it was considerably nearer to Exeter.
It's unfortunate that the piecemeal development West of Salisbury meant that Yeovil was left rather to one side. Continuing West from Yeovil Town would have added a good 5 miles (passing North of Crewkerne) compared with the eventual route from the Junction, so the decision is understandable.
 
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Snow1964

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You also have to remember that there wasn’t very much along the South Dorset and SE Devon coast in 19th century between Dorchester (which was fairly small) and Exeter. A handful of small towns, no minerals to be extracted and carried, so apart from a nice link on a map, not really any purpose.

Although now closed there was the Somerset and Dorset which allowed trains from ports of Poole and Hamworthy to reach the west of England route (although a direct spur didn’t exist at Templecombe)

Part of the coastal route did eventually get built Sidmouth-Exmouth-Exeter
 

Cowley

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And -- topographical construction problems aside -- LSW's West of England main line as it actually came about, had the positive aspect of being pretty much a bee-line between London and Exeter -- even though it missed big population centres. An advantage which it had over the Great Western's roundabout route via Bristol, until the GW fully accomplished its cut-offs between Reading and Taunton in the first years of the twentieth century (the old "Great Way Round" jibe). One could feel that if an LSW route to the West Country via Southampton and Dorchester had come to be; it would have been appropriate as an additional route -- supplementing, rather than instead of, the direct one via Salisbury, Yeovil Jun., Crewkerne and the rest.

It’s interesting to think about what decisions would have been taken in the Beeching era if the route had actually been built.
I wonder if it might have survived and been developed in a different way or whether it would have shut anyway and the WofE line still having ended up being the remaining route?
 

Irascible

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You also have to remember that there wasn’t very much along the South Dorset and SE Devon coast in 19th century between Dorchester (which was fairly small) and Exeter. A handful of small towns, no minerals to be extracted and carried, so apart from a nice link on a map, not really any purpose.

Although now closed there was the Somerset and Dorset which allowed trains from ports of Poole and Hamworthy to reach the west of England route (although a direct spur didn’t exist at Templecombe)

Part of the coastal route did eventually get built Sidmouth-Exmouth-Exeter
To be honest there's not actually that much between Bournemouth & Exeter ( or at least Weymouth & Exeter ) on the coast even now :p ( I live there, I'm allowed! ). Unfortunately the WoE line manages to be pretty awkward for what's actually there too, but the Axminster-Honiton section isn't all that far from the coast so I presume if both lines had been built there'd have been a junction somewhere inbetween ( possibly just east of Seaton Jct looking at where the A35 goes ) Dorchester to there would have been a right arse to build for probably very little traffic...

Nowadays there's three AONBs to get through just from Dorchester and the coast is a world heritage site - I can't imagine what the route planners of 150 years ago would have thought of the red tape we go through. It'd be an interesting idea for a new HSR, but on the other hand HSR ( if a not particularily point-to-point version ) could also go Southampton-(Bournemouth+Yeovil maybe)-Taunton-Exeter ( if only to dodge AONBs as much as possible ), no matter which way you go it's an expensively hilly part of the country.

As to surviving Beeching... that's an interesting thought idea & I think you have to go back a bit further & decide if a more direct link between Devon & Bournemouth/Poole would have actually stimulated any traffic that's not there now - what has each area got that the other doesn't?. It might have been marginally quicker to Southampton than going via Salisbury but not all that much, I suspect. I guess there's always the chance that the main line would actually have ended up being Salisbury-Broadstone-Dorchester-Exeter & the rest - what there is of it - left to the S&D and the GWR.
 

Cowley

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To be honest there's not actually that much between Bournemouth & Exeter ( or at least Weymouth & Exeter ) on the coast even now :p ( I live there, I'm allowed! ). Unfortunately the WoE line manages to be pretty awkward for what's actually there too, but the Axminster-Honiton section isn't all that far from the coast so I presume if both lines had been built there'd have been a junction somewhere inbetween ( possibly just east of Seaton Jct looking at where the A35 goes ) Dorchester to there would have been a right arse to build for probably very little traffic...

Nowadays there's three AONBs to get through just from Dorchester and the coast is a world heritage site - I can't imagine what the route planners of 150 years ago would have thought of the red tape we go through. It'd be an interesting idea for a new HSR, but on the other hand HSR ( if a not particularily point-to-point version ) could also go Southampton-(Bournemouth+Yeovil maybe)-Taunton-Exeter ( if only to dodge AONBs as much as possible ), no matter which way you go it's an expensively hilly part of the country.

As to surviving Beeching... that's an interesting thought idea & I think you have to go back a bit further & decide if a more direct link between Devon & Bournemouth/Poole would have actually stimulated any traffic that's not there now - what has each area got that the other doesn't?. It might have been marginally quicker to Southampton than going via Salisbury but not all that much, I suspect. I guess there's always the chance that the main line would actually have ended up being Salisbury-Broadstone-Dorchester-Exeter & the rest - what there is of it - left to the S&D and the GWR.

I suppose going back a bit that travel between Plymouth and Portsmouth might have been quite popular between the navel bases and to a lesser extent travel between Exeter and Bournemouth/Southampton (Exeter to Bournemouth is still an awkward journey) but yes, it’s a bit of a hinterland really and it’s all too easy to look at what we could do with now without realising how things looked then...
The A35 travels through some beautiful scenery between Axminster and Bournemouth and has been improved much over the 30 years I’ve been driving along it, but it ain’t half lumpy around there!
 

Snow1964

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Well, they did consider it, which was why the old Dorchester South station was built as a terminal, but railway politics got in the way. The story is quite complicated.

Two points: the line from Southampton was built by the Southampton & Dorchester Railway, nicknamed Castleman’s Corkscrew after the Wimborne solicitor who was mainly responsible for its creation and the indirect route (Southampton-Brockenhurst-Ringwood-Wimborne-Wareham-Dorchester). It didn’t go near Bournemouth as at the time it was a very small fishing village.

Couple of minor corrections :
Dorchester South was built as a through station, with straight platforms, the part behind the buffers was only added years later when it was clear the extension to Exeter wasn’t going to happen. The curved platforms on the Weymouth line were also later additions.

The Southampton and Dorchester railway was intended to be extended to Exeter when it was promoted in 1845, and opened in 1847. The Salisbury-Yeovil-Exeter route was opened in 1860, and effectively killed any westward extension from Dorchester.

The corkscrew was due to New Forest landowners/ verderers not permitting a more direct route from Totton to Ringwood, resulting in the indirect routing via Beaulieu Road station (instead of the intended Lyndhurst) The main promoter Charles Castleman was based in Wimborne so obviously went that way, but they realised the advantage of Hamworthy port and it was flatter across the heathland near Wareham hence the indirect route.

A price of useless trivia, when it opened in 1847 the section from Redbridge to Dorchester was single track, and the longest single track railway in UK at the time.
 
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341o2

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I thought the scheme was shelved as part of negotiations with the GWR, another example of the LSWR negotiating with the GWR was Yeoford to Barnstaple staying single track.

The reason why the former GWR route was chosen over the Southern route via Salisbury was all to do with Exeter. In fact, as far as Exeter, the Southern had the superior route. The Salisbury and Exeter railway concentrated on traffic between the two cities, which is why Yeovil Junction is not in Yeovil.

The problem was anything travelling west beyond Exeter along the GWR route would have to reverse had it been chosen.
 

Lucan

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The problem was anything travelling west beyond Exeter along the GWR route would have to reverse had it been chosen.
Would it have been that hard to have put in an East-South chord? Especially as they got things done in those days. It would have needed a further pair of bridges over the Exe.

This route was not just about reaching Exeter; Plymouth with its naval base and other docks was arguably more important.
 

341o2

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To clarify the above points. I was referring specifically to the Salisbury and Exeter railway, which became amalgamated into the LSWR

The decision that the West of England did not need two mainline railways was part of the Beeching report, published 1962.
 

Grecian 1998

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As stated upthread, a direct route would either have had to follow the topography, in which case it would likely have significant speed limits, or tunnel through the hills, which would be very expensive to maintain. Either way it would have been pretty vulnerable in the 1960s.

Also worth remembering the LSWR didn't extend the line from Dorchester to Weymouth, which I believe was due to the expense of tunnelling through the Ridgway. The GWR built the line from Dorchester to Weymouth some years later, opening in 1857. Given the curvaceous nature of 'Castleman's Corkscrew' and the topography of West Dorset, it seems likely the line would have been built 'economically', so probably wouldn't be able to match the A35, even though that has multiple slow sections such as Chideock and Winterbourne Abbas.

Gerry Fiennes mentions in 'I Tried to Run a Railway' that not only was the reversal at Exeter problematic, given that the GWR's route to Plymouth would definitely be the main line, but the 1 in 37 climb to Central would also be an operational problem. Neither a reversal nor the climb would be a major issue now, but they were in the 1960s.
 

randyrippley

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Like Calthrop I feel it would have made a useful secondary route, but the rationale for continuing from Dorchester was that it was considerably nearer to Exeter.
It's unfortunate that the piecemeal development West of Salisbury meant that Yeovil was left rather to one side. Continuing West from Yeovil Town would have added a good 5 miles (passing North of Crewkerne) compared with the eventual route from the Junction, so the decision is understandable.
The only possible route west of Yeovil Town was along the route already taken by the Bristol & Exeter, following Welham's Brook to the north of Montacute toward Martock. A more southerly route would take you onto the high ground between Hendford, Odcombe and Ham Hill, while more northerly would have gone into the Somerset Levels around Tintinhull, and still required a steep gradient getting out of Yeovil via Larkhill.
Neither were feasible.
 

30907

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The only possible route west of Yeovil Town was along the route already taken by the Bristol & Exeter, following Welham's Brook to the north of Montacute toward Martock. A more southerly route would take you onto the high ground between Hendford, Odcombe and Ham Hill,
...which is what I had in mind, going North of Odcombe. It would, as you say, have required a climb (1 in 80 for 3+ miles) or a tunnel and I will bow to your local knowledge. I'd forgotten the B&E had got to Yeovil first, too. Thanks.
 

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The only possible route west of Yeovil Town was along the route already taken by the Bristol & Exeter, following Welham's Brook to the north of Montacute toward Martock. A more southerly route would take you onto the high ground between Hendford, Odcombe and Ham Hill, while more northerly would have gone into the Somerset Levels around Tintinhull, and still required a steep gradient getting out of Yeovil via Larkhill.
Neither were feasible.
I have seen somewhere a rough map of what was planned west of Dorchester - from memory the route ran via the Winterbourne valley then (presumably via a tunnel) into the Bride Valley and more or less due west to Burton Bradstock. It then turned northwards to take in Bridport, north west across Marshwood Vale, with another tunnel somewhere in the Bettiscombe area to take it through the hills, turning southward to Axminster and then to Exeter more or less by the current route. You can see from tje ,ap why they wanted to stay away from the coast west of Bridport!
 

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Regarding the single main route to the west, I forget whose book it was in, Fiennes or Stewart Joy, but it was also stated that Taunton generated more London revenue than Salisbury. Surprised me too, but that's how it was in the 1960s.

Even then the Southern route into Waterloo was pretty maxed out at peak periods, both line and terminal capacity. They weren't that keen on another main traffic flow being given to them.
 

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J.H.Lucking’s Railways of Dorset (RCTS, 1968) contains five different maps showing proposed railways west from Dorchester. All seem to follow roughly the same route: directly west from Dorchester, before a final swing north-west to run into Bridport. Beyond Bridport, the four lines that continued either headed straight for Axminster or joined the route of the Yeovil-Exeter line around four miles north of Axminster.

Lucking’s book is the one to have if you are interested in how Dorset’s rail network developed. A few years ago they would cost you an arm and a leg, but they seem to be available at a reasonable price nowadays. Just beware that you get the correct book and not a similarity titled one.
 

randyrippley

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I suspect this bundle of documents held by Dorset County Council may hold the original surveys of the routes west of Dorchester

However this web page dedicated to a local surveyor gives an indication

relevant extract

Exeter, Yeovil and Dorchester Railway.​

Another month, another railroad. On the 28th August 1845 Martin “wrote to Mr Whitaker respg taking part of the Survey of the Exeter Yeovil & Dorchester Railway”. Oddly enough this company had not yet been formed; in fact it would take another three years before the bill establishing it was enacted by Parliament yet people were already planning its route and John Martin was one of those who took part in surveying it.

By 1847 Southampton and Dorchester railway or at least some precursor of it.8the company had built its line from Wareham and points east, passing as it did through land belonging to the Earl of Ilchester and entering Dorchester by way of Fordington before terminating at what is today Dorchester South station. To make sense of the entries that follow it is necessary to jump forward eight years to a notice that appeared in the London Gazette of 13th November 1855. By now all the railways had been subsumed into the LSWR and a new railroad [in fact the old Exeter Yeovil and Dorchester Railway] was to be built by the LSWR. It was to commence: “in the parish of Fordington, in the county of Dorset by a junction with Southampton and Dorchester line of the London and South-Western Railway, at or near the first bridge over that railway, east of the Dorchester station thereof, and passing thence, from, in, through, or into the several parishes, townships, and extra-parochial or other places following, or some of them” then follows a list of fifty nine parishes through which the line might pass. The line would not run through all of these parishes, it was common to include many ‘just in case’ they were needed but when you consider the number of parishes that Martin had previously surveyed[blue] it is not surprising that he might be consulted by the railway company. Parishes in red were mentioned in the 1845 diary in connection with railway work:

“that is to say: Fordington, Stinsford, Holy Trinity, Dorchester, Martin’s Town, otherwise Winterbourne Saint Martin, Monkton, Winterbourne Steepleton, Winterbourne Abbas, Little Bredy, Kingston, Kingston Russell, East Compton, Long Bredy, Little Cheney, Puncknoll, Dowerfield, Baglake, Chilcombe, Swyre, Saint Luke’s, Sterthill, Shipton Gorge, Grasson, Cogdon, Burton Bradstock, Wych, Bothenhampton, Bridport Harbour, Bridport, Walditch, Bradpole,Symondsbury, Marshallsea, Marshwood, Ailington, Ash, Bowood, Melplash, Netherbury, Pillesdon, Stoke Abbotts, Bettiscombe, Lower Loders, Higher Loders, Loders, Whitchurch Canonicorum,‘ Holditch, Thorncombe, Beerhall, Broom, Axminster, Wyld Court, Phillihome, Chardstock, Wadbrook, and Hawkchurch, in the county of Dorset,’ and Thorncombe, Broom, and Axminster, in thecounty of Devon, and terminating in the said parish of Hawkchurch, in an arable field (parcel of Wadbrook Farm) belonging to John Churchill Langdon, Esquire, and in the occupation of Mr.George Reader, and numbered on the deposited plan of the railway authorized by ” The Exeter, Yeovil, and Dorchester Railway Act, 1848,”, in the said parish of Hawkchurch.”

===snip===

Reference to the Ordnance survey map shows just how difficult this route would have been to engineer. As far as Winterbourne Steepleton the route could have followed the valley of the South Winterbourne river but after that it is not entirely clear where the line would have gone for this is an area of steep hills and blind valleys- very unprepossessing for a railway engineer. If the line had made it to Bridport life would have become somewhat easier, for the line, now heading northwards could have run along the line of the River Brit and we can follow its route from Martins surveying activities. First it would have gone to Melplash [or as Martin called it Melpash] where it would have wound its way around a series of hills before heading to Netherbury and then to Beaminster. From there it would have been a short distance to join the line from Yeovil to Axminster main line at Misterton.

Given the difficulties of engineering the line posed near to Bridport it can hardly come as as surprise that the line was never built.
 

Bob M

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Well, they did consider it, which was why the old Dorchester South station was built as a terminal, but railway politics got in the way. The story is quite complicated.

Two points: the line from Southampton was built by the Southampton & Dorchester Railway, nicknamed Castleman’s Corkscrew after the Wimborne solicitor who was mainly responsible for its creation and the indirect route (Southampton-Brockenhurst-Ringwood-Wimborne-Wareham-Dorchester). It didn’t go near Bournemouth as at the time it was a very small fishing village.
I don't think Bournemouth was even a fishing village: there is no harbour.
 

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I don't think Bournemouth was even a fishing village: there is no harbour.
You can pull small boats, the sort that operate out of a small fishing village, up on to the shore. I may be dignifying it by calling it a village, but there was a very small settlement there that existed by fishing (and possibly smuggling).
 

Mag_seven

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A reminder that this is a Railway History and Nostalgia thread attempting to answer the question "Why did the LSWR not build west of Dorchester?"

I've moved some posts that were discussing more current infrastructure issues in the Yeovil area to this thread.

Thanks :)

 

Irascible

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You can pull small boats, the sort that operate out of a small fishing village, up on to the shore. I may be dignifying it by calling it a village, but there was a very small settlement there that existed by fishing (and possibly smuggling).
Yes, not so much these days other than as tourist things to do, but when I was a kid you'd see a lot of moderately sized fishing boats pulled up on the beaches of Lyme Bay towns, usually a winch and / or a tractor to heave 'em up on rollers.

Let's not forget that a lot of towns in the area were resorts even in the 19th century. Estimate of 7.6k pop in 1860 is a bit more than just a village, at least, although a brief look at the local history suggests it was expanding extremely quickly.
 
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