Pioneering past revisited by Swanage Railway for weekend

Putting its current challenges aside for a few days, Swanage Railway is celebrating its heyday with a nostalgic Victorian Weekend – a period of drive and ambition for the railway, which first opened in the 1880s.

The three day event takes place from Friday 22nd to Sunday 24th March 2024 with steam trains of the era operating between Norden, Corfe Castle, Harman’s Cross, Herston and Swanage and everyone is invited to dress up for the occasion.

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Victorian locomotive 01 class No 65 from Bluebell railway
James Cummings

The Bluebell Railway Trust’s 01 class No. 65 was originally built at Ashford in Kent, during 1896

Special visitor from the Bluebell Railway

They’ll be two Victorian locomotives in action – the recently restored T3 class No. 563 from 1893 and the 01 class No. 65 from 1896 which is visiting from the Bluebell Railway in West Sussex.

Working alongside them over the weekend will be the 1920s steam locomotive U class No. 31806 and the steam locomotive from the 1940s Eddystone No. 34028, which are based on the Swanage Railway.

Next to Norden station, the Purbeck Mining Museum will be open, showing the work that some of our forebears undertook – mining ball clay to make fine pottery.

The Victorian narrow gauge railway system that transported the ball clay from the mines at Furzebrook and Norden for export out of the Isle of Purbeck to the potteries in the Midlands, will also be operating over the weekend.

LSWR T3 No. 563 launch Swanage October 2023
Andrew PM Wright

The T3 class No. 563, which was originally built during 1893, was brought back to operation in 2023 following its six year restoration at Swanage Railway

Swanage station 1880s
Andrew PM Wright collection

Swanage station in its heyday in the 1880s

Unable to restore Victorian branch line service

Swanage Railway recently confirmed that plans to operate a regular train service between Swanage and the main line at Wareham would not be going ahead in 2024, despite long held ambitions to restore the Swanage Branch line to its former glory.

The heritage service and special events will still continue between Swanage and Norden.

The heritage railway put the decision down to the growing expense of operating the line and said that the service would not be commercially viable without a financial subsidy.

Throughout its history the railway has had to fight for its existence. It took 40 years for a group of businessmen – the entrepreneurs of their era – to get permission to build the railway, with it eventually opening in 1885.

For many decades, during Victorian times, Swanage boomed as the railway brought visitors to the seaside town, but with the increase in the use of cars, the railway declined.

The closure of the branch line by British Rail in 1972 was met with stubborn resistance from locals, who got together and started to rebuild the track in 1976. Reconnection to the mainline was achieved in 2014 however the operation of a service has failed to be realised

Swanage station Victorian staff
Andrew PM Wright collection

Staff based at Swanage station welcomed thousands of visitors to the seaside during the Victorian boom era

Corfe Castle station 1890s
Andrew PM Wright collection

Corfe Castle may have remained the same but this Victorian lady may not be amused by the decline of rail services in the modern era

“Dynamic and determined Victorians”

Swanage Railway, as it looks to celebrate its Victorian history, will hope that in future it can recreate some of the drive and enterprise of its pioneering past.

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 T3 and the Class No. 65 locomotive from the Bluebell Railway will transport our visitors back to the Victorian period of enterprise, development and optimism as railways replaced our waterways, as well as the horse and cart.”

There’s £5 off tickets for the Victorian Weekend if bought in advance by 5 pm on Monday 18th March 2024.

Victorian T6 class loco at Swanage
Andrew PM Wright collection

A Victorian T6 class locomotive at Swanage station

Further information

  • To get tickets and to find out more about Swanage Railway’s Victorian Weekend go to the website

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