THIS week, regular correspondent and transport historian Brian Jackson writes about the closure of the Abbotsbury railway, which happened on November 28, 1952.

TWO Dorset branch lines closed during 1952, firstly the Portland branch closed to passenger traffic in March to be followed by the complete closure of the Abbotsbury branch in November.

The latter was a rural backwater that would probably have closed earlier if it had not been for the war and petrol rationing.

It was the archetypal minor Great Western Railway branch line where everybody knew each other with personal service from the staff, Sid Price at Abbotsbury, Roy Dawe at Portesham and Fred Gardner at Upwey, as so brilliantly portrayed in the classic film The Titfield Thunderbolt, made in the same year as Abbotsbury met its demise. The Abbotsbury branch opened in November 1885, branching off the Dorchester-Weymouth line at Upwey Junction with intermediate stations at Broadwey (Upwey after 1913) and Portesham, with a halt at Coryates being added in 1906.

The branch had been promoted by the Abbotsbury Railway Company, the brainchild of the squire of Portesham, Hardy Mansfield.

Unfortunately like many branch lines of its time, the promoters had an over-estimated imagination of the traffic available. They expected the transportation of iron ore, stone, and shale oil, with the additional boast that the branch could be extended westwards to Axminster and Chard Junction, providing a direct line to Weymouth from the West for cross-Channel traffic.

Alas, the quality and quantity of the minerals fell far below expectations and the extension was impractical, resulting in the branch only conveying the usual traffic of a rural branch, with additional passenger traffic in the summer months for visitors to Abbotsbury Swannery.

Having worked the branch since opening, the Great Western Railway absorbed the local company in August 1896 and could do little to improve its prospects.

The establishment of the motor vehicle in the years following the First World War and the setting up of a bus service in 1925 added to the downhill spiral.

Camp coaches were introduced at all three stations during the 1930s and a milk platform opened at Corton to raise additional revenue.

A revival came during the Second World War owing to fuel shortages. Sadly, this was short-lived and a rapid decline followed.

Within two years of the end of petrol rationing, the inevitable further decline in the branch line’s fortunes resulted in complete closure, the last train departing from Abbotsbury at 8.55pm on November 28, 1952.

Just as traffic over the branch had been light, so the motive power was also of a light nature and with the odd exception it was restricted to the 417 class 0-4-2 tanks, the later 14XX (previously 48XX) and the occasional incursion of GWR Steam Railmotors and Diesel Railcars.

The branch was lifted during 1955 except for a short section from Upwey Junction, by then renamed Upwey & Broadwey, and Upwey (renamed Upwey Goods), to handle local coal traffic.

This closed on December 31, 1961, and the track to Upwey and Broadwey was removed in December 1964.

One has to be a senior citizen to remember travelling on the branch to either visit relatives, have a day in the country, or be one of the many who once made the journey full of excitement, it being a popular destination for Sunday School outings from Weymouth.

Today, Upwey and Broadwey is an unstaffed halt on the Weymouth-Waterloo line, the station buildings at Broadwey are integrated into an industrial unit built on the site and Portesham station has been transformed into a bungalow.

Abbotsbury station was demolished and a bungalow built on the site, although Abbotsbury Goods shed remains as a store for agricultural equipment.

Little else remains except for overgrown earthworks, the outline of the incline up to the quarry east of Portesham as a reminder of a Victorian dream and a now almost forgotten country railway. To mark the 60th anniversary of closure an illustrated talk, The Abbotsbury Branch 1885-1952, arranged by the Somerset & Dorset Railway Trust, Dorchester Area Group will be held at the Colliton Club, Opposite County Hall, Dorchester on November 30 at 7.30pm.