Friday, 30 June 2017

Blandford's Beautiful Bridges (2)

A Bridge Too Far?
When fbb was a-courting the future Mrs fbb, he visited the in-laws on several occasions. Father-in-law was somewhat mystified to meet someone who was interested in buses and announced, as only a Glaswegian can, that he was thinking of staring a hobby. He would collect tunnel mouths! Sadly he never started his project.

Travelling from south to north, there is now no evidence of the station at Sturminster Marshall, named Bailey Gate on old maps. The bridge over the next road north has also gone.
But the aerial view shows that tell-tale line of bushes.
Next north is Spetisbury, where the overbridge shows all the signs of the now removed station building with its access steps leading up to the replacement footpath.
The curly approach road on the village side of the bridge ...
... is still there (with white railings).
The "hotel" is now a private house.

Next is Charlton Marshall.
Here the evidence of the former Somerset and Dorset Railway (S&D) is stronger with station platforms and approach paths still very obvious.
Totter down to the track, close your eyes and you can almost hear the trains thundering through.

But as you approach Blandford Forum, all signs of railway have completely gone, obliterated largely by the town's by-pass road.
From (roughly) this point the line crossed the water meadows of the River Stour ...
... where it climbed to reach the height needed to get through the town, crossing the river on a combination of brick arches and ironwork bridge.
The aerial view from Google shows almost no evidence of the line at this point.
But look closer, upper centre and on the north bank of the river.
There, in the public park. is some sort of construction and, yes, you have guessed correctly ...
... there are two arches from the former viaduct and bridge construction standing in glorious isolation in the park.
Pictures were sent by Bournemouth correspondent John ho also snapped the notice on the fence.
We are now drawing up a planning application for the next phase of the restoration project – namely sorting out the drainage and getting a staircase up the north wall so that people can get onto the top. The planning application alone will cost us hundreds of pounds, and the work itself will cost thousands. We need to show support for any grant application. So please, if you can help us, spare a donation, or become a friend or patron of the Arches, get in touch (email and we’ll send you details. 

And pinned to the fence nearby is that planning application notice.
So, rather than collecting tunnel mouths like fbb's late (very late!) father-in-law, you may now start a collection of obscure disconnected railway arches. There are plenty more to find, some more intact than others. Of course, you could always send a donation to the Blandford people and claim a piece of the arch collecting action.

But it will be really good to be able to climb up the steps and gaze over the meadows whilst dreaming of the S&D of old and its disappearing memory.

But we end with a delightful view of the Church at Blandford Forum.
Thanks to John for some lovely pictures and for introducing fbb to this splendid little town and its railway. The old fellow much go there for real sometime.

Tomorrow : where have our trams gone?

 Next missing vehicle blog : Saturday 1st July 

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Blandford's Beautiflul Bridges (1) ...

On A Much Loved Long Lost Line.
Blandford Forum features in the Flanders and Swan nostalgia fest featuring long lost railway stations - although some of their chosen stations never closed and some have re-opened.

No more will I go to Blandford Forum and Mortehoe 
On the slow train from Midsomer Norton and Mumby Road
No churns, no porter, no cat on a seat 
At Chorlton-cum-Hardy or Chester-le-Street
We won't be meeting again 
On the Slow Train

I'll travel no more from Littleton Badsey to Openshaw
At Long Stanton I'll stand well clear of the doors no more
No whitewashed pebbles, no Up and no Down 
From Formby Four Crosses to Dunstable Town
I won't be going again 
On the Slow Train

For those whose geographical knowledge need a little titivate, the little market town is situated a few miles north-west of Bournemouth and Poole.
Blandford has been a fording point since Anglo-Saxon times, when it was recorded as Blaen-y-ford and as Blaneford in the Domesday Book. The name Blandford derives from the Old English blĒ£ge, and probably means ford where gudgeon or blay are found. By the 13th century it had become a market town with a livestock market serving the nearby Blackmore Vale with its many dairy farms. At the start of the 14th century it returned two members of parliament and was also known as Cheping Blandford. The Latin word Forum, meaning market, was recorded in 1540.

Its public transport interest is centred on its railway station on the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway (S&D). Trains ran from Bath (Somerset) to near Bournemouth (Dorset) and followed a very rambling rural route serving lots of mall but barely profitable communities.
The "Joint" in its title was because the management of the line was shared by the Midland Railway (at Bath) and the London and South Western Railway at its southern end.
The original Blandford station, terminus of the Dorset Central Railway, was south of the River Stour, but three years later, after a merger with The Somerset Central Railway, the line ran through the town and a new, more central station was built.
Here is the station.looking south from atop the footbridge; and below is a fuzzy video clip from the 1960s, looking north with the footbridge in the background.
The station closed together with the rest of the S&D in 1966 and the demolition was filmed.
But the footbridge and the houses next to it still stand.
The station site itself is inevitably a small housing estate.
At the entrance to the little car parking area, the estate designers have left a memory of past ferroequinological glory in the form of a short length of track.
The approaches to town and station from the south were on viaduct ...
... the demolition of which drew crowds of onlookers.
It is hard to understand what made this line so popular with enthusiasts when it was open and, now, when there is very little left to see. But popular it was and still is, with many regretting its passing with a "lump in the throat" passion.

One possible explanation is that, because of the link from the Midlands via Bath, the partly single track line changed its character at weekends. Large numbers of long holiday trains, often double headed ...
... would convey happy holiday makers from the North and the Midlands for their week by the briny. This print from Alan Ward gives something of the atmosphere of the seaside terminus.
It must have been a very impressive sight to see a ten coach "express" powering through Blandford Forum hauled by either a Southern or a Midland "main line" engine.

Yes, maybe that is why the line still evokes such nostalgia.

But there is one other remnant of Blandford's long lost railway that intrigues.

We will explore further tomorrow.

 Next Blandford bridge blog : Friday 30th June 

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Brackmills Buses Bewilder (3)

We're In The Money!
Yesterday we looked at service 23, a historic Northampton Corporation route extended to perform a loop in Brackmills at peak times; to which was added service 108 offering a shuttle to and from town at lunchtimes. Both these run Mondays to Fridays only.

Enter route 51 ...
... with occasional peak hour only trips serving the mega warehousing on Gowerton Road and Salthouse Road.
Note how counter-intuitive the road network is. Several of the main thoroughfares turn a sharp 90 degree part way along, often causing a sudden attack of disorientation.

Service 53 performs a similar service but brings in happy workers from the eastern districts of the town. Once again these trips offer peak hours bits and pieces only.
Towards the end of 2016 came a positive announcement from "The Management" ...
... not of a bus company or the local authority; but the management of the industrial estate.

A new Saturday Service, number 51, will commence on Saturday, 29th October for an initial four month trial period. This service will run to and from North Gate Bus Station to Brackmills. The times of these journeys are designed to provide arrivals for 6am, 7am, 8am and 2pm shift starts, as well as 6am, 7am, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm and 6pm shift finishes.
It sank beneath the waves of negligible passenger numbers!

This announcement was an addition to the "big bang" of 2013.

Joining businesses at the official launch on Friday (March 22nd) were partners from Northamptonshire County Council, Northampton Borough Council and Stagecoach.

The newly extended bus service – designed to extend transport options, to encourage staff to leave their cars at home and to enable those without their own transport to seek work on the estate – is part of a five year £450,000 investment by the county council into estate bus provision.

To support the new service, the estate, through its Business Improvement District (BID) pot of funding, has invested in new bus stops, signage and an improved road infrastructure.
Sara Homer, Chair of Brackmills BID, said: “Since becoming a BID people have been asking us for better buses and more transport options so we are delighted to launch this new service and to be working with the council and Stagecoach to do this."

“We are confident that this extended bus service will help people across the county access employment at our 150 businesses on the estate. Ultimately, our aim is to provide people on the estate with travel choices and options.”

Steve Burd, Managing Director of Stagecoach Midlands, added: “We are delighted to be extending bus provision on Brackmills and to be improving links from the eastern side of Northampton. The future of this service is secure for several years, to allow time for this to develop into a fully commercial service.”

Hmmm again?
David Farquhar, Assistant Director of Highways, Transport and Infrastructure at Northamptonshire County Council, said: “We have been working with Brackmills for several years in a bid to introduce more sustainable transport. We have come across obstacles, including the withdrawal of Government funding, so this is a milestone and an exciting development.”

We have already seen the magnificence of the 51 and 53 (Big Deal!) but the icing on the cake was the arrival of Stagecoach service 1. Another historic Northampton route reaches Brackmills.
The former Weston Favell (The Trumpet) route was extended into the eastern districts progressively as the new parts of the town developed. It now runs every 10 minutes.

The cunning plan was to extend two buses every hour (Monday to Friday only) from the town's bus station to Brackmills following the 23 route as far as the Barclaycard bus station (a k a Pavilion Drive) ...
... but without the loop via Caswell Road.
On Saturdays the 1 was extended only as far as the Northampton Hospital, birthplace of your esteemed blogger!

Which brings us from 2013 to June this year.

From June 10th, service 1 was revised and further extended from Barclaycard via Gowerton Road and Landimore Road (unnamed on map below) to Wootton Fields.
The route is still half hourly but now runs on Saturdays as well. Such was the shock of this development that Gerald was not told and thus, on the first Saturday of operation, the Barclaycard bus station remained locked and barred.
Things were better when our Northampton correspondent took an explanatory ride.
And there were passengers!

Wootton Fields is part of the ever splurging town.
It is already served by route 3, hourly from the town centre via London Road and Wootton Village and, with the new service 1, three buses an hour seems very generous for what look like car owning residences,
The link via Landimore Road ...
... is hardly replete with potential custom; just streetlamps and a few bushes. Maybe there is more to come and Stagecoach have been bravely speculative? Or has somebody found yet more cash to support this extension?

There again, the £450,000 improvement fund runs out next year, so maybe this is an attempt to find cash customers to keep the whole service going.

But in true bus timetabling style, route 1 had a few modifications.
There are journeys to warehouse-land (ASDA, Travis Perkins et al on Gowerton Road) and one trip that nips quickly via the A45 to get to Barclaycard. It adds to the challenging and interesting variety at Brackmills.

Wouldn't it be better if the whole caboodle were rolled up into one service with one route number and one easy-to-understand timetable?

1, 23, 51, 53 and 108 could become 1, 1A and 1E (E for Eastern District) and follow the same route round the estate. 

No, silly idea!

P.S. You don't need to catch the 108 lunchtime shuttle from Barclaycard to Town Centre to quench thirst and pangs of hunger. All the richness of the UK's top catering outlets is available just along Caswell Road.
Gourmet meals at their very best worst (?). Hey ho, a bun and a coffee at Greggs is not at all bad.

 Next Blandford Bridge blog : Thursday 29th June