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The coming of the railways

By the mid 1840’s the bulk of tithe work in Dorset had been completed. After 1845, across Dorset, only ten commutations remained to be performed 1 and Martin’s tithe work ended with the Dewlish commutation, confirmed in September 1845. There were still plenty of parishes to inclose -over thirty are listed by Kain 2: a number such as Batcombe, Winterbourne Steepleton, Mosterton and Warmwell were parishes which he knew well and where he had undertaken the tithe commutation, but none were undertaken by him. In 1845 he was sixty five years old and with the exception of a small inclosure at Child Okeford and another at Ditcheat, where his namesake John Martin of Shepton Montague had been the Commissioner and subsequently died, he was to perform no more inclosures either. Perhaps the thought of long days on horse back or tramping the fields put him off; perhaps aware of his own mortality he did not want to embark on anything that might take several years to complete.

If Martin was expecting a quiet life he was to be disappointed, for 1845 was to become known as the year of Railway Mania. The country appeared to have gone mad with all sorts of lines being proposed. We do not know how or when he became involved with the railways for the first entry in the diaries, from January 1845 indicates he was already at work on the railways; “Duke of Cleveland

Went to Poorstock and Copied the Railroad”. Railway work would have offered him self contained and potentially limited pieces of work which he could drop whenever he needed to. If this was his plan it did not work for although we do not have diaries for the whole period it is likely that he continued his railway work for over nine years.


As with the turnpikes all railway developments started with a petition, a bill and then finally an act of parliament. The genealogy of railway lines is almost as complicated as the genealogy of families and tracing the details of individual railway acts is difficult. I have only been able to find general details of the railways that Martin worked on however, the Stamford & Essendine3 Railway Company Act 1856 illustrates some of the details that were included in a typical act.

Firstly and fore mostly the act allowed the company to borrow money, in their case not exceeding £20,000, by issuing share capital. Secondly they were empowered to compulsorily purchase land; this was quite specific, even specifying which properties were to be demolished and giving details of the owners involved. Finally they were empowered to “to extinguish all rights of way over the same; and also to extinguish the rights of the owners, lessees, and occupiers of lands in such parish adjoining the said railway, of making or constructing crossings over or openings into the same or of passing over the same”. In particular they were empowered to block up roads and paths that crossed the line. At Spalding and Sutton Bridge [and doubtless also in other acts] the act also included plans and sections, describing the lines and levels of the said railway between; a book of reference to the said plans, containing the names of the owners, lessees, and occupiers of the lands shown thereon; a published map, showing the general course or direction of the line.”

Before the bill was even presented a considerable amount of planning and surveying had been undertaken and Martin’s work in this area is as a part of that preliminary planning. The maps that accompanied the railway surveys have never been studied to any extent a fact that was pointed out by Challis and Rush4 in 2009 and a decade later nothing has changed; this is a pity as at least some of these maps were made by John Martin.

Like many towns in the 19th century Yeovil and Dorchester were the battle ground for the territorial ambitions of various railway companies. The first railway into the area was the Wiltshire, Somerset and Weymouth railway company established by an act of parliament in June 1845. Its line left the Great Western main line to Exeter at Castle Cary and ran into Yeovil Pen Mill station on the eastern outskirts of that town. Its ultimate destination was Weymouth but it was not until September 1856 that trains ran into Yeovil from Frome. A little over three months later the whole line was opened and on the 20th January 1857 the first train to travel over the lower part of the route left Weymouth at 06.15 in the morning. On its way to Yeovil it stopped at the newly constructed Dorchester West station and got into Yeovil fifty five minutes later. We can safely assume that nobody had ever made the journey from Weymouth in any faster time.

The Wiltshire, Somerset and Weymouth was eventually bought by the Great Western Railway [GWR] in 1850 and in accordance with their practice the track was laid to the broad gauge of 7’ ¼”. The direction of the route was in part determined by the territorial ambitions of the GWR and in this a rival company was determined to thwart them. The Salisbury and Yeovil railway [founded in 1854] was working its way slowly between the eponymous towns and arrived at what is now Yeovil Junction station, to the south of the town, in 1860. In time the Salisbury and Yeovil was taken over by the London and South-Western railway [LSWR] whose intention was to extend the line down to Exeter.

At the same the LSWR also had an interest in the progress of the Southampton and Dorchester Railway Company [established 1845] which with a remarkable turn of speed managed to reach Dorchester in June 1847. Its station is known today as Dorchester South. Dorchester was thus served by Dorchester West [GWR] and Dorchester South [LSWR] the stations being less than half a mile apart, and at the time, sharing no direct connection.

The Bridport Branch.

The bulk of the diary entries relating to the railways come from 1845 and start with one part of the Dorset countryside desperate to get a link to the outside world ; the harbour town of Bridport. According to Colin Maggs5From 1844 various schemes...were proposed to link Bridport with the rail system. By 1853 the townsfolk of Bridport were tired of the feuds between broad and standard gauge factions and decided to build their own line”.

The terrain ruled out the possibility of a coastal route and the line eventually ran from Maiden Newton, along the valley of the River Hooke and the Toller Brook, through a mass of undulating hills and valleys until it ran into Bridport. The line skirted Toller Fratrum, passed through Toller Porcorum, passed by Wytherstone and Poorstock and finally entered Bridport through Loders and Bradpole. Since these were all parishes in which Martin had worked it was probably inevitable that he would be called in to consult one side or the other.

The first diary entries relating to his railroad work begin with the heading “Duke of Cleveland”. The first two “Henry Vane’s” were Earls of Darlington but the third [William] Henry got a promotion to be come the 1st Duke of Cleveland. By 1845 Henry Vane the 2nd Duke of Cleveland [b 1788] was in charge. He had extensive holdings in Dorset but his lands at Poorstock were a modest two hundred acres of land slap in the middle of the eventual line6. At the beginning of the line, near Maiden Newton, John Stein farmed over a thousand acres [and according to the1851 census employed over fifty labourers], doubtless he too was affected by the line. The entries themselves are not particularly enlightening ; it would appear that he was making copies of the railroads own survey that he was then going to use to explain the proposals for the Duke and Mr Stein.

1st January 1845 Duke of Cleveland

Went to Poorstock and Copied the Railroad

2nd January 1845 Duke of Cleveland

Went to Poorstock and finished Copying the Railroad Plan and Reference Book

3rd January 1845 Duke of Cleveland

Working on the Railroad Plans and References

4th January 1845 Duke of Cleveland

Working on the Rail Road Plans &c

My Sister Mrs Perratt died

6th January 1845 Went to Cattistock and Copied Railroad Plan and Reference Book
7th January 1845 Working on Poorstock and Cattistock Railroads for Duke of Cleveland & Mr Stein
8th – 9th January 1845 Do
10th January 1845 Edwin went to Redlynch to Live

Working on Cattistock Rail Road Plan for Mr Stein

No more is heard of his work on the Bridport branch although there is a single reference to it in the 1852 diary;

16th October 1852 At Home on Various matters

Edwin & Arthur went to Bridport abt Railway work

The line opened in 1857 with an intermediate station at Powerstock and another opened at Toller Porcorum [simply known as Toller] in 1862. In 1884 an extension to the actual harbour at West Bay was made. The operators were not particularly optimistic about the prospects for the line and according to Maggs “Powerstock station was ingeniously build like a cottage so that it could be used as a dwelling if it did not pay as a station.” The West Bay extension was closed to passengers in 1930 and the whole of the Bridport branch closed in 1975 a mere one hundred and thirty years after John Martin worked on it.

Southampton and Dorchester Railway.

The next entry from May 1845 is as short as it is intriguing for it shows Martin was working on the Southampton and Dorchester Railways line from Wareham into Dorchester.

30th May 1845 Working on the Woodsford & Woolcombe Plans for Lord Ilchester [on Railroads]

Woodsford lies to the east of Dorchester and the Southampton and Dorchester’s line ran through the Earls of Ilchesters lands at Higher Woodsford. Nearer to home [literally] the Wiltshire, Somerset and Weymouth line running to Dorchester from the north had to pass through Woolcombe [nr Melbury Bubb] where the Earl also had lands.

Salisbury and Yeovil Railway

In September 1845 Martin was at work in south Somerset working at Misterton. It is not certain who he was working for at this time but it was probably the sponsors of what would be come the Salisbury and Yeovil railway. A notice in the London Gazette of 13th November 1855, noted that the LSWR was intent on building “A railway commencing in the parish of Bradford Abbas,7 in the county of Dorset, by a junction with the line of the Salisbury and Yeovil Railway, authorized to be constructed by ” The Salisbury and Yeovil Railway Act, 1854””. This line still exists and is the main line to the south west from Waterloo. The line remains much as it was planned in Martins day; after leaving Yeovil Junction it curves southwards passing to the south of North Perrott and then runs between the small village of Misterton and the much larger town of Crewkerne. The station that was eventually built is actually closer to Misterton but became Crewkerne station. It would appear that Martin had a disagreement over some contractual issues [17th September] and it is not clear whether he worked again for them but it is highly likely as we shall see.

8th September 1845 Went to North Perrott on Railroad works
10th September 1845 Sent off the Dewlish and Warmwell Engrossments and Maps to London and Preparing for Railroad works
11th September 1845 Went to Misterton on Railway work slept at Crewkerne Arthur with me
12th September 1845 At Misterton
13th September 1845 Do and returned home
14th September 1845 At home
16th September 1845 Went to Misterton in the afternoon
17th September 1845 Returned from Misterton did not approve of the Rail Road Surveyors Rules

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.”

The diary entries reveal then that Martin was already working on the route that would eventually be proposed although oddly Beaminster was not included in the final route.

28th August 1845 Doing Various Jobs in the Office & wrote to Mr Whitaker respg taking part of the Survey of the Exeter Yeovil & Dorchester Railway
1st October 1845 Edwin went to Beaminster on Railroad work

Getting in Apples &c

13th October 1845 Preparing Various things to go Measuring on Railroad works on the line from Beaminster towards Milton
15th October 1845 Exeter Yeovil and Dorchester Railway

Went to Beaminster on Railroad works slept at Do Viewing the Lines all day

16th October 1845 Taking Perpendiculars slept at Netherbury
17th October 1845 Do and laying out Lines slept at Melpash
18th October 1845 Do Do Walked home Arthur and Self from Half Moon Melpash
22nd October 1845 Exeter Yeovil and Dorchester Railway

At Netherbury Measuring

23rd – 24th October 1845 Do
25th October 1845 Do and returned Home
27th October 1845 Measuring at Netherbury on the proposed Exeter Yeovil and Dorchester Railway
28th – 31st October 1845 Do
1st November 1845 Do and returned home.
3rd November 1845 Measuring at Netherbury on the Exeter Yeovil and Dorchester proposed Railway
4th – 5th November 1845 Do
6th November 1845 Do Do and returned Home Arthur and self
7th November 1845 Plotting the above work
8th November 1845 Do Do
10th November 1845 Plotting Netherbury
15th November 1845 Went to Dorchester with Arthur on his way to Exeter – to go & Mail tomorrow morng
17th November 1845 Making Particulars of the Line thro Fordington Field Exeter Weymouth and Dorchester Railway Mr R Reeve
18th November 1845 Looking to Farming Works &c Edwin went to Redlynch sent my Bill to Thos Whitaker Exq Exeter for Railway wks

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.

There was little mention of the railways in the 1852 diary. There is the one entry from October as we have seen and an accounts entry in November indicating he was probably still working on the future Bridport branch.

16th October 1852 At Home on Various matters

Edwin & Arthur went to Bridport abt Railway work

13th November 1852 Reced of J Nichollets Esq my Bill on Mr Philips for Valuing Railroad work Cattistock £3 10s 0d

Sent P Office order to W&D Bank

Wiltshire, Somerset and Weymouth aka Great Western Railway.

The diaries for 1854 deal with a railway that was much closer to home. The GWR line from Pen Mill follows a sinuous course out of the town running parallel to the river Yeo in a rather deep gorge. Soon it is in open countryside but rising all the time until past Yetminster the gradient increases from a fairly gentle 1 in 150 to what was for a steam locomotive a challenging climb of up to 1 in 50. The line ran through deep cuttings in many places and shortly after Chetnole it began to weave around and through lands owned by the Earl of Ilchester. Skirting Melbury Bubb, it passed through Woolcombe before entering a 348m tunnel and emerging onto the only level stretch of the line at Oilywell [Holywell]. After a very steep climb from Yeovil and now at a height of five hundred feet above sea level it was necessary to build a station to allow the steam engines to replenish their water; though it was at Holywell it was nevertheless named ‘Evershot’ station and typically was over a mile away from the actual village. Heading south towards Dorchester the line now begins to fall [cold comfort to those crews who were coming from Dorchester of course] following the line of the River Frome passing through Cattistock and Maiden Newton. Further down the line it ran through Stratton, Charminster and into Dorchester by way of Holy Trinity. All of these parishes had of course been surveyed by John Martin at some time or other. As so often it is a pity that the majority of diaries that cover the period are missing but we get a flavour of his work from those that we do have.

The first entries about the line come from 1845 some twelve years before the actual line was opened indicating perhaps how difficult a line it was to build. It is interesting that he went to see the men boring the tunnel just before Evershot station. The bulk of these entries relate to the lands of the Earl of Ilchester being occupied by Charles Jesty who farmed about three hundred and sixty acres. Martin went to value the land that had been lost to the railroad but presumably made a mistake which had to be corrected before the railroad would pay his compensation.

30th May 1845 Working on the Woodsford & Woolcombe Plans for Lord Ilchester [on Railroads]
27th September 1845 In the Office in the morng and went to Holywell

Went to Chilthorne with Arthur who left a Notice at Wm Bengefields for his quitting my property at Chilthorne in the afternoon to see the men Boring on Railway works

8th August 1854 Went to Holywell & Measured Railway Land for Mr Chas Jesty [dined there].
10th August 1854 Board Day Plotting Chas Jesty’s Railway land &c preparing Fold for Coloring [sic] sheep
22nd August 1854 Went to Holywell & Measured Land taken by Railway of Mr Jesty as SpoilBank
23th August 1854 At Home working on Holywell Land for Mr C Jesty &c
5th September 1854 Went to Holywell respg Mr Jestys Railroad Land Dined at Arthurs with Mr Ingram
8th September 1854 Went to Holywell to Find out mistake in Measuring Railroad Land Mr Jesty and making New Plan
9th September 1854 Went to Holywell & finally Settled the measure of Mr C Jesty’s Railroad Land with Mr Grubber [?]
22nd October 1854 At Home

Reced of Mr Weston for Valuing Railway at Cattistock £2 2s

The railway was at an advanced stage of completion in 1854 and was to open in 1857. By Evershot station the Strangways Hotel was built and the Earl enjoyed considerable rights: “Local landowners had been dictatorial with the right to stop trains here”9 according to Mitchell and Smith. Maggs was slightly more charitable “Lord or Lady Ilchester had powers to stop any train either personally or by signed order”, a right extended to his son Lord Stavordale or the Earls Agent.

How much the Earl used the station is not known but the rights he enjoyed came in useful on the when he fell ill. The Salisbury and Winchester Journal of 2ndJanuary 1858 reported “Alarming illness of the Earl of Ilchester – On Monday evening the Right Hon. The Earl of Ilchester was taken seriously ill at his seat Melbury House near Evershot, and continued very ill throughout the greater part of Tuesday…The early express train from Dorchester on Wednesday morning was specially stopped at Evershot, in order to enable Dr Cowdell of Dorchester and a London medical gentleman by whom he was accompanied to get out for the purpose of attending on his lordship. The professional gentlemen found his lordship we believe still in a rather precarious state..”

Sadly the Earl succumbed on the 3rd January, the Dorset County Chronicle and Somersetshire Gazette wrote an extensive account of the funeral. As this is the last time we will meet the 3rd Earl it is perhaps fitting to say goodbye. The Earl comes across as a modest man who wanted as quiet a funeral as possible “and consequently there was an entire absence of those attendant circumstances which his exalted station would have rendered fitting..” The modest funeral precluded the general tenantry from being “permitted to pay this last sad mark of respect to so good a landlord” but “such were the feelings of some few of the occupiers…that they could not refrain from being present on the occasion.”

Prior to his burial he lay in the house on a bier brought from his seat at Redlynch in a room which only a few weeks before he had attended “to listen to the Melbury choristers and encourage, as ever was his wont the praiseworthy efforts of all around.” His coffin of English oak was “by his Lordships express desire was made on the estate”. He was lowered into his vault “with that absence of pomp and show which so eminently characterised him..”

For John Martin and his son Arthur, this was the last service they would do for a man who was so influential in their lives and fortunes. Both were stewards at the funeral service.10

By the time that we come to the last diary in the series from 1861 Martin was eighty one years old and apart from his farming had given up any surveying. He records going to Dorchester by train on two occasions and sending his sheep to market the same way.

26th January 1861 Went to Dorchester # Train
1st June 1861 Went to Dorchester ^ by Train still carting Dung to Westwoods
3rd October 1861 Pd sending 40 Sheep to Dorchester by Train 8s
11th November 1861 Sheep to Dorchester by train 9s

Previous  Road



1Kain Cartographic analysis of Tithe Maps.

2Roger J. P. Kain, John Chapman, and Richard R. Oliver, The Enclosure Maps of England and Wales, 1595-1918 (Cambridge University Press, 2004).

3In Rutland. London Gazette November 21st 1856

4The Railways of Britain : An unstudied map corpus. Challis and Rush Imago Mundi vol 61 no 2 2009.

5Branch Lines of Dorset Colin Maggs revised 2012

6Held in the name of the Earl of Darlington in the tithe apportionment.

7Just outside of Yeovil.

8The Exeter Yeovil & Dorchester Railway would eventually be subsumed into the Southampton and Dorchester Railway which in turn would become a part of the London and South-Western Railway.

9 Yeovil to Dorchester Mitchell and Smith 1990 Middleton Press

10See section on his work as churchwarden.