In the middle of the 19th century the inhabitants of Poole, like many others across the country, experienced a transport revolution. Armies of navvies invaded to remodel the local landscape and section by section, the railway arrived, snaking across the heath, looping out to sea, leaping over roads and tracks on beautifully constructed brick arches, striding high over the Bourne Valley on towering viaducts and slicing through the busiest streets in town. Even before the first branch line entered the borough, the effects of the railway revolution were being felt in long distance travel. By the time the local network was finally pieced together, the change in people’s lives was dramatic.
The first line to reach Poole was the tortuous Southampton to Dorchester route which passed through the area of Corfe Hills (then just heath and farmland) before looping towards ‘Poole Junction’ (now Hamworthy station) and on towards Wareham. A single track branch left the main line at Poole Junction and came down the Hamworthy peninsular to a station right by the harbour’s edge. From here, passengers for Poole crossed the creaking wooden bridge to reach the main town. The line opened in June 1847 with immediate effect on local coaching services as reported in the local press. ‘The opening of this new line has turned some of our old friends, the stage coaches off the road. . . The Union, Southampton and Poole, performed its last journey down on Tuesday night, and up on Wednesday morning, much to the regret of its worthy proprietor and driver, Mr. George Wiltshire, and will, in a few days, be off the road altogether.’ Mr. Wiltshire’s customers raised a subscription as a testimonial to his nine years’ service, but he was soon appointed manager of the railway goods department. Meanwhile William Furmage, landlord of the London Tavern, High Street, had started a horse-drawn omnibus service from the new station to his hotel and another to Bournemouth, which had no railway station of its own.
During the next 25 years, local people took advantage of their connection to the national network, in spite of the sensational accounts of railway accidents which often featured in the press. Excursion trains were run to London for the Christmas market and the Smithfield Show. In 1850 it was reported that 54 passengers boarded an excursion train at Poole which was 44 coaches long by the time it reached London. In 1851, special trains allowed Poole people to join the national rush to visit the Great Exhibition. Other excursion trains took locals to Dorchester for the Candlemas Fair, to Exeter, to Southampton to see the Great Eastern and to the races at Weymouth and Goodwood.
It was not until December 1872 that the railway reached the main town of Poole via a branch line from a new junction at Corfe Hills (later named Broadstone after a local farm). The new Poole station was located in Longfleet just outside the town centre and the line passed through largely undeveloped heathland before following the edge of Holes Bay into town. On the opening day, crowds of people visited the station and took the opportunity to visit the new junction. The Poole Station Master, Mr. Potter, was reported to have been connected with the South Western Railway Company all his life.
The next stage of the railway, from Poole to a new station west of Bournemouth, was much more challenging from an engineering point of view. Shortly after leaving the station, the line had to cross Towngate Street and High Street, both busy routes. The cost of creating embankments and either railway or road bridges was considered prohibitive and so after much debate, level crossings and footbridges were provided. This decision would affect access, particularly to High Street, right up to the present day. Beyond High Street the line curved boldly out to sea, or rather across the mudflats of Parkstone Bay on a low embankment. A sluice allowed sea water to flow in and out of the basin cut off by the railway. Then the line began to climb steeply towards ‘the pretty little village of Parkstone’, on an embankment about three quarters of a mile long and in places nearly 30 feet high, involving a number of bridges over roads and tracks. This stretch, sometimes reaching a gradient of 1:60, would prove a challenge for locomotives but provide travellers with a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. After the station at Parkstone, situated in a deep cutting, the line curved north and then south east to the new Bournemouth West station in what is now Westbourne.
The opening of the long awaited Poole and Bournemouth line on 15th June 1874 was proclaimed as a red letter day in the local press. ‘As may be supposed on Monday last the carriages of nearly every train between Poole and Bournemouth were crowded and large numbers of persons assembled near the Poole, Parkstone and Bournemouth railway stations to witness the arrival and departure of the trains.’ Temporary time tables were published and it was hoped that the permanent time table would provide ‘an early train for the benefit of the working class . . not later than six o’clock in the morning. Very many mechanics and others who work at Bournemouth are compelled, owing to the difficulty of obtaining lodgings in the place, to walk to and from Poole daily.’
Also opened on 15th June was a street tramway from Poole Station to the Quay, providing an important link between the port and the national rail network. The single track ran down Nile Row and West Quay Road on to the Quay with a couple of passing loops. All sorts of goods coming in and out of the port, timber from Norway and the Baltic, coal, grain and fish, could now be transferred to the railway trucks for local or more distant distribution. Other industries were quick to see the value of the railway connection. In late 1874, Jennings’ South Western Pottery opened a goods line from their works to Parkstone Station about three quarters of a mile away. Another line connected to their private pier at Salterns, giving them excellent transport links to bring in coal and send out their pipes, bricks and other products. Later, other companies such as Sharp Jones and Co. Ltd of Bourne Valley Pottery developed their own private lines, linking to the railway network.
The railway became part of people’s lives, connecting places but also separating them with its cuttings, embankments, bridges, tunnels and crossings. The railway architecture of stations, goods yards, signal boxes and engine sheds became familiar. Railway hotels sprang up near every station, the Poole one being in Towngate Street. The small village of Broadstone began to grow up around the new junction with a few villas and cottages, a church, shop and school.
Over the next couple of decades, the network was filled in with a line connecting Bournemouth’s two stations, via a curving viaduct of 10 arches over the upper Bourne Valley, which dwarfed nearby houses. In 1893, another viaduct was built to the west of the first, allowing trains to run directly from Bournemouth East to Poole bypassing the West station. A new station was opened at Branksome. Finally, the causeway carrying the line across Holes Bay was completed, putting Poole on the main line at last. Over 50 years there had been a major change in national and local infrastructure and decisions had been made which would affect people’s lives for decades to come.