Fovant Military Railway
In 1995, Peter Adcock contributed an article to ‘Two Towers’ then the local community magazine, in which he said
Ever since I came to Fovant in 1978 I have been fascinated by the legacy of the Fovant military railway. Evidence such as the cutting at The Hanging and the railway sleepers used as fencing posts exist, but did no one know that one engine used on the line still runs today? This is Westminster [resplendent in] holly green with polished brass and copper.
In 1915, as the camps at Fovant grew in size, A spur line was built from Dinton station to the camps at Fovant for the easier transportation of supplies, equipment and wounded men returning from active service for rehabilitation and retraining. It ran from a junction on the down side of the London and South Western Railway main line at Dinton,
over the Nadder on a girder bridge (removed in 1995 after the closure of RAF Chilmark) and ran through the fields of Old Russells, Mains and Broom Close (See the NW sector of the Enclosure maps) to Fovant, crossing Dinton Road near the house now called ‘Crossing Gates’.
It then passed where allotments used to be and The Hanging (Hanging Ground), crossing the A30 to end at the Compton Chamberlayne boundary in a goods yard. The passenger platform was 100 yards west of the yard, in front of what is now The Emblems Restaurant.
It was opened on 15 October 1915 and closed on 18 December 1920. It then reopened on 5 March 1921 for a short time, to assist in removing materials from the camps, finally being taken out of use on 15 February 1924. The track was lifted in about 1926.
The line was two and a half miles in length and had a ruling gradient of 1 in 35, which was a severe test for the engines which pulled the loads,
In 1965 the well-know railway author and artist, C. Hamilton Ellis wrote ‘The Splendour of Steam’ which was published by Allen & Unwin and in it he devoted a section to the Fovant Military Railway.
PEACE or war, there were always soldiers about Salisbury Plain; only in war they overflowed more, and so it was that the railway came to Fovant, hitherto a dreaming village south of the Nadder, right under the Downs.
None of Fovant’s dreams had concerned advent of such a thing. But the War Office had winded the place, and pounced on it soon after the outbreak of war in 1914. Strong men descended on the Nadder Valley, and made a new scar along its southern slope. Their excavations even disturbed some British subjects who had been lying there since men first made scars on this country. One had been buried with his weapons, and still showed his broken nose with mute soldierly pride.
While the railway was a-building, an army of steam traction engines – Burrells, Fowlers, Claytons, Fodens, Little Giants, with their trailers, ploughed the Fovant road to mire. On October 15, 1915, the Fovant Military Railway was opened, from a trailing junction on the down side of the London and South Western main line at Dinton to the big camp which had grown so suddenly in the hills. It was 2 ½ miles long, with a ruling grade of 1 in 35, and a staring red girder bridge over the lazy little river. To it went the handsome saddle-tank engine Westminster , which Peckett and Sons of Bristol had built to War Office order in the previous year. There was no khaki austerity about her; she was painted holly green, with great wealth of polished brass and copper, and there was no nonsense about wartime economy either when cleaners were under a sergeant-major. To Fovant, too, came soldiers who had known only the Darling Downs and the Canterbury Plain. South Wiltshire acquired some more honourable scars, for through the short turf of its high chalk they cut enormous likenesses of their Regimental badges.
Other engines came to supplement Westminster . There was a slatternly little Manning Wardle from somewhere or other, a handsome Beyer Peacock 4-4-2 tank engine of the London and South Western, then something with a brass dome and side-tanks that came right forward to the front line of the smokebox. But Westminster , at any rate in the eyes of very early youth, was Queen of Fovant. Peckett engines were always extremely stylish, whether they served an English gasworks or a jungle line in Sarawak.
My drawing shows Westminster climbing the south side of the valley. On the north side can be seen a London and South Western train. Beyond that is the little wood called Black Furlong, and beyond that again is the great Ridge Wood above Teffont. When the end came I was still a small boy. By the time I was twelve I had seen the birth, life and death of a railway. The F.M.R.’s last job, like the camp’s, had to do with demobilisation. While that was on, it had a regular passenger service, as well as troop specials galore, the London and South Western company lending the carriages. Then its formation crumbled back into some of the oldest of British earth. There is not much of a scar nowadays.
But Westminster lasted much longer. In 1961 I found her in the service of the Associated Portland Cement organisation at Shipton-on-Cherwell.
(Despite an extensive search it has not been possible to trace the copyright of this piece of work. Any information on that topic will be appreciated).
But Westminster lasted even longer than that. See the links below for more of her history.
One of those engines which excited the attention of Peter, Westminster, was a standard 0-6-0 saddle tank, built in 1914 by Peckett and Sons at Bristol. It stayed on the F.M.R. until its closure. After its departure nothing is known of the loco until it came into the hands of the Associated Portland Cement Company at Dunstable in about 1950. In 1952 it was transferred to the APCC limestone quarries near Oxford where it worked until August 1969.
Fortunately, Peter Davis, who was born at Hindon and lived at The Gables, High Street, Fovant during the Second World War, came across the information that Westminster was still in use by APCC. By co-incidence Peter was working for them at that time. He quickly made arrangements to acquire the loco on withdrawal, which turned out to be imminent.
The engine was purchased for just £50 and moved by Ameys of Oxford to the Kent and East Sussex Railway in September 1970. Unfortunately the engine was regarded as a low priority project by the K&ESR and suffered further deterioration while stored there. Eventually Westminster was moved to a private site at East Tisted Station on the old Meon Valley line and then to the Northampton and Lamport Railway where it is undergoing extensive renovation.
Many more details and photographs can be seen on the stock list of their excellent website. We hope to keep up to date and will add to the photos of the renewed Westminster if we can.
What can be seen today
Dinton railway station
Although no trains now stop at Dinton station, the buildings and part of the old track layout can still be seen from the adjacent road bridge.
Old track bed
It is also possible to trace the path of the railway (shown in dashed blue) near many of the footpaths between Dinton and Fovant. Embankments and cuttings are still visible today
Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.
Each of the photographs below has a number which corresponds to a red circle on the map. The photos may be enlarged by clicking on them.
The National Grid reference number is also given for those who may wish to take their own photographs. For more details of the paths that the railway crossed, just click on the links underneath the pictures.
With thanks to Peter Adcock (who did the research on Westminster ) and to the late Bryan Lee for many of the technical details. GA Pryer must also be acknowledged for the diagram of the rails at Dinton station, from his book Track Layout Diagrams of the Southern Railway.
An excellent book named “The Fovant Military Railway” has just (2017) been written and published by Peter A. Harding. For further details click on the following link to turn to Peter Harding’s Mail Order Form
Content last updated
14 August 2017