The North Dorset Railway (NDR) currently operates as a working museum on the old Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway line at Shillingstone near Blandford.
The Dorset Central Railway (DCR) amalgamated with the Somerset Central Railway (SCR) on 1 September 1862 to form the Somerset & Dorset Railway (S&DR). At that time the DCR line stopped at Blandford Forum going north from Wimborne Minster. Another section was built from Templecombe to Cole near Bruton where it joined the SCR line to Burnham on Sea. The result of thisad hocbuilding was a gap between Blandford Forum and Templecombe.
The first task of the S&DR, was to fill this gap and build five stations with one of the new stations being at Shillingstone. This was completed by 31 August 1863 and through trains from Wimborne Minster to Burnham on Sea were now possible. The S&DR was now able to boast a Channel-to-Channel service linking with ships to Cardiff and in cooperation with the LSWR south of Wimborne Minster. Unfortunately, it was only a boast. The fact is it was not particularly successful as Burnham was clearly incapable of being developed into a port. The route served only scattered rural communities and traffic consignments were lost owing to a critical shortage of motive power. The end result was that the Railway was placed into administration by the Court of Chancery in 1866.
Following significant reorganisation by the Railway’s Directors, whilst still operating traffic, in 1870 the Receivers were discharged and the Company was allowed to raise funds in the form of debentures. Later that year the S&DR took what proved to be a fatal decision to extend the line from Evercreech Junction to Bath with the first train from Bath leaving on 20 July 1874. Despite being able to link to the Midland Railway line from Mangotsfield and so to the Midlands and north of England, the S&DR always struggled with the cost of motive power, inadequate rolling-stock and track. Net revenue was insufficient to provide proper maintenance and the Directors were faced with either relapsing into the Court of Chancery or selling out. The decision to extend had resulted in financial suicide.
In 1876, by Act of Parliament, The Midland Railway and the London & South Western Railway took over the responsibility for the line having signed a 999-year lease forming the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway (S&DJR) and so Shillingstone Station fell into new ownership. Several letters from the Midland Railway to S&DR shareholders dated 14 April 1899 exist that offer £100 of S&DR shares for £18 of Midland Railway debentures. So, some 23 years after the S&DR ceased to exist many shares in the leased line were bought by this railway giant. However, the Joint Line would no longer be hampered by a shortage of money.
After 1876, the ownership of Shillingstone Station changed hands three more times: to the London Midland and Scottish Railway in 1923, to British Railways in 1948 and finally to Dorset County Council in 1966. The station buildings were used successively by two furniture companies on lease from DCC the latter going in to liquidation in 1998. Finally, and after several years of uncertainty as to its future, the station was leased to North Dorset Railway Trust in 2005 for 99 years and in 2019, the North Dorset Railway was formed replacing the former Trust.
Whilst Shillingstone Station was built by the S&DR, it was to a DCR design and as such is the only surviving DCR designed station. This in itself is of great architectural and historical significance. Little change took place to the station building over the years; it was slightly extended in the early part of the 20thcentury with the addition of a station master’s office and a canopy. The station remained in that condition until the Beeching cuts of 1966 brought traffic on the line to an end with its closure. However, the station building survived with several different uses and owners until in the late 1990’s the North Dorset Railway Trust was formed. The Trust was replaced in 2017 by a new Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) and trade as North Dorset Railway (NDR) today.