Cheap day excursions on the railway were a new phenomenon in the late 1800s. Most passenger traffic initially was for business by both merchants and professionals, as many workers could not afford the time away from work or the fare.
The First Excursion
However the first day excursion from Dorchester to Southampton was scheduled for August 1849.
There was a huge demand as extensive travel for most Dorset folk had not been possible previously. Eventually 21 carriages and 41 open trucks set off from Dorchester at 5.18 am with three engines, and headed for the bright lights of Southampton.
Many of the passengers onboard were leaving Dorset for the first time in their lives. They would not have seen a town the size of Southampton. And Southampton was itself then expanding rapidly with the arrival of the railway from London in 1842. The first of the docks for the new port had been opened in Southampton in 1843.
The excursion train arrived back in Dorchester at 02.10 am the following day with many passengers very sound asleep, Passengers in the open trucks were allowed to sleep on till dawn, but those in the carriages had to wake and leave as the carriages were needed for the ‘Up Mail’ which was now late!
A first in Weymouth as well
A first rail excursion to Weymouth caused controversy when that town was reached by the railway in January 1857. In early September that year 1000 cheap day excursion passengers arrived at Weymouth. This caused much anxiety in the town. Tradesmen were worried that the day trippers would put off their traditional (and more wealthy) week long holiday residents.
Day trips by train became common place for many towns along the south coast over the next 50 years. Posters designed to publicise these trips are now sought after collectors’ items.