Railway mania gripped Britain in the 1840s.
Hundreds of proposals to develop railway lines went before Parliament every year. In 1846 Parliament passed 272 bills approving new or extended railways. If all the railways had been built, this would have added 9,500 miles to the national network.
Many of these schemes were never built. Many that were built had no chance of ever being profitable. They were either amalgamated with existing routes and companies, or went bankrupt.
By the 1860s railway mania was coming to an end, quite often with a bang rather than a whimper.
The Corkscrew Railway was part of this mania but with a real difference. The proposal was well backed by local landowners, well thought out, and served its local communities.
It went on to operate for nearly 100 years connecting the small towns and villages along its route. And bringing products to market and people to communities.
Benefits of the Corkscrew railway
The Corkscrew Railway was opened on 1st June 1847 and saved considerable time on many journeys between the towns along the route. It expanded markets for local products.
Communication between Dorset and London was vastly improved. For example, before the 1840’s, journeys between Dorchester and London by stage coach would typically take two and a half days, a journey not to be undertaken lightly. The same railway journey from 1847 took just five and a half hours.
The Corkscrew railway also brought goods and people into Dorset.
Day excursions to the coast became a possibility for many ordinary people. It was the railways that allowed the development of the south coast resorts.
Decline and closure
However, with a thinly spread population along the line, with no major industry, the Corkscrew Line was always vulnerable. Poole and Weymouth lost out to Southampton in terms of port trade. Even more significantly, Bournemouth rapidly expanded from the 1880s as a major settlement with the development of the tourist market. These factors all meant that the Corkscrew soon became a branch line to the main line which was built from Southampton to Bournemouth, and via Poole, through to Dorchester and west.
The Corkscrew Line was closed in the Beeching cuts of 1963, with the current main line to Bournemouth running on the Southampton to Brockenhurst section.