The South Dorset Light Railway (Harry Marshall)

This layout began as a two- board retirement project by my father in the mid-60’s.
After he passed away I took it on and developed his terminal station plan into the seaside terminus of a fictional branch line westwards from Dorchester in Dorset.


His hidden sidings became an intermediate halt with passing loop and rail-connected industry. I arranged the two stations in such a way that activity at one depicted place is not readily observed by a viewer of the other location, thus expanding the perceived distance between them. The layout was completed with a hidden sidings complex representing Dorchester and beyond concealed under a representation of Dorset down land.


Trains traverse three quarters of a circle as they pass the round the layout, providing three viewing sides for observers. On leaving the hidden sidings via a short tunnel, they reach a low curving bridge across a river (supposedly the river Bride) via a short valley.
Beside the line a small water mill, fed from the river is portrayed. Actually, this is a scale model of a period building that exists in the grounds of the National Trust property called Batemans in Sussex, formerly the home of Rudyard Kipling. I made the waterwheel turn continuously at exactly the same speed as the real thing, timed on site, regardless of the odd looks of spectators!


Adjacent to the mill is the deliberately modern (1930’s) cheese factory complex at the intermediate station, Litton Cheney. This is a single platform with passing loop, and a siding to the factory, approached through a gate “operated” by ‘Fred’ who seems very attached to his task. Specifically for children to notice, the door to the factory furnace room is open, and the flicker of the fire inside may be seen. This halt is supposed to have been re-signalled by the Southern Railway when the cheese factory was opened a few years ago, so we have (working) upper quadrant signals on recycled rail posts.


On leaving Litton Cheney, the line turns right again, passing through rural scenery and beside a chalk cliff to reach the terminus, Burton Bradstock. Here we have the fringe of the village behind the more modern station buildings, with a single island platform giving a bay road on one side and a run-round loop on the other. The sidings to handle the usual freight are evident, but the principal business of this village is fish, both fresh and smoked which is despatched to London and elsewhere by rail. A siding off the shunting neck ends at a platform in front of the fish market building for this traffic. This station is still using the original lower-quadrant signalling on wooden posts, now somewhat tatty but working nonetheless.


Anyone familiar with the real area this layout depicts will know that there is no harbour at Burton Bradstock, but the location of the caravan site at the mouth of the real river Bride could have been developed in that way…. Similarly, the mill at Litton Cheney is totally unlike the real one in the village, but I did not live in Dorset when that scene was first built, based only on the evidence of an Ordnance Survey map.


This layout has been created partly to portray the way that the arrival of a railway influenced the local development, and partly the manner in which a railway company set about providing the services required by the rural communities it served. To that end, a daily service of trains is shown, starting with the morning workman’s service, then to the various freight operations, interspersed with local and occasional main-line passenger workings, operated in the style of the Southern Railway in the inter-war years.
The vehicles used range the whole gamut from untouched commercial items through kits to scratch-built items, and date from the 1960’s onwards. Locomotives with one exception are Wills kits, two of which were assembled for my father’s original scheme, hence the Isle of Wight 02 and E1, since his interest was in the Island lines.  The important selection criterion was suitability to the needs of the traffic that this layout depicts.


Scenically, hills are carved polystyrene foam under plaster coloured with children’s powder paint during mixing, coated with a wild variety of flocks from all sorts of sources. Structures are universally card, either Superquick kits modified as required or scratch items using Superquick papers for surface finishes. The exception is the mill building, which was a card kit sold in the actual building, the N. T. shop at that property. Fencing is a mix of Ratio and handmade, to suit the location and purpose. Electrically the layout is firmly analogue, arranged in three control areas with rudimentary block signalling between stations. The hidden sidings feature a rolling tray of five roads, motor driven, and many of the buildings are illuminated when required, controlled by automatic sequencing electronics.


Over the years this layout has been operated at shows by friends of mine from both the Wimbledon and Weymouth clubs, to whom I am most grateful. I also acknowledge the information kindly provided by an ex-employee of Unigate plc with regard to the cheese factory, and the National Trust for conserving in working order the tiny watermill at Batemans.