In the 1851 Census, the Wiltshire Parish of Dinton was registered as having a population of 538. A decade later, that figure had fallen to 509 and, in the intervening period, the "Salisbury & Yeovil Railway" had commissioned a single-track line between the cathedral city and Gillingham. A station at Dinton came into use with the line on Monday, 2nd May 1859, little over eight-miles west of Salisbury, serving — as noted above — a very small community. Indeed, the station never had a significant catchment area from which even modest passenger numbers could be generated; however, in the early 20th Century, the environs were developed so that the railway could enjoy the receipts of a new type of traffic: military.
One of the Directors of the Salisbury & Yeovil Railway was one William Wyndham, a South Wiltshire Member of Parliament who lived in Dinton and a local landowner. This likely explains why a station was provided at such a rural outpost. The line was initially single-track, the route having been engineered by Joseph Locke, and was worked from the outset with the assistance of electric telegraph. By May 1863, double-track had been laid between Salisbury and Wilton (inclusive); by the end of the same decade, two-track working was in use all the way to Exeter, the single line originally having reached the latter in July 1860.
At Dinton, two platforms were in evidence from the outset, either side of a passing loop prior to the route’s doubling. The main building was situated on the “up” side of the line and was a variation of a standard design which came into use between Salisbury and Yeovil. In his 1973 book Victorian Stations: Railway Stations in England & Wales, 1830-1923, Gordon Biddle states that the stations between Salisbury and Exeter were designed jointly by William Tite and Edward N. Clifton. The main building at Dinton was as per those at the likes of Tisbury, Milborne Port, and Wilton, being of red-brick construction, two-storeys in height, with the distinctive feature of slate tiles hung on the walls of the upper storey. Indeed, the structure was worthy of a sizeable town, let alone a village of Dinton’s size, and the Station Master’s house formed the vast majority of the building. The “down” side platform was host to much more modest accommodation, a brick-built waiting shelter lacking any refinement sufficing. From the outset, both platforms were linked by a track foot crossing.
Goods facilities comprised a yard on the “up” side, west of the platform, which had a trailing connection with the adjacent running line. The goods shed was not rail-served and, based on early photographs, was a corrugated metal structure with a curved roof. In the 1894-published Seventh Edition of the Hand-Book and Appendix of Stations, Junctions, Sidings, Collieries, &C, of the Railways of the United Kingdom, Dinton was listed as having a 5-ton crane in the goods yard, and was capable of handling “Live Stock Traffic, also the Accommodation for Loading and Unloading Furniture Vans, Carriages, Portable Engines, and Machines on Wheels”. As the diagram on this page illustrates, a few of the sidings required a handful of reversing manoeuvres to access. Trailing crossovers between the running lines, after doubling, were evident east and west of the station.
In about 1875, an LSWR “Type 1” signal box was built little beyond the western end of the “down” platform. It was of similar proportions and appearance to its contemporary at Axminster, comprising a base made out of local stone, a timber upper half, and a hipped slated roof. By the 1899 Ordnance Survey edition, Dinton had acquired a footbridge, sandwiched in-between the main station building and road bridge. A lengthy siding had appeared on the “down” side, east of the station, which made a trailing connection with the adjacent running line; one of the goods yard’s sidings was also extended west.
By 1900, a metal footbridge had been installed east of the station buildings, sandwiched in-between these and the road bridge which crossed the tracks.
Dinton station’s association with the military — which appears to have been far greater in importance than any local passenger traffic the railway generated — started during World War I. As recounted in The Railway Magazine in 1919, a single track branch line, about 2½-miles in length, was opened on 15th October 1915 from the LSWR’s main line at Dinton to a military camp at Fovant, the latter of which was situated south west of the station. The camp was mainly used for Australian troops and a single platform with booking office existed at Fovant. The branch made a trailing connection with the “down” main line and was characterised by sharp curves and gradients as steep as 1 in 35. No fixed signalling system was in place on the branch, which was worked by military personnel on the staff and ticket system. Small tank engines which were suited to the curvature and climbs on the branch were used. By 1919, the camp was used as a demobilisation centre and, such was the volume of traffic that the military station at Fovant required the presence of LSWR staff. The Railway Magazine also indicated that a dedicated platform for the branch line was provided at Dinton: At Dinton, the Fovant Railway platform adjoins the main line, and exchange connections are provided for through traffic. In their book named The LSWR in the Twentieth Century (1988), J. N. Faulkner and R. A. Williams remarked that demobilisation at Fovant ceased on 16th January 1920 and, on 26th February of that year, the branch line to the camp was taken over by the LSWR. The LSWR ran two trains each week to the camp, comprising a maximum of ten wagons each, until closure on 23rd November 1920. An alternative closure date of 18th December 1920 is given in the publication A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: The West Country (1988), which also remarks that the branch line to Fovant reopened on 5th March 1921 and was in operation until 15th February 1924.
In June 1936, the Air Ministry purchased a series of disused quarries and hundreds of acres of land in Chilmark, about two miles west of Dinton. The quarries had ceased production in the previous year and were selected to become munitions stores for the Royal Air Force (RAF). The Air Ministry engaged in talks with the Southern Railway about a rail connection between the company’s Salisbury to Exeter line and the stores at Chilmark and, in October 1936, the laying of a half mile-long single track commenced. The branch to Chilmark opened from the main line in September 1938 and served a series of RAF interchange sidings and sheds (ref: Disasters Underground, N. J. McCamley, 2003), where a 2-foot narrow gauge network was met.
Working in combination with RAF Chilmark was another munitions storage depot, which bordered with Dinton station on the southern side of the main line. Logically named “RAF Dinton”, this was a large area which extended south into Fovant Woods, through which the branch line to the Australian Army Camp formerly ran. Often, RAF Chilmark is the umbrella term used to refer to both the munitions sites there and at Dinton, and the two together made up the largest of the airforce’s internal railway networks. The Dinton site also comprised a maze of 2-foot gauge tracks, and a series of standard gauge sidings were linked by means of a trailing connection with the “down” main line.
Finally, to the east of Dinton station, was another military storage depot by the name of “Baverstock”. This was originally under the auspices of the Royal Navy and comprised a series of standard gauge sidings which made a facing connection with the “up” line, about 150-yards east of the platforms.
We now return to the subject of the station. In connection with the expansion of the sidings at RAF Dinton, the ex-LSWR signal box at the western end of the “down” platform was replaced during World War II by a structure on an immediately adjacent site. The latter was built to a utilitarian design typical of the era, being a rectangular two-storey-high structure with a flat roof, sporting a whitewashed finish. A similar structure came into use at Castle Cary at the same time.
Circa 1960, under British Railways’ Southern Region, the existing footbridge was taken down. In its place, a footbridge of prefabricated concrete construction was installed, the components of which had been manufactured at Exmouth Junction. Concrete bracket lampposts had also appeared on the platforms by this stage. Thereafter, the wheels were set in motion for a story which has been well-told over the years: one of decline. From 1st January 1963, regional border changes resulted in those lines west of Salisbury coming under Paddington’s wing. Then, in March 1963, Dinton station was recommended for closure in the British Transport Commission’s The Reshaping of British Railways report. Of those intermediate stops between Salisbury and Exeter, the only stations not listed for closure were Gillingham, Sherborne, Yeovil Junction, and Honiton. Effective from 7th March 1966, passenger services were withdrawn from Dinton; public goods traffic ceased to be handled from 18th of the following month. Station closures and severe reduction of passenger service frequency made it possible to single large sections of the line between Salisbury and Exeter; that part between Wilton and Templecombe formally went over to single-track working on 2nd April 1967. At the same time, the prefabricated concrete footbridge at Dinton was taken down and re-erected at Gillingham, where it replaced a structure of about 1900 origin, and the former “down” platform was demolished. The singling through the station resulted in all British Rail services in either direction running upon the course of the former “down” line. Two miles of the former “up” line passing through the station were retained for use by the Ministry of Defence, to preserve the rail link between storage depots at Baverstock and RAF Chilmark, east and west of the station respectively. A trailing connection with the military sidings on the south side of the station, known as RAF Dinton, was also kept, and BR retained a staff presence at the site to coordinate MOD movements.
In the 27th January 1988 edition of The Daily Mirror, it was reported that over 1,000 bats had hibernated for the winter at RAF Chilmark. The bats had moved into the ammunition store after the infamous hurricane of 1987. In September 1992, the Government formally announced that RAF Chilmark was to close. This occurred on 1st April 1995, the sites at both Chilmark and Dinton ceasing to be used.
Your author has tried his best to put together a diagram demonstrating the layout of the station, using for reference a combination of photographs, sketches, and period maps. Due to the absence of formal maps showing the layout and connections of the military sidings, I have relied largely on photographs to trace these out.
11th May 1964
An eastward view from the "down" platform includes all main structures bar the signal box, which is behind the cameraman. It is not clear what role the signal box-like structure at the western end of the "up" platform had, for the actual cabin from which the tracks were controlled dated from as early as 1875 and was once situated on a site behind the cameraman. The distinctive hung tiles of the main building are in evidence, as is the plain, but solidly-built, brick waiting shelter on the "down" platform. In the distance can just be seen one of the trailing crossovers and the "up" starter signal, whilst to the bottom left is a shunt signal for the goods yard.
H. C. Casserley / © David Glasspool Collection
A now classic scene typical of that era which immediately followed the line's singling and degraded status as a secondary route. A "Warship" diesel-hydraulic is seen London-bound from Exeter, with what appears to be an ex-SR baggage car and rake of BR Mk 1 carriages in tow. These diesels were popular with enthusiasts, but based on contemporary articles written in the "Railway Correspondence & Travel Society's" journals, they were plagued by unreliability on Waterloo to Exeter workings, and eventually fell foul to the Western Region's policy of standardising on diesel-electric traction. The track upon which the train is seen was the only section of line which remained operational for BR services; the adjacent track, on the right, was used by the MOD for movements between Chilmark and Baverstock Depots. At that time, the "up" side goods yard more or less retained the full complement of sidings it had prior to the withdrawal of public freight traffic. The former "down" platform was no more than a mound of earth and rubble by this stage. On the left is RAF Dinton; both standard and narrow gauge tracks are in evidence.
© David Glasspool Collection