Despite the site having been heavily rationalised in the late-1960s as part of a scheme to demote the Salisbury to Exeter route from primary to secondary main line status, Tisbury still echoes the earliest days of the LSWR in Wiltshire. At milepost 96½ from London, a fine main building and a classic platform canopy still give the station a traditional air. In reality, however, it is all such a far cry from the halcyon days on the line, which formerly carried healthy passenger and freight traffic between the south west and the capital.

Tisbury station came into use in May 1859 when a single-track railway opened between Salisbury and Gillingham; sources conflict as to whether this was on the 1st or 2nd of the month. The line had been constructed under the nominally independent "Salisbury & Yeovil Railway", which was backed by the LSWR, and subsequent extensions to Sherborne, Yeovil, and Exeter occurred in May, June, and July 1860 respectively. Double-track working commenced in 1870, the course of the route having been constructed from the outset to accommodate future widening.

Tisbury served one of the larger population centres for an intermediate station along the line. In the 1861 census, this stood at 9,862 people, which marginally increased to 9,898 over the next ten years. It was an attractive station which, like its counterparts along the line, comprised two platforms and a main building (situated on the "up" platform) designed by Sir William Tite. Tite had undertaken much work for the LSWR and, in addition to designing multiple stations between Salisbury and Exeter, he was also responsible for the company's terminal buildings at Nine Elms and Southampton. The structures at Wilton, Dinton, Tisbury, and Semley, all on that section of line which opened in 1859, were of the same basic design. Semley excepted, the walls of the main buildings were slate tile-hung. Arguably not as grand as those main buildings west of Yeovil, such as Axminster and Crewkerne, they were nevertheless pleasing designs, worthy of a main line to the south west.

The Official Guide to the London and South Western Railway, Cassell and Company, Ltd, 1894:

On the north we skirt the Nadder valley of East and West Tisbury, served by Tisbury station, where are a letter-box, a telegraph office, and a bookstall.

Generous canopies existed on both platforms at Tisbury, these being 115-feet long. They were of semi-circular cross section, essentially narrower versions of those which were commissioned at Andover. The canopy on the "down" platform was backed at its rear by a clapboard windbreak, as was the Salisbury end of that on the "up" side, and in the earliest years the platforms were linked at their Yeovil ends by a track foot crossing. On early editions of Ordnance Survey maps is marked "L&SWR Hotel", just west of the station site.

Goods facilities were concentrated at the Yeovil end of the layout, which included a rail-served goods shed on the "up" side of the line and a siding which terminated behind the "down" platform. Such is the complexity of the track formation that it is illustrated in the below diagram. A proportion of the goods traffic was generated by Tisbury Quarries, from where sandstone was extracted.

Circa 1875, an LSWR "Type 1" signal box came into use at the site, this being located at the Yeovil end of the "up" platform, set upon a stone base. By 1900, a fully enclosed footbridge linked both platforms, this being positioned on the Salisbury side of the canopies; a similar structure came into use at nearby Semley at the same time. An additional siding had also been laid in the goods yard, on the "up" side of the line.

The Southern Railway refaced the original platforms with prefabricated concrete; until this time, they were made of the original stone from the 1859 opening, with subsequent heightening in red brick. Thereafter, little changed at Tisbury during the SR's tenure, but this air of calm would later be disturbed by British Railways (BR).

Initially under BR, the Salisbury to Exeter line seemed to have a secure future, which began in 1958 by the upgrading of the signalling at several of the intermediate stations. On 12th October of that year, a new signal box came into use at Tisbury, replacing the LSWR cabin to which it was built immediately adjacent. The then new signal box was a standard BR design of the time, known as "Type 16", being of red brick construction with a flat-roof. Thereafter the story is, sadly, one of great decline, which commenced with the withdrawal of local services from 7th March 1966. This lead to the closure of neighbouring stations at Wilton South, Dinton, and Semley, leaving Tisbury as the only intermediate stop between Salisbury and Gillingham. Public goods traffic at the station ceased on 18th April 1966, but worse was yet to come.

From 2nd April 1967, single line working between Wilton and Templecombe commenced, which had been made possible by service reductions. Tisbury's signal box had closed on 5th February of that year and control of that part of the line was taken over by the panel at Gillingham. The "down" platform was taken out of use and the structures on that side razed to the ground, but the surface was retained and eventually became part of a car park for the adjacent works of "Parmiter Agricultural Machinery", posts being erected along the edge. Naturally, the footbridge was made surplus as a result of single-track working and, as a result, taken down.

In March 1986, a short section of double-track, about 600-yards in length, was reinstated north east of the station. This became a passing loop to enable a more reliable service to be run, given that single-track working provided no flexibility for catching up on time for late-running trains. Originally controlled from a panel at Salisbury, the loop was not installed through the station, because the former "down" side had been absorbed into an industrial site. Although room still exists for a second track to pass through the station, such a formation would prevent "down" trains serving the operational platform face.

Tisbury: Track Plan 1925

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool


A Salisbury-bound view captures the remaining operational platform face which was left after singling of the line in 1967. Note the slate tiles hung on the main building's wall surfaces, which were common features of stations between Salisbury and Yeovil. They were not, however, unique to the line and, even though they have since been removed from Tisbury, the tiles can still be observed on the former Station Master's house at Ashurst, New Forest. The surviving canopy was looking tired by this time; the same design once graced the former "down" platform. Prominent in the left foreground is the former signal box of 1958, which since the year of this photograph had contained a back-up emergency panel to control that section of the line between Tisbury Loop and Gillingham, in the event of any signalling failures. Since 27th February 2012, this section of the line has been controlled from Basingstoke Signalling Centre. © David Glasspool Collection