The first part of the story of the buses that served the Dorset villages of Crichel and Witchampton

In memory of my friend and colleague
Geoff Toomer
1932 - 2021

Lying tucked away between the river Allen and gentle wooded hills, Witchampton has been described as one of the most beautiful villages in the county of Dorset. The winding village street is flanked by timbered and thatched cottages with pretty gardens. You come into the village across the clear waters of the river Allen by means of a stone faced brick bridge built in 1795, still bearing a transportation to Australia warning notice for anyone wilfully damaging the bridge, issued by the county clerk in days long gone by.

The transport routes of this area have their origins in the horse drawn days of the 19th century, with an appropriately named carrier called Benjamin Carter.   It became  a motor bus service in the 1920s, run originally by Ernie Toomer from his home at Manswood, near the village bakehouse.   There were two routes from Manswood, Crichel and Witchampton via High Lea and Stanbridge to Wimborne Minster; and the other from Witchampton, Manswood and Long Crichel to Blandford Forum via the Tarrant valley.  Initially the Wimborne route ran on Tuesday and Friday and the Blandford route on Thursday mornings and Saturday mornings and evenings.  There were two distinct Saturday routes to Blandford, in the morning direct from Witchampton to Tarrant Keyneston, omitting Manswood and Long Crichel.  The evening service followed the Thursday route via Long Crichel and Tarrant Monkton, but omitted Tarrant Keyneston. Market day in Blandford was Thursday and in Wimborne it was Tuesday.  In pre-war years E H Lyne of Tarrant Rushton was also running into Blandford from the Tarrant villages on the same days as Toomer.

The area served had only a modest population, the total for the two Crichel parishes plus Witchampton being 816 according to the 1931 census figures.  A school contract was held for scholars between Witchampton and Wimborne from 1931.  The Wimborne bus route grew from two days a week to daily operation after the nearby business of Richard Stedman of Moor Crichel was acquired in July 1939 (he was providing a twice daily service from Moor Crichel and Witchampton to Wimborne over practically the same route as Toomer). 

Toomer's Blandford route always remained a two days a week market day type of service, although the Saturday operation was suspended from 1939 until 1978.  This was because Toomer only had one vehicle at the time in 1939 and was now running to Wimborne on additional days after taking over from Stedman, and is confirmed by the timetables published in Notices and Proceedings at the time.  There was no bus to Wimborne on Thursday morning when the bus (TK7292 presumably) had gone to Blandford.

We know that Stedman (born 1866) had two small buses at different times, TK1242 (a Ford supplied new to him in 1928 by F English of Bournemouth) and WX3978, the latter being a 14-seater.  Neither vehicle passed to Toomer with the service.  Stedman's principal occupation is believed to have been as a chauffeur cum gardener for Crichel Estates.

Richard Stedman of Crichel
Timetable September 1934

Leave Crichel (White Farm) for Wimborne
via Witchampton, High Lea and Clapgate:

09.20  daily
14.50  except Wednesday and Saturday
17.20  Wednesday and Saturday only

Return departures from Wimborne:

13.15  daily
17.15  except Wednesday and Saturday
21.00  Saturday (to Witchampton only)
21.15  Wednesday
22.00  Saturday

After the services were amalgamated  Toomer diverted from his original route between Manswood and Witchampton to double run the short distance to and from Moor Crichel.  Interestingly Toomer applied to reduce some of his fares at this time, eg Long Crichel to Wimborne from 1/3 single to 1/1; Manswood to Wimborne from 1/- to 10d (but the return fares stayed the same, as did the single and return fares from Witchampton).  An additional fare stage was inserted between Manswood and Witchampton at Crichel.

Witchampton village in the 1930s
Witchampton village 1930s

Toomer's timetable from June 1934 - before taking over Stedmans route in 1939
Toomer's timetable from the 1930s

The 1939 timetable when Toomer combined Stedman's service with his own

No Sunday service            
Not Tuesday
Not Wednesday
Wednesday Saturday  
Not Thursday only Not Saturday only only  
Long Crichel PO   ----   9.15   ----   ----   5.20  
Manswood   9.30   9.30   3.15   5.00   5.35  
Crichel (White Farm)   9.35   9.35   3.20   5.05   5.40  
Witchampton   9.45   9.45   3.30   5.15   5.45  
Stanbridge   9.55   9.55   3.40   5.25   5.55  
Wimborne (Cornmarket) 10.00 10.00   3.45   5.30   6.00  
No Sunday service            
Not Thursday Monday, Thursday   Tuesday Saturday Wednesday Saturday
  and Friday   only only only only
Wimborne (Cornmarket) 12.45   5.15   5.15   9.00   9.15 10.00
Stanbridge 12.50   5.20   5.20   9.05   9.20 10.05
Witchampton   1.00   5.30   5.30   9.15   9.30 10.15
Crichel (White Farm)   1.10   5.40   5.40   ----   9.40 10.25
Manswood   1.15   5.45   5.45   ----   9.45 10.30
Long Crichel   ----   ----   6.00   ----   ---- 10.45

The timetable above continued unchanged until April 1948.  The service was then increased to include daily operation to Long Crichel (although the registered timetable appears to show no journey from Long Crichel on Friday). This timetable lasted until a further revision in July 1953.   In June 1949 the return departure time of the Thursday only Blandford service was advanced from 2.30 to 1.30.   Other service alterations included the extension of some journeys on the Wimborne service to Hemsworth from June 1950, initially leaving from Hemsworth at 8.45 on Tuesday and 9.05 on Friday mornings.  The return journeys were by extension from Manswood to Hemsworth of the existing journeys leaving Wimborne at 11.00 on Tuesday and 5.15 on Friday.

Tu Th Mo We Tu Fr Sa Sat only Mo Tu Wed Sat Not Wed Sat only
Fr Sa       Th Fr   Not Sun  
Long Crichel (Lower Farm)   9.05   9.50 -----   ----   2.50   4.50   ----   ----
Manswood   9.15 10.00 11.35   1.30   3.00   5.00   7.45   9.40
Crichel   9.20 10.05 11.40   1.35   3.05   5.05   7.50   9.45
Witchampton   9.30 10.15 11.50   1.45   3.15   5.15   8.00   9.55
Stanbridge   9.40 10.25 12.00   1.55   3.25   5.25   8.10 10.05
Wimborne (Cornmarket)   9.50 10.35 12.10   2.05   3.35   5.35   8.20 10.15
Tu Fr Sa Mo Tu Tu Fr Sa Sat only Mo Tu Not Wed Wed only Sat only
  We Th     Th Fr Not Sun    
Wimborne (Cornmarket) 11.00 12.45   1.15   4.20   5.15   8.20   9.15 10.20
Stanbridge 11.10 12.55   1.25   4.30   5.25   8.30   9.25 10.30
Witchampton 11.20   1.05   1.35   4.40   5.35   8.40   9.35 10.40
Crichel 11.30   1.15   1.45   4.50   5.45   8.50   9.45 10.50
Manswood 11.35   1.20   1.50   4.55   5.50   8.55   9.50 10.55
Long Crichel (Lower Farm) -----   ----   2.00   ----   6.00   ---- 10.00 11.05
● Long Crichel Tuesday and Saturday only             ◊ Long Crichel Thursday only
Sunday service - from Long Crichel at 9.50 June to September or 1.20 October to May;  also 4.30 from Manswood all year
Returning - from Wimborne to Manswood 10.35 June to September or 2.10 October to May;  8.20 to Long Crichel all year

In May 1948 a new route was introduced between Witchampton, Manswood and Crichel to Crichel Golf Turning.  This short route gave connections at the latter point with the Hants & Dorset service 97 to and from Salisbury.  Three journeys were provided on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, leaving Witchampton at 8.50, 1.50 and 6.50.  Returning from Crichel Golf Turning at 11.44, 2.44 and 7.44 (Tues/Thurs) 9.44 (Saturday).  This was short-lived and the service was amended from June 1949 to operate from Witchampton through Crichel, Manswood and Long Crichel to a point designated as Long Crichel End (the junction with the A354 main road).  Connections to Wilts & Dorset service 34 were made here for journeys to and from Salisbury.  It was a shorter journey from here to the cathedral city than that afforded by the somewhat circuitous route of the 97.  The service was now Tuesday and Saturday only and left Witchampton at 8.10, 1.00 and 7.00 (Tues) or 8.35 (Sat).  Returning from Long Crichel End at 8.45, 1.35 and 7.40 (Tues) or 9.30 (Sat).  These journeys were discontinued in October 1953.

One of the unsolved mysteries associated with this route were additional timings added to the Wimborne service, between High Lea and Wimborne only, from February 1949.  There is no obvious reason for them and they do not appear to be at the right time to be garage workings or shoppers or schools services.  Southwards these extras left High Lea at 11.50 am on Monday and 6.00 pm on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.  Northwards leaving Wimborne at 10.30 am Wednesday, 11.00 am Thursday and 9.30 am Sunday. The reasons lost in the mists of time.

Ernie Toomer ran his routes for the best part of forty years, latterly with the help of his son Geoff.  During the war years it often seemed that more parcels and shopping lists were carried than passengers!  Ernie retired from running the Crichel and Witchampton Bus Services in 1957. His sons Geoff and Len did not wish to assume responsibility for the business and the routes passed to Reg Essex in January 1958 who operated them from Stanbridge Garage, a petrol station and car repair shop a few miles north of Wimborne.  The trading name became Stanbridge Motor Services at this time.  Three vehicles passed from Toomer to Essex, all were Bedford OB's. Ernie passed over in 1963 aged 69 years and is buried in Long Crichel churchyard alongside his wife Beatrice who died in 1970.

Toomer's fleet over the years, until 1958   into fleet out of fleet  
PR2663 Ford 14 seats June 1924 1932 to Pitt, Amesbury
TK7292 Bedford WLB 20 seats Apr 1925 1942 from Pitt (dealer), Amesbury
APR241 Bedford MLZ 20 seats Jan 1940 Jan 1950  
CJT864 Bedford OB 29 seats Jan 1948 Jan 1958 to Essex t/a Stanbridge M S
EDV975 Bedford WTB 26 seats Jan 1950 Aug 1957  
DVH645 Bedford OB 29 seats Dec 1952 Jan 1958 to Essex t/a Stanbridge M S
GAB167 Bedford OB 30 seats July 1957 Jan 1958 to Essex t/a Stanbridge M S
The first four registrations are local Dorset issues, and the acquisition dates are approximately correct to suggest these vehicles may have been  bought new.  The last three vehicles have distant registrations, suggesting second hand acquisitions (EDV is Devon, DVH Huddersfield and GAB Worcestershire).  TK7292 was sold to another Dorset operator, Bere Regis & District Motor Services. Post war there were two vehicles in the fleet, growing to three a few months before the sale by Toomer to Essex.

apr241 Bedford MLZ   jad559 Guy Vixen
APR241, a Bedford MLZ 20 seater, purchased new by Ernie Toomer in 1940, goes about its wartime duties
(photo from the R Grimley collection)
  JAD559, a Guy Vixen of Stanbridge Motor Services, disposed of in 1963.  It was new to Macklins of Sherborne in 1949.
(photo from the R Marshall collection)

Little changed (including the fares) under the stewardship of Reg Essex except that from 15th February 1972 some of the journeys on the Wimborne route were diverted to double run from High Lea cross roads to the village of Hinton Martell, after the Hants & Dorset 97A route stopped serving that village.  At that time the Monday, Wednesday and Sunday services were withdrawn from the Wimborne route.  As late as 1977 the single fare from Wimborne to Witchampton was only 6p.  In fact fares had not been revised since 1964 apart from a 1p increase on the fares to Wimborne in 1972.  To show how low the Stanbridge fares were at this time, Hants & Dorset were charging 43p for a single journey of nine miles - the same distance as Wimborne to Long Crichel, for which the fare was 9p.

A further generation of ownership of the Crichel and Witchampton bus services took place when Reg Essex retired in April 1977 and sold the business.  The new proprietor was John Walker who had been traffic manager of Cosy Coaches (and Rossmore Bus) in Parkstone.  A modest and somewhat overdue fares increase took place!

Toomer's timetable obtained in July 1953 - although not shown Hemsworth was served on Tuesday and Friday
Toomer's timetable from May 1955 - including the service to and from Hemsworth first introduced in 1950
1950 timetable
timetable including Hemsworth

  Stanbridge Motor Services timetable dating from the take over in 1958.
Even after all these years the influence of the pre-war Stedman timetable can still be seen,
with an evening service on Wednesdays rather than an afternoon service.

1960 timetable

Lastly - the classic Stanbridge shot.  Thames VFN549, the regular performer on the Wimborne route in the 1970s -

with driver Geoff Toomer (son of founder Ernie Toomer) at the wheel.  Geoff drove for all the various operators

over the years, having turned down the chance to take over the business from his father.   The picture was taken

in Wimborne Square on the Saturday of the special Queens Jubilee bank holiday weekend, 4th June 1977.

vfn549 in Wimborne Square 1977

Join me for a Saturday driving Stanbridge bus VFN549 round the Dorset lanes in the late 1970s

Or click here to go the second part of the Crichel and Witchampton story

Please note - this is a site of historical record and does not contain current service information