The first part of the story of the buses that served the Dorset villages of Crichel and Witchampton
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
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,
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.
Witchampton village in the 1930s
Toomer's timetable from June 1934 - before taking over Stedmans route in 1939
The 1939 timetable when Toomer combined Stedman's service with his own
The timetable above continued unchanged until
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
|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