This week in Looking Back we will be looking at the man who failed to bring the railway to Charmouth.

Sir John Hawkshaw - whose CV boasts the first attempt at the Channel Tunnel, advisor to the Suez Canal and Amsterdam Canal, construction of the Severn Tunnel, Cannon Street and Charing Cross stations, completion of Clifton suspension bridge and many other important projects - was a contemporary of Islambard Kingdom Brunel, and his achievements were to be greater than his.

Thank you to Neil Mattingly, who provided the information for this piece.

Sir John Hawkshaw, who lived from 1811 until 1891, came to the attention of Neil recently.

Neil said: "I recently purchased a metal plaque with the inscription, "Presented by J. Hawkshaw Esq. to the Charmouth Cricket Club 1865".

"The name rang bells to me as that of the famous engineer who once tried to link Charmouth, Lyme Regis and Bridport with a railway that would have joined the main line at Chard."

The plate was originally fitted on the front of a roller which Mr Hawkshaw donated to Charmouth Cricket Club, and is the only memorial to the engineer ever being in Charmouth.

Mr Hawkshaw was already a renowned engineer when in 1864, he purchased three substantial estates in West Dorset.

The first was the Manor of Charmouth from George Frean, which encompassed most of the fields south of The Street.

The second was Poulett House and its grounds in Lyme Regis, the third Lily Farm in Charmouth from the trustees of The Bishop of Llandaff and other houses and fields in both places.

The estates were purchased for a number of reasons, including the creation of a country estate with Poulett House, now the Alexandra Hotel as its focus.

However his main ambition was the construction of a railway from Bridport Station (opened in 1857), through Charmouth, Lyme Regis and Axminster (opened in 1860) and linking it to the main line at Chard.

If successful, the value of his properties would have risen substantially as a result.

At the time of the purchases, he was renting Everleigh Manor, near Andover, and had previously stood as Liberal Candidate in 1863, where he was unsuccessful.

A family friend who often stayed with him was John Gould, the famous ornithologist, who was born in Lyme Regis where his father was the gardener at Poulett House.

It was Mr Gould who told Mr Hawkshaw about the forthcoming sale of Poulett House, which at the time was owned by Colonel William Pinney, who was standing down as MP for Lyme Regis after 33 years.

This provided Mr Hawkshaw the opportunity of returning to politics just two years after his defeat at Andover.

He offered voters the promise of a new railway station and line linking it to the rest of Britain.

Charmouth would also have a new station and line if successful.

Mr Hawkshaw set out to provide the best service he could, especially in Charmouth, which formed part of the constituency.

His good will saw him design and build a water supply from a reservoir which he had built in a field on his land at Lily Farm.

A reporter in an edition of the Bridport News in June, 1865 said: "Through the kindness and liberality of Mr Hawkshaw, a great boon is about to be conferred on this place, in the shape of a plentiful supply of pure water, in which, indispensable, requesting Charmouth has hitherto been poorly of."

Taps were positioned by the side of the street for the use of those who did not possess a well or pump, with signs of these in the walls of properties still visible today.

As a landlord he was generous, providing a spread for his tennants to enjoy, and coal to every poor family.

The original plans for the Bridport, Lyme and Axminster railway are currently kept at the Devon Archives in Exeter, which show a very detailed route and cross section of the countryside, with a tunnel at Penn Hill.

The Charmouth Station would have been built on a field where the recreation ground at the back of The Street is today, then owned by Henry Compton, with its entrance at Barrs Lane.

Hawkshaw was not the first to draw up a plan for the railway, as Joseph Locke submitted detailed plans to parliament for a line with a station behind the Catherston cottages for the Yeovil and Dorchester Railway in 1846.

In the same year, Brunel planned a line linking Charmouth with Yeovil and Bridport for the Great Western, but both of these failed due to a lack of money.

The Bridport News reported the new attempt and said: "There is again presented to us the bright and alluring vision of a railway for this district, but whether it is to assume actual shape or form, or, like its precursors, amuse us for a while, and then melt into thin air.

"The intended line is entitled the Bridport, Lyme and South Coast Railway, and is to connect the Great Western at Bridport with the South-Western at a point about midway between Axminster and Chard, throwing off a branch at Whitchurch for Lyme.

"It is this branch which is to pass through this place."

To assist Hawkshaw with his attempt to get support was local businessman, Michael Morcom, who ran the cement works.

The railway was one of a number of projects Hawkshaw was involved with at the time, with many not proceeding because either parliamentary approval was refused, or because there was not enough money from investors.

In January, 1864, the South Eastern Railway extension was opened from London Bridge to Charring Cross, including Hungerford Bridge across the River Thames, which Hawkshaw was engineer of the project for.

The elections for Lyme Regis and Charmouth were held on July 12, 1865, but Hawkshaw was prevented just two weeks before the vote from standing, due to holding a government appointment as engineer to a government funded harbour at Holyhead.

Sir Hawkshaw's son, also named John, aged 24, stood instead, but lost the contest by only nine votes.

He actually won by 92 votes to 87 in Lyme Regis, but lost by 15 to 29 in Charmouth.

Before 1865 ended, the family had not only lost the election, but failed in their attempt to get parliamentary approval for their railway due to opposition from Great western Railway and London and South Western Railway companies.

Hawkshaw later bought a property in Surrey and sold his assets in West Dorset at auction.

A newspaper piece at the time said: "Looking back at the brief time Hawkshaw was associated with Charmouth, one has to reflect on what would have happened if his efforts had succeeded in 1865.

"John or his son would have been our MP with tremendous influence with the many projects they were involved with.

"Lyme Regis would have had their railway instead of waiting until 1903 for it.

"We would also have had our station, although we would have lost the playing fields as that was where it was to be built.

"At the same time, John Hawkshaw knew that with the railway would come expansion of both places and the qualities that we appreciate today of a village would have been lost."

Neil will be giving a talk about Sir John Hawkshaw for the Charmouth Local History Society at the village hall on Thursday, June 14.

The talk will begin at 7pm, with entry free to members and £3 for non-members.

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