THREE DAYS before Beaminster Tunnel first opened to the world in June 1832, one of the men working on it died.
William Aplin, a labourer, was killed by “a quantity of earth falling on him in widening the road under Hornhill, this side of the tunnel” [that is, the Beaminster side].
The fatal spot was marked by a stone with a white cross painted on it, about fifty yards up from the entrance to Horn Park House.
For years it’s been difficult to see this memorial, such is the muck and debris that these days accumulates at the side of busy roads, and so fast do vehicles now travel.
But as part of the work to repair the Tunnel, which comes to an end this weekend, Dorset County Council has cleaned up the stone and the surrounding verge.
These days roadside memorials to people who have lost their lives along them are quite common. Is this simple tribute to William Aplin the first of its kind in Dorset?
When it was built in 1831-32, there was a lot of unemployment in Dorset. According to the 1831 census, Beaminster Tunnel provided jobs for 50 out of the 70 non-agricultural labourers in Beaminster. When they were taken on, The Western Flying Post noted at the time, their faces “seemed to brighten at the prospect of earning their own bread instead of being degraded paupers.” Poor William Aplin must have been so looking forward to celebrating the completion of the tunnel.
Because it was a tremendous occasion, the day it opened. A flag bearer and two bands led the way, and a procession nearly half a mile long marched up from Beaminster to Horn Hill, where a 21-gun salute was fired. Spectators numbered about 9,000. There was a fair on Horn Hill, and a hot air balloon ascended from a field near Beaminster.
Labourers were paid a bonus of two shillings and sixpence, much of which was spent in the town’s 16 pubs. The day ended with fireworks let off from the church tower.
Nothing so spectacular is planned for this weekend, when the Tunnel is due to reopen after five weeks of repair work and improvements. Beaminster town councillors are going for a look round on Saturday morning, and a few final jobs and checks need to be done. The picture below shows surveyors taking measurements of how high the tunnel now is internally, with new tarmac laid and a new lighting-rig up along the roof. Nobody wants to see any lorries crashing into the sides or the ceiling.