THE former owner of the beloved Hengistbury Head land train has died at the age of 93.

Joyce Faris who ran the privately-owned land train at the nature reserve for more than 40 years, was one of Britain's oldest employers.

She finally retired in 2015, just after her 90th birthday.

Her son John Jameson-Davis said she passed away at a Southbourne care home on Wednesday.

"She was known and well-loved by passengers on the train as well as beach hut folk who got to know her over the decades."

The land train, which first began operations in April in 1968, was built and owned by the Faris family.

In 2014, there was an outcry when the council planned to terminate the contract and run its own service instead.

An online petition to allow the current operators to continue attracted more than 30,000 signatures.

However, when Joyce Faris retired, the council took up the service.

Mr Jameson-Davis said: "The feeling at the time was that the council were ousting her to make way for a modern 'plastic' train. The petition and the splendid publicity in the Daily Echo helped to keep the traditional wooden train running as it had always run."

But the attraction has been out of action since last October, due to an incident involving a cyclist, a woman in her 60s.

She was injured after two carriages broke loose from the land train and collided with her.

Dorset Police are continuing to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident, along with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Mr Jameson-David added: "Mum was too ill to know anything about this and we are so glad because it would have broken her heart. Nothing like that ever happened during the time she ran things.

"We hope that the train service is resumed as soon as possible, especially as we intend that on the day of mum's funeral the train is standing in place at the station, so that she can say her final farewell to the trains and the place she loved so much for so many years."

Last year a free exhibition marking the train's 50th anniversary opened at Hengistbury Head Visitor Centre.

Joyce leaves behind six children and four grandchildren. Her husband Roger who built the train, died in 1990.

The date and details of the funeral has yet to be confirmed.