A FORMER pub that has stood empty in Fordingbridge has been transformed into a new boutique hotel.

The Railway Hotel, which also boasts a bar and restaurant, is located on Station Road.

It was originally opened in the 1860’s by Eldridge Pope, a Dorchester Brewer and served Fordingbridge Railway Station, which was one of the stops on the newly built Salisbury and Dorset Railway.

The line was closed in 1964 and the Railway Hotel became The Load of Hay and was later named after the artist Augustus John.

Work to restore the building has taken around two years and cost in the region of £2million. The project has been spearheaded by Brian Currie, who restored The Regal Cinema in Shaftesbury Street, Fordingbridge.

The design celebrates the Victorian history as well as the golden age of the railway. There are five en-suite rooms – all named after famous trains including the Orient Express, Bournemouth Belle and Flying Scotsman. The rooms have their own individual and unique design inspired by their train namesakes.

The Bournemouth Belle room has its own beach hut as well as a custom-made carpet, created by Wilton Carpets, to bring the sandy beach of the Dorset town to Fordingbridge.

In addition to this, the hotel has a self-contained two bedroom cottage set around a courtyard that still features the original livery stables.

Continuing the railway theme, guests and visitors can enjoy contemporary British cuisine in the First Class Pullman dining car. All the booths have been created to look like a train carriage – complete with their own views of local and world landmarks to transport diners on a journey.

The new hotel had planned to open in Easter but had to put the plans on hold due to the pandemic. It briefly opened its restaurant in October and recently open up its rooms to guests.

Due to Covid-19, the hotel’s restaurant is currently open for “substantial meals” for people in the same household bubble.

Project manager Emma Goddard said: "Everyone must be sick of their own kitchens. This is a wonderful opportunity to come out with their household especially as it is somewhere a fun."

The hotel has already started taking bookings and have done thorough Covid risk assessments and have procedures in place to make sure its safe for guests.

Emma hopes it will attract visitors to stay in the "slightly unusual" luxury, themed hotel. She adds: "Of course anyone interested in railways, steam trains or locomotives will find it fascinating. It's also for anyone that wants to experience something a bit different."

The hotel has an array of train related artefacts to "pay homage" to the buildings history with a barometer, old pictures and railway timetables. The project has sparked interest among residents who have dug out artefacts relating to the railway history of the building and the town.

"We have been creative with interiors particular with the iconic train journeys," said Emma. "It was quite a tired venue before we completely transformed it."

Brian said: "We just thought we would try and recreate the glory days of the Railway Hotel."

He also says it brings a much-needed hotel facility to the town, adding: "It will have a knock-on effect for the town as tourists will stay here and it will help other businesses in the town."

He says it will be a "positive" for Fordingbridge. On how he feels to breath new life into the former pub and hotel building, Mr Currie said: "I feel very good about it."

Emma added: "It is quite difficult to change a place that has an emotional attachment to it, you need to be quite wary of that and sympathetic. Hopefully they'll see the changes and agree they're improvements."

The hotel has also created eight full-time jobs as well as various part-time roles.

For more information about the Railway Hotel go to railwayhotelfordingbridge.com