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Monday, 27 May 2013

Eaton Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:      15"

Length:     Originally 3 miles (with ½ mile branch)      Now 1½ miles

Opened:      1895
Closed:        1947
Re-opened: 2000  


View Narrow Gauge Railways in a larger map


Date of visit:     26 May 2013


Key Facts

  • The railway was constructed by (Sir) Arthur Heywood who was keen to demonstrate the potential of 15" gauge railways which he considered to be the minimum gauge for a viable narrow gauge railway (see 15" gauge railways - a chronology)
  • The Hon CT Parker, agent to the 1st Duke of Westminster, persuaded the Duke that a 15" gauge railway would solve some of the problems of transporting supplies and produce between the Eaton Hall estate and the nearest mainline railway station at Balderton.
  • In the 1890s, estate consumed around 2000 tons of coal and 3000 tons of general stores each year, and transported goods outward from the estate's brickworks, sawmills and pipeworks. 
  • The duke agreed to the construction of the railway provided it did not interfere with the view. 
  • The railway was built in a year, its construction being supervised by Arthur Heywood himself with three of his own workers and a team of workmen from the estate, as the duke was concerned about the possibility of his game being poached.
  • The railway's first locomotive, Katie (named after the duchess), was an 0-4-0 built by Heywood. A replica of this loco is now based at the Eaton Railway for use on Open Days.
  • A further two locos were provided by Heywood; in 1904 an 0-6-0T Shelagh (named after the 2nd Earl's wife) joined the railway and in 1916 another 0-6-0T locomotive called Ursula (named after the 2nd Earl's daughter) was delivered.
  • The first driver at Eaton was Harry Wilde and the second was Harry Morgan, who worked on the line first as a guard/shunter from the age of 13 in 1919 becoming the driver in 1932 until he drove the lifting train in 1947.
  • In 1905, Wynne Bassett-Lowke used the Eaton Railway to test-run his first 15" gauge locomotive, Little Giant. This marked the beginning of Bassett-Lowke's enterprise to establish a series of miniature railways across the country, including the Rhyl Miniature Railway, the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, the Fairbourne Railway and the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway.
  • The Eaton Railway carried many notable personages, including King Edward VII, Queen Alexandra and Winston Churchill who was attending a shooting party but commented to the driver, "Let's have a little look at that engine of yours ....... I'd much rather play at trains."
  • Shortly after the First World War, the Eaton Railway took delivery of a 20 HP Simplex Motor Rail petrol mechanical locomotive
  • Katie was sold to the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway and then passed to the Fairbourne Railway. In 1942 the remaining two locomotives were scrapped and in 1947 the Simplex and the track were sold to the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway.
  • After a suggestion of Ian Jolly in the 1970s, the stock was rescued from the RH&DR and in 1998 planning permission was granted for the railway to be reconstructed. The restored railway makes use of the original carriage shed with a terminus very close to the line's original station. A spur then links this to the main loop which traces part of the original route and then branches off to the north to circle the cricket club.
  • The railway is open to the public on Eaton Hall's four open day's per year (see website) when money is raised for charity
  • Trains on the Eaton Railway are run at half hourly intervals on open days but seats have to be booked in advance as they are limited in number. It is therefore advisable to arrive early and book your seat as soon as you arrive.
  • On Open Days there are refreshments available in the form of hot drinks, cakes, sandwiches, bacon and sausage butties and ice cream.
(With thanks to Ian Jolly for additional historical information)


The present route of the Eaton Railway
The original route of the Eaton Railway


















My Impressions

Although we arrived shortly after the gates were opened, there was already a considerable number of cars parked on the grass - but then the weather was warm and the forecast for the day was set fair.

After paying our modest entry fee, we initially went for a quick cuppa and so by the time I went to book my ticket for the train, the first four trains were fully booked - advisable, it seems, to book your train ticket early.

However, this gave me plenty of time to take photos and to wander around the  route of the railway.

I spent a while around the terminus, looking at the original coal and wood loading sheds and the carriage shed which is now used to house the loco and the stock.
Eaton Railway - the coal and wood unloading dock with carriage shed on the right
The former carriage shed now used as a stock shed
 I also had an opportunity to see the line's loco, Katie, being coaled and watered before hauling her next train. Katie is a replica of the line's original loco which was built in 1898 by Sir Arthur Heywood, the originator of the minimum gauge.
Katie takes on coal and water.
 She then ran round her train ....

...... and then departed on the 11.30 train.

 After ten to fifteen minutes, she returned having traversed the main loop and the triangular junction.

 And her passengers disembarked.

I then went out into the park to watch the 12.00 train emerge from the garden area and cross one of the estate roads.

The train then skirted the cricket pitch and wandered off across the parkland.

 About ten minutes later, the train hove back into view and negotiated the other side of the triangular junction to run back into the station.

 Just before 12.30, I boarded my train and bagged the seat immediately behind the loco.

 Which provided me with some fine views of the track

 and some interesting shots of the loco in action.

On returning to the terminus, we detrained and I had an opportunity to see the faithful replicas of the Heywood rolling stock at close quarters.

 The saloon coach is the piece de resistance

The small portholes at each end of the coach were apparently to accommodate oil lamps to provide some light inside the coaches when the trains ran at night.

 After a sandwich and another cuppa in the main courtyard of the Hall, which provided an opportunity to see more closely the clock tower which is, of course, a small scale replica of the tower at the Palace of Westminster.

 An interesting exhibit in the courtyard was the Duke's armoured Rolls Royce.

 We then wandered back to the car which provided me with one final opportunity to see Katie being watered and coaled for her next train.........

The quality of the replica rolling stock and the level of maintenance of the track are of a very high order. The setting for the railway is as one would expect, highly attractive. I did try tracing the route of the original railway where it supposedly departed from the present alignment, but I was unable to discern any sign of the trackbed.

On a previous visit to the garden centre which is beside the Wrexham Road entrance to the estate, I managed to locate the line's original engine shed which now forms part of the offices for the garden centre.

I also identified where the railway used to cross the road and make its way through the woodland towards Balderton Station.

At a future date I want to explore the buildings which remain on the site of the Cuckoo's Nest sidings and also trace the course of the railway through the fields towards Balderton - though this will be dependent on how close the present-day footpaths are to the route of the railway.
The original Katie on the sidings at Eaton Hall terminus


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