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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

London Museum of Steam and Water - Waterworks Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:         2'

Length:      400 yards

Opened:     2009


Green Dragon Lane,


Tel:           020 8568 4757  


Date of visit:     6 September 2014


Key Facts

    • The railway is situated on the site of the Kew Bridge Water Works which was opened in 1838 with Boulton & Watt and  Maudlsay, Sons & Field beam engines to pump the water
    • The museum has a collection of ten pumping engines of various sizes and vintages, including the  world's largest working beam engine built in 1846
    • The museum was refurbished in 2013 and includes an impressive array of interactive educational exhibits designed to inform children and adults about the workings of steam engines and waterworks
    • This company did not operate its own internal railway system but when it opened as a museum, a 2' narrow gauge railway was built to represent the type of railway which could be found in other waterworks. Waterworks railways were used to transport coal for the pumping engines and sand for the filter beds
    • The railway has two locomotives; a replica Wren locomotive, Thomas Wicksteed, built by Hunslet in 2009 and a 1957 three cylinder internal combustion Lister railmotor, 'Alister'.
    •  The railway usually runs at weekends when the pumping engines are also in steam - see calendar for more details -
    •  The is a cafe on site which serves a selection of hot food and snacks.




    My Impressions

    I travelled overland by train from Waterloo to Kew Bridge station and took the short walk around the corner to the museum (see above Google Map). The museum is easily recognisable by the Victorian standpipe tower which dominates the skyline.

    The building from the outside didn't look particularly inspiring,

    but passing inside, through the pleasantly appointed cafe and bookshop.....

     ...... I immediately encountered the museum's collection of working pumping engines.

     I passed quickly through the main hall to make my way outside to find the museum's 2' narrow gauge railway. The train was waiting at the platform with the line's 3 cylinder Lister locomotive, Alister coupled up the the railway's open carriage and ready to depart.

     At the other end of the train, the railway's Hunslet-built Wren class locomotive, Thomas Wicksteed, was quietly steaming.

     I boarded the train and we departed.

     We chugged around to the rear of the museum and came to a halt.

     Within a short while. Thomas Wicksteed, chuffed around after us and pulled up to couple to the coach.

     The driver then opened the regulator and the train set out for the return journey.

    We steamed back around the rear of the museum and cruised back beside the platform where we disembarked and had an opportunity to admire the locomotives.

    The replica Wren locomotive, constructed in 2009, is a masterpiece of small scale engineering.

     Its anatomy is readily accessible. I was particularly interested in the functioning of the injector as this was something I was representing on a 16mm scale model locomotive I was constructing at the time. The driver was happy to not only explain how it worked but to demonstrate its operation which was especially helpful.

     Since my visits to the Apedale Valley Light Railway and more recently to Steeple Grange, I have become increasingly captivated by small industrial narrow gauge internal combustion locomotives. Lister locomotives have been constructed since 1926 and this particular model was built in 1957. I was interested in seeing how the design had changed over the years, since the earliest model.

    Having sated my appetite for narrow gauge rail travel, I turned my attention to the other exhibits in the museum. As a former primary school teacher, I was particularly interested in how the museum's exhibits were presented for a younger audience - and I was not disappointed. As them museum depicts the relationship between water and steam, there is an instant appeal for children which the museum appears to have exploited to the full. In the outdoor area beside the railway, there was a play area where children (and their parents, of course) can play and experiment with water - pumping it, damming it, re-directing it.

     Behind this area is a water is the Hindley Water Wheel which was constructed in 1902 to pump water from the River Frome to the Duke of Somerset's estate. It was interesting to see how water power was being used to pump water.

    Inside the museum, four of its steam engines were functioning at various intervals during the day.

    The Easton and Amos Engine (1863) was quite different to the museum's large Cornish beam engines by having one end of its beam connected to a crank to produce rotary motion rather than the reciprocating motion needed for pumping. This engine came from the Cliftonville Pumping Station in Northampton where it drove a set of pumps from an extension to the crank shaft.

    The Hathorn Davey Triple Expansion Engine (1910) shows how steam powered pumping engines developed in the early 20th century. The three cylinders are inverted and placed in a line directly over the crankshaft in much the same way as a modern car engine. It came from a pumping station in Newmarket and was in motion throughout my visit.

    The Waddon engine was built by James Simpson & Company in Pimlico in 1910. The high and low pressure cylinders are horizontal with a flywheel between them.

    The last engine which I saw functioning during my visit was the The James Kay engine or Dancers End engine, as it came from the Rothschild Dancer's End Estate near Tring. It was used to pump water from a well. The engine was built in 1867 by James Kay of Bury. The engine differs from all the other engines in the museum as it has two high pressure cylinders, each connected to its own beam and crank with a common flywheel. It's though that this engine was originally used in a textile mill and was later converted to pump water.

    As the museum hosts the world's largest operating steam engine, I took some time to view the enormous engines which are housed there.

    Although they weren't operational on the day I visited, there was plenty of information and video screens showing how the machines worked.

    The operational 90 inch Engine was built in 1846 by Sandys, Carne & Vivian of Copperhouse Foundry, Hayle, Cornwall and was the first engine built in Cornwall specially for waterworks duty.

    The 100 inch engine was built by Harvey & Co of Hayle in 1869, and is the largest surviving single cylinder beam engine in the world. When it was running it was synchronised with the 90 inch engine. It was used until 1958, when the chimney stack became unsafe and was demolished and the boilers decommissioned.

     Before leaving, I quickly toured the other exhibits which seemed extremely well organised, providing visitors with plenty of hands-on experience.

    Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into how the exhibits are organised to ensure they are informative and motivating for both adult and child audiences.

    I think it's still true to say that children enjoy paling with water. And from my observations, it would seem their parents have just as much interest and enthusiasm to participate in the activities.

    I would imagine that children of all ages would be fascinated by many of the features in this museum. And, of course, there is the added bonus of a working narrow gauge railway!


    [In preparation] 

    Monday, 15 September 2014

    Ironbridge - Blists Hill Mine Railway

    In a nutshell

    Gauge:         2'

    Length:       212m

    Opened:     2010



    Blists Hill Victorian Town
    Legges Way
    TF7 5DU

    Telephone:  01952 433424


    Date of visit:     12 September 2014


    Key Facts

    • The locomotive appears to be a 4w W417 Wingrove & Rogers battery electric, which was refurnished by Alan Keef in 2008
    • The train comprised eight four wheel coaches and the locomotive with the name of  "Sir Peter Gadsden" who was chairman of the museum trust until 2006. 
    • The last carriage includes a driver's compartment which is used to control the train on the outward leg.
    • The track winds serpent-like around along the hillside and then enters an artificial tunnel before stopping in a darkened area where there is a projected AV show depicting a conversation in silhouette between a young boy, who has just started working in the mine, and his father.
    • Trains leave approximately every half an hour and the trip lasts for about 15 minutes
    • There is an additional charge of £2.00 per head to travel on the Mine Tramway


    My Impressions

    Whilst awaiting the arrival of the next train, there was an opportunity to read the information boards about the history of clay mining in the valley, and also an opportunity to watch the train arrive on to the platform.

    We were given a short talk about the mining process before we then boarded the train which wound its way along the circuitous track carved into the hillside.

     The train then negotiated the entrance to an artificial tunnel ....

     ...... which became progressively darker until the train stopped in almost complete darkness. We were then entertained by a short AV presentation which depicted an imagined conversation between an experienced clay miner and his son. The presentation focused on the dangers associated with clay mining - principally suffocation through a build-up of carbon dioxide and roof falls associated with the careless use of explosives.

    The train then reversed (or strictly speaking went forward) out of the mine and back along the track .....

    ... to the station .......

    ...... where we disembarked.

     On the platform is a restored example of one of the tub wagons which were used to transport clay from the mines along the valley. These were propelled by hand and by horses.

    Personally, I would have been interested in being given more detail about the mining and processing aspects of the venture, but this level of detail would probably not have appealed to the majority of the passengers on the train - several of whom were very complimentary to the staff about the quality of the trip.

    The Mine Railway forms part of the Blists Hill Victorian Town exhibit in Ironbridge and so there is plenty to see and do. Many of the shops in the replica streets are manned by staff in period costume who are happy to explain the technicalities and history of the trades they represent.

    It is possible to exchange today's currency into Victorian pennies which can then be used to purchase items in the shops - including fresh bread, rolls and shortcake baked in the town's bakery.

    There are working steam engines, including this working replica of Trevithick's 1804 Pen-y-Darren locomotive which was not in steam during our visit.

    Around the town are various stationary engines, such as this one in the yard of the stone mason.

     The entrance fee is quite substantial, but it is possible to buy a year-long passport to most of the exhibits in the gorge which makes a considerable saving in entrance fees overall and provides an opportunity for return visits - it would be difficult to see all the exhibits in the gorge in one day.

    There are food outlets in the Victorian Town which offer both snacks and cooked food at reasonable prices and there are plenty of places to have picnics if you prefer.

    Overall, this trip would make an interesting day out for the whole family - there is plenty to see and do and all the staff we met were very helpful and well informed - only too happy to demonstrate and discuss the exhibits they were manning.


    [In preparation] 

    Thursday, 28 August 2014

    Steeple Grange Light Railway

    In a nutshell

    Gauge:          18"

    Length:         ½ mile

    Opened:        1883 (Standard gauge branch opened)
                           1967 (Standard gauge branch closed)
                           1985 (Narrow gauge railway opened)




    Date of visit:     24 August 2014


    Key Facts

    • The railway is built on the site of a branch line to Middleton Quarry from the junction with the Cromford and High Peak Railway at Steeplehouse. The line was known locally as the 'Killer Branch' after the surname of the brothers who owned the quarry
    • The Cromford and High Peak Railway was constructed in 1831 to to carry minerals and goods between the Cromford Canal wharf and the Peak Forest Canal at Whaley Bridge
    • The first part of the 'Killer' branch, which is now the mainline for the Steeple Grange Light Railway, has a gradient of 1:27
    • There is also has a short branch leading to the limestone quarry adjacent to the station
    • A gauge of 18" was chosen to provider more variety than the more usual gauge of 2' for preserved and heritage narrow gauge industrial railways
    • The railway presently possesses sixteen former industrial locomotives
    • The Greenwood and Batley battery electric locomotive, Greenbat, is the mainstay of motive power on the railway
    • For passenger dutues, the railway also often uses a Ruston Hornsby diesel locomotive named Horwich after the BR locomotive works where she was based. She is the only surviving 18" gauge Ruston Hornsby diesel and is now in lined BR green livery
    • The line also possesses several passenger and goods vehicles in various stages of restoration
    • There are plans for the railway to be extended for another ½ mile to Middleton quarry. There is also a possibility that a branch could be laid to the National Stone Centre and Ecclesbourne Railway
    • The railway is open between midday and 5pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays from Easter Saturday to the end of September and on Saturdays in July and August. The line is also open on some days during the Autumn Half Term holiday.
    • Hot drinks and some light refreshments are available at the main station.


    My Impressions

    When we arrived at the railway we found the main terminus to be a modest affair but nonetheless a hive of activity. On the mainline, Greenbat was quietly ticking over - which I found intriguing for a battery electric locomotive - and its single manrider coach was awaiting its first passengers of the day.

    In one of the sidings, the anatomy of a Simplex diesel was being discussed and analysed,

    ..... and one of the line's Clayton battery electrics, Peggy, was parked, ready for action later in the day,

    .... and another Clayton, Peter, was awaiting its first passengers on the railway's branchline which runs beside and parallel with the Cromford and High Peak Trail.

    Another mainstay of the line's passenger motive power, the Ruston Hornsby, Horwich, was also pottering about.

    After buying our modestly priced ticket (for both the mainline and the branchline), we stepped aboard the manrider on the mainline and without further ado, set off towards the 1:27 incline.

    We passed the railway's lower stock sheds situated immediately behind the main station building, where another Lister was poised and ready for action - presumably when demand rose later in the afternoon.

    The sheds are served by an interesting-looking traverser which appears to have been tailor-made onsite.

     Further up the line, we passed beneath one of the railway's overbridges,

    ..... which is also used for stock storage. Some fascinating items of rolling stock were evident suggesting the railway would be able to run a range of passenger and goods trains on gala days.

    Just beyond the bridge was another set of sidings leading to a stock shed. I found the frogless turnout to be fascinating and worthy of being modelled, particularly if my plans for a large scale indoor narrow gauge layout ever come to fruition.

    Rounding a shallow curve and Killer's Dale Halt hove into view. As we were the only passengers on the first run of the day there were no requests for stopping and we pressed on up the incline.

    Just beyond another overbridge .....

    we came to Recreation Ground Halt. Again, we didn't stop.

     A little further down the line (but up the gradient) we came to a passing loop and shortly beyond this .......

    ....... we reached the road leading to the quarry.

    With the guard suitably positioned to warn approaching drivers, we passed over the level crossing and ........

    ....... soon reached the current end of the line. As can be seen, the existing trackbed is somewhat higher than the original (since the road crossing was installed) and the railway company is presently seeking additional funds (and foundations) to extend the line to the eventual quarry terminus.

    After watching our train re-cross the road ........

    .... we boarded once more for the descent. Across the passing loop ......

     ..... and back to the main station, where more passengers were waiting.

     We used the other half of our combined ticket to board the branchline train to the limestone quarry.

    The short trip took us into the heart of the once thriving quarry ........

    .... where our driver gave us a very informative and illustrated talk about the geology, history and technology of the quarry, its stone and its workings.

    Not only were the fossils in the limestone highlighted, their origins were explained - including how iron pyrites (Fool's Gold) came to be formed.

    We then re-boarded our train for the return journey......

     ..... and spent a while exploring the yard, watching the trains and browsing through the postcards, booklets and memorabilia in the main station building.

    The members of the society which operates the railway are clearly accumulating a considerable store of 18" rolling stock to populate the line and also to preserve what remains of this aspect of our industrial heritage. The rolling stock is all in very good condition and as such is a credit to the dedication of the volunteers who must devote much of their spare time to working on the railway and maintaining and restoring its collection. It looks as if the railway has steadily grown in size and scope since it was established around thirty years ago and it also looks to have a secure future, with not just one but two proposals on the books for extensions. The personnel I met on my visit were extremely helpful and very obliging - I felt I'd almost become one of the extended family during my visit. The fare was well worth paying to enjoy the experience and also to gain a well informed insight into the operation of this type of stock and its infrastructure.