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The Ravenglass & Eskdale railway, living 15" gauge history

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In my thread on the DRS open day I featured the Krauss built 4-6-2 recently acquired for the Ravenglass & Eskdal and thought you might be interested in a closer look at this little gem of a preserved line.


The Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway was originally built way back in 1873 and was commercially opened on the 24th May 1875. The Railway's main purpose was to transport iron ore, that was being mined in the hills above the village of Boot, down to Ravenglass where it could be transferred onto the Furness Railway's mainline to Barrow. The Railway was also open to passenger traffic (beginning in 1876) and was built to the narrow gauge of 3ft (between the rails), this made the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway the first public narrow gauge Railway in England!




The Railway was forced to close in 1913 due to diminishing quantities of iron ore and falling passenger numbers, the Railway's trackwork and rolling stock had also begun to fall into disrepair and a couple of mishaps had not escaped the authorities. However this was not the end for the Railway as in the midst of the Great War came an unexpected twist of fate.


In 1915 miniature railway engineer and prolific model makers WJ Bassett-Lowke and R Proctor-Mitchell, (representing Narrow Gauge Railways Ltd) acquired the Railway line as a base for testing their little locomotives under fairly harsh operating conditions. These engines ran to a smaller gauge of 15'' or 381mm. They steadily began to re-lay the line and on 28th August 1915 the first train ran as far as Muncaster Mill - this service was commemorated with a re-enactment in 2015. By 1916 the re-gauged track ran as far as Irton Road, and the following year these miniature trains were running the full length of the line. However there was a slight deviaiton from the original course - the original 3ft trackbed carried on beyond Beckfoot, up Beckfoot Bank, and along the fellside to the village of Boot. Bassett-Lowke thought that the continued climb away from Beckfoot might be too far for his tiny locomotives so he curved the track away from the fell, in front of the former miners cottages and over Whelan Beck to its terminus and present day position at Dalegarth for Boot.


In a picture taken by an old friend of my dads in LMS days you can see the relationship between the standard gauge Cumbrian Coast Line in the foreground and the "L'al Ratty" ,as the line is called in the local Cumbrian dialect, in the background. An ex LNWR Prince of wales 4-6-0 on the Workington Barrow Postal heads south.




in 1994 you can see the relationship between British Rail and the line which has now taken over the Goods shed and yard




More in aminute



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In 1958 and again in 1959 the line and fittings were offered for sale but unfortunately without any serious potential purchaser, it was announced that the 1960 season would be the last. The Railway was to be sold by auction in September. The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway Preservation Society was formed by enthusiasts looking to take over the Railway but hopes were not high. Fortunately, two interested parties (Colin Gilbert a midlands stockbroker and Sir Wavell Wakefield a local landowner) stepped in on the day of the auction with the balance of the purchase price, £12,000, and the Railway became theirs.


The pictures will tend to jump between 1994 when we took our Chelsea for her visit and this year when we took her son Brooklyn. It is a sign of how dynamic a society they are when you see how each end of the line has developed over the last few years


From rather humbler beginnings Ravenglass station has become an impressive area. Both ends of the line have a turntable at the ends of the platform.




When I first visited Dalegarth at the other end of the line it was little more than an Army surplus hut, The new buidling is much nicer




Some original facilities till exist like the loco running shed 




The signalbox at Ravenglass has also hardly changed over the years



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quarter full size and built to the same standards as the equally famous Romney Hythe and Dymchurch railway the fleet is diverse but very reliable and efficient


Our motive power the other day was 'River Mite' a 2-8-2 built by Clarksons in 1966 seen on the turntable at Ravenglass 




You can see the airbrake equipment on the tender top




'Northern Rock' is a 2-6-2 built in the railways own workshop in 1976 and is seen here raising steam in the yard using a blower to provide some draft




Back in 1994 with a good load on it arrives at the then Ravenglass station



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'River Irt' also seen in 1994 is an interesting one, originally built by Sir Arthur Heywood in 1894 it was extensively rebuilt as an 0-8-2 by the companies workshops in 1927




The valve gear is interesting to say the least!




River Esk is a 2-8-2 built by Davey Paxman Co. in 1923 as works no. 21104




arriving at Ravenglass in 1994



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Despite appearance this diminutive 4-4-4T is actually petrol driven and was built by Basset Lowke in 1909




My own favourite loco is Synolda a 4-4-2 built by Bassett Lowke in 1912 with our Brooklyn climbing aboard





seen in the new museum building opened this year.


Diesel power is also used


Lady Wakefield is a 4w-4wDH built in the companies workshops in 1980 and puts in a lot of work


seen on the turntable at Dalegarth




When I first saw it this red livery was applied



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ICL no 1 is a 4-4wPM built at Ravenglass in 1925 with some rather odd styling 




More conventional and another of my favourites is 'Quarryman' a 4wPM built by Muir Hill in 1926




Perkins, a 4w-4DM built at Ravenglass  is the Civil engineering loco




Anita is not self propelled anymore this Ruston Hornsby built in 1949 has been converted to a flail mower



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Coaching stock is a mix covered coaches and 'toastrack' open coaches


a typical covered coach




A typical open carraige




And you can hire this lovely saloon if you wish




various freight wagons are dotted about to support the P-Way volunteers



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Of course none of this would happen without the efforts of the permanent staff and the volunteers


River Mite's driver gives it a polish at Dalegarth before the return journey to Ravenglass



Back in 94 the loco is turned by hand by the train crew




two decades later the train crew do the same operation at ravenglass





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Thanks for all the images and text.


'River Irt' seems quite large for a Heywood engine.


For those unfamiliar with him, he was the originator and champion of the 15" gauge "estate railway" - intended as a working railway to support the functional needs of an estate.



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Well there is a nother surviving Heywood engine




A 0-4-0T built by Sir Arthur Heywood in 1896 for the Duke of Westminster's Eaton Hall Railway. It came to Ravenglass in 1916 and left in 1919. Few photographs survive of it working in Cumbria, however the remains of the locomotive returned to the railway in 1982 after spells at Llewellyn's Miniature Railway, Southport and the Fairbourne Railway, Wales. In 1992, the R&ER Heritage Group formed, with an aim to restore the locomotive to original condition, as seen on our recent visit






Video of our recent visit--with a commentary from our Brooklyn!







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Facinating write up, thanks for sharing! I love how the turntable just barely fits the locomotives. Great pictures!

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Ah, I really got to ride this railway if I'll get to that part of England someday. Even though I've read about the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway before, I only just realised that the miniature trains in the RollerCoaster Tycoon games are actually based upon rolling stock from this railway.

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Hah, I lived down the Cumbrian coast not far from there for a few years when I was a child, was a regular outing. Often combined with a trip up and over the nearby Hardknott Pass with a pause at the Roman fort at the top.

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