The Perrygrove Railway, just south of the Forest of Dean town of Coleford, is a 15in gauge line opened to the public in August 1996.
Originally conceived as a hobby, it soon became a business run by husband and wife team Michael and Frances Crofts. A very fine railway business it is too with huge appeal for families. In fact, it is hard to think of a heritage railway better set up to entertain children while running a steam-hauled passenger service over a line about three-quarters of a mile in length. Just take a look at the line’s website for details of its Indoor Village, Treetop Adventure and Treasure Hunt attractions.
The concept that 15in gauge represented the minimum for serious use was pioneered by Sir Arthur Heywood who developed his ideas on his estate at Duffield Bank, near Derby, in the latter decades of the 19th century. He even designed and built his own locomotives, the first, named Effie, being constructed in 1874. The attraction was not lost on the Duke of Westminster, who opened a similar railway on his estate at Eaton Hall in 1895. Sir Arthur died in 1916, but his theories were not forgotten and Britain has a number of such ‘Minimum Gauge’ lines.
While the Perrygrove’s core passenger operation centres on modern steam locomotives and carriages, the railway also forms a significant Mecca for Heywood enthusiasts, for James Waterfield has based his collection of replica Duffield Bank and Eaton Hall equipment at the line. This includes his replica Heywood 0-6-0T Ursula, a beautiful reproduction of the Duffield Bank Dining Carriage, an Eaton Hall brake van and an ever-increasing fleet of small four-wheel Heywood wagons.
The latest vehicle is no less than a two seat ‘First Class’ carriage based on an 1875-vintage Duffield Bank vehicle. The collection provides a living vision of the kind of estate railway championed by Sir Arthur and ensures Perrygrove has a special place in the British narrow/minimum gauge scene.
To this attractive mix, add a livewire young man named David Nelson. A volunteer at the standard gauge Bodmin & Wenford Railway, David conceived and ran an annual ‘Steam in The Park’ event while working at Wicksteed Park near Kettering, dramatically raising public awareness of that pleasure line.
Having been recruited by the Perrygrove Railway, he is already weaving his magic in the Dean Forest, as witnessed by Perrygrove’s September 24 ‘Vintage Trains Day’.
Magic? Well, for a debut event he certainly racked up a fair share of ‘firsts’. This was the first time seven locomotives had been in action at the railway. The first time a new passing loop at Rookwood was in use, enabling the first operation of a two-train service – and the first time Perrygrove had run a demonstration goods train. Oh yes, it was the first time the railway’s most recent acquisition had been unveiled in public.
Not, in truth, a locomotive one may expect to capture the attention of the general public, despite its careworn appearance it is historically very significant. This apparently humble Lister which worked at Painter Bros, Hereford and now re-gauged to 15in was the last narrow gauge diesel in mainland Britain to work in industrial service.
Steam locos in action on September 24 were Exmoor Steam Railway-built 0-4-2T Spirit of Adventure, ex-Bush Mill Railway (Tasmania) 0-4-0+0-4-0 Garratt Tasmania, Alan Keef-built 2-6-2T Lydia and James Waterfield’s replica Heywood 0-6-0T Ursula.
Also running were an internal combustion fleet comprising were Simplex Workhorse, Hunslet Jubilee and the ex-Painter Bros. Lister.
David never rests on his laurels. This event was a taster for what he says will be a full Autumn Gala in 2012 with visiting locomotives. If he says so, that is exactly what will happen!