By Cliff Thomas

New owners for minimum gauge heritage lines

Published: 29th June 2014

Two 15in gauge railways under new youthful ownerships

The Perrygrove Railway in the Dean Forest, not far from Coleford, has been purchased by its live-wire manager David Nelson.

The railway was the brainchild of Michael Crofts and first opened to the public on August 1 1996. As Michael, and his wife Frances, sought to semi-retire, David Nelson (already a standard gauge Bodmin & Wenford Railway volunteer footplate man) became the de facto manager/engineer at Perrygrove in mid-2011.

David had already made a considerable mark on the narrow gauge world during a period working for Wicksteed Park where he raised the profile of the 2ft gauge line there by instigating a series of successful ‘Steam in the Park’ events featuring visiting steam locomotives.

His purchase of the Perrygrove Railway was celebrated with a very successful June 7-8 diesel gala which attracted 10% more enthusiast visitors than any previous similar events. During the event he also revealed that in addition to buying the railway, he had completed the purchase of Dreadnought, the unofficial name of the ex-Blenheim Palace Guest Engineering-built 4-6wDM dating from 1960 which had been billed as a visiting loco for the gala but turned out to be a new resident!

Wedding Railway

David Nelson, and fiancé Katherine, aim to build on Perrygrove’s child-friendly theme and develop a special niche as a wedding venue. However, David emphasises he will also be working hard to ensure the railway remains very much on the enthusiast map.

Quite so, not only evidenced by the purchase of Dreadnought but the arrival of ex-Lilleshall Abbey Woodland Railway Baguley steam-outline petrol loco BgC1695/1928 which formed a fascinating load aboard a wagon during the gala. Once at the Cadeby Light Railway the loco was owned by the late John Lucas, is now part of the Moseley Railway Trust collection and will stay at Perrygrove on long-term loan.

In addition to Dreadnought (which worked passenger trains over the lower end of the line pending modifications to enable it to traverse the tighter curves at the top end of the railway) the diesel event featured Hunslet 9337/1994 Jubilee (working coaches from Rookwood to Oakiron, and ‘freight’ trains under the charges of Lister 40407/1954 Pylon (extensively rebuilt over the last two years) and Simplex MR26014/1963 Workhorse.

The current steam locomotives, ex-Bush Mill Railway (Tasmania) 0-4-0+0-4-0 Garratt Tasmania, Exmoor Steam Railway 0-4-2T Spirit of Adventure and Alan Keef-built 2-6-2T Lydia will remain resident at Perrygrove, as will James Waterfield’s replica Heywood 0-6-0T Ursula.

Minimum gauge?

The use of 15in gauge was persuasively advocated by Sir Arthur Heywood as the minimum practical gauge for serious railway use. While initially developed with large country estate lines in mind, the gauge has become a popular choice for passenger carrying lines aimed at leisure use.

Famed examples of the latter in Britain include the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway and Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway. Perrygrove is particularly noted as being the home of the Heywood Collection centred on replica locomotives and stock built by James Waterfield.

The Perrygrove steam and diesel fleet will be shown to full effect (at least nine locos are expected to be in action) during its September 20-21 gala when two, possibly three, visiting locos are anticipated. The first day of the event is arranged to coincide with the annual Open Day at the works of Alan Keef Ltd a few miles away at Lea Line, near Ross-on-Wye.

And young businessmen take over Cleethorpes Coast LR

Business partners John Kerr (18) and Peter Bryant (22) completed their purchase of the Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway in mid-June.

The railway at Cleethorpes, a 15in gauge line in the great tradition of seaside miniature/minimum gauge lines, dates from 1948. Local man Chris Shaw became involved with the railway in 1990 and set about a programme of significantly developing the railway, including extending its length.

He also acquired the ‘Sutton Collection’ (equipment from the Sutton Coldfield Miniature Railway which had been stored for 40 years after the line closed in 1962) in 2001 with HLF support and developed a 'Rails to the Sands' exhibition of seaside miniature lines in a museum building at the line’s Lakeside station.

Railways and politics don’t mix….

As his career in local politics progressed he no longer had the time to put into the business and put the line up for sale four years ago. Offers were received but as it became apparent potential purchasers intended to dismantle the line and relocate it elsewhere Chris Shaw withdrew it from the market two years ago looking for an alternative way forward.

The purchasers who have now taken over the railway (the deal does not include The Signal Box Inn – claimed to be the smallest pub on the planet - or the tea room) have a long history of involvement in small gauge lines. John Kerr is the third generation of the family which runs Kerr’s Miniature Railway in Arbroath, Scotland, where he had been involved since the age of 10 and ran it from 16 years old. Peter Bryant bought the equipment from the line at Weston-super-Mare when it closed several years ago and runs the Miniature Railway World website and Forum.

The new owners, who have ‘been around’ the CCLR for a while in advance of formally taking over say there will not be any major changes, but they are bringing ‘fresh blood with fresh ideas’ which they hope will bring the line a new lease of life.

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