Nicholas Owen_by Cliff Thomas

Little lines land lottery lolly!

Published: 27th November 2015

Two narrow gauge lines have landed big Heritage Lottery Fund grants

£1.65million for Brighton’s Volks Electric Railway

Volks Electric Railway, which runs for a mile along Brighton seafront, is to benefit from £1.65million Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant. The grant has been awarded to Brighton & Hove City Council, which has owned the line since 1940.

Key elements of the project are:

  • Provision of a purpose-built heritage visitor centre at Aquarium station to tell the story of Magnus Volk and his pioneering railway.
  • Creation of a conservation workshop to protect VER’s historic carriages, enable restoration work to be viewed and to provide training for volunteers to develop their skills.
  • Restoration and bringing back to use three original carriages (Nos. 4, 6 and 10) thus increasing capacity on the railway.
  • Development of new learning materials, schools’ sessions, events and activities.
  • Construction of the new facilities will commence in September 2016 at close of the railway’s operating season. Completion is expected in spring 2017.

World’s oldest electric railway

Opened in 1883, the 2ft 8.5in gauge line it is the world’s oldest electric railway and the first public electric railway in Britain. Taken into council ownership in 1940 (it closed in 1939 when WW2 broke out and reopened in 1948) it is run by teams of council staff, with support from small team of volunteers who help with all aspects of railway maintenance and operation. The volunteers include broadcaster Nicholas Owen, who is a regular driver. The railway is supported by Volk’s Electric Railway Association (VERA). It is open to the public seven days a week between Easter and the end of September and attracts around 200,000 visitors a year.

The railway runs from Aquarium Station (next to Brighton Pier) with a stop at Paston Place to Black Rock Station near Brighton Marina. Its shed near Peter Pan’s Playground was erected between 1884 and 1886 and is currently unsafe to use.

They said:

“The Volk’s Railway is a much loved and integral part of our city’s history. The funding success announced today is recognition from the HLF of the importance of this fascinating Victorian attraction which is still so very popular today in the 21 century. We will put the funds to good use to maintain and improve the railway, creating an even better experience for future passengers while staying true to Volk’s vision,” commented Councillor Alan Robins, Deputy Chair of the city’s Economic Development and Culture Committee.

“We are delighted that, thanks to National Lottery players, we are able to support this exciting project. The importance of the Volk’s Railway as the world’s oldest electric railway is clear, and we are pleased that this project will help more people engage with this fascinating heritage,” observed Stuart McLeod, Head of HLF South East.

“After months of anticipation Volk’s Electric Railway Association is thrilled to receive this exciting news. The Heritage Lottery Fund grant will secure the future of Volk’s Electric Railway for generations to come and will provide visitors with a new heritage experience based around the legacy that Magnus Volk left to the city of Brighton and Hove. At long last, staff and volunteers will be able to operate the railway’s historic cars from a modern, well-equipped depot,” said Peter Williams, spokesperson for the Volk’s Electric Railway Association.

£488,700 for La’al Ratty

The Eskdale (Cumbria) Trust has secured a £488,700 Heritage Lottery Fund grant for its Renovation, Extension and Volunteer and Events programme. The project encompasses restoration and extension of the existing museum (itself recently refurbished) at the 15in gauge Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway’s Ravenglass station.

Key project features are:

  • Building a new exhibition area, more than doubling the existing space, in which to display the Railway’s vintage rolling stock.
  • Create new interactive and accessible displays of Ravenglass and Eskdale documents and artefacts.
  • Digitisation of historic photographs enabling the Museum to tell more fully the story of the unique interaction between the railway and the Eskdale Valley, focusing particularly on its historic connections to iron ore mining and quarrying.

Secure home for historic locos

The significant items which will have a permanent and secure home enabling their display to the public include 15in gauge 1912-built ‘Little Giant’ Synolda and reconstructed ex-Eaton Hall Railway 0-4-0T Katie, a 19th century coach from the lines 3ft gauge era, granite tubs and other items of stock.

New volunteer opportunities will become possible in restoration work and through interpretation roles within the extended museum, which hitherto has been a self-guided experience. A new museum website will tell the story of the railway and the Eskdale Valley online.

Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway - colloquially known as La'al Ratty - originally opened as a 3ft gauge railway, carrying its first goods traffic in May 1875 with passenger services following from November 1876. In 1915 conversion to 15in gauge commenced (covering Ravenglass to Muncaster Mill) with regauging of the full line completed in 1917.

They said:

“This is magnificent support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. We shall now be able, with additional assistance from the Preservation Society, to complete our development project, preserving the heritage of this much-loved railway and opening up new opportunities for visitors, volunteers and the local community,” commented Peter Hensman of the Eskdale (Cumbria) Trust.

“The museum extension will provide new insights into the rich history of the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway and its interaction with the lives of those living in the local area since its arrival in the Western Lake District. It’s fascinating collections will now become more engaging and accessible, whilst new learning opportunities will enable the museum to attract a diverse range of visitors,” said Sara Hilton on behalf of HLF.

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