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Evolution, Preservation, Identity

Joined: August 15th, 2006, 6:15 pm

September 30th, 2007, 9:46 pm #1

Evolution, Preservation, Identity

Colin Peake

The recent 80th Anniversary celebrations of the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway were a milestone in the history of a line that has seen it's fair share of traumas over it's eight decades of existence. But amongst many changes over that time, one thing that has remained constant - it's fleet of 7 miniature steam locomotives built by Davey Paxman of Colchester and the 2 slightly younger examples completed by the Yorkshire Engine Company. Despite almost all other areas of the RH&DR being heavily rebuilt out of all recognition over the years, such as the coaching stock and stations, the classic steam fleet is still intact and examples are in use daily during the summer season.

Highly evolved. The first Romney loco to gain a larger tender, Hurricane, seen at New Romney in the 1980s (Richard Peake)

But just how original is original? By its very nature railway equipment wears out and needs repair and renewal whether standard gauge, narrow gauge or miniature. Should our historic miniature railway equipment be preserved in a state of limbo or should sensible evolution continue to take place?

Reading through the history of the RH&DR, there are developments in the locomotive fleet dating back to the earliest days of the line when the springs were changed from coil to leaf design to improve the ride of the locomotives. Another early development was the provision of a new tender for Hurricane in 1934, to allow Captain Howey to run non-stop from Hythe to Hythe via the Dungeness loop. Whilst this was undoubtedly to satisfy the sportsman in Howey rather than any real operational need, it set the scene for further developments over the years. Some features were evolved out of the original design, for example the 3rd cylinders in Typhoon and Hurricane, which were found to be troublesome and unnecessary. Howey was persuaded in the 1950s to re-boiler the locomotives with superheated boilers, a considerable expense at a time when the railway's finances were almost perilous. New tenders have been a recurring theme over the years, with more capacity for water and coal being the key reason for the changes. Even in recent years tender development work has continued, with a mock-up produced for a new design of driver's seat and front tender shape. We shouldn't forget that these are still working locomotives and have been all their lives, evolution is a natural part of their existence, as it is with the rest of the RH&DR. To preserve or restore one of the original locomotives to it’s original condition would possibly require the un-doing of much of that evolution and lose some of the operational advantages gained over the years.

A wooden mock up for a revised driver's seating space seen earlier this year at New Romney (Tim Dunn)

Of course part of the point that I'm trying to make is that in many ways the Romney isn't a preserved railway at all, it has always continued to develop and is still run by essentially the same company as in 1927. There may have been some times in the past when it almost closed, or threats were made to uproot the operation and restart it elsewhere, but somehow the line has persevered and prospered. Since the present owning company came into being in 1972, the locomotive fleet has evolved again, being supplemented by a German import and two main line diesels. Quite what Howey would have thought of these machines is anyone's guess, but he can't have been too adverse to internal combustion power on rails, as he gave up his Rolls Royce to become the lines first successful non-steam passenger locomotive back in 1930. Whilst this was no doubt an economy measure he was persuaded to adopt, this move no doubt secured the line’s future through making the winter operation economical. The addition of new diesel locomotives was in line with the philosophy of the new owners, described by John Snell, Managing Director as a "fundamental objective to restore, maintain and develop the railway in line with Howey and Zborowski’s original vision." [1] Definitely evolution, rather than preservation…

RH&DR no. 11 Black Prince on the Turntable at Hythe in the 1980s. This loco has now been heavily rebuilt and re-styled (Richard Peake)

Preservation is in fact a difficult word to use in the context of miniature railways. Most miniature railway equipment isn’t preserved as such as it is still continuing the function it was built for, taking passengers for an enjoyable ride. Larger railway items are preserved in the sense that their original function is now redundant. There are very few miniature railway items that meet this criterion. What exactly constitutes a preserved miniature railway item? Should it be stuffed and mounted to preserve its integrity or should it be used on an occasional or even full time basis? Does a preserved item have to be restored to exactly original appearance?

These are of course rhetorical questions, and everyone will have their own views and opinions. There are miniature railway items that could easily be considered preserved, such as Bob Tebb's restoration of Blacolvesley, the Ravenglass & Eskdale's Bassett-Lowke carriage and perhaps Romney's last Clayton Pullman. No doubt readers of the Digest will be able to produce a list of their own. Ravenglass based Synolda is an interesting example of a loco that spends much of it’s time stuffed and mounted, but is able to make occasional trips out in steam, such as when seen recently at Saltburn. There are also examples of what could be described as being in working retirement, such as the Sutton collection at Cleethorpes. Seeing these locomotives and stock in use is a joy, and there is plenty of life left in the stock despite being in storage for nearly 40 years. In fact I would say that the way the Sutton collection has been managed is perhaps the closest we've come in miniature railway terms to preservation in the sense accepted for standard gauge heritage lines, i.e. restoration in an appropriate livery to the history of the item.

John of Gaunt in a classic 1970s view at Stapleford. An unrepeatable scene as this section of the railway have been evolved out of existance.... (Richard Peake)

John H Gretton seen at the present terminus of the SMR. Note the rotary valve gear and other changes made over the years (Colin Peake)

The treatment of the Sutton collection is a contrast to the way miniature railway operators have traditionally operated, re-liverying equipment acquired secondhand from other lines. It has not been unknown in the past for operators and locomotive builders to swap names and identities of locomotives to make them appear as something new, perhaps the worst known offenders being Bassett-Lowke and Southport's Llewellyn, changing identities of Little Giant class locomotives to the confusion of future historians. Practices of this sort are perhaps not so common now as they were, and when they do happen the changes are usually easier to see. Take as an example the Curwen atlantic John H Gretton at the Stapleford Miniature Railway. Whilst the line was regularly open to the public this locomotive was known as John of Gaunt (and was even name-checked in The Avengers). After the line's re-birth as a private line with open days, it was renamed after the lines visionary driving force. This locomotive is also an interesting example of a locomotive where the original design has been upgraded over the years. Both the Stapleford Curwen atlantics were rebuilt in the lines heyday to improve performance, and John of Gaunt was later rebuilt with a rotary valve gear system in place of the original motion. In terms of rebuilds, it would be interesting to have the opportunity to compare this loco with the very much rebuilt Waverley, built to the same design but rebuilt to a very different outline.

Compare and contrast. Much rebuilt Curwen atlantic Waverley seen at the Rudyard Lake Railway (Peter Bryant)

Due to their cost effective size, miniature railways will continue to evolve and develop for years to come. Without the perceived need of the standard gauge preservationists to recreate the past, operators of miniature lines are free to maintain, develop and change the identity of their lines and equipment. Whilst preservation, in its literal sense, is perhaps not as paramount as it is in other railway fields, restoration, whether to original outline or a later, even new, look, is as equally important as it is to those rebuilding a Barry scrapyard wreck. Long may it continue!

My thanks this month to my father Richard Peake, Tim Dunn and Peter Bryant for use of their photographs.

Miniature Railway World forum members are invited to reply to this Digest entry. Do you have any view on what constitutes a preserved miniature railway item, the evolution of miniature lines and equipment or the changing of a locomotive's identity?

Please reply to this topic. Your reply will be posted as soon as it has been checked by a Moderator.
Colin Peake
MRW Digest Editor

My blog: O9 Modeller

Stuart Ross
Joined: September 29th, 2006, 8:23 pm

October 2nd, 2007, 9:44 pm #2


This is a very thoughtful article and in many parts hits the nail on the head. In terms of what is "original" on a locomotive is problematic. The miniature and to a greater extent narrow gauge railway world contain rebuilds to original condition which are really nothing more than replicas.

Dare I say that when Count Louis re - emerges from its long slumber many of the facinating and more memorable evolutions will have been discarded in favour of returning it to a state it historically spent only a short part of its life in. After all when you think about it Ravenglass are hardly going to sit down and say right lets stick the Lentz gear back on River Esk and put the tanks back on River Irt to make Muriel and destroy 70 odd years of fasinating developement...although I suspect there are some people who would think this was a good idea

Blacovesley is a good example of where the owner has decided to retain the replacement engine that was fitted because it has been in place longer than the engine it was built with.

I think we live in exciting and interesting times. The approach taken with the Sutton equipment at Cleethorpes is very different to what has gone before on most miniature lines and if this good practise can be spread out to cover other important miniature locos and equipment the heritage that survives for the future will be much richer.


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Murray Tremellen
Joined: December 5th, 2006, 5:58 pm

October 3rd, 2007, 4:27 pm #3

Badger064ST wrote:Dare I say that when Count Louis re - emerges from its long slumber many of the facinating and more memorable evolutions will have been discarded in favour of returning it to a state it historically spent only a short part of its life in.
I think I'd agree with this actually. Another point is that we already have one class 30 in more-or-less original condition (Synolda), so it would be more representitive to leave Count Louis in later condition.

However, it is, of course, up to those who pay for the restoration to decide.

That said, Fairbourne did buy many of the later parts from the engine that were discarded during the rebuild, with the idea of using them as the basis for a replica of her as running during her later life. Sadly, more urgent work has had to take priority at the railway, but it's still an interesting concept for preserving material that is not "original" to the engine, but is nevertheless historic.

Joined: August 12th, 2007, 11:36 am

October 14th, 2007, 11:41 am #4

A desire for “Preservation” even lives on at “modern” railways such as the Bure Valley Railway, which was opened in 1990 - some folk would like to paint all rollingstock in the livery of one or more of the pre 1948 railways. However, the current BVR policy is that all paint should be a standard colour out of a ready mixed can! (With a few exceptions.)
David Barnes

Bure Valley Railway - The 15" gauge railway with powerful steam locomotives.
Trains between Wroxham & Aylsham in Norfolk.
Daily services between 24th March and 28th October 2018.
Please look up the BVR website, for more details.