Moderator: MRW Digest

Larger Than Life

MRW Digest
Joined: October 30th, 2007, 10:37 pm

May 31st, 2008, 7:05 pm #1

Larger Than Life

Colin Peake examines the larger gauges in the miniature railway sphere

The opening of The Glass House cafe and bistro, the latest facility at Scarborough's North Bay Railway on the 24th May is the latest instalment in the 77 year history of the railway itself and it's transformation by the North Bay Railway Company. Attending the opening day brought the larger gauges closely to mind and made me wonder why the UK hasn't seen more lines of a miniature character over 15 inches in gauge. True, there have been several lines of 20-21 inch gauge and a handful of miniature lines in 18 inch (as opposed to industrial systems), but they have largely been operated by two distinct sets of equipment built in the first half of the 20th century. We have the works of Hudswell Clarke in Leeds to thank for 20-21 inch gauge and the legacy of the Jaywick miniature railway to consider in 18 inch.

The choice of 20 inch gauge for Scarborough was an unusual one, but this gauge was offered by both Hudswell Clarke and Baguley. With a history of building pleasure railways, one suspects rival bidders Bassett Lowke must have felt that they had this deal stitched up from the start, only to find they lost out to an industrial loco building concern from Leeds. Whether Scarborough chose Hudswell over Baguley on aesthetics or costs alone, or whether there was an element of Yorkshire pride at stake remains a mystery. The Hudswell Clarke offering of a scaled down Flying Scotsman in steam outline, diesel hydraulic form was no doubt a wise choice for an east coast resort in the days when publicity for the Big Four railway companies was at it height.

Triton on the North Bay Railway at Scarborough, May 2008 (Colin Peake)

Opening at Whitsun 1931, The North Bay Railway was an instant success, despite some teething troubles with the first locomotive, named 'Neptune' after the god of the sea. The railway formed part of a municipal leisure redevelopment known as Northstead Manor Gardens, which also incorporated a boating lake, water chute, open-air theatre and tennis courts, plus other facilities. For the 1932 season the railway took delivery of a second locomotive, 'Triton' and further rolling stock to form a second train. It would be very easy to say at this point that nothing much then changed for over 70 years, and whilst there were changes, most were evolution not revolution and the character of the railway has always remained, and indeed still does today.

Hudswell Clarke soon found a second customer in Yorkshire for its new line of steam outline diesel hydraulic locomotives. Golden Acre park near Leeds, an inland pleasure resort, took delivery of a handsome 4-6-4 steam outline tank locomotive named 'Robin Hood' in 1932. This was followed in 1933 by 'May Thompson', a copy of 'Triton' at Scarborough. Sadly, the Golden Acre Park line closed in 1939 and the locomotives and stock began a nomadic life for the next 70 years.

Robin Hood gets media attention at Scarborough from the BBC's Harry Gration, March 2007 (Colin Peake)

Blackpool Pleasure Beach was the next location to feature a Hudswell Clarke equipped railway, opening a 21 inch gauge line in 1933 with both designs of locomotive from the Hudswell catalogue, 'Carol Jean' being a tank locomotive and 'Mary Louise' an LNER pacific. Quite why this line was built an inch wider is still a mystery lost in the sands of time, maybe the Lancastrians wanted some distinction over their Yorkshire rivals?! With stations in the art deco style of Joseph Emberton, the Pleasure Beach railway was a contrast with the traditional architecture of the North Bay Railway. A fire in 1934 sadly put Carol Jean out of action for many years (indeed she was thought lost until she re-appeared post-war), and a replacement was ordered from Hudswell Clarke. This turned out to be a new design, based upon the LMS Princess Royal class which was making the headlines at the time. The original intention was to name this 'Carol Jean II', but this was changed to 'The Princess Royal' after a royal visit to the factory in Leeds. At the time the Thompson family, owners of the Pleasure Beach refused to change the name, however this locomotive was eventually renamed 'Geoffrey Thompson' following the untimely death of the park's manager in 2004.

The Blackpool Pleasure Beach Express, a family snapshot from 1993 (Colin Peake)

As with the Scarborough line, the Pleasure Beach line has evolved over the years with only minor changes, whilst the park around it has changed beyond recognition as the technology of amusement rides has progressed beyond anyone's wildest expectations. The line remains in use and is well maintained, but changes are always afoot at the Pleasure Beach. The latest change announced is that from 2009 the park will no longer be free-entry as it has been for over 100 years. A small admission charge, likely to be £5 will apply, which will include some rides such as the Pleasure Beach Express and monorail. Those wanting thrills and spills can pay more for a wristband to cover all rides. If you want to ride the railway by only paying for a ride ticket, my advice is to make the most of the 2008 season.

The state of the ex-Butlin's equipment at Butterley when it first arrived - this was the good one... (Richard Peake)

The final customer for Hudswell Clarke was Butlin's, purchasing two Princess outline locomotives, 'Princess Elizabeth' and 'Princess Margaret Rose'. Initially used on a 21 inch gauge line at the 1938 Glasgow exhibition, where Billy Butlin was amusement concessionaire, the complete railway moved to Butlin's holiday camp at Clacton for 1939. This was despite one of the locomotives carrying the wording "Skegness Special" on the smokebox whilst at Glasgow, this was purely Butlin's marketing flair for his holiday camp empire and not a pointer as to the locomotives destination, a fact confirmed in Peter Scott's book on the Butlin's railways. Over the years Butlin's operated various 21 inch gauge lines at Minehead, Pwhelli and Ayr, before the firm standardised on 2 foot gauge Chance Mfg 'C P Huntingdon' locomotives and stock. The Butlin's locomotives were stored in Lincolnshire for many years before being rescued by the Princess Royal Class Locomotives Trust at the Midland Railway (Butterley), where one has been restored along with one of the toastrack coaches.

The restored toaskrack coach at Butterley in 2008 (Peter Bryant)

If the Butlin's equipment moved around a little, the former Golden Acre Park stock moved a lot! Purchased by Blackpool Pleasure Beach in 1942 and stored there for a time, the stock went to Morecambe Pleasure Park for several years, where it operated in fits and starts before being sold to Kilverstone Wildlife Park in Suffolk. This site later became a country park (by simply selling its animals!) and the railway eventually closed. The stock moved again to Woburn Abbey, where it operated as the Great Woburn Railway. After replacement by a new Alan Keef train set to narrow gauge outline, the stock was saved by enthusiasts and stored at the Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway. With the formation of the North Bay Railway Company the stock was transferred to Scarborough to operate alongside 'Neptune' and 'Triton', doubling the locomotive fleet after 75 years.

Renamed 'Poseidon', the 1933 Golden Acre Park pacific becomes the third of its type at Scarborough. Interestingly, Scarborough Council had investigated the possibility of a third locomotive in the late 1940s, even the possibility of an oil-fired steam loco. Nothing came of this, or a later 1961 proposal for a third Hudswell Clarke steam outline loco. Other proposed but never built Hudswell Clarke miniature locomotives include a third Princess for Butlin’s, cancelled due to outbreak of war, and a live steam Coronation streamliner for Golden Acre Park, parts of which were made before the order was cancelled after Golden Acre Park closed.

Poseidon, decorated for the renaming ceremony, united with Triton and Neptune, March 2007 (Colin Peake)

Whilst UK miniature enthusiasts consider the Hudswell Clarke equipped lines as large, they are small compared to some lines in the states, (where things are always bigger!) 24 inch gauge is quite common for miniature outline stock, and the Chance 'C P Huntingdon', as used by Butlin’s is a very common design. In the UK these locomotives have also been used at Chessington World of Adventures, Flamingoland and at the Clyde Valley Country Park near Glasgow. At the latter site the small size of these locomotives is apparent as the coaching stock used is ex-15 inch gauge. Whilst considered by many in the not to be true miniature railway equipment, they are certainly not narrow gauge in many people’s eyes. A comparison with the Hudswell Clarke locomotives would probably find them to be smaller.

The Chance Mfg 'C P Huntingdon' train at Flamingoland, near Malton in 2006(Colin Peake)

Moving down to 18 inch gauge, the opening of the Jaywick railway in 1936 was a distinctly leisurely affair, in the days before tighter planning regulations the development of coastal areas with bungalows and holiday homes prompted the construction of a railway to give access to the Tudor Village development in an area going by the delightful name of Arcadia. To add to the care-free atmosphere the railway's sole motive power at opening was a scale model of a Stirling 4-2-2 Single which had previously operated at Fairbourne where it had been the 18 inch gauge spare wheel for a 15 inch gauge railway. However practical or impractical this loco was, it was certainly distinctive, as were the three coaches provided by Caffyns of Eastbourne. Each coach was of generous proportions and seated only 8, despite a length of over 16 feet. Comfort was certainly the keyword over capacity here. But the Jaywick railway soldiered on, gaining a Sentinel style locomotive that in later years provided a much more practical item of motive power. Sadly the line closed in 1939 with the outbreak of war, and despite a brief revival post-war it never quite reached it's full potential.

The surviving Jaywick coach at Windmil Farm, April 2008 (Colin Peake)

Jaywick's loss eventually became New Brighton's gain. On a small plot of land on the esplanade showman Tommy Mann ran his pleasure grounds, where in 1947 he opened a 18 inch gauge miniature railway using the Sentinel locomotive and coaching stock on a tightly curved layout incorporating a balloon loop. The Sentinel was rebuilt with a conventional outline and was joined in 1951 by a most curious machine, built by David Curwen Ltd as an enlarged version of Curwen's standard 4-4-2 as built for 10 1/4 inch gauge. David Curwen actually had no hand in it's design as it was built after he had departed the firm. Named 'Crompton' this loco ran for some time with a streamline casing but was never the most aesthetically pleasing machine. Services were later handled by a Ruston industrial diesel locomotive, ending the miniature era on the New Brighton line. The line eventually closed in 1965 and thoughts of an 18 inch gauge miniature line faded from memories.

From New Brighton the former Jaywick coaches went to the Ravenglass and Eskdale railway, where they were re-gauged to 15 inch gauge and provided vital extra seats at a time when they were most useful. Eventually replaced with new stock, the coaches moved to Gloddfa Ganol near Blaneau Ffestiniog, and later to the Moors Valley Railway in Hampshire. Sadly by this stage only one was intact, although the chassis of the other two survive. All can now be found at Windmill Farm near Southport.

The glimmer of a prospect for an 18 inch gauge miniature line was seen again in the late 1980s in the South-West. After many years of storage and overhaul the Jaywick single passed into the hands of the World of Country Life near Exmouth, who made some progress with a plan for a 18 inch gauge line around their site. Another locomotive was acquired in the form of a 4-6-0 of loosely LMS outline built in 1987 by Scarrott and six former 15 inch gauge coaches from the Liverpool Garden Festival line, as outlined in a previous Digest. Work had begun on re-gauging four of the coaches before the project came to a standstill after problems with the site emerged. The coaches were used for many years a part of a picnic area before heading to Windmill Farm in 2006, ironically joining the Jaywick coach there. The two steam locos remain on display amongst the road engines and other vintage attractions on the site.

Crompton seen at Cleethorpes in 2005, alongside stored Robin Hood (Colin Peake)

Meanwhile, a much stripped down 'Crompton' saw the light of day at Cleethorpes in 2005 for the Seasteam 100 event. The loco is currently stored at the CCLR awaiting an overhaul. The intriguing prospect remains that there at least three 18 inch gauge miniature steam locos that have been in the public eye recently yet no railway to run them on. The costs of setting up an 18 inch gauge line, whilst expensive, would probably not differ too much from setting up a 15 inch gauge line from scratch. With some suitable new coaching stock, plus restored Jaywick stock as a vintage train a very impressive operation could be set up that would certainly be unique as an 18 inch gauge miniature line in the UK. Sadly, I suspect no-one has the will or the ways to achieve this, but I would love to be proven wrong!

The October 1992 Small World found Robin Butterell pondering one of the issues raised in this month's Digest. Just what was the reason for the two different gauges quoted for the Hudswell Clarke equiped lines? Robin went to great lengths to check measurements of equipment built for Golden Acre Park and Bleckpool Pleasure Beach, and concluded that it might be possible to operate the 20 inch gauge stock on 21 inch gauge track, but not vice-versa. Even Robin could not provide a reason for the difference!

Robin also reports on a day spent at a very Busy Weston Park Railway where several resident an visiting steam locos were present, including half-size replicas of 15 inch gauge locos, a Fairbourne 'Katie' and 'Sir Arthur Heywood' styled after the Ravenglass 'Northern Rock'. Other visits were reported to Weymouth where the Severn-Lamb Rio Grande perhaps didn't impress so much, and Romney. Whilst visiting Kent Robin did some further research to the Higham Railway, original home of 'Count Louis', a loco Robin worked hard to get restored. Sadly he did not live to see it's glorious restoration, unveiled recently at the Evesham Vale Railway.

What are your memories of the larger gauge miniature railways? Should the UK follow the American example and have more larger gauge railways with 'scale' outline stock? Miniature Railway World Forum members can respond to this topic. All resoinses will be checked by a Moderator before appearing here.
Miniature Railway World Digest
Edited by Colin Peake

Callum Darraugh
Joined: September 2nd, 2007, 8:56 pm

May 31st, 2008, 7:18 pm #2

once again colin, absolutley brilliant. have you got more on the blackpool pleasure beach railway please?

Callum, Ashton-Under-Lyne's Finest!

Jordan Leeds
Joined: April 27th, 2007, 5:02 pm

May 31st, 2008, 9:18 pm #3

You mention running the larger locos on smaller track or vise verse well this will come down to the larger tyres IE wider it is the same with 7 1/4 and the daft USA with 7 1/2 its only on the points that you hit problems

Trains go into tunnels and come out but locos can go in sheds and never come out

P Scott
P Scott
Joined: November 24th, 2006, 2:07 pm

June 7th, 2008, 4:00 pm #4

Colin, a great article! Well done for getting the destination of the Butlin's Hudswell's correct after their use at Glasgow Empire Exhibition in summer 1938. Everytime I read they went to Clacton and Skegness, I grind my teeth - Butterley still have display boards stating that.....

I have long wanted to do a book on Blackpool Pleasure Beach - in fact I even started a few years back but was met with a stonewall from one quarter.

Peter S.

David Humphreys
Joined: August 23rd, 2006, 6:54 pm

June 7th, 2008, 8:29 pm #5


As said before an excelent article. You are a natural.

But I would say that wouldn't I!

All the best.


Operations Manager
Operations Manager
Joined: December 15th, 2006, 6:24 pm

June 8th, 2008, 4:01 pm #6

Excellent, professionally written, well researched article Colin- really enjoyed reading it.