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Liverpool's Legacy

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

April 1st, 2008, 5:01 pm #1

Liverpool’s Legacy – Minimum Gauge and the Garden Festival

By Colin Peake

The imminent arrival at the Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway of four ex-Liverpool Garden Festival Railway coaches is the latest chapter in a tale that has spanned over two decades and involved many twists and changes along it’s course.

The Liverpool International Garden Festival was the first of a series of garden festivals held in the UK between 1984 and 1992. The concept, based on the German 'Bundesgartenschau' was to achieve land regeneration through a year long festival, followed by redevelopment with a more permanent use. This technique had been sucessfuly used in Germany from the 1930s onwards and the concept spread to other parts of Europe after the second world war. Germany still holds a bi-annual festival to this day.

Black Prince emerges from a tunnel at the 1984 Liverpool International Garden Festival (Glen Fairweather)

The concept came to the UK in the 1980s after being pushed by Michael Hessletine, then Environment Secretary. Liverpool had in the early 1980s been the scene of social unrest and the Merseyside Development Corporation had been set up to revitalise the city’s fortunes. The Garden Festival site, along the banks of the River Mersey had been derelict industrial land and the festival’s aim was to regenerate the land and provide a lasting legacy in the form of a new area of parkland. The festival itself would promote tourism and increase visitors to Liverpool, whilst also boosting local employment and spending. Whilst the festival itself was a success and the concept proved itself, the outcome for the site was not as expected and at the time of writing the site is still largely derelict and development plans are only just being fully realised.

Perhaps one of the lasting legacies of the Liverpool International Garden Festival was the impact of it’s 15" gauge miniature railway. It nearly didn’t happen, the original concept was for a 2 foot gauge line and the Festiniog Railway were very involved in it’s design. The change to 15" gauge came when it was realised that spare equipment was more readily available in this gauge. As 15" gauge railways had been a feature of many of the early German festivals, it seemed an appropriate feature to include in the first UK version. The resultant line, with it’s sharp curves and steep grades was perhaps unlike any other line of the gauge in the UK at the time. It even featured a branch line to one corner of the site to aid access for less mobile visitors to the central area of the festival, ably operated by the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway's 'Silver Jubilee' Railcar.

Silver Jubilee operating the shuttle service on the branch line at Liverpool (Glen Fairweather)

On the main circuilt the railway was intended to be in the image of the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway, main line outline locos with Romney style stock. The initial locos were to be Romney's 'Samson', 'Black Prince' and 'The Bug', with the R&ER's 'Shelagh of Eskdale' as back-up diesel power. Ironically 'Black Prince' was built for a German festival line and the design of 'The Bug' was duplicated for replacement locos for another German line. Coaching stock included 6 RHDR coaches, 18 semi-opens to a Romney style design built at Carnforth and 3 enclosed guards/wheelchair coaches also built at Carnforth. It was soon realised that 'The Bug' was not adequate for the sharply curved and steeply graded line and a fourth steam loco in the form of the R&ER's 'River Irt' soon arrived to allow three steam trains to operate on the main circuit at once. This was possible due to the signalling system installed by GEC with multiple aspect signalling and radio communication.

Shelagh Of Eskdale passes under the aqueduct at Liverpool (Glen Fairweather)

The railway at Liverpool was a great success, over 1.9 million passengers were carried despite longer than expected loading times at stations and moves were made to keep at least part of the line in place in the longer term as part of the regeneration of the south eastern part of the site. Sadly this came to nothing and the line was lifted in October 1984. Indeed, the regeneration of the site did not go as planned and although houses were built on the areas away from the riverbank the riverside site has largely sat unused since the festival. Liverpool is not alone in struggling to regenerate it’s garden festival site as other UK host sites have faced similar problems over the last 20 or so years. The success of the Liverpool railway did however have lasting impact and rail transport of one form or another featured at the other 4 festivals held through to 1992. The next festivals, at Stoke on Trent (1986) and Glasgow (1988), featured 2 foot gauge lines equipped by Severn Lamb, but 15" gauge was back on the agenda for the 1990 festival at Gateshead. The final festival, at Ebbw Vale in 1992 featured an unusual funicular railway rather than the traditional lines of the other four festivals.

Before we look at Gateshead, there is the fate of the Liverpool equipment to examine. The Romney and Ravenglass equipment returned to it's home lines whilst the Carnforth built coaches, some buildings and trackwork was obtained by the owners of the Britannia Park development at Shipley, near Ilkeston, Derbyshire. This leisure park, regenerating former open cast coal workings and designed to showcase the 'Best of British', opened a ½ mile 15" gauge railway in July 1985 which used ex-Liverpool track, 5 semi-open coaches and 1 saloon/guards vehicle (it is not thought the other stock arrived on site). Motive power was 'Shelagh of Eskdale' on hire from Ravenglass, and it was expected that 'River Irt' would arrive once an extension and locomotive facilities were constructed. Plans for further extensions and developments were on the drawing board, however like most of Britannia Park's aspirations, they came to nothing when the park went into receivership in September 1985. The directors of the park stood trial for fraud in the (then) longest trail in British legal history. Creditors were aplenty and it is a moot point whether the Liverpool equipment was ever paid for…

The Britannia Park railway, showing one of the saloon/guards coaches from Liverpool (Douglas Ferreira, courtesy R&ER/Peter van Zeller)

Whilst the Britania Park site eventually became The American Adventure Theme Park and operated a very different 15" gauge railway for 20 seasons between 1987 and 2006, the Liverpool coaching stock was in the possession of Severn Lamb by 1986. At this stage the organisation of the Gateshead festival for 1990 was underway and enquiries were made as to the availability of the coaching stock for that line. Before a deal could be completed Severn Lamb had sold 6 coaches for a projected 18" gauge line near Exmouth and 5 to the Oakwood Adventure Park in Pembrokeshire. This left 7 semi-open coaches and the 3 guards vehicles which were purchased for the Gateshead festival and given bogie overhauls by the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway who were the driving force behind the planning and construction of the Gateshead line.

Former Longleat railcar Lenka with ex-Liverpool stock at Oakwood (Peter Scott)

The site chosen for the 1990 Gateshead Garden Festival couldn't have been more of a contrast to Liverpool if it had tried. Whilst Liverpool’s festival occupied one vast site, Gateshead’s was on four interconnected sites with roads, railways and even a river disecting the festival. Transport was a challenge and the festival included road trains, a monorail, standard gauge tramway and 15" gauge steam railway to move visitors around. The miniature railway linked the two northernmost sites closest to the river Tyne and the historic Dunston coal staithes. In linking these two sites the line crossed a road and the river Team on Bailey bridges. The railway took the form of two large baloon loops linked by a section of single track over the bridges.

Long shadows and steam.... River Irt at Gateshead (Dave Holroyde)

With the R&ER taking the lead in development the railway took on a different character to Liverpool, being much more 'minimum gauge' in outline with 'Northern Rock' and 'River Irt' as the steam motive power and (yet again!) 'Shelagh of Eskdale' initially providing diesel power. Early on the Gateshead drivers took a dislike to the diesel and RHDR diesel no. 12 'John Southland' was drafted in at short notice and the Ravenglass machine relgated to shunting duties. Unlike the Liverpool line where 'Shelagh of Eskdale' was mainly used as lunch time relief for steam locos, at Gateshead the railway usually operated with one diesel and one steam locomotive in operation at any time.

On the coaching stock front the 10 ex-Liverpool coaches were joined by 5 Romney saloons and the 5 production 'Maxi' coaches newly built at Carnforth for the R&ER. These revolutionary coaches featured some three-abreast seating and sliding doors giving access to more than one compartment. Train formations were mixed due to the Maxi coaches being through-piped only and always marshalled between the loco and remainder of the train. Braking, as at Liverpool and Britannia Park was vacuum on the RHDR system with the Ravenglass locos modified to suit.

Shelagh Of Eskdale with Maxi and ex-Liverpool stock at Gateshead (Dave Holroyde)

As with the Liverpool railway, the Gateshead line served it's purpose well for it's brief existance. It didn’t perhaps get as much attention as the Liverpool line did in the railway press at the time, but certainly got more attention than either of the 2 foot gauge lines at Glasgow or Stoke on Trent. There was never any question of the railway staying in place, the rail was destined for Ravenglass and the site for development, although it took some time for the northern part of the site to be built upon. The Ravenglass and Romney stock soon returned to their home lines whilst the Carnforth built stock was put up for sale by the festival organisers.

Although the prospect of miniature railways helping promote regeneration is an intriguing one, the festival sites did not generate the regeneration promised quite as quickly as hoped and unlike our continental cousins, the UK's festival parks were not left in place after the festivals closed. In Germany festival sites often retained their railways after closure, giving the country a rich minimum gauge heritage. Apart from many photographs and fading memories, the Liverpool and Gateshead garden festival railways perhaps left one lasting legacy in the 21 purpose built coaches.

After Gateshead the three guards/saloon coaches were soon sold, no doubt through Ravenglass contacts, to the Romney Railway at Shuzenji, Japan, joining new enclosed coaches built at Carnforth which were based on the Liverpool design. The seven remaining semi-opens went three ways, three additional coaches to the Oakwood Adventure Park, two regauged to 2 foot gauge to operate behind a Chance 'CP Huntingdon' at the Clyde Valley Coutry Park near Glasgow (as seen here), and the remaining two to Austin Moss, initially at Bury on the East Lancashire Railway and later moving to the Windmill Farm Railway when that line was established.

Ex-Liverpool and Sandy Bay coaches at Windmill Farm, destined for Cleethorpes (Craig Gluyas)

The six coaches at Sandy Bay Countryside Museum near Exmouth spent nearly 20 years waiting for a line that never happened. The nature of the site saw plans abandoned and the coaches used as picnic area furniture! Austin Moss eventually negotiated their return to the rails at Windmill Farm in 2006, where some work on regauging the stock was evident. Two of the coaches still had 15" gauge bogies and were soon running again, whilst the ones where regauging had started are the four destined for a new life by the sea at Cleethorpes.

My thanks to Craig Gluyas, Dave Holroyde, Peter Scott and Glen Fairweather for allowing me to use their photographs for this Digest. Glen's comprehensive photo coverage of the Liverpool Garden Festival Railway can be found here: http://www.miniaturerailwayphotos.fotop ... 87995.html Further details about the history of the Britannia Park and Gateshead railways can be found in articles I wrote for The Narrow Gauge, issues no. 163 and no. 167 respectively.

by Colin Peake

June 1992 saw Robin Butterell's 'Small World' centred on one of his favourite subjects, the Bassett-Lowke 'Little Giant' classes of Atlantics. In many ways this was a preliminary for Robin's much later book on the subject, a favourite amongst MRW readers. In the brief space afforded by two pages Robin managed to give a summary of the locos still in existance and the situation as it then stood.

Since 1992 much has changed. At that time three of the locos covered in Small World ('Little Giant' herself, 'King George' and 'Blacolvesley') were based at the Lightwater Valley theme park near Rippon, a line that eventually gave up on steam and it's historical collection dispersed. Thankfully all the Lightwater refugees are still in the UK, although not all on public display. Sadly we have lost two locos to the United States, ex-Steamtown, Carnforth 'Princess Elizabeth' and 'George the Fifth', of which nothing has been heard for some time.

Robin would have been delighted at two pieces of news that emerged in March 2008. Firstly, the return of his beloved 'Count Louis' to steam after a major overhaul, and secondly the re-appearance after 55 years in store of 'Mighty Atom', due to arrive at Cleethorpes in April/May to be reunited with the remainder of the Sutton Miniature Railway equipment. The Little Giant story looks set to continue for some time...

Do you remember the Liverpool or Gateshead Garden Festival railways, or even Britannia park? Miniature Railway World forum members can respond to this topic. All responses will be checked by a moderator prior to publication.
Miniature Railway World Digest
Edited by Colin Peake

Ticket Collector
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Joined: December 12th, 2007, 9:05 am

April 1st, 2008, 5:27 pm #2

Blimey Colin! that must have taken ages. Well done, very interesting, I might very well have a trip across the water in the next week or 2 and take some snaps of what the Liverpool site looks like today.


Joined: August 16th, 2007, 6:37 pm

April 1st, 2008, 6:38 pm #3

Colin , nice garden festivals article, well done . Cheers , Dave

Joined: November 2nd, 2007, 6:25 pm

April 1st, 2008, 6:52 pm #4

Very nicely written, well done.
Thats the first digest I've read all the way through and it was very interesting, I always wondered about the Liverpool railway since i heard its coaches were CCLR bound.
"Humans are so smart, they dont even need a meteorite to destroy themselves, like the stupid dinosaurs did!"

NYMR Fireman - "More in the back end!"

Joined: March 4th, 2007, 2:59 pm

April 1st, 2008, 7:19 pm #5

I remember visiting the Liverpool Garden Festival and the Stoke-on-Trent festival.

I also visited the Countryside museum in Exmouth a few years back and took some pictures of the carriages.

There were also a couple of miniature steam locos on static display inside the museum. I can't remember the details offhand but I will have a look at my records when I get a minute.


Joined: January 7th, 2007, 8:13 pm

April 1st, 2008, 7:23 pm #6

Yes, a very good Digest, Colin, as comprehensive as ever. Never thought such a relatively small timespan would hold such varied history.


Dom Greenop
"There's no such thing as sanity, and that's the sanest fact" M. Knopfler, 1985

Joined: August 18th, 2006, 9:55 am

April 1st, 2008, 7:25 pm #7

Great article very interesting.

Joined: August 14th, 2006, 5:59 pm

April 1st, 2008, 7:29 pm #8

Fantastic reading as ever Colin, great job!

Peter Bryant
Forum Admin


Joined: October 24th, 2006, 3:54 pm

April 2nd, 2008, 12:54 pm #9

Great stuff.

As Colin knows, I'm also fascinated with one of the tangential projects of Britannia Park; Tucktonia. This medium-sized "Best of Britain" park included not only a vast miniature city of London, where one could walk down the streets and see an extensive 2.5" gauge railway, but also a small theme park and a circuitous 7.25" gauge line. The 7.25" gauge later was moved by its owners and became the Moors Valley Railway.

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

April 2nd, 2008, 1:39 pm #10

DevilDrummer wrote:Very nicely written, well done.
Thats the first digest I've read all the way through and it was very interesting, I always wondered about the Liverpool railway since i heard its coaches were CCLR bound.
I agree totally. Thank you Colin for an excellent article. :D
David Barnes

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