Narrow gauge and miniature railways past and present of a Cestrian nature
For many railway buffs, ‘Cheshire’ and ‘narrow gauge’ seldom feature in the same sentence. Throughout the 20th Century they were unsung heroes in the making of modern Cheshire. Towards the end of the 20th century they had all but vanished, with narrow gauge lines assuming post-industrial uses.
The most common narrow gauge in use was the two feet gauge. North West Water and its predecessors opted for 2′ over the 4′ 8″ gauge, being favourable for moving to and fro between treatment plants. It was also used by the Central Electricity Generating Board for a line opposite the 4′ 8″ Woodhead route.
In Cestrian railway history, the narrow and miniature gauge lines are overlooked in favour of the four foot permanent way. This article aims to right this wrong. (Please note, the definition of Cheshire in this piece refers to the pre-1974 county).
Woodhead’s Other Railway
Contrary to popular belief, there used to be more than one railway on the sides of the Longdendale Reservoirs. From Bottoms to Woodhead reservoirs, in the mid-1960s, a 2′ narrow gauge railway was built on the opposite side to the mainline by the CEGB.
Following the redundancy of the older Woodhead tunnels and its replacement by the double track 1954 version, the Central Electricity Generating Board’s National Grid had a novel idea. Instead of having 400kV pylons along Featherbed Moss up to Dunford Bridge, the older tunnels were commandeered.
To facilitate this, a narrow gauge railway would help to relay the electrical cables. Its use would continue till 2007, mainly to transport its workers.
On opening in 1969, the narrow gauge railway was served by a Hunslet LX1002 locomotive. Its poor performance saw the loco replaced by CE 5843, which served the narrow gauge line well until 1998. Its replacement was Prometheus, built in 1998. Instead of diesel, battery power was used.
All three locomotives are lovingly preserved by the Moseley Railway Trust in Apedale, Staffordshire. Prometheus joined the collection in 2013, donated to the railway from the long privatised National Grid. The first locomotive for the CEGB’s Woodhead line would see service elsewhere in Cheshire. This time at…
Dukinfield Sewage Works
Arriving in 1971, the Ashton, Stalybridge and Dukinfield District Waterworks acquired the Hunslet locomotive from the CEGB. Replacing a Hibbard and Co. Planet locomotive, it was christened ‘Chaumont’ in reference to Ashton-under-Lyne’s twin town.
Dukinfield’s narrow gauge railway linked the southern end of the sewage works from the north of Shepley Road. This short line would lead to the works’ northerly point next to Plantation Farm.
Chaumont was gainfully employed at Dukinfield sewage works until 1993. During its 22 year stint, it saw the Ashton, Stalybridge and Dukinfield District Waterworks’ absorption to North West Water Authority, and NWWA’s privatisation in 1989.
Whereas the previous two were permanent structures, North West Water erected temporary 2′ gauge lines in Longdendale and along the River Weaver.
The former was for the maintenance of the headworks, at the end of the Longdendale chain of reservoirs. The latter was employed for maintaining the River Mersey and River Weaver river banks near Runcorn.
The Leisure Principle
Sadly, narrow gauge railways no longer seem to be used for industrial purposes. Increasingly they are for leisure purposes, usually to preserve locomotives (as demonstrated by our fellows at Moseley Railway Trust), or as part of a tourist attraction. Throughout Cheshire, there is two garden centres which boast a miniature railway.
Brookside Miniature Railway, Poynton
The best known example belongs to the Brookside Garden Centre in Poynton. Using the 7 1/4″ gauge it has five steam engines. Founded in 1972, it has progressed from a simple straight ‘there and back’ line to quite a substantial undertaking around the boundary of the garden centre.
The Brookside Miniature Railway also has a little museum where some of its early rolling stock can be seen. Before 1989, the miniature railway’s traction ran on the 5″ gauge. The line is decked with old British Rail signage.
Without Poynton’s footnote in miniature railway history, we wouldn’t have had the…
Dragon Miniature Railway, Marple
A more recent addition, which opened in 1997, the Dragon Miniature Railway has some of Brookside Miniature Railway’s 1989 rolling stock. Situated in the grounds of Wyevale Garden Centre, it takes its inspiration from early 1960s British Railways. Which, in other words mean 7 1/4″ replicas of Sulzer’s Class 47 diesel locos. Tastefully decked in two tone green.
Attention to detail is also extended to its coaches. There is also Blue Pullman and First Class style coaches (though no supplementary fee is charged for the privilege), and covered coaches.
The two miniature railways are a labour of love for its enthusiasts. As well as enabling people to get from end of the garden centre to another, it is a joyous showcase for their modelmaking abilities. They serve a purpose as a good family attraction and add interest to a bog standard visit to the garden centre for otherwise bored young children.
Brookside Miniature Railway is open every weekend. Fares are £1.80 single, or £12.00 for a ten-trip ticket. The Brookside Garden Centre is either 10 to 15 minutes walk away from the 192 terminus (Hazel Grove Park and Ride), or less than five minutes walk from the 392 bus stops to Stockport or Macclesfield.
The Dragon Miniature Railway is open on all weekends and Bank Holidays. Fares are £1.00 single with a ten-trip ticket available for £8.00. Wyevale Garden Centre is around 10 – 15 minutes walk from the Marple Road bus stop for the 358, 375, 383 and 384 services. Please note that no buses stop outside the garden centre entrance on Dooley Lane.
Before I go
Feel free to comment on any of the above railways. Any recollections of the industrial lines are most welcome. As always, feel free to add to our selection. Or praise the fellows in Poynton and Marple.
S.V., 28 August 2015.
Kind thanks go to Robin Harrison for his YouTube clips of the Brookside Miniature Railway and Dragon Miniature Railway. They offer a good view of how the two lines work (though I’ve yet to make the trip myself).