STEAMTOWN MINIATURE RAILWAYS @ CARNFORTH, LANCASHIRE, UK

This is the story of the Steamtown railway museum miniature railways.

Princess elizbeth runs round its train at Keer End Station A typical train on the steamtown miniature railway

Steamtown Railway Museum, Carnforth was the location for a 15 inch gauge miniature railway. This started in 1975 and was finally closed and then sold by tender and moved to California. However there were other miniature railways which ran there over the years

The first miniature railway at Carnforth was a raised dual gauge 3.5 inch and 5 inch line laid on top of sleepers in the Keer sidings in the early 1970's. A 5 inch gauge 2-6-2 tank engine was the motive power on most occasions it ran . This engine was unreliable and the line eventually removed.

5 inch gauge railway locomotive at Steamtown Ian Dawson driving the first miniature railway at Steamtown

The first 5 inch gauge miniature railway at Steamtown

The second and most substantial railway arrived in 1975 in the form of a 15 inch gauge Basset Lowke class 20 atlantic tender engine Princess Elizabeth. Accompanied by about 200 yards of set track of 20lb per yard rails bolted to steel sleepers. There were two articulated coaches which could be easily dismantled. It arrived at Steamtown after visiting the 150 anniversary celebrations of the Stockton and Darlington railway at Shildon in 1975. It was quickly laid on the East side of the main car park and put into operation. This proved popular with both public and volunteers and so a more substantial railway was planned.

Queen Elizabeth on the traverser at the engine shedBasset Lowke Class 10 King George Vtwo trains pass at the central station

Queen Elizabeth And King George ride the traverser outside the shed

The Permanent 15 inch gauge railway

This was for a line on the west side of the site starting from a station next to the water tank and heading South towards Crag Bank. This required a large retaining wall to be built opposite the carriage and wagon show to give clearance past the standard gauge track . The track then followed the route of an old siding to the site of the old London & North Western Railway engine shed. The original track was used on wood sleepers along with some lighter 13 lb rail bought with proceeds from an temporary railway at Newcastle.

Princess Elizebeth outside the engine shed

Basset Lowke Class 20 Queen Elizabeth

In 1978-9 a job creation scheme was approved which provided  a 30,000 grant to employ 3 supervisors and 10 trainees for one year and for a small amount for materials. I managed this as a volunteer and great progress was then made. We purchased Royal anchor from the Ravenglass & Eskdale railway for 500 along with some rails.  A reconditioned Ford 4D engine was donated by MacAlpines and the engine brought back into use.

Royal Anchor at Steamtown Carnforth
Royal Anchor parked in the siding

Point blades were bought from Alan Keef and new points manufactured at Steamtown. Another Basset Lowke atlantic King George V arrived as well as 4 German coaches. The track was extended to a joint station with the standard gauge railway at Crag Bank usimg 30lb rail surplus from a London tunnel contract. A sectional wooden building was acquired from McAlpines and a 4 track engine shed served by a traverser built next to the water tank. The railway was inspected by Major Olver and treated as a part of the statutory Steamtown light railway.

Steamtown miniature railway engine shed

A view of the miniature railway shed and traverser.

The next step was to run the tracks North through the engine shed to Keer end Station. This was not easy requiring lintels to be installed in the end walls and an opening made at each end. The Number 6 standard gauge track and the Keer sidings also had to be removed. This was done and another station built next to the main site entrance at Keer end. This was named after the river Keer which flows past this end of the site. This extension meant that the coaches could now be parked inside at night.

Guest pacific 5751 heads foe Crag Bank No.5751 at Crag Bank station

Two views of No 5751 which became Prince William. The second view is at Crag Bank interchange station.

A brand new coach in the same style as the coaches built for the Liverpool garden festival was built at Steamtown and added to the rolling stock. Originally a single open wagon came from the abortive Axminster scheme and was so useful a second was built at Steamtown.

Further rolling stock arrived in the form of Guest pacific 5751from Blenheim. This was later named Prince William and repainted in Maroon livery. It is now at the Evesham Light railway. It visited a number of other railways as well as running at Steamtown.

Track plan of the Steamtown Miniature railways

The Barnes Atlantic Joan was borrowed for a while and ran a temporary line at Newcastle Town fair. This raised some useful funds and the track was then laid at Steamtown. The engine was in awful mechanical order and needed a full overhaul so it departed. King George was also used on a similar temporary line at Bury in 1979.

 Doctor Diesel  a Bo-Bo arrived and was used.   Tracy Joe a steam outline narrow gauge 2-6-2  and the Battinson steam outline 2-6-4 T also arrived. They were never actually used in service at Steamtown.

Decline & Closure

The railway museum at Carnforth started a long decline in the mid 1980's. The background to this will be set out in other parts of the story. The controlling interest in the railway museum was finally sold by Bill McAlpine to David Smith. He focussed on the main line operations. The model engineers departed and then the main museum closed to the public. The miniature railway carried on bringing in visiting engines but the takings were not sufficient to pay the running costs and the public liability insurance so it too closed.

It was put up for tender and exported to California with the intention of linking a vineyard to the Nappa Valley wine train.

The site at Steamtown is still owned by the original company and is a service and repair depot. West Coast Railways a wholly owned subsidiary now runs steam trains all over the UK

The Morecambe Extension

There was a serious proposal to build a 15 inch gauge railway from near Happy Mount Park at Bare in Morecambe to Steamtown. At that time in the early 1980's Steamtown was at its zenith and Morecambe was still a significant holiday resort.

Bill McAlpine who by this time had bought a controlling interest in Steamtown sold the Dorchester Hotel in London. He looked round for something interesting to do with the money. There was a perfectly feasible route from Steamtown to the shoreline and then to follow this past Bolton le Sands and Hest Bank. At Hest bank where the main road crosses the West Coast main line there is a spare section under this bridge that the15 inch gauge railway would have taken before turning left and skirted the golf course to Happy Mount Park.

The route was surveyed to show it was practical. Formal consultations took place with local councils by Steamtown's then manger George Hinchcliffe and Director Joe Greenwood. There was opposition from the local parish councils and residents at Bolton Le sands and the spectres of noisy smoke belching steam engines were put forward. The decision was taken that Steamtown did not want a battle with the local population and the proposal was dropped.

In due course housing has been built over the route to the coast and Steamtown closed to the public. This is one of the little known great railway's which were never built. Over the next 10 years Morecambe virtually ceased to exist as a holiday destination. The number of hotels and guest houses declining from about 1000 to 100.

The Model Engineers Track

This was built by the Lancaster and Morecambe Model Engineering Society on a large unused patch of ground to the South of the site and adjacent to the 15 inch gauge railway. It was a ground level track of 3.5 ,5 and 7.25 inch gauge. Built with steel bar rails set into hardwood slotted sleepers, The multi gauge points were a work of art.

Model of Hardwick on the steaming bays2-8-4 on oustide the clubrooms7.25 inch gauge Hunslet Sybil

 It had two connected circuits and a raised turntable and steaming area. A sectional wooden building provided a clubhouse. These photographs were taken in 1985 at an open day.

Train on the track with coal and water towers in the distanceAnne gets tready for her trurn

It was popular with visitors and a halt was built on the 15 inch gauge railway to allow visitors to get their as there was no footpath access from the rest of the site. Eventually the new owner of Steamtown David Smith served a notice to quit and very reluctantly the society moved to a new site at Cinder barrow between Carnforth and Kendal where a new track was built using the rails and is in regular use in 2011.

Mike Hanson

FURTHER INFORMATION

Steamtown Railway Museum

The people who developed Steamtown

Steamtown memories & recollections

Steamtown- lakeside railway

Steamtown early 1970's

My personal interest has continued with the purchase and development of the Rudyard Lake Steam Railway in Staffordshire, one of the UK's best miniature railways.

Copyright reserved

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

emaiI mike@rlsr.org