As the next step in celebrating our 60th Anniversary Year, for the summer we have reunited Conway Castle with her twin Rhuddlan Castle.
The two Castles were built by Fenlow Engineering in 1972 for a railway at Prestatyn in North Wales. When this line closed they were bought by the Nicholson family and ran during the 80s on a railway at the Suffolk Widlife Park, but it is now 30 years since the two engines have been together.
Rhuddlan Castle is in largely original condition, whereas Conway Castle was rebuilt to more modern standards in the mid 1990s, so there is an interesting contrast between the two!
We are very grateful to Stuart Madgin at the Vanstones Woodland Railway who has kindly let us have Rhuddlan on loan for the summer. Rhuddlan is not in daily use, but will fill in as needed when one of our diesels is undergoing maintenance, and there will also be a few special days where the two Fenlow diesels are running together.
The weekend of 27th & 27th April
saw a celebratory event held to mark the 60th anniversary of the
Watford Miniature Railway.
Located in Watford’s award-winning Cassiobury Park, the
railway has become part and parcel of the town’s culture since it opened in 1959
and is now one of the oldest operating park railways in the UK.
Despite some variable weather trains ran all weekend, with
the railway’s normal locomotives being joined by ‘Meteor V’, a petrol
locomotive which ran on the railway until the early 1990s. Also on display was a new resident steam
locomotive ‘Pilgrim’, which will be entering service soon after some minor
repair work is completed.
The Park’s Hub building hosted an exhibition of the
railway’s development and history over the past 60 years, including over 200
photos never seen in public before.
There were also model railways on display, free children’s entertainment
and live music. On the Saturday there
was a birthday cake cutting ceremony attended by Mayor of Watford Peter Taylor,
railway staff past and present, and a number of park visitors – and, of course,
there was a free piece of cake for all visitors!
A commemorative book has also been produced detailing the history of the railway, which can be purchased here or in person at the railway.
Plans are now being developed by the railway’s current
operators to help improve the facilities and secure the railway’s future for
many more generations to come.
Railway owner Charles O’Mahoney commented “For generations
the railway has been part of a visit to the park for local residents. We regularly have visitors who rode as a
child returning now with their children or grandchildren, and in fact three
generations of my family have ridden on the train here as children. I don’t think there is a park railway
anywhere else that has that strength of social history. Not many miniature railways survive beyond 20
years so it is remarkable we have reached our 60th birthday.
We have very basic facilities – we don’t even have mains power or water – and we really want to improve these and the experience for our visitors. By improving what we have I hope the railway can ultimately reach its centenary in 2059!”
Come along on the 27th & 28th April to celebrate 60 years of the WMR!
The Cassiobury Park Hub building will host a free exhibition detailing the history of the railway, how it came to be and how it has developed over the past 60 years. This will include many photographs never seen in public. Also in the Hub will be a number of model railway displays.
From 1pm to 4pm on both days there will be an event area next to the railway with live music, local stalls and children’s activities.
On Saturday the Mayor of Watford will be attending to help launch the celebrations and, of course, cut the obligatory birthday cake!
Trains will be running from 11am on both days with both resident and visiting engines, as shown below:
Another steam locomotive has joined the fleet for this summer.
Pilgrim is an 0-6-0 tank engine originally built by David King in 1982. Commissioned brand new for the Wells and Walsingham Railway in Norfolk, she later spent many years on a touring portable railway, before ending up at the Knebworth Park Railway on the other side of Hertfordshire. After a comprehensive overhaul in 2013/14, she was placed back on loan to the Wells Railway. However she has now moved to join us to help celebrate our 60th anniversary.
Pilgrim requires a boiler test (in layman’s terms, a steam engine MOT) and air brakes fitting before she can haul our trains, but we hope to have this work finished in time for our 60th Anniversary Weekend on the 27th & 28th April.
Chiltern Shuttle’s owner Dave Horton reports on restoration progress this month:
The boiler has now been removed from the frames and thickness testing carried out on all of the platework. This reveals things to be in remarkably good condition considering the loco has been stood unused in the damp and cold for ten years still wearing its cladding. The exception is the smokebox which, as expected, is totally shot (though the chimney and door are salvageable), and the two bosses (washout plugs) on the bottom of the barrel which are rusted through will have to be replaced.
Though the news is generally good so far, a hydraulic test will need to be undertaken once the bosses are replaced to determine whether there are any hidden gremlins such as cracks in the front tubeplate. All being well, and subject to independent boiler assurance, we may be able to leave the copper tubes undisturbed.
Readers may be interested to note that the boiler, a ‘Goodhand’ design, is round-topped – this was a surprise to me as the cladding has been designed to imitate the Belpaire fireboxes (square-topped) of the Pennsylvania switchers on which the model is apparently quite faithfully based (when I find out exactly what class of loco it was based on, I will let you know!).
On the chassis side, strip-down of the cylinders and valve chests has revealed that slide valves are worn and need replacing, and new pistons and rings are required, but hopefully reboring can be avoided.
Since these photos were taken everything has been utterly blasted with a pressure hose or so I’m told!
Finally some pictures of what she looked like when built as a 9.5″ gauge engine by Mr R. Morse of Hendon (1947). This is turning out to be quite a fascinating little journey of engineering archaeology!
The Historic Steam locomotive ‘Chiltern Shuttle’ will be returning home to Watford following completion of a thorough overhaul to working order.
Built by R.H. Morse in the 1940s, Chiltern Shuttle has been based at Watford since the early 1980s. When the railway was sold to new owners in 2017 she was not included in the sale, but she has now been bought by two of our occasional drivers, David and Yvette Horton.
In November Chiltern Shuttle arrived with Denver Light Railway, the specialist engineering firm who helped put Marri back into working order earlier this year. She has now been stripped down into parts, ready to assess exactly what work is required to put her back into working order. After many years of use there will be quite a few parts which need attention, so we can’t say yet when Chiltern Shuttle will be back home, but we hope it will be in the next 2-3 years.
Although privately owned she will live at Watford and be used on some trains all year round, as well as occasionally visiting other railways as our roving mascot!
We will be open our normal practice of ‘Weekends and School Holidays’ all year until the end of November. However, we will also be open daily from April through until September; we trialled weekday trains in June and September in 2018, these proved popular so we are extending weekday running right through May as well.
The railway celebrates it’s 60th birthday in 2019 and we are planning a celebration weekend on the 27th & 28th April; expect to see all our engines running plus some guest engines for the weekend. There will also be an exhibition showing the history of the railway as it developed over the past 60 years, plus the pioneering history of miniature railways in Watford – did you know the first miniature railway opened to the public was just up the road in Bricket Wood?
Watford’s Cassiobury Park has long been popular, its recent national awards proving how special it is. One of its main attractions is the miniature railway, loved by young and old, and about to commemorate sixty years serving the public.
To mark this anniversary there is to be a public exhibition and a commemorative booklet presenting the railway’s history. However, we would like your help. Do you have any old photographs of the railway? Do you have any stories or reminiscences of your time on it?
We want to include the cultural impact of the line; what it means to those living around Watford and the many users of Cassiobury Park over the years. The railway has long been thought of fondly, and your input is vital to the success of this special anniversary year.
If you would like to get in touch, please do email on firstname.lastname@example.org – it will be greatly appreciated.