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Simply a Man among Giants; May Digest
Topic Started: 30 Apr 2008, 10:29 PM (8,694 Views)
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Simply a Man among Giants

Historic 7 ¼ inch gauge staying out of the limelight in Devon....

By Dom Greenop

The South West of England is renowned for possessing a number of prolific miniature railways. Ask anybody – enthusiast or not – "which miniature railways spring to mind when you think of the South West?", and the answer will be full of the usual suspects: Pecorama, Trago Mills, Dobwalls (now closed), Lappa Valley, etc.

But what about the others? While the aforementioned lines are attracting plenty of media attention and column inches, what about those who simply get on with things quietly while the big names draw media and enthusiasts’ attention? There are surprisingly many of these in the South West.

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Romulus William waits at the old station by the play area during the early days of the present Buckfastleigh railway (SDMR Collection)

One such place is the 7 ¼ inch gauge South Devon (Buckfastleigh) Miniature Railway, situated in the grounds of Buckfastleigh station on the South Devon Railway. While the current railway opened in 1993, miniature railways graced this site much earlier. As far back as 1977, a railway has been here, in the form of the Riverside Miniature Railway, operated by Geoffrey Kitchenside, who would go on to build the famous Gorse Blossom Miniature Railway.

The Riverside Miniature Railway operated from 1977 until the end of the 1983 season, initially as 10 ¼ inch gauge, being re-gauged in 1979 to 7 ¼ inch gauge. Motive power during the 10 ¼ inch days included a pair of Meteors (Meteor III and Meteor VII), which were re-built by Geoffrey into one 4w diesel-mechanical machine in 1978. Steam was provided by a 4-4-0 of possibly Basset-Lowke origin. After the 7 ¼ inch gauge was laid two locos, both of which would go on to work at Gorse Blossom, were used, these being the 1979-built Lynton & Barnstaple 2-6-2T 'Yeo' and Bo-Bo PH 'Little Bear' originally built 1974, rebuilt 1977. The line extended right around the grounds of the station between the full-size railway and the River Dart, with a circuit of nearly ¾ mile.

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Little Bear sits at the station at Gorse Blossom during the 1990’s (SDMR Collection)

There is evidence to suggest that this original line existed for a time as dual-gauge; though no written record of this is made, there is a level crossing situated in the gardens with dual-gauge track laid to 7 ¼ inch gauge and 10 ¼ inch. It could be that an extra rail was simply inserted during conversion, with the old rail left, but any dual-gauging cannot have been a long-term situation, as the 10 ¼ inch gauge equipment moved off-site at the end of the 1979 season.

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Dual gauge track in evidence on a level-crossing (D. Greenop)

September 1983 saw the end of the Riverside Miniature Railway, Geoffrey Kitchenside lifting the track for use in the construction of the famous Gorse Blossom Railway, which opened in 1984, closing in 2006. However, this was not the end of miniature railways at Buckfastleigh, and like Rudyard Lake, it took another failed attempt before the railway in evidence today was established.

This second railway was built in 1987 and lasted only two years until 1989. Very few details are known, except the railway was run by the Dart Valley Railway themselves, or by Chris Finken under license. Three locomotives (all internal combustion) are known to have operated here – a Curwen, a Mardyke Deltic and a 4-4wPH 'Jeremy' built 1981 and converted from battery-electric in 1988. This railway seemed to have existed and faded away quietly without any major occurrences.

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Construction works in 1993 (SDMR Collection)

It was in 1993 that the present miniature railway to grace the gardens at Buckfastleigh opened, with the plain choice of Buckfastleigh Miniature Railway as its name. Operated originally by the Torbay & District Miniature Railway Society, progress in completing the circuit proceeded slowly for the following 4 years, using part of the route of the original Riverside Miniature Railway. Nick Tozer was vigilant enough to document the early years of this railway on film, which can be found here: <a href='http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=TRnmCvwUflQ' target='_blank'>http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=TRnmCvwUflQ</a>. Motive power was a variety of petrol and steam locomotives owned by volunteers of the railway, all track, and stock belonging to Gary Cooper. 0-4-0PH 'Bob Watling' and 0-6-0PH No.2, both G. Cooper, were both the mainstay of the fleet during the early years.

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Bob Watling waits whilst the train is loaded (SDMR Collection)

At the end of 1995, the Torbay and District Miniature Railway Society disbanded and ownership of the railway passed solely to Gary Cooper. Various visiting steam locomotives were seen operating at Buckfastleigh during this time; resident locos or frequent visitors may be seen in the list below (courtesy D. Holroyde):

BOB 0-6-0PH G Cooper 1995*
THOMAS JAMES 0-4-0WT+T T Carder/G Cooper 2000 (Rom)*
RHIANNON 0-4-0ST+T G Cooper 2004 (HE)*
JO-JO 0-4-0PH Roanoke 1998*
4-4wPM Exeter & District MES
ROY OWEN 0-4-0ST D J Bussey 1983 (Wren)
WILLIAM 0-4-0T W T Manley c1974
TITAN 0-4-2DH Roanoke 1999

Locos with an (*) next to them are still resident. Ownership of the railway passed, in 2001, to the South Devon Railway Trust, with stock being kept privately owned. It was at this time that the name of the railway changed from Buckfastleigh Miniature Railway to the present South Devon Miniature Railway.

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The current SDMR locomotive stud at the new station during Easter 2008. The steam loco Rhiannon is in the platform while the two diesels (Bob leading Jo-jo) wait in the loop with spare rolling stock (D. Greenop)

The SDMR has seen an eventful 15 years, and the last few years have seen improvements to the trackwork, with old aluminium rail being replaced by steel rail, and is an ongoing project, and the opening of a new station. There is a strong following by young volunteers, all of whom also volunteer in other capacities on the full-size railway. This is reflected in the operation of the SDMR following full-size practise as much as possible.

The SDMR now shares the Devon and Cornwall peninsula with only three other publicly-operating 7 ¼ inch gauge railways – these being Lappa Valley, Hidden Valley and the Devon Railway Centre at Bickleigh. The decline in tourism has seen the well-documented closures of both Gorse Blossom and Dobwalls, not to mention other miniature railways that are not 7 ¼ inch gauge . However, the SDMR has benefitted from these concerns, with the acquisition of 6lb/yard steel rail (and aluminium points) from Dobwalls, and ¼ mile of 9-lb/yard track, a tunnel section and signage from Gorse Blossom. Surely this then completes the Buckfastleigh miniature railway circle over a period of 30 years... ?

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Bob Vaughton departs the upper station circa. 1995 with his Wren Roy Owen (D. Bussey, 1983). 0-6-0PH No.2 Bob can be seen in the background in its original red livery (SDMR Collection)

The future of the SDMR includes the construction of new stock sheds to replace the current aging structures, a signalling system, and complete remodelling of the upper end of the site in conjunction with extra sidings and turntable being installed by the full-size SDR. Further developments to the locomotive stud and rolling stock are also ongoing. Nick Tozer returned to the SDMR at the 2008 Easter Transport extravaganza; a video of most of a circuit (with obvious progress in evidence) can be seen here: <a href='http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=pyVB_7xABms' target='_blank'>http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=pyVB_7xABms</a>.

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Rhiannon begins the climb away from the new station with a full train, Easter 2008 (D. Greenop)

There are many railways up and down the country with interesting and intertwining histories similar to that of the SDMR, their identities are also valuable to the miniature railway world and as such must not be allowed to go unnoticed. The SDMR is thriving and progressing in an increasingly difficult world; long may it, and the development of the miniature railway world, continue.

My thanks go to Dave Holroyde and Gary Cooper in assistance with the completion of this article.

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By Colin Peake

Entirely by co-incidence with our South West theme, Robin Butterell's Small World column in the August 1992 'Railway World' started with what Robin describes as "a cold, grey weekend in Cornwall". Finding the Hayle railway locked up and overgrown, he had even less luck at Crowlas near Penzance. A happier day awaited Robin at Dobwalls, where the Forest Railroad was at its height of popularity with four locos in operation, two each on the 'Rio Grande' and 'Union Pacific' routes.

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Other topics covered included the AGM of the 7 ¼ inch Gauge Society, the May meeting of the Heywood Society in Yorkshire, the Great Cockrow Railway, plus Robin's visit to Ravenglass for 'River Mite's 25th anniversary.

The now closed line at Dobwalls has been in the news again in the last month, with the news that almost all the equipment had been sold at auction, to a single buyer from the UK. It is rumoured that it is heading to another South West county, Dorset. We await further news on this project with great interest. I suspect that if Robin was with us today, he would probably be the first person to find out what was going on!

Do you have any memories of the original Riverside Miniature Railway to share? Or perhaps one of the other railways in the Kitchenside empire at Kingsbridge Quay or Gorse Blossom? Miniature Railway World Forum members may add their response to this topic. All responses are checked by our moderation team before they appear.
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Edited by Colin Peake
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I well remember the circuit at the SDR (or the remains of it) probably in the very late 80s or early 90s. It was at the time that the SDR themselves were having financial prblems and the full size line was looking pretty worn. The miniature line looked out of use, with the coaches stacked up alongside the standard gauge running shed. I remember it running through a paved rose garden area with overgrown track.

Don't forget the 10.25" ex-Paignton Zoo loco that also resided there alongside the shed for several years, partially sheeted over. Apparently now at Knebworth.

At a similar time, we also visited the Kingsbridge Quay line - which was then operated by a red Cromar -White loco. Alas, no photos.

We also happened upon an extensive 5" gauge railway in the grounds of a house we rented next door to, in Bantham. I was probably only about 9. We explored the line to find it crossed a large pond with a lattice bridge. On the last day of our holiday we found the owners, who showed us a little class 08 shunter which he was restoring. At least I think it was 5" gauge; I have no idea! If anyone knows more, I'd love to see a photo or what happened to the line.

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As a post-script to the main article:

I've received in the last couple of days two photographs of the Riverside Miniature Railway from Dave Holroyde. Both are in balck-and-white and are from the 7.25" days. However, they are very important for two reasons.

One reason is that they conclusively prove that the track was dual-gauge; the thrid rail is very evident in both photographs. This shows that the third rail was left in situ after the conversion, and possibly a 10.25" loco remained for the odd day out (or visitor from another of Kitchenside's railways or elsewhere), while the majority of operating stock was 7.25".

The second reason is that the station is almost exactly in the same place as the new station built by the present railway. This almost leterally completes the railway circle at Buckfastleigh, especially since 1/4 mile of Gorse Blossom rail is now on site. Now all we need is Yeo to visit for 40 years since SDR preservation and we're all done!!

Photos supplied:

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Both D. Holroyde Collection.

It's interesting to note what's written on the back of the top photo:

"1st July 1979. Dart Valley Railway at Buckfastleigh Park. NG, 7.25" gauge. Model 2-6-2T of Lynton & Barnstaple Railway "Yeo" built Milner Engineering, Kinnerton nr. Chester, No. 107 of 1979.

Owned Geoff Kitchenside, Commercial Manager of DVR, Q&P Kitchenside Ltd. Opened 31 July 1978.

Cost £10,000, 8' long, 26" wide, 15cwt. 120lbs. per sq. in. 11" wheels"

So evidently the engine was very new at the time of photographing, and is a very substantial machine. Geoffrey Kitchenside being Op. manager of DVR at the time would be the reason for the railway's existence at Buckfastleigh, whether the move to Gorse Blossom was prompted by him leaving office or other reason is unknown.

Still, this pair of black-and-white photographs gives a little insight into the early set-up at Buckfastleigh before the days of the present railway, and it's interesting to note how things have changed.


Dom Greenop

Do you have any memories of the original Riverside Miniature Railway to share? Or perhaps one of the other railways in the Kitchenside empire at Kingsbridge Quay or Gorse Blossom? Miniature Railway World Forum members may add their response to this topic.
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Edited by Colin Peake
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Very interesting read Dom; it's always fascinating to hear the stories behind the little known lines.

Further on the dual gauge point, in Kitchenside's book "A Source Book of Miniature & Narrow Gauge Railways", there is a photo of the 4-4-0 Maid Marion at Buckfastleigh. The caption reads
In 1928 Bassett-Lowke built this model of an LMS compound 4-4-0, although it was constructed with two cylinders and not the three working in compound as on the original.  The locomotive was used for many years in India on the 241mm Jhansi instructional railway to help recruits in the Indian railway service.  Later, after its return to Britain, it was rebuilt for 260mm gauge and ran at Hunstanton, Watford, and on the Towans Railway, Hayle.  The engine is seen here on trial on the Riverside Miniature Railway at Buckfastleigh part of which has mixed 184mm and 260mm gauge.
The trackwork in 10 1/4" days (I believe) came from Hotham Park Bognor Regis (along with the Meteor locos), which had, in turn, originally come from the Bassets Manor Railway, which was dual 7 1/4" and 10 1/4" gauge. As Ian Allan had taken out the 7 1/4" rail in Hotham Park, maybe at Buckfastleigh it became the case that the third rail was put back in on a stretch of track, and the railway extended* with plain 7 1/4" trackwork?

Having had a look on the Yahoo group loco database, the three locos on the second incarnation of the railway appear to be the Mardyke Deltic "Pinza" (now at Great Cockcrow), Curwen 4-4wPM 3039 (ex. Dobwalls and Weston MR) and a rebuilt Tom Smith battery electric loco.

*=Miniature Railways Past & Present states the railway was extended when regauged in '79.

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