Category:Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway

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1925 description:

The Eskdale Railway

The Eskdale Railway, upon which the trials of the "Gren Goddess" took place, was formerly the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, opened on 24th May 1875. The line failed to pay its way, traffic came to an end, and for a considerable time it remained abandoned and derelict. On 24th July 1911 the present company was incorporated and the line was re-laid on the 15-inch gauge and re-opened on 20th August 1915.

To-day the Eskdale railway not only carries a steady stream of passengers, but also hauls coal, food and other stores to the villages through which the line passes, besides conveying His Majesty's mails. In short, in spite of its small size this line is thoroughly capable of earning its own living and it has attained the dignity of having the times of its trains recorded in "Bradshaw".

— , Henry Greenly, , Model Loco Trials at Eskdale: Interesting New "Pacific" Scale Model, "Green Goddess", , Meccano Magazine, , September 1925

1928 article

The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway


IT is now nearly eleven years since any detailed description of the activities of this little railway last appeared in the pages of the RAILWAY MAGAZINE. Since that date, and especially during the last year or so, such extensive changes have taken place, under the energetic direction of the present management, that those who have visited the line in days gone by might well be excused if they failed to recognise it in its vastly improved condition. The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway has become, indeed, a striking example of the economic possibilities of so narrow a gauge as 15 in., and as such demands the attention of a far wider circle than those who merely find a source of amusement in passenger rolling-stock of diminutive proportions, or are attracted by the scenic amenities of the district.

For the benefit of those unacquainted with the history of the Eskdale line, a brief review may now be given. The R. and E.R. provides what is probably the only existing instance of a railway of broader gauge which has been converted to a narrower. Down the western coast of Cumberland there runs a seam of the finest haematite iron ore, from Cleator, Frizington and Kelton Fell, in the north, to Hodbarrow and Lindal, in the south; from the mines at the northern and southern extremities of the seam the blast-furnaces of the Workington and Barrow districts, respectively, are kept supplied with ore for conversion to iron and steel. This seam crosses the upper part of Eskdale near the village of Boot, and the great demand for iron ore which arose in 1872, after the Franco-Prussian war, led to the formation of a company called the Whitehaven Iron Mines Limited, to extract this ore in varous places, including Blea Tarn, above Beckfoot, and Nabb Ghyll, above Boot. Ore-mining was profitable in those days, 32s. per ton being obtained for the mineral, delivered into wagons at Drigg station of the late Furness Railway.

The fact that 10s. of this sum was vanishing in cartage led to the projection of a railway of 2 ft. 9 in. gauge from the mines down to the coast, and the necessary Parliamentary powers were obtained in 1873. It was first intended to carry the line down the whole length of Eskdale, to Eskmeals, but it was ultimately diverted round the head of Muncaster Fell – a narrow rocky ridge, 760 ft. high, which separates lower Eskdale from the adjacent Miterdale – and brought down to Ravenglass, a station on the Furness line midway between Barrow and Whitehaven. The original powers included the construction of a branch to the foreshore at Ravenglass, with jetties and wharves (it is interesting in this connection to remember that Ravenglass was, in Roman times, a West Coast port of no small importance, as the numerous Roman remains in the district bear witness), but this was never carried out, and the line was therefore brought into a terminus alongside the Furness station at Ravenglass, where suitable arrangements were made for dropping the ore into standard-gauge wagons. The railway was completed to Boot in 1875, and opened for passenger traffic on November 9, 1876.

The existence of the old Eskdale Railway was never more than a precarious one at best. Two years after its opening, the contractor for the line sued the proprietors for 17,000, and won his case, with the result that the railway was placed in Chancery. By then the purchase price of ore had dropped from 32s. to 8s. a ton, with the result that neither the mines nor the railway could any longer be worked profitably. After dragging on a weary existence for years, during the whole of which time it was getting steadily into worse repair, and becoming more and more a byword in the district, the line was finally closed down in the early years of the present century. Passenger traffic in the summer had been practically the only source of revenue, as the Eskdale Railway provides the nearest access by rail to some of the loveliest areas of Cumberland, and especially to the remote lake of Wastwater and the mountain massif of Scafell. But even then the unreliability of the train service prevented the development of the valley to anything like its full possibilities as a tourist centre. By the time the original line closed down, a quantity of good-class residential property had sprung up in the Eskdale Green neighbourhood, which was thus left devoid of railway facilities.

In the year 1915 a company called "Narrow-Gauge Railways Limited", which had successfully inaugurated and worked 15-in. gauge railways in various parts of the country, almost exclusively as side-shows in public parks, decided to try the venture of working the Eskdale railway in the same way. A certain amount of knowledge had been acquired from the opening, at about the same time, of a 15-in. gauge line from Barmouth Ferry to Fairbourne, in North Wales; and the experience of such private owners as the Duke of Westminster, with his 3-mile line from Balderton Station up to Eaton Hall, Cheshire, as well as of the late Sir Arthur Heywoood – most enthusiastic of all the protagonists of minimum-gauge lines – was also of value in regard to the development of the Eskdale Railway for freight as well as passenger haulage.

A start was promptly made with the conversion of the gauge from its existing width of 2 ft. 9 in. to 1 ft. 3 in., and by the summer of 1916 the work was completed. The earliest engines at work were Sanspareil and Colossus, express locomotives of the 4-4-2 and 4-6-2 wheel arrangement respectively, designed and built by the well-known Northampton firm of Bassett-Lowke, Limited, to a scale of one-quarter full size. These were joined shortly afterwards by the engines Ella and Muriel, 0-6-0 and 0-8-0 tank engines of a contractor's type, acquired from Sir Arthur Heywood's line at Duffield, near Derby. Passenger rolling-stock consisted of a number of four-wheeled open cars, seating eight people each in two compartments, two aside, and a few bogie three-compartment covered coaches, seating 12 inside and four on end platforms, for wet weather and winter use.

In reducing the gauge, the new owners exactly followed the levels of the old railway, which had been laid practically on ground level throughout, without any earthworks to speak of. As a result, the line wound round the hillsides on exceedingly sharp reverse curves, and with constant steep switchback grades. In rising from a level of 17 ft. above the sea at Muncaster, 1¼ miles out of Raven-glass, to 127 ft. at Irton Road, 4¼ miles out, and again from 102 ft. above sea level at Eskale Green, 4¾ miles out, to 211 ft. at Boot, 7½ miles from the start, some very heavy gradients occurred in places. Muncaster mill-race bank, for example, rose for over ¼ mile at 1 in 90-33-80; followed, after a short level strip, by 38 mile partly at 1 in 52 up. After rounding the promontory known as "Cape Horn", high above the River Mite, at a drastically reduced speed, the engines were faced with another short climb at 1 in 66-40. But worst of all was the final 58 mile from Beckfoot up to Boot, first at 1 in 67, and then chiefly at 1 in 37. For engines of such limited power and adhesion these were serious difficulties, when the passenger loads in the summer were heavy, and it was found that the traditions of the old line, whereby passengers were encouraged to "get out and push", in order to help the trains up the steepest inclines, were often operative still. Shortage of steam on the continuous run of 7½ miles led to delays, and the working of the line was again inclined to be uncertain in character.

It was at this stage that Sir Aubrey Brocklebank, Bart., a director of the Great Western Railway, and a well-known landowner in the district, took over the control of the railway, and under the present General Manager, Mr. W. Gillon, and the Engineer, Mr. E. H. Wright, radical improvements have been brought about. Winter and summer the line is being worked with a regularity and efficiency not previously known, and, in addition, the position has at last been reached at which the railway is beginning to pay its way – in itself a tribute to capable management. New and more powerful locomotives have been obtained; the track has been relaid throughout and ballasted with broken stone from the railway's own quarry; over all the more difficult sections it has been re-aligned and re-graded; while a valuable source of revenue has been tapped by the opening up of the quarry at Beckfoot, just mentioned, the stone from which is broken at a very complete plant located on Muncaster Fell.

The present locomotive stock first requires attention. The 4-4-2 and 4-6-2 engines were hardly up to the maximum duties of the line, and the former has been scrapped. But the chassis of Colossus and Sir Aubrey Brocklebank have been united by a steel frame, the combined engine, with a considerably larger boiler than previously, being now an articulated locomotive of the 4-6-0 + 0-6-4 type, named River Mite. The exhaust from the front engine is turned into the chimney, and provides draught, but that from the rear engine is employed in a feed-water heater on the top of the tender. This conversion has been most successful, and the River Mite has been tested with perfect safety at speeds up to 38 m.p.h. It is no small credit to the Eskdale Railway Engineer and his staff that this conversion has been carried out in its entirety in the Ravenglass shops.

The most powerful of the steam locomotives previously in use was the 2-8-2 River Esk, but the Lentz poppet valves with which she was fitted proved unsuitable for operation on so small a scale. The River Esk has, therefore, been entirely rebuilt by the Yorkshire Engine Co., Ltd., and the interesting experiment has been tried of converting it to the Poultney system of propulsion; this is a 4-cylinder system, with limited cutoff, in which two of the cylinders operate the tender wheels, the latter being coupled together for this purpose. The River Esk is now an articulated four-cylinder locomotive of the 2-8-2 + 0-8-0 type. Another important rebuilding has been that of the Heywood 0-8-0 tank engine Muriel. She has been provided with a scale model type locomotive boiler, pressed to 200 lb. per sq. in., and is now converted to the 0-8-2 wheel arrangement, with separate tender; her name is River Irt. There are now, therefore, three powerful steam engines available for passenger duty. Muriel's old boiler, by the way, has been mounted on a trolley, and fitted with tender; it is used to supply steam for the drills at the Beckfoot quarry.

A valuable supplement to the haulage capacity of the locomotive stock has been obtained by the adaptation of three petrol motor engines for railway service. The earliest of these was a 22-h.p. "Ford" engine, which has been mounted on a double bogie chassis, and very neatly boxed in, with a double-ended body having sloping ends, in such a way as to resemble an electric motor locomotive. This handy machine does most of the winter passenger work, which is light in character, hauling with ease sufficient passenger stock for the accommodation of 60 passengers, as well as a truck or two of merchandise. She is also capable of considerable speed. On the writer's last visit to Eskdale, a special trip was made up the line with this locomotive, hauling one four-wheeled car and three passengers, and on the return journey the following times were made :-

Min. Sec.
Average Speed.
0.00Dalegarth (Old Station) 0 00-
0.38Beckfoot 1 0022.8
2.05Eskdale Green 5 0025.1
2.59Irton Road 6 3021.4
4.36Murthwaite10 0529.5
5.64Muncaster13 0026.5
6.71Ravenglass15 2526.7

This time included a number of slowings for sharp curves, and one or two reductions of speed in consequence of sheep having strayed through the wire fences on to the line; the maximum speed attained was 36 m.p.h. The rated average speed of this locomotive with a 60-passenger train is 25 m.p.h. over the open stretches of line.

In addition, a 38-hp. Lanchester motor engine has been built into the 0-6-0 chassis of the Heywood steam locomotive Ella (the boiler of this engine having been removed); radial leading and trailing wheels have been fitted, the machine being now of the 2-6-2 type. The whole of this conversion, together with that of the Ford engine, has been carried through in the workshops of the Eskdale company, to the designs and under the supervision of the Engineer, Mr. E. H. Wright. This locomotive is employed chiefly in the working of the stone traffic between the breaking plant at Murthwaite and Ravenglass, and is capable of handling a maximum load of 38 tons at 15 m.p.h. A third petrol locomotive is a " Fordson" 22-h.p. tractor, which has been specially adapted for service over the railway by the Muir-Hill Equipment Co., Ltd.; this engine works the trains of stone between the Beckfoot quarry and the Murthwaite plant. The effective locomotive stock therefore consists at present of three steam locomotives and three petrol locomotives, which between them are more than equal to all the traffic demands of the line, together with a stand-by steam locomotive and a small petrol-driven inspection car.

The passenger rolling stock consists of eight covered cars, each of 24-cwt. tare and seating 16 passengers, as well as ten bogie open cars seating 16 passengers each, and 18 open four-wheeled cars seating eight passengers. For the conveyance of freight, there are 6 small open four-wheeled wagons, wooden-framed, 60 all-steel four-wheeled stone wagons, and six very fine all-steel bogie hopper wagons of a new type, taring 2½ tons each, and having a capacity for six tons of broken stone apiece. The length of each bogie hopper wagon is 22 ft. and the hopper opening 18 ft. These wagons have been designed by the Engineer of the R. & E.R., and built by the Yorkshire Engine Co., Ltd.

In conclusion, a description of a trip over the length of the line will doubtless be of interest. The station at Ravenglass has been entirely remodelled, having now three platforms, and many additions to the railway equipment will be noticed in the vicinity. A fine car shed has been erected just beyond the station, containing four roads and accommodation for the major part of the passenger rolling-stock, as well as facilities for light repairs. Adjacent to this commodious accommodation has been erected to serve as an office for the railway and a house for the assistant manager. On the left of the main line is seen the high level viaduct for the stone traffic, approached by a steep incline from a junction 1-mile down the line. With the introduction of the 6-ton bogie hopper wagons, the wagon tippler gear previously in use has been abandoned in favour of direct discharge from the hoppers, and the track on the top of the viaduct has been rearranged to suit; the use of the smaller stone wagons is now confined to the conveyance of the unbroken stone from the quarry to the breaker.

After passing the carriage shed, both main line and high-level line are carried by plate-girder bridges over the public road, and immediately afterwards the well-equipped locomotive shed and workshops are passed on the right. After this, the trains get a good start down a sharply-falling grade, with a maximum steepness of 1 in 35, to the side of the Mite Estuary, and a level run thence to the disused station at Muncaster, 1¼ miles out. From this point the steep rise already mentioned has been greatly eased by the excavation of a new location, which has reduced the gradient from a maximum of 1 in 33 to 1 in 94. It is said that some of the older habitués of the line express considerable disappointment that their "banking" assistance up this grade is no longer needed!

Shortly after this the line comes out on to the open fellside, skirting the north flank of Muncaster Fell. A good deal of realignment and re-grading has taken place along the next mile or so, permitting of considerably higher speeds than were ever safely possible on the old track. At a distance of 2½ miles from the start, the train passes the Murthwaite stone-breaking plant, which is the property of the railway, and has also been entirely re-arranged for more efficient working. The wagons containing the large stone from the quarry are run on to a concrete viaduct, 15 ft. high, and feed their contents direct into the breaker, from which the broken stone is passed to a set of rotary screens, grading it into various sizes. From under the screens a nest of six sidings connects with a reception siding, from which the wagons loaded with stone pass on to the main line. The capacity of this plant amounts to 2,000 tons of broken stone per month, the demand for which is more than sufficient to keep the breaker in continuous operation. The track accommodation at Murthwaite includes a passing loop in the main line itself.

Still rising, the railway passes round a buttress of the fell at the point known locally as "Cape Horn", by means of a very sharp curve, with the River Mite immediately below. The view before the traveller here is exceedingly fine, Scafell dominating the head of Miterdale, with the upper part of the Screes (which fall sheer into Wastwater) to the left of it, and the heather-crowned cone of Irton Fell bringing the ridge to an end. The railway now bears southward, making for the gap between the hills mentioned and Muncaster Fell, from Miterdale into Eskdale. We arrive immediately at Irton Road station, the most important intermediate depot on the line, 4¼ miles from Ravenglass. A brief downhill run of 58-mile then brings us to Eskdale Green Station, where we enter the Esk Valley. The scenery in Eskdale also is very fine, and as the line winds round the hillsides, fresh prospects of great beauty are constantly opening up. Immediately before Beckfoot, the stone quarry comes into sight on the left, and on the right hand is seen the imposing Stanley Ghyll Guest House of the Co-operative Holiday Association, which during the summer months brings much traffic to the line. Close here is the ravine known as Stanley Ghyll, where the Birket Beck has a sheer fail of 60 ft. into a deep rock cleft.

The original ½-mile ascent to Boot was abandoned very shortly alter the gauge was altered, the small scale model engines finding its toilsome grade rather too much for their powers. Until quite recently the line terminated at a row of buildings at the foot of this incline, which were originally built as cottages for the staff of the adjacent ore-mines, and now house the quarrymen. At Dalegarth, as this station was called, a refreshment room of a modest kind was provided. Last summer, however, an entirely new Dalegarth station was brought into use. The line has been carried on over the Whillan Beck, by the girder bridge which formed part of a branch of the original railway to ore mines located on the other side of the Esk to the main road, to a point distant only ¼ mile from Boot village. Here a fine station has been erected, with three roads and a platform covered for the major part of its length of 110 ft.; abutting on this platform a charmingly-furnished refreshment room has been built, with accommodation for 200 persons at one sitting. This provision is already greatly appreciated and extensively used by the large number of holidaymakers that patronise the line. The three tracks converge at the end of the station on to a turntable, which enables the engines of incoming trains to be released immediately on arrival.

It is on fine Bank Holidays that the resources of the Eskdale Railway are taxed to their utmost. Every vehicle capable of carrying passengers has to be pressed into service, and is crowded to capacity. On August Monday of 1927 1,360 single passenger journeys were made, three of the scale model steam locomotives and one of the petrol locomotives being turned out, and working between them twelve trips over the full length of the line. The River Irt handled a train of 218 passengers, weighing approximately 30 tons, without assistance. On such occasions the crossing station at Irton Road has to be supplemented by the use of the loop at Murthwaite for crossing purposes, and at times of emergency it is possible to cross trains at Eskdale Green also. The work of train dispatching is much expedited by the provision of telephonic communication.

During the winter months one morning and one evening train in each direction daily suffice for the passenger needs of the district and the carriage of mails; and by the use of the petrol locomotives it is possible for one man to work the engine and act also as guard. In view of the load of merchandise which can be handled by the locomotive, in addition to the passengers, this is a more economical proposition than road haulage, even when all the overhead charges of the railway are taken into account. The summer train service consists of five trains in each direction daily, with extra trains on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The stone traffic requires an average of four trips daily between the quarry and the Murthwaite plant, and a similar number between Murthwaite and Ravenglass. The total staff now employed by the railway, including drivers, permanent-way men, station and clerical personnel and the staff employed at the quarry and the breaker, now numbers 40, so that the R. & E.R. proves a valuable source of employment in the valley.

The L.M.S. Railway, with whose Lancashire and Cumberland section the Eskdale line connects at Ravenglass, have evinced a considerable interest in their diminutive neighbour. Every week during the summer season a special circular day tour is run from either Blackpool, Morecambe or Grange, a corridor restaurant car train is provided, and stops are made at Furness Abbey, Ravenglass and Keswick, a certain amount of time being allowed at each place for excursions. At Ravenglass the Eskdale Railway has a special train waiting, and passengers are promptly transported non-stop to Dalegarth, where they have half-an-hour in which to look round before returning to the main line. Through bookings also operate from a number of adjacent towns to the Eskdale line, and one particularly attractive circuit combines a rail trip to Irton Road with a motor tour to the remote lake of Wastwater, returning by car to Dalegarth and thence by rail to Raven-glass.

It is interesting to speculate on the future of the line. As profitable operation is now in sight, it is quite possible that future extensions may be contemplated. An extension of the Eskdale line through Upper Eskdale to the foot of Hardknott Pass; and the institution of motor transport over Hardknott and Wrynose Passes – the old Roman Road – into Langdale and Ambleside, provided that the pass road could be improved, would make possible a circular tour of remarkable attractiveness. A station in Upper Eskdale, too, would constitute an excellent starting point for the ascent of Scafell by the Mickledore ridge. Already the R. & E.R. provides the nearest access to Wastwater, either by road from Irton Road, or by the footpath over Burnmoor from Boot to Wastdale Head, but a branch of the railway from Murthwaite across to Santon Bridge, and then over the ridge into Wastdale, would be quite feasible from the engineering point of view; the section from Murthwaite to Santon Bridge has, in fact, been surveyed already. For what the future holds in regard to the development of this enterprising little line, however, we can but "wait and see".

— , "Voyageur", , The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, , The Railway Magazine, , October 1928


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