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The Smaller Gauges

Part 1: Littlehampton

Martin Lovell

MARTIN LOVELL, our very own Michael Portillo, brings us the first in a series of articles about miniature railways.

As a long-term narrow gauge nut (i.e. anything under 4ft 8 and a bit inches) I also have had had an interest in the Miniature Railways, many of which can come into a narrow gauge category.

By this I mean that you can have an 18 inch Narrow gauge line, as at Chatham dockyard, or a 15 inch miniature railway, as on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway in Kent. Essentially, a miniature railway uses scaled down locomotives or large models of standard gauge stock, principally for tourist or pleasure garden type lines.

From the 1930s onwards, when railway interest was at its height, many seaside towns did not feel complete unless there was a miniature railway to ride on. A lot of these have unfortunately long gone, but several still remain, even if they have closed down several times and yet come back again.

For this series of articles I visited two of these lines in Sussex (one East and one West) one in Hastings, and the other in my hometown of Littlehampton.

Littlehampton Miniature Railway

Littlehampton Miniature Railway

Click image to view larger version.

The earliest reference to the building of a Littlehampton line dates back to 1937. Nothing was approved until after the war in 1947 when a Mr.G.Cookson, who had operated several 10¼ inch lines on the south coast before the war, was granted the concession to build a line between Mewsbrook Park and Norfolk Road Park. The gauge chosen was the unusual one of 12¼ inches, due to increased stability over the 10¼ gauge he had used before. There were only ever 6 12¼ inch gauge railways in the country, and the Littlehampton line is the oldest. Two 4-6-4 steam locomotives and eight open coaches were ordered, and the line opened in 1948.

Littlehampton Miniature Railway

The route of the railway on Littlehampton seafront. The line has a turntable at each end. Click image to view larger version.

The original licence only ran up to 1950, but was then taken over by messrs Turner and Mead who ran it until 1969, when it was sold once again to a Mr Maxfield, who not only renamed the locomotive Gordon (running number 1005) and Henry (running number 2010). He also added other locomotives to the fleet, including a diesel from Bognor pier which was regauged and lasted on the line for the next twenty years. By 1984 the steam locos were worn out, so a small petrol locomotive called "Zion" was purchased from Hotham Park in Bognor, and extra coaches from Chessington Zoo.

Littlehampton Miniature Railway

Click image to view larger version.

By 1995, with tourist traffic dwindling due to overseas holidays being more popular, it looked like the end was nigh - But a Mr Chapman who operated the Hotham Park Railway stepped in, but often no trains actually ran, so the line then passed to new owners in 1997. With the passing of the owner’s wife in 2008, the lease came up for renewal in 2010, and C Phillimore took over the line.

Littlehampton Miniature Railway

Click image to view larger version.

In 2011, the track layout at the Mewsbrook end was totally revised, with new platforms, and a new diesel hydraulic locomotive called "Green Dragon". Steam returned briefly in 2012, in the form of "Sherpa", a half size model of one of the 0-4-0 Darjeeling B class locomotives from Fairbourne, and ran until May 2012.

Littlehampton Miniature Railway

Norfolk Road Park Station. Click image to view larger version.

By 2015 however the operators decided that the line was not commercially viable, and, after the Halloween specials that year, that would be it. The locomotives and stock were removed in December, and that could have been the end, but for a volunteer organisation was set up called the Littlehampton Heritage Railway Association, under the chairmanship of Mr C Shanks. The non-profit making line commenced running in July 2016, and continues today.

Littlehampton Miniature Railway

The Turntable at the Mewsbrook Park station. Click image to view larger version.

So that covers Littlehampton. In a future article I will cover the Hastings line but in the meantime I hope that you may be able to visit this little line, only a short drive (or train ride) away from our shop too!

Happy Modelling.

Martin

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