A Staffordshire ‘might have been’

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Picture 14

Hand propelling a standard gauge wagon on to a 2ft 6in gauge transporter wagon, Leek & Manifold Light Railway in 1930.
Frame from BFI National Film Archive film.

(Click picture to see the entire film on You Tube.)

The Leek and Manifold Valley Railway was the only narrow gauge railway in England which successfully operated narrow gauge transporter wagons to carry standard gauge railway wagons. The line was opened in June 1904. The gauge, 2ft 6in, was unusual for a UK public narrow gauge railway although it was used in the British colonies, in Admiralty depots and on certain industrial lines e.g. the Bowaters Paper Railway.

The single track line ran for nearly nine miles from Hulme End to connect with the North Staffordshire Railway at Waterhouses. There were eight intermediate stations: Ecton, Butterton, Wetton Mill, Redhurst Halt, Thor’s Cave, Grindon station, Beeston Tor, and Sparrowlee.

The line’s engineer Everard Calthrop was a proponent of narrow gauge railways who had achieved some distinction in the construction of the Barsi Light Railway in India. By specifying locomotives where the distribution of the weight was evenly distributed across all the axles – an idea that he had successfully proved on the BLR – he was able to use 35lb/yard rail and reduce the cost of building the railway. His plans were approved and be became the line’s engineer designing two 2-6-4T locomotives, which were built by Kitson & Co in 1904.

The L&MVT’s passenger rolling stock consisted of four bogie coaches: two first class and two brake composite thirds. The freight rolling stock consisted of only one box van and two open wagons and five transporter wagons; Calthorpe recognizing the advantage of not having to transfer goods to and from standard gauge goods wagons at Waterhouses.

There were plans to extend the line to Buxton but these were blocked by the NSR and local landowners. Without the link to Buxton the L&MVLR was a line to ‘nowhere’ and could never build up enough freight business to safeguard its future. During WW I, the line briefly came into its own carrying large quantities of milk in 17 gallon churns. After the war the line suffered from passengers and freight deserting the line in favour of road transport.

At Grouping in January 1923, the L&MVLR became part of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS). The LMS ran the line for another 11 years, finally closing the line in March 1934. If only the line had survived another 16 years into the ‘preservation era’ which started in Britain on the Talyllyn Railway in 1950. Sadly it was not to be.

In the 1970s a plan was put forward to revive a section of the railway as a miniature railway. Despite an opinion poll recording 98% support for the railway from the local people, the Peak Planning Board took heed of the view of a minority of protesters – including the local branch of the Ramblers Association – and turned down the proposals. Ironically at the same time members of the South Dorset branch of the Rambler’s Association were playing a key part in saving the Swanage Railway!

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3 Responses to “A Staffordshire ‘might have been’”

  1. Robert Hall Says:

    Britain’s other public 2’ 6” gauge line was of course the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway. If the dice had rolled otherwise, perhaps the W & L might now be only a memory (no doubt with zealous folk seeking to recreate it basically out of nothing), whilst the “Manifold” was the survivor… In the real world, it’s rather poignant how short the gap in time was, between abandonment of the L & MV, and its south-western counterpart the Lynton & Barnstaple: the former in spring 1934, the latter at the end of the 1935 summer season.

    One gathers that for the great majority of the time, the L & MV’s stock as listed, running a meagre service, was ample for the transport needs of the area served; but it was otherwise at summer bank holidays, and in “Stoke Wakes Week” in the summer, when most industry in the Stoke-on-Trent area shut down for a week for maintenance, and the workforce got the week off. At those times, the narrow gauge line was inundated with day-trippers from the Potteries seeking a brief break in the hills, and passenger specials were run, headed by both the line’s locos and comprising all its rolling stock – including the transporter wagons, rigged-out with temporary seats. That must have been a sight worth seeing…

    • dyspozytor Says:

      The W & L is one of my favourite lines though the management disgraced themselves several years ago by declining Welshpool Town Council’s offer to safeguard a route to restore the link to Welshpool main line station.

      Most of the Admiralty 2ft 6in railways were rarely visited and photographed by enthusiasts, and sadly most, like the line at Royal Naval Armaments Depot in Trecwn, are now closed.

      • Robert Hall Says:

        Hadn’t heard the story about the Town Council and the W & L’s management. Silly people! It’s as though those on this scene, positively WANT it to be about pointless “fun” railways, rather than taking possible chances for things to at least seem to make transport sense. Someone please take me back to 1933 (or better yet, 1919)…

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