About the 15 inch Gauge

A country gentleman called Sir Arthur Percival Heywood started experiments, around 1874, to find the narrowest railway gauge 'possessing the necessary stability for practical use'. Sir Arthur carried out his experiments at home on the family estate at Duffield Bank just north of Derby.

Sir Arthur was working in the era before the internal combustion engine when the practical alternative to a railway was usually a horse and cart. He looked for the minimum gauge that could be used to serve the needs of an agricultural district or supply troops in the field.

He settled on 15 inches (about 381 mm) and was able to show that this very narrow gauge did indeed achieve the objective he had set.

Eaton Hall, Cheshire

Sadly, the only opportunity he had to put his ideas into practice personally was when the Duke of Westminster commissioned him to construct an estate railway at Eaton Hall in Cheshire, in 1895.

Linking with the main line the new railway provided an efficient haulage service for coal and stores on the estate, as well as an enjoyable passenger service for visitors to the Hall including members of the Royal Family, local dignitaries and schoolchildren.

Most subsequent 15 inch gauge railways have been built to carry passengers for pleasure.

Eaton Hall's original coal-fired, steam locomotive, Katie, was sold to the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway and then in 1922 to the Llewellyn Miniature Railway in Southport. In 1923 she was sold to the Fairbourne Miniature Railway where she operated trains until scrapping in 1926.

Bassett-Lowke

Bassett-Lowke was a toy company in Northampton, England, founded by Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke in 1898 or 1899, that specialized in model railways, boats and ships, and construction sets. Bassett-Lowke started as a mail-order business, although it designed and manufactured some items.

Bassett-Lowke formed a company, Miniture Railways of Great Britain Ltd, in 1904 with the express purpose of taking Heywood's creation of the 15 inch gauge and use it to carry "tourist" traffic.

The first line they built was at Blackpool in 1905 and it was quickly followed by Sutton Park (now part of Birmingham) in 1908 and Halifax Zoo in 1910.

Basset-Lowke's main engineer was Henry Greenley and it was he who designed B-L's 'Little Giant' class 4-4-2 locomotives. Bassett-Lowke had been one of the first successful operators of an outsourced business, buying in components and finished articles from a great number of British & Continental suppliers, until WW1 changed everything.

One such sub-contractor was Twining Models of Northampton, England, which was founded in 1920 by Ernest W. Twining. Twining Models were noted for the manufacture of high quality glass-case models, which were often marketed under Bassett-Lowke's name.

Rhyl Miniture Railway

The Rhyl Miniature Railway was the last railway to be built by Miniature Railways of Great Britain Ltd. Henry Greenly first surveyed the Marine Lake at Rhyl in December 1910, and quickly pronounced it as ideal for a miniature railway. The lake itself is artificial, having been formed when land was recovered from the River Clwyd in 1895. The site quickly became well established for bathing and boating, and a big water chute had been built.

Once permission was granted in March 1911, work began immediately on installing the railway, and it opened on 1 May that year. During 1911 a successor company was formed, Narrow Gauge Railways Ltd, into whose name the line at Rhyl was transferred.

Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway

The Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway was originally built as a 3ft (914 mm) gauge line opened on 24 May 1875 to transport hematite iron ore from mines around Boot (at the head of the Eskdale Valley) to the Furness Railway standard gauge line at Ravenglass, on the coast. From 1876 to 1908, the line also carried passengers. This line eventually closed in 1913

In 1915 the railway was purchased by Bassett-Lowke's Narrow Gauge Railways Ltd and converted to 15 inch gauge. By 1916 the re-gauged track ran as far as Irton Road, while during the following year the Company's miniature trains were running the full length of the line.

Fairbourne Railway

The Fairbourne Miniture Railway was built on the remants of McDougall's horse tramway by Bassett-Lowkes Narrow Gauge Railways Ltd and opened a year after the Ravenglass (Ratty) in 1916.

This site is dedicated to the 15 inch Fairbourne Railway and its history.

Other Notable 15 inch Gauge Lines

After WW1 the development of 15 inch gauge lines for tourism continued with notable constructions including the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch and Dudley Zoo Railways.

The Romney

The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway was opened in 1927 and was the first 15 inch gauge "mainline", linking as it did 3 distinct places along the Kent channel coast - Hythe, New Romney & Dymchurch. The Romney was the culmination of the dreams of two men. Captain J. E. P. Howey a sometimes racing driver, millionaire land owner, former Army Officer & miniature railway afficionado and Count Louis Zborowski a well known racing driver of his day (famous for owning and racing the Chitty Bang Bang Mercedes) and considerably richer, even, than Howey.

Zborowski had constructed a 15 inch gauge railway at Higham Park, his home at Bridge, Kent, and agreed to donate the rolling stock and infrastructure to the project. Zborowski however was killed in a motor racing accident at Monza before the Romney Marsh site was chosen, and Howey continued the project alone.

D.Z.R

The Dudley Zoo Railway opened in 1938 having been built by G & S Light Engineering, of Stourbridge. DZR was a mile long 15 inch gauge line that ran through a wooded area from the Brown bear ravine to the Castle Hill entrance and carried up to 150 people at a time on 10 small coaches, pulled by 2-ton, coal fired locomotives Lady Sonia and Sir Richard (one engine per train).

The Dudley Zoo Railway included platforms, bridges and a signal system and ran for more than four decades.

Post WW2

There have been many 15 inch gauge railways built in post-war Britain, some of which are included here.

The Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway was built in 1948 in Cleethorpes, North East Lincolnshire operating between Cleethorpes Leisure Centre and behind Pleasure Island/buck beck. The line was built as a tourist attraction by Cleethorpes Borough Council, who also operated it from 1959 to 1990.

The Lappa Valley Steam Railway in Cornwall has been built on a section of the trackbed originally built in 1849 for a minerals railway to serve the mine at East Wheal Rose. The LVR was created in 1973.

The Bure Valley Railway was officially opened on the 10th July, 1990 having being constructed on a disused standard gauge railway trackbed between between Aylsham and Wroxham in the Norfolk Broads.

The Kirklees Light Railway opened to the public on the 19th October 1991, built by Brian & Doreen Taylor on the former trackbed of a standard gauge line.

The original Eaton Hall Railway (as built by Heywood for the Duke of Westminster) closed in 1948 and all the stock was disposed of. In 1996, the 6th Duke reinstated the railway using a replica of Katie to pull the carriages, and the railway is opened to the public once or twice a year, the rest of the time its a gentlemans pleasure.

The Perrygrove Railway is at Perrygrove Farm in the Royal Forest of Dean near Coleford, Gloucestershire and opened in 1996. Trains travel at frequent intervals on a round trip of 11⁄2 miles between four stations. Perrygrove is home to the recreated Heywood collection, replicas of the locos and coaches created by Sir Arthur Percival Heywood in the 1800's.

The Windmill Farm Railway first opened in 1997, and was the idea of Austin Moss. Originally, a short end to end line operated by one carraige and one engine, the line has since grown to a length of 3/4 mile. Windmill Farm is home to much of the ex-Fairbrourne Railway 15 inch gauge rolling stock and locomotives that left after the line was converted to 12.25 inch gauge.

Windmill Farm is also home to locomotives from Dudley Zoo, Southport, Cleethorpes, Blaise Castle (Ireland) & the Exmoor Steam Railway. The Windmill Farm sheds also house carriages & wagons from Fairbourne, Romney, Bressingham, Liverpool Garden Festival & Dudley Zoo.

One of the latest lines to built in 15 inch gauge is at Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire. The Sherwood Forest Steam Railway, currently a mile long runs through cuttings, a tunnel and across level crossings. The SFSR opened for business in 2000 and has steadily been extended by its owning family ever since.

The Evesham Vale Light Railway was first opened in August 2002 and runs for just over a mile through the old apple orchards and around Evesham, Worcestershire country park. Adrian & Sandra Corke took over January 2012 and plan to continue with the same successful format of operation as in recent years.