This is an internet tribute to the Little Melton Light Railway, the LMLR. The blog is created by a one-time volunteer, a grateful volunteer who thoroughly enjoyed the companionship of such splendid folk.
The Little Melton Light Railway was a 7¼inch gauge miniature railway, located not far from the city of Norwich in the United Kingdom. The railway opened once a month, throughout the year, and profits from fares went to a nominated charity. Those charities also had the barn in which to have displays, sales and other attractions.
Bob Brett lived on site. It was his land and property on which the LMLR existed. Bob drove ‘Thunderbox’, a wooden bodied lawnmower engine driven locomotive. Thunderbox, which I drove on occasion in the latter years of the railway, was probably the best known loco, and as a machine you had to push (or pull) the lever to engage drive, keep it there, and keep the twist throttle twisted. Downhill Thunderbox had a decent turn of speed, and would be the main loco on the Piggeries and return route: this meant that every second trip, Thunderbox ran backwards… thank heavens for mirrors.
Thunderbox passes Melton Wood Junction, in reverse, heading for The Piggeries. Bob drives Thunderbox, Mike is at the rear, working as the guard – a change from being Signalman! Photo courtesy & copyright ‘Little Melton Light Railway Tribute’.
There were other locos, other people, and lots of visitors. I wonder if I’m best qualified to write this internet tribute, as I was only an occasional volunteer.
Oh yes – there were the animals too.
Sadly after illness, Bob passed away. The LMLR can to an end soon after, but happily many of the LMLR locos and rolling stock survive at another railway in Norfolk. I loved the LMLR because it was a railway, while a student it meant I worked with people who weren’t students, and during my working life, it helped me do something practical rather than just a desk job.
As the months progress, I will add more photos, some stills from video, and more text about the LMLR. There was a history written, which you could buy for a few pence from the souvenir shop; hopefully I will find a copy and add to it.
In the great scheme of things, the LMLR was just another small railway which went from nowhere to nowhere: but we loved it. I hope that this tribute site will reflect that affection.
It seems that there are many miniature railways that arrive, blossom, and then like ephemera, disappear, leaving only happy memories.
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It’s Christmas in Norfolk. It’s a year between 1989 and 2001, and a small gauge railway near a village is about to be inundated, usually with people, excited families, but on one year, the powers that be decided to paint the ground white with snow.
Come with us and spend a day at the Little Melton Light Railway Santa Specials.
May we in the Little Melton Light Railway tribute team extend Christmas greetings to all of our readers? We hope you’ve enjoyed our reminiscences, and that those who remember the LMLR feel that we’ve done the railway justice. This is the last planned blog entry, we will add further information should any arise, but it is likely smaller amendments would be to the existing entries. Our next issue will be a photo gallery from pictures not yet published. This will be at some stage in 2017, but this is the last scheduled written LMLR recollection.
Santa Claus came to town on many occasions.
Usually the Santa specials were over the entire weekend, very close to Christmas. The railway would be prepared beforehand. All trains would depart from Melton Wood Junction, and would travel the entire circuit via the Vine Cottage route. The Old Piggeries station was closed off, the Tea Room would provide hot drinks (tea, coffee, mulled wine), and the running shed would be decorated: but we’re not there yet.
Locomotives had decorations, Melton Wood station was lit evocatively, the stove in the waiting room warm against the cold, and crews would be known to have the odd festive adornment to uniforms, probably a holly sprig on the cap. The footbridge would be closed, the gate before the station open and the left hand platform road roped off to allow a level route from the car park to the station. All trains left from the right-hand road.
Don’t ask me the ticket price: I was guard punching the tickets, or in the tunnel as the intermediate block section. The children’s ticket price included a gift from you know who.
The train – and let’s be blunt, they were packed – rattled round the circuit, adults and children enjoying the ride (we hope – one year it snowed) via the Vine Cottage route to the running shed. One year, rather than trains queuing outside the running shed, we held trains in the tunnel for entertainment from two local girls playing carols, with which you could join in. Nevertheless, soon (or maybe not soon enough for the younger passengers) the sound of a departing train from the running shed allowed the train in the tunnel to leave, roaring away up the hill towards Point Cottage.
There is something other worldly and special about being in that tunnel as light fades – we had lanterns, but being away from modern electric light, the colour emitted from lanterns made that weekend very special. I remember we had a discussion about how to pronounce the word “film” (it’s strange the things you recall: “film” or “fil-um”).
I can’t describe effectively how evocative and different being outside as the light declined, it’s not so much a memory as a feeling, one you can only experience by going camping in the countryside without most modern comforts. It must be analogous to being a country stationmaster of the past: silence, awaiting a train, just working and chatting to your staff, and then hearing the approaching noise and hub hub of the train, being busy and on duty, looking forward to the peace and quiet again, the activity and noise of the departure, of a train full of excited, expectant people, the roar of the train climbing and then the gradual return of the silence, the quietude of the country station at night, and the anticipation of the next train, or of sixteen bells and the closing of the signal box.
It’s also quite spooky after dusk in that tunnel. I was pleased to have company.
From about half past three until five o’clock, the trains ran in near darkness. We’d rattle along, and it was an absolute contrast to the normal running sessions. Trains would pass Vine Cottage as cars arrived or departed, headlights blazing, occupants excited with anticipation or with the memory of their trip. Our train curved to the right, into the running shed, and the engine note faded.
The interior of the shed had Christmas decorations, and one of the stables was decorated more elaborately to be Santa’s grotto. Santa would emerge to greet the train, and would work his way along the train, talking to the children, and bringing presents. Santa had helpers, from inside the grotto but outside, Santa had an elf to assist. Some of the animals sported Christmas decorations, too.
There was a rumour that it wasn’t Santa, and it wasn’t a proper elf. Names were mentioned. I don’t accept these rumours, as why wouldn’t Santa and his helpers want to come and play trains for a while?
Once everyone had been seen, the train would depart, but occasionally the following train arrived, headlight illuminating the dimness of the inside of the shed entrance, engine noise echoing around the chamber. The train with the now gift clutching passengers would continue the short distance to the excursion platform, where the passengers would disembark and head to their cars or, hopefully, to the tea room. When empty, the train would move on back to the right-hand platform at Melton Wood Junction, to collect another consist of excited visitors.
Eventually we reached close of play: Melton Wood Junction looked splendid lit as it was, and the welcoming stove in the waiting room would be extinguished. Empty trains would rattle around the circuit to be put to bed – and there is something truly wonderful about being the guard on an empty-stock narrow gauge train running in near darkness – and Santa and his helpers could stand-down and retire to the tea room, once the public went home. Mike could switch out the signal box, the main shed could be closed, and then all of us would inhabit the tea room to warm up and have a brew, and I could anticipate my fifty mile drive home through the dark south Norfolk and East Suffolk countryside, or at my first event, returning to an almost deserted university campus – rather eerie. Everyone knew we’d run in January, only it wouldn’t be the same.
Those are some of my memories of the Little Melton Light Railway: Melton Wood Junction in a warm, yellow, gas-lamp-like glow, the purple-grey light of the dusk during those Santa specials, and the crowds both for those and for the superbly marketed packed events in the warmer, lighter months. There was shoving Thunderbox’s train uphill to keep to time (or ‘train surfing’ because we needed an extra seat), the roar of the engines of all of the machines and happy, happy people loving their ride on the LMLR. There were sad times, there were times I wondered why I was there, there were times I wished I was there, but here is not the place for those.
Instead, have a peaceful and enjoyable time this Christmas, and if you have LMLR pictures, memorabilia or memories, please find the time to contact us, and share – don’t forget to give your permission for us to publish. The LMLR meant a lot to many people, and we trust that this brief internet based excursion is an effective tribute to the railway.
Let’s pay a visit to the LMLR and look at the buildings.
There were a number of buildings associated with the LMLR, which we’ll discuss very briefly here, in the fashion as if you’re arriving for a trip on the railway.
A month is a very long time when you’ve withdrawal symptoms … eventually it’s the third Sunday in the month and today it’s time for being a passenger for once at the LMLR.
Take the Little Melton road, Green Lane, from the B1108 near the A47 bridge, or perhaps you’re just trundling up from the village itself. You knew if there was a running day because the sign board said so.
There was a driveway, it ran past Bob’s home Vine Cottage, with a small bothy on the left. There were paddocks on the right, as was the Vine Cottage route, running alongside, before the line bore rightwards into one of the barns. On the left was the tea room, where visitors could take tea and any other refreshments sold by the volunteers, mainly from the charity benefitting from the day. The tea room also had the railway’s toilet.
The car park nearest to the entry was straight ahead. From there you could see the Old Piggeries station, the shed that contained the Bug, the gazebo with the woodland information display, and the open barn where most charities put on a display of work or had stalls selling items to raise funds. Perhaps you chose to visit those stall later, but firstly, before the crowds, took a ride from the Old Piggeries.
The entrance to the Old Piggeries was between the tea room and the station, almost hidden beneath a tree. As you reached the platform, there was a small window on the right from which you bought your ticket. The station had an over-all roof, the platform was low, covered with paving slabs, and the track looked really narrow. There were benches on which to sit – unless there were crowds, and believe me, after about 3pm on really nice days, there were crowds – and the back wooden wall of the platform had railway related and wood related posters.
The train arrived just beyond the platform, and let off any passengers. The crew moved places, and then the train drew into the platform. Once loaded and tickets punched, the guard pressed a button on the ticket office, the colour light on the Bug shed turned green, and after whistles and toots and bells, the train departed. By now the car park on the right was filling nicely, with the public hopefully avoiding the puddles on those rainy days in the usually solid surface. On the left, perhaps an enthusiastic Bug user tried to race the train, pushing and pulling the lever, before halting just before the remnants of a tractor engine. Our train curved right, rattling over a trestle bridge spanning a pond. This seemed rickety, but the public could have a close look from the trackside, and it was a splendid piece of engineering: certainly the gnomes fishing had no complaints!
Some curves near some colour light signals indicated joining the main circuit. In the track, you could see the pressure operated track circuits, and the signs showing the walk in the orchard. The train itself rattled downhill, with a canopy of trees on both sides. There were different varieties of trees, often labelled to show their names and uses. After a long descent, the train turned right and uphill, now at the far extent of the property, with a wooden fence on the left and paddock fences on the right. The train entered the tunnel, a single track with wooden platforms either side. They were intended to store wood, and sometimes did. Sometimes there was something else, but more about that next time.
The train powered uphill, with a few more curves and, in later years, perhaps passing or running with a train on the Paddock Line. The train slowed as it climbed, the driver leant out of the engine and did something to a lever, and the train ran though Point Cottage.
Point Cottage tried to look like a cottage. From the picture you can see the inside with a version of a stove and cupboards. I think at some stage there was a chair. Point Cottage was remote from public areas.
The Old Piggeries train took the Lost Line, from which you could see Meg’s sty off to the right. Once out of the Lost Line, the route passed Melton Wood Junction, where we’ll visit after our ride. The Old Piggeries line bore left, the point operated by a motor rather than others which were spring points, crew or rod operated. The line passed behind the shed containing the model railways, and then back over the trestle bridge to the drop off point before the Old Piggeries station.
There was a short walk from Old Piggeries to Melton Wood Junction. On the right was the open barn with the charity’s stalls, and over on the left, beyond the second car park, was the model railway shed.
Access to the station was over a footbridge, wide enough for one person, and the footbridge was adorned with two signals, controlling departures from both platforms. Sometimes staff would open the gate to allow push and wheel chairs to enter or leave the station. Melton Wood was an island platform, mostly covered, with a souvenir stall by the footbridge, a small waiting room, benches, a ticket office, and the railway’s specially constructed signal box at the far end.
The main difference between the longer routes was that the Melton Wood Junction train climbed after Point Cottage, and ran alongside the entrance driveway. The line bore right into the large shed behind the open barn. The first part inside was a single track with views to the right of paddocks and small stables, and then the track emerged into the rolling stock shed. It was here, including on the running line, where the locos and carriages lived, including those not in service, although the triangle junction between the shed and the Lost Line could also be used for running day storage. Unlike the Old Piggeries line, passengers unloaded at the platform from which they boarded.
There may have been other smaller buildings, but my memory failed to recall them. There was a display board in one showing the construction of buildings and the early days of the railway. There was a lot of wood used, and that’s before you consider the number of sleepers in the track itself. The railway buildings were splendid, the roofs were very welcome on those running days when it rained (and it rained at times!), although none of the coaches had roofs: instead, they had brollies. The most welcome of those buildings for staff was the tea room, where once everything was put away, fires dropped and locks locked, we could meet, sup some tea, count the takings and enjoy not being busy.
That’s pretty much everything I can remember generally about working the Little Melton Light Railway. I remember specific things about my time there, some I choose not to disclose as I was still learning, but I do remember marking my calendar while a student with the running days, looking forwards to those Sundays. I chose not to attend the cricket club 3rd/4th XI trials, preferring to go and help run the railway (and I haven’t picked up a bat in anger since, and I don’t miss it either). I remember one Sunday in 1999 visiting some railways in Norfolk – in fact I think it was the Bure Valley – and struggling to find a route from the Wroxham road to Little Melton hoping that it was a running day and that the railway still ran – it was and it did, so I returned to staff. I remember the Hethersett panto, mainly because of my near midnight cycle ride home from Vine Cottage. I also remember meeting up with Bob at Hemsby and having an enjoyable time riding the 7¼” railway there. When I discovered the Ashmanhaugh Line and the LMLR escapees, I made a trip to Norfolk, and gave Thunderbox a big hug – I know, I know, but it was like seeing an old friend again.
Our last blog entry will be our Christmas present to the world: the weekend in December when Father Christmas came to the LMLR.
In previous submissions, we discussed the LMLR locomotives Thunderbox, Sir Mathew Pilgrim and Hotspur. There were others during my time (1995-2001) at Little Melton, as well as other items of rolling stock.
Ben was a big yellow locomotive. I think the transmission was hydraulic, and I assume it drove both two axle bogies. The superstructure was built on some substantial girders, and Ben looked a very impressive machine, but seemed a little out of place when running backwards, as it had to when replacing Thunderbox on the Piggeries train. I can’t tell you how Ben drove as I didn’t have the chance to drive it.
(23rd November 2016 – we can’t say too much about this at the moment, but we’ve had evidence that Ben still exists. 25th January 2017, see the comment.)
The General was a smaller petrol electric locomotive, like all of the internal combustion LMLR locos, carried on two two-axle bogies. It might have just been driven on one bogie, but don’t quote me.
The General worked both routes, but usually, perhaps exclusively, with the two car set. It was easier to run in reverse, as The General’s controls didn’t require much effort, as it was a simple six position switch, controlling the current from the battery and the (I assume) generator, power went to a motor which drove gears and chains to the bogie. Running backwards still required a degree of suppleness, turning your head to look while manipulating controls unseen, but there were better rear windows than on other machines.
You can read more about The General, and see it’s new home at Ashmanhaugh, by clicking HERE.
The Bug was a pump trolley. You sat on it, and with a little help to start moving, moved the handle backwards and forward to turn the gears to provide movement. The Bug was 20p a go, and had its own short track parallel to the close of the Piggeries route.
The Bug was aimed at children, but was also quite useful for tracking shots of Thunderbox arriving and departing. Memory says that one day, with no other trains running, Alex took The Bug on an entire circuit of the LMLR.
During my time, we had four sets of coaches. The first three sets were metal chassis with wooden (what else?) bodies and seats, splendidly varnished, and in places articulated.
They were all uncovered: we had plenty of brollies and cloths to wipe the seats, as the varnish was so good, you could wipe away the rain. We had one two car set and two three car sets, all on articulated bogies (as in the wheel sets not next to the loco or at the rear were shared between carriages). The idea was that the coaches could be used to move wood to and from storage in the tunnel. Later Hotspur acquired another two car set for The Paddock line. These were also wood, but painted maroon. If I recall correctly, I think the bogie frames were slightly lower that the existing vehicles, which meant occasional problems with clearances.
The guard sat at the rear of the train(normally – sometimes it didn’t happen, sometimes a guard (me) ignored the rules and followed the train around because a family needed the rear seat), and a Piggeries train arriving required the guard to move the paraphernalia (seat reserved for the guard notice, flags, cushion) from the rear to the front at the disembarkation point just before the station: letting people dismount away from the station was sensible because of the numbers carried, usually on warm, sunny, summer-like days between 3pm and 4pm – a pity because the tea run came around at about 3.30pm, and there were many times Bob and guard (me) would bolt a cake and a cup of tea before departure.
Oh yes, I was a stickler for this: the end coaches of the sets had a bracket for a cycle lamp with a red lens. Not everyone remembered to move the tail lamp, but I don’t think anyone was ever stopped by the bobby for no tail light. Ultimately it wasn’t necessary, as with an articulated set, I trust that the train crew would have noticed any ‘breakaway’.
Next to Melton Wood Junction was a reminder of the first idea of the LMLR: a wooden truck and some wooden rails. The railway was to be entirely wooden.
And then there was the old motor car. Sorry, I can remember very little, and I have no photographs. Can anyone advise?
There was another locomotive in the early days of the LMLR, and this is mentioned in the history, but this was before my time. Can anyone complete this part of the story?
One of the later additions to the LMLR stud of motive power was Hotspur. Hotspur was a Romulus type. Hotspur was a steam locomotive. Hotspur, as discussed earlier, was named after a Britannia from 32A (Norwich). The ‘Brit’ was Norman’s father-in-law’s loco: the Romulus was Norman’s. There might have been visiting steam locos before, but that was before my time at Little Melton.
Hotspur had a tender, which carried water and coal, and provided a seat for the driver. Hotspur emitted a satisfying “choff choff” sound, and a whistle in proportion to Hotspur’s size. Later on, Hotspur had its own set of maroon liveried coaches (which, if memory serves, at first had a slight clearance problem with their bogies), but it had its own route: the Paddock Line.
The Paddock Line was a figure of eight, with a diamond crossing, with a shorter descent than the mainline, but with two noticeable climbs. At two points, the line ran parallel to the mainline, where locos could exchange ‘toots’, but with a grass verge or fence between tracks. There were no signals, as it was a one engine in steam route.
Firstly, Hotspur needed to raise steam. Norman walked Hotspur from the shed to the right-hand platform road at Melton Wood Junction, ‘clamped’ the spring points (okay, used a rod to counter-act the spring) and pushed the loco into the exit of the Paddock Line. Norman would light the fire, fill the tender with rainwater, and use the blower to encourage the fire. In the meantime, The General would take a set of coaches around the mainline.
Before Hotspur had its own rake of coaches, when ready, Hotspur replaced The General on the two vehicle set, but would operate on the Paddock Line. There were no special tickets, the pink ones issued at the ticket office allowed a ride on either the Melton Wood Junction or the Paddock Line.
The train left the right-hand platform of Melton Wood Junction, took the right hand road from the turnout just beyond the platform, and after passing underneath ‘The Paddock Line’ board, the route started the first descent. Then it curved right, with the ‘Moinde Yaar Hid’ tunnel to the left. After a section of straight track, the line curved right and started to climb, passing over the diamond crossing, before commencing a left hand oval, with the section parallel to the mainline.
The line rattled over the diamond crossing again, continued to the left, then climbed towards Melton Wood Junction, through a section called ‘Noyers de Normandie’. By now Hotspur sounded a little breathless, and Hotspur could slip on occasion, which was no surprise considering loads, weather and rail head conditions. The line turned right, Hotspur regained grip, and chuffed satisfyingly again into the right-hand road of Melton Wood Junction.
At close of play, Hotspur might do a full circuit of the mainline, and with less of a fire, in light steam, worked back tender first to the shed and, once cooler, covered.
I drove Hotspur at close of play. Only once, mind: I wasn’t much good at it. You need real skill and experience to drive a steam locomotive on a line with gradients, as it’s a bit of a shock to see how quickly a gauge glass fills, and then empties: you’re either wrecking the cylinders or heating an empty boiler, and both are bad (except it wasn’t quite that simple). I reiterate my view of a few blogs ago, of my doffing of the cap to practical people. I haven’t attempted to drive a steam loco of any size since.
After closure, Hotspur found a new home at Ashmanhaugh. You can see more about that HERE. Another ALR based site has earlier photos, so try HERE too. Meanwhile, here are some more of our views of Hotspur in action at both railways.
Postscript: Hotspur didn’t work Santa Specials: there were too many people to carry, it was the steep Vine Cottage route and the rail conditions were foul at times. Perhaps this was for the best, as it would ask too much of such a splendid loco.
This is a relatively difficult blog to write, because I must confess my note-making about the volunteers at the LMLR is pitiful: I focused much more on the trains and the running of trains to make notes or even remember the names of everybody who helped. There were plenty! We had Little Melton residents, the spouses and partners and relatives of the drivers, and the few youngsters and parents who’d be there.
I never ever thought I’d be in agreement with the late film director Michael Winner, but in his Radio 4 account of his youthful trip to America in ‘My Teenage Diary’, he said, if I recall correctly, that there was regret that he didn’t photograph his companions as much: he’d photograph a bridge or some other object rather than those with whom he shared the journey. As for my time at the LMLR, I think I understand Mr Winner’s sentiments and wish I’d taken better pictures and more video, but then I had no plans to publish these memories. Thank heavens I took as much video as I did.
However, it’s with gratitude that the ‘recreational railways’ team acknowledge the work of the Ashmanhaugh Light Railway, both in providing home for LMLR rolling stock, but in this case for their blog. Last year, they published a blog entry summarising the LMLR History: we have referred to this original document in earlier blog entries and yes, that we lost our copies (we had two over the years: an early and then a revised copy). You can read their summary by clicking HERE, or use a search engine for ‘Ashmanhaugh Light Railway’ and finding the blog entry for “16th September 2015”. ‘Recreational railways’ wishes to emphasise that in the following paragraphs where needed to refer to the ALR blog entry for a correct name, we make the comment “thanks ALR”, and we mean that. We remain embarrassed about our memory and also lack of making notes. But, importantly, “thanks, ALR”.
Again, if you can help rectify many other oversights, please contact us using the ‘Contacts’ tab above, scroll to the top and look top right.
The LMLR was on Bob Brett’s land. Here’s Bob. We met Bob earlier, and I’m sure would want to share the limelight with all of his LMLR volunteers.
Norman Duffield and Reg Ives were friends, whose two locos were ‘The General’ and ‘Hotspur’. Above is Norman driving ‘Hotspur’ – named after his father-in-law’s regular loco from Norwich shed (70011 Hotspur), and then there’s Reg, in the background having shunted ‘The General’ so that ‘Hotspur’ could perform haulage over the Paddock line.
Edwin Peck built ‘Sir Mathew’, the gazebo and plenty of other wooden structures.
Norman’s and Reg’s and Edwin’s wives all helped out too. They would guard, – and if my memory is correct, I spoke to Norman’s wife Margaret (thanks ALR) when she was guard on the Old Piggeries line back in September 1995 when I first visited the railway – they would run the ticket office and I dare say helped run all the additional things that enhanced the visit, because, as my late dad (who I think was slightly jealous in the few months he saw me at the LMLR and whose cap I used) would say, people always like a cup of tea. Too right, particularly at close of play in the darker months.
Memory jogger – I think Mrs Peck was Christine – can anyone confirm?
I am so sorry that I didn’t collect or remember names -please forgive me.
Peter, again if my memory is correct, was usually Edwin’s guard. His wife too visited the railway, as I remember her at close of play in the tearoom when everybody gathered for a brew and a chat, and maybe a warm-up and dry-up after particularly poor weather. She also helped out in the grotto at Christmas, as there was a rumour that the real Santa was unavailable, and that Peter would substitute, although I wouldn’t put it past the real Santa to turn up and play trains … (he smiled).
Sid ran the model railway. His wife (sorry again) ran the souvenir stall on Melton Wood Junction.
Mike was our electronics wizard and ‘the bobby’ (signalman). Sometimes he came out to play as a guard, but mainly Mike ensured the correct train went into the correct route or platform, and that all of the signals worked – yes, we were track circuited and had colour light signals.
Again I apologise for the lack of names or surnames: this is entirely my youthful ignorance, my jackdaw-like selective re-call and my now middle-aged memory. If you can help with names, please contact us.
On one occasional I was driver – I can’t remember if it was Thunderbox or The General. My very efficient young guard should have been fire cadetting that day, but instead helped us out. I’ve forgotten her name. Again I’ve forgotten the name of the local lad who ran the bug and also appears as Bob’s guard on occasion: you can see him on duty in the picture at the top of this blog entry.
But I remember James, and I remember Alex. Both regular attenders and volunteers. Like me, both railway mad. Like me, both learning how to run a railway.
Alex came from Hethersett, I think, and I am pretty sure it was his dad Malcolm (thanks ALR) who built ‘Ben’. I was away from the railway for much of 1997 until revisiting in the summer of 1999, when Bob told me the sad news about Alex, which I won’t discuss here. Alex was unfailingly enthusiastic about the railway, and in the picture of Ben below, it’s Alex at the controls for the Saturday morning maintenance routine. Alex may also have been one of Santa’s elves.
Here is Malcolm (thanks ALR) in charge of Ben.
James was local, but too young to be a full volunteer. After the last passenger train, James at times would, under supervision, drive ‘The General’ back to the shed. When Anglia Railways (remember them?!) sold some of their turquoise hats, or gave them to preservationists to sell on, I bought myself an Inter City conductor’s hat, and a spare Anglia one which I gave to James.
It is important to look as if you belong, and there’s something much more authoritative about a cap than a fluorescent bib. James’s mum would bring him to the railway and stay, and I hope note the pleasure he derived and, let’s not forget this, gain early experience of team-work.
There were also those from charities who came along with stalls and entertainment.
Please don’t be too critical of my lack of recall or memory of names. I hope that over the years you the reader can help with completing the blanks to create the account of the Little Melton Light Railway and the people who made it happen.
Oh yes. There was one other, a part-timer. Me. I still have the cap, the badge (a blue Hymek) and the fluorescent jacket; I may even still have the shirt. The fluorescent jacket is serviceable and utilised, as I wear it when I use a bicycle. It didn’t have LMLR on it; perhaps I should have rescued one? I still have the LMS Greatcoat worn on occasions, somewhere in a wardrobe.
Hello to any former LMLR volunteers reading this. I hope this tribute website is doing justice to the railway: please help me complete the names?
(And once again, thanks ALR for the summary of the history which has helped with some of the details in this blog entry.)
This reminiscence is called ‘Whatever next?’ because there were times when you didn’t know what would happen next at the LMLR. I really would like to hear other people’s memories, because there were some interesting goings on at times.
One charity brought a ‘Postman Pat’.
Another brought a fire engine.
One running day in 2000, a troop of Morris dancers came and entertained.
In the tunnel during one Santa special, probably in 1995 or 1996, trains were held in the shelter, rather than instructing drivers that it was signalling by sight of the tail lamp, waiting to visit Santa’s grotto in the main shed. It was drier than queuing just outside the running shed. I know about the tunnel stop, I was that intermediate block post; it’s also where my copy of the LMLR history went, as I used the red cover to make a ‘stop’ board. We had musical entertainment, with carols, to keep the waiting train of passengers entertained, and because it wasn’t difficult to hear a departing train from the grotto, delays were not that long. I promise I’ll write about a Santa Special weekend just before Christmas.
Do remember Meg? Meg was a big black pig whose sty was to the right of the Lost Line. Meg seemed to like apples and seemed unperturbed by passing trains.
There were other animals: donkeys, horses, cats and one day I had help as guard, as my folks brought the family King Charles spaniel ‘Paddy’ to help with ticket collecting. Paddy looked out of the footwell of the guard’s seat, and enjoyed watching the very adjacent greenery flash by. Paddy attended other 7¼” railways too.
I am convinced that there were other enjoyably eccentric things that went on, but I cannot recall them. On some days the weather added to the variety (wait for the Santa Special write-up), but there was something quite endearing as a brolly-roofed train rattled by.
One day, I think I was on gate duty when we opened a paddock for additional parking, a man in his late middle age was pushing a child in a push chair. He crossed the track and stopped, and from his pocket produced a tape measure, and measured the width of the track. I think we had a polite conversation over the width of the track, but I was so wrong-footed by his actions, thus I’m not surprised I’ve forgotten the content.
I recall attending the Hethersett panto in January 1996. I had a lift to and from the venue from Vine Cottage, but had to cycle back to my room on campus. I think it was nearly midnight. I’m pretty sure it was foggy. This was before the Watton Road had the main hospital added, so was not as busy as I assume it is now.
I also remember meeting up with Bob at Don Witheridge’s railway at Hemsby. That was a mainly double track line, real signals and trains in proportion to the track size. I think Bob liked the loose coupled goods train, as one of the functions of the LMLR was that LMLR stock could also carry freight. I’m sure it did, as there was timber stored in the tunnel, in differing quantities, with no road access.
If anyone can remember anything, and if you have pictures, even better, but for any reminiscence, can you let us know through the ‘Contact’ function above?
If you belonged to a charity that came, did your group bring anything unusual? Let us know.
If you really wanted power, and a variety of traction, you headed for the other station on the railway, Melton Wood Junction. You knew you were in capable hands on the pink ticket of the ‘Melton Wood Junction First Class Circular Tour’. Climb the footbridge, see the gantry above you, and enjoy the view, although there was the gate should anyone need level ground access to the platform. At this station, in the middle years, you had a choice of train: in later years, a choice of route, including steam!
Melton Wood Junction station had a waiting room with a wood burning small metal stove, a ticket office, a souvenir shop and a signal box. The footbridge also had the signal gantry, operated by wire, and an electric light box route indicator to indicate to the Old Piggeries train, passing non-stop, that it had the route. During the hours of darkness on running days, so we’re talking November, December and January, Melton Wood was lit so evocatively that it gave an idea of what a narrow gauge station would feel and look like during the heyday of such establishments.
The ‘Vine Cottage’ run duplicated much of the ‘Old Piggeries / Lost Line’ route. Most trains departed the left hand side of the island platform, went straight on at the junction and then bore left, the other side of the leylandi conifers, towards the junction where the route from the Old Piggeries joined, making a rather elongated triangle junction section of track.
Many of the trains were in the hands of Edwin Peck’s magnificent shay type loco, ‘Sir Mathew Pilgrim’. I must confess, I rode it infrequently, never drove and never guarded. Edwin also built many of the wooden structures on the railway, or if not solo, certainly with a considerable input.
This is where I, a humanities student at the nearby university, would be jealous of the ability to make, but also grateful that I worked alongside practical people: once I was wittering on about an idea of a railway project, and Bob had lost interest listening (and quite right too), when he uttered “this is just jaw-jaw.” This was an important life lesson which I fear I failed to apply. This blog is, sorry Bob, “jaw-jaw”, but at least it remembers something practical, fun and worth recalling.
Sometimes ‘The General’ took its much shorter train on the route: one day I was in charge of ‘The General’ for the entire session, with a local Fire Cadet as a very young and extremely competent guard. We ran the Vine Cottage route. I will describe driving ‘The General’ in a later blog entry. We had fun that day: I like trees but not protruding roots.
Trains left mainly from the left hand platform, although the right hand platform in the middle years also hosted Vine Cottage trains, hence the originally right-facing signal on the gantry. The route from the end of the triangle junction is as described in the previous Old Piggeries line blog entry, as far as Point Cottage. Once there, drawing back the lever, the train from Melton Wood Junction was free to storm the bank up towards Vine Cottage; probably rarely a problem for ‘Sir Mathew’, or ‘Ben’, but ‘The General’ had shorter trains than the bigger locos. With ‘The General’ you turned the switch to notch whatever and sat back. ‘Ben’ being single-ended was more appropriate (and probably easier to drive) on the circular Vine Cottage rather than the out-and-back teardrop of Old Piggeries, and like ‘Sir Mathew’, had the power for a well loaded train.
The line continued to climb at the S-bend around Vine Cottage, before running parallel to the entry and exit lane, giving car passengers a first or farewell sight of the trains. The line then curved right, into the shed, continuing through the storage area with its multiple sidings, before bearing left at the triangle junction, the right hand road being only for engine or empty stock movements, joining the Lost Line near Meg’s sty.
Just beyond the excursion only platform – used as a set-down for Santa Specials – was the home signal, wire operated, protecting the trailing junction where the Lost Line emerged. After that was a facing point which allowed either line to access either side of the island platform at Melton Wood Junction, but the right hand side could not then access the Old Piggeries route. The platform avoiding line for Old Piggeries trains was operated by hand by the signalman or other unoccupied volunteer, and if there was a train in the platform, Mike would have to make his way to move the balance weight to change the points for the Old Piggeries train, before returning to his duties as ‘the Bobby’.
While writing this, I thought that I’d watch some of the video I shot to remind myself of the power of ‘Sir Mathew’: I’d forgotten its hooter, I’d forgotten the sound of the engine. It sounded like a very large lawnmower engine, and in one scene drew away from Melton Wood Junction with an unfortunately poorly laden train – perhaps the umbrellas of the passengers explained why – but always picking up its load in fine style, departing with Peter as guard taking his seat. I also observed ‘Sir Mathew’ departing the tunnel, sweeping by with hardly a change of engine note, clearly in complete mastery of the train.
Then I watched as Edwin drove ‘Sir Mathew’ up to Point Cottage, drew back the lever and powered away up the hill, the engine hardly straining, but a with a well laden train. Another video showed that the engine itself was surprisingly small, started by a cord pull, with transmission of power to the wheels by chain and sprocket, thus like ‘Thunderbox’, mechanical transmission.
‘Sir Mathew’ and ‘Ben’ were splendid machines and engineering, but that’s not the object of this tribute site: ‘Sir Mathew’ was the main power for the Melton Wood Junction / Vine Cottage route for most of the time we knew the LMLR, and was most capable motive power to move our passengers. The Vine Cottage line at Vine Cottage was where the public might first see the trains in action, and what a sound, what a sight! You knew you were in capable hands on the pink ticket of the ‘Melton Wood Junction First Class Circular Tour’.
Post script – if you look back at an earlier blog, you’ll see very blurred images of the pictorial LMLR history. Look very carefully and you will see Sir Mathew arriving at the Old Piggeries. Sometimes, then, he did run in reverse. Something we didn’t see – just because it wasn’t written down didn’t mean it didn’t happen. Perhaps he ran off light engine to turn on the triangle? Perhaps not.
Bob and Thunderbox … please overlook Thunderbox’s impression of an extended range fuel tank loco .
Most, if not all, of the LMLR memorabilia featured a certain locomotive: Thunderbox.
You remember Thunderbox, don’t you? How could you forget?! It looked like a hut with a kennel attached, it had a balustrade on the cab roof (where it was easy to forget you’d left the fuel can, or your cap), and a motor car horn of some vintage. If you don’t remember that, you will remember hearing Thunderbox before seeing it: the engine roared, the bell clanged and the horn parp-parped before departure and at crossings and stations.
Thunderbox ready for Santa Specials.
You would remember Thunderbox.
Thunderbox was wooden bodied, metal chassised, and had a petrol engine with a mechanical transmission. The loco was carried by one powered two axle bogie underneath the bonnet, and one unpowered two-axle trailer bogie, underneath the cab. These seemed to hold the track quite well. If you want the technical details, you can visit the site of Thunderbox’s current home, the Ashmanhaugh Light Railway and read about the engine, the transmission and the builder.
We at the LMLR tribute site wishes to tell you about what Thunderbox meant and what it was like to drive.
Thunderbox was Bob’s loco. You could consider that they were one and the same on running days, but, as Bob’s illness progressed, there were times when Bob took a break, or was guard. Nevertheless Bob and Thunderbox were inseparable: perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but most people will understand the sentiment.
Thunderbox on one of the many Santa Specials
Thunderbox roared: perhaps that’s why Thunderbox was a doubly apt name. Maybe one day we’ll work out how to add audio to this tribute site, so you could appreciate the ‘thrash’ as Thunderbox lifted a fully laden train from the tunnel up to Point Cottage. Occasionally Thunderbox would struggle on that gradient, particularly in wet, leafy conditions on aluminium rail, and then the more athletic or enthusiastic guard would dismount and act as a banker. When you’re pushing a train uphill to keep time, possibly in the wet, the attraction of a loud engine struggling for grip loses its appeal, but revives with nostalgia with the passing of the years.
Thunderbox required strength to drive, or at least wrist stamina. To engage drive, the joystick needed to be pushed forward and held, or pulled backwards and held, and to apply power, the twist grip – like a motorcycle throttle – had to be twisted and held. There were two gears in each direction, as well as neutral. Engage, twist and hold was fine on the downhill stretch when the Old Piggeries line met the main circuit, but required endurance on lifting the train from the bend towards the long climb to and through the tunnel and beyond, and then again once clearing Point Cottage.
Thunderbox in reverse, downhill – Bob in charge. Notice the leaves on the line.
On every second trip on the Old Piggeries route, Thunderbox hauled the train cab first: this meant backwards. There was a mirror, but this was mainly for checking the train behind during forward running, but for a reasonable look-out, you had to lean out and turn your neck, whilst engaging gear and keeping that throttle twisted. Furthermore, the long descent from the junction to the bend leading to the tunnel could be exciting as we had no continuous brake: Thunderbox had a handbrake and careful drivers. After the long coast down to the curve, Thunderbox would ‘open up’, and roar towards the tunnel, clanging, parping, and then roaring away up towards Point Cottage, maybe exchanging engine greetings with Hotspur in the later years, as the Romulus passed by in the opposite direction where the Paddock line came close to the main circuit.
Thunderbox lifts another Old Piggeries train from Point Cottage.
Point Cottage had the train operated points: Thunderbox took the ‘Lost Line’, which meant pushing the point lever forwards. A practiced or skilled driver could do this under motion, although this was a more awkward procedure in reverse, and the Lost Line curved to the right and continued to rise briefly. The Vine Cottage route required drawing the lever backwards, all fine if you had power to spare, as had Sir Mathew Pilgrim or Ben, although maybe those crews would wish to disagree.
Occasionally Thunderbox was sick. Sometimes the bigger locos were required for traffic levels. Sometimes Bob wasn’t there. Much as Ben, Sir Mathew, The General and Hotspur were all LMLR locos, as were the crews, Thunderbox was the LMLR’s talisman, the LMLR’s symbol.
Screen shot tableau – clockwise from to left: Thunderbox cab first with a well loaded train on the Trestle Bridge, Thunderbox departs The Old Piggeries, Thunderbox passing the model railway shed heading back to The Old Piggeries, Thunderbox passing the colour llight protecting the junction just before Melton Wood Junction.
I drove Thunderbox on occasion, I think at least once – memory fades or becomes obscured with time. I can vouch for engaging the gear, and keeping the throttle twisted, and the fast descent, and the roar of the engine! Bob might have been my guard that day, and it was good for Bob and the public to meet when clipping tickets, as with Bob driving (and an efficient guard, or so we brag) there was little time during a busy running day to chat.
Thunderbox resting at Ashmanhaugh. Notice the ALR number.
After closure, Thunderbox found a new home. Eventually we went to see it. We gave Thunderbox a big hug; it was just like seeing an old friend. We doubt that there are any gradients for some ‘thrash’, for some audio delight from the power unit, but perhaps that’s for the best – Thunderbox gave everything on those climbs, and maybe a relatively flat track would be a better place to enjoy Thunderbox as a machine, and prolong its chance to bring pleasure to rail fans of all ages.
To conclude this tribute to Thunderbox, there is just one last thing: one day Bob said to me, and you’ll have to imagine Bob’s gentle Norfolk accent here, “do you know why it’s called Thunderbox?” On saying no, Bob lifted the driver’s seat cushion to reveal a wooden seat with a hole in it. Underneath the hole, was a white, probably porcelain bowl, about the size of a soup plate, and the depth of a basin. “That’s why it’s Thunderbox” chuckled Bob, although we can’t remember if Bob called Thunderbox he, she or it.
Lest it be unclear, Thunderbox’s structure incorporated a commode. Or did it? Was this an impish sense of humour to include the pot or, although thankfully never used (we hope), perhaps it was unique: unlike most, maybe all, 7¼” railways, at least one of our trains had a toilet. If only we’d thought of an at seat trolley service… .
Thank you to George, who took the time and trouble to contact the LMLR tribute site after visiting: it was great to hear from you, and we’re so pleased that you have happy memories of the LMLR. We’d love to see those photos!
(George, it’s specifically to you that I must confess that I didn’t plan this next blog to be about this subject, as it was one of the other attractions at the LMLR rather than locos or routes, but your comments about the model railway encouraged this particular essay.)
The model shed.
There are probably parents of young children who remember as children themselves, visiting the LMLR. They may remember the trains, and the animals, and also one particular building which housed a model railway layout, where a certain tank engine and his friends ran for fun.
Sid in charge of the model railway.
Sid ran the railway. The windmill turned, the turntable worked, lights shone and the trains rushed around. (I might have begged Sid to run one of my diesels, either my ancient Hymek or my railtour loco 47016, and he probably did, with reservations). George e-mailed us to say that the layout survived the LMLR closure, and appeared at other events. Children seemed to enjoy it, gauging by the numbers who stood to watch, but model-makers would appreciate the layout opposite.
A model Melton Wood Junction.
There was a miniature LMLR. It was N gauge ‘crazy’ track, and looked to be O gauge figures. There was a model Thunderbox, a model Vine Cottage, and although memory says it didn’t run, it was a miniature miniature railway. George wonders what happened to it. Can anyone help?
Vine Cottage in miniature.
There were other buildings that were, let us say, secondary to the running of trains. Melton Wood Junction had a souvenir shop. Some of those souvenirs remain in use, as the item in the picture below was removed from a book just this morning.
Another building was the gazebo. This contained a display about different trees and woods. The official history says Edwin built that. Edwin also built the Shay loco Sir Mathew Pilgrim.
We will discuss the tea room in a much later blog.
George also tells us that Ben still exists – can anyone confirm, or even send pictures?