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.