Hotspur and the Paddock Line


Norman Duffield and Hotspur at Melton Wood Junction

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.

The cab – the regulator is a screw thread type rather than a lever – the ‘infamous’ gauge glasses are above the firebox door.

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.

Map, as before – Paddock Line in green.

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.

Norman adds water to the tender. You can see the top of the water butt in the next picture. The device on the chimney is an electric blower to encourage draught though the fire.

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.

The view from The General, parked up, while Hotspur runs on the Paddock Line

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.

Cab ride – the first right hander underneath the route sign.

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.

Hotspur blasting towards the diamond crossing for the second time.

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.

The approach to Melton Wood Junction from the Paddock Line.

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.

Hotspur on the mainline. The Paddock Line is to the right.

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.

A trip behind Hotspur at Ashmanhaugh a few years ago.

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.

Arriving at Melton Wood Junction. Norman in charge, Reg as guard.
On the map, this is the far left hand top part of the loop, near Point Cottage.
At close of play, Mike ensures the spring point is set so Norman can reverse Hotspur back to the shed.
Hotspur in action at Ashmanhaugh a few years ago. Notice the number and new ownership.
Hotspur at speed.
The first climb, a warm dry day as there’s little steam from Hotspur.
By contrast, Hotspur starts the climb on a damper, cooler day.
Ben’s just left the tunnel. Hotspur is about to turn to climb for the first time. Whistles and toots exchanged.


It is very wet – Norman makes a few adjustments before departure.
Departure: notice the brollies. Notice the platform and how effective the roof was.

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.

Hotspur asleep.

The Vine Cottage route

Sir Mathew heads downhill through the orchard

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!

In green – Vine Cottage route

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.

mwjThe ‘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.

Sir Mathew and Edwin awaiting the right away

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.

Sep1995 ahop
A September 1995 view of the shop and footbridge – the signal faces right for the right hand platform – it was later altered to face left, as per prototype signals – and oh my, I hadn’t noticed until after publishing: my late dad’s in there too.

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.

The General – the author in charge

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.

Sir Mathew powers out of the tunnel

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.

Sir Mathew, Vine Cottage in the background, heads toward the storage sheds

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.

Sir Mathew sweeps past the excursion platform

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’.

Board off, Sir Mathew approaches the junction before Melton Wood Junction

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.

Sir Mathew climbs away after slowing for Point Cottage

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.

A circa year 2000 view of Sir Mathew awaiting the road – if you look to the left of the fence you will see remnants of the first LMLR – wooden track and a wooden chassis.

‘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’.

melton wood ticketsPost 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.

“The Piggeries” route


Marked in red on the map is the route of “The Piggeries Return” route. There are a few thumbnail pictures to show what you might see on the route. All images on this page and this blog, unless marked otherwise, are copyright ‘recreational railways’.


Thunderbox returns to the shed, day’s work over, with empty stock, heading back to the carriage sheds, over the Trestle Bridge. Bob drives.


Do you remember those wet days, brollies up, as Thunderbox charged towards Point Cottage, sometimes running parallel with Hotspur on the adjacent route? Can you remember the ‘parp parp’ of Thunderbox’s antique motor horn, the clang of the bell, the roar of the engine, the wait on those busy busy days when the charity attending really marketed the event to their members, and when our regular visitors came out in their numbers, particularly on the days when the sun shone? Does anyone remember Meg? Do you remember the sound as Ben drew a packed train over the Trestle bridge, or the thrilling descent from the junction down through the wood? Did anyone use ‘The Bug’ to chase the train? Does the LMLR remind you of childhood in Norfolk? Wasn’t Thunderbox a funny looking thing, and did you ever ask why he was named ‘Thunderbox’?

If you do, then you remember “The Piggeries” route on the now long closed LMLR.


The route:

The nearest car park to the entrance would lead you to the out and back run of ‘The Piggeries’. This was usually Thunderbox’s run, although Ben, the huge yellow hydraulic, would occasionally substitute. There were times when we were so busy, two trains would operate the route, The General and his shorter train arriving to assist.


Thunderbox arrives at The Old Piggeries.

The first train of the day would be empty stock from the sheds, past Melton Wood Junction and taking the left hand route underneath the footbridge. Thunderbox would be run round the stock, the guard would chock the wheels of the coaches, move the cushion, guard’s seat notice and, as I always tried to do, tail-lamp to the correct end. Bob, or the driver that day, would shackle the loco to the train, and unchock the wheels.

Thunderbox could drive in either direction, similarly ‘The General’ or ‘Ben’, although Ben’s revering visibility didn’t appear to be great, although I never ever drove it. These three engines worked the Piggeries route, but it is always Thunderbox’s route to me.


Thunderbox runs round: Ticket Office for the route is to the right.

Tickets for the route were sold on a per journey basis form the ticket office. When the train was ready, after the guard had clipped the tickets and advised keeping seated and hands within the train, the guard informed the signal box by pressing the start button on the ticket office wall. This set the light on the bug’s shelter to green. The guard gave the right-away, Bob gave Thunderbox’s horn a good ‘parp’, or tugged the chord to the bell, engaged forward gear, perhaps a touch of throttle, released the handbrake and the engine roared away.


“All fares and tickets please.” A yellow Piggeries ticket from 1997. 

On the left was the hand pumped ‘bug’ – a 20p-a-go hand cranked trolley on a separate isolated track, mainly for children (or when I had a camera for tracking shots of Thunderbox) to be their own driver. The main line bore to the right, and over the Trestle bridge, where the observant could see the gnomes fishing. The track turned left, and joined the main circuit, shared with the Melton Wood Junction trains.


Thunderbox, tool box first, with a well-loaded train, starts the descent.

The main circuit was one way, track-circuited and mainly signal controlled. After joining the main circuit, the line descended quite quickly, so sensible drivers chose to coast through the woods as there was a sharp right hand curve at the culmination of the descent.


The approach to the tunnel.

The driver would open the throttle on the bend, as the line started the climb again, passing through the tunnel. ‘Moinde yaar hid!” was really a storage shed for timber, but was once an intermediate block section during Santa Specials where there was musical entertainment, but more on that in later blogs.


Thunderbox heads away from the tunnel and towards Point Cottage.

The line continued to climb, coming within sight of Green Lane, and then up to Point Cottage. This was the junction where the Piggeries line took the “Lost Line” short cut back, whereas the Melton Wood “First Class Circular Tour” headed higher, past Vine Cottage, through the carriage shed and re-joined the “Lost Line” just before the signal box. “Point Cottage” housed the driver operated point, which was biased against the Vine Cottage route: the “Lost Line” meant pushing the lever forwards, so Thunderbox which, let’s be honest, sometimes struggled with a full, heavy train in poor rail conditions, could take the rising right hand exit of the turnout whilst moving: Sir Mathew Pilgrim, with power to spare, often had to stop, draw back the shaft operating the point, and then romp away – or that’s how it sounded – up hill towards Vine Cottage.


Thunderbox takes the Lost Line away from Point Cottage.


One of the gnomes stands sentinel at the junction post beyond Point Cottage.

The signalman knew what was coming, and had a signal to hold either line as it approached Melton Wood Junction. The “Lost Line” had a photo-electric sensor, which ran a bell as a train approached, and there was a colour light signal protecting the approach junction: “Vine Cottage” line had a cable operated semaphore signal just after the Santa Special excursion platform.


The view from the signal box: Ben is held at the signal on the Lost Line, the bell continuing to ring in the signal box.

Depending on if there was a train in Melton Wood Junction, and sometimes when there wasn’t, the Piggeries train used the loop line next to the fence. This re-joined the platform road immediately before the junction. The left hand signal on the footbridge had a route indicator to show whether the train took the left hand curve for the Piggeries line, or the main circuit.


Ben has the signal and the route indicator for Piggeries, and takes the loop around Sir Mathew Pilgrim at Melton Wood Junction.

The Piggeries train passed behind the exhibition shed, then bore right to a colour light signal controlled junction at the Trestle bridge: as there were times when The Piggeries had two trains in action, this signal protected anything between the bridge and The Old Piggeries, operated on a one strain in steam principle, and track circuited.


“All change please.” The Bug route is on the right.

The train stopped just before the station on most occasions, to allow passengers to disembark, rather than cause congestion of The Old Piggeries station itself. I recall on many occasions that the station was packed, so allowing families off first was a very sensible decision. A sensible guard moved the cushion, guard seat notice. As if it was the first train of the day, but with greater haste, we’d draw to a halt alongside the platform, chock the wheels and prepare to load, quickly, as some of those normal running days were very popular.


It’s Saturday morning: track walk the day before a running day. Memory says it is the Alex at the controls of Ben for the track checking run.

We had fun on some of those hills! True modern railway fans would love the ‘thrash’ as Thunderbox charged that hill, revving away in that high pitch, struggling for grip, particularly on days when the weather was against us. All that, and it was a decent length of ride, for 50p per passenger.

Long closed, the Little Melton Light Railway. But there were other routes too.