The Vine Cottage route

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The circuit

When it closed around 2002, there were three distinct runs on the Little Melton Light Railway: the return loop of ‘The Old Piggeries’, and two circular routes, both starting at ‘Melton Wood Junction’. One was the longer run, including two tunnels, whereas the shorter route operated by the railway’s steam loco ‘Hotspur’ included a reasonably steep short climb and a diamond crossing.

The track diagram below shows the routes before ‘Hotspur’s’ line was constructed: this is a screen shot, slightly enhanced by computer program, from one of the many Hi-8 videos I shot when I wasn’t involved in guard, car park or driving duties. As the blog develops, it is pictures from this that will illustrate many of the descriptions, as well as the handful of stills I took when I had a moment.

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If you have LMLR pictures that you’d like to share, please contact the author using one of the tabs at the top of the screen.

You might notice from the track diagram that there are lights. The LMLR was track circuited and had signals. The diagram was in the signal box, above the window facing the approach of all three lines – Paddock Wood, Lost Line and Vine Cottage Line.

Underneath is a rudimentary map of the final extent of the LMLR, showing locations of stations, buildings, names, all of which we will explore over the following months as the blog develops.

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