The railway began life back on the 18th May 1958, when the first line opened from the old stable hill station and car park to the main hall. The Second Lord Gretton was looking for an additional attraction for families to the Stately House and grounds, which first opened to the public in 1953.
He saw an advertisement and purchased second hand, two David Curwen 4-4-2 steam locos, six coaches and 2,000 feet of track. This created the line from Stable Hill car park to the House.
The line was extended in autumn 1958 and opened to the lakeside on 3rd may 1959. The first train to the lake being hauled by 4-4-2 John O Gaunt, (now John H Gretton). The Central station and the train operated crossing, both to become a notable feature were constructed at the same time. The Haven cafe and station were added at the lakeside terminus in 1959.
By the end of the 1961 season, passenger numbers had trebled to 21,355. With the railway at full capacity now, a relief train was required for peak periods. This was provided by David Curwen, designing and building at Curwen and Newbury, a model of a Western region Warship Diesel Hydraulic Loco. This used a Ford petrol engine driving a mechanical drive through fluid clutch. The new loco went into service during may 1962 and with 6 new coaches, proved to be very popular.
Then during a cruise aboard the Shaw Saville Line SS “Southern Cross”, The Second Lord Gretton had the idea of having a scale model of a liner constructed to carry passengers on the lake. This would be combined with the railway ride to the Haven terminus at lakeside. Visitors had long asked for the chance to hire boats on the lake, but this was deemed difficult to administer and police. The liner would solve this problem, and add to the railways operational interest. The replica of SS “Northern Star” Was constructed by Curwen and Newbury and made her maiden voyage on the Stapleford park lake on 27th June 1963. The lake includes islands and even had a working lighthouse on one!
A great website for the full size Northern Star liner can be found at New Zealand Maritime