Stapleford Miniature Railway History 1958 – 2008

Celebrating our golden jubilee year in 2008

Stapleford Miniature Railway History

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

The Second Lord Gretton with Mr H.A. Marshall, Commodore and Mr C.S Birch
The Second Lord Gretton (centre) with Mr H.A. Marshall, Commodore (left) and Mr C.S Birch, Master of the Northern Star with the newly arrived Southern Cross in 1968
The two liners at Stapleford
One of the two liners departs lakeside for a trip around the lake while the other prepares to dock.  These were the largest scale passenger carrying boats in the world during their time at Stapleford.
Southern Cross
One of the two liners Southern Cross departs lakeside for a trip around the lake. The railway runs up to the hill to house along the right.
Stapleford Lion Reserve
A drive through Lion reserve and Zoo were also added in the early 60’s.

During the late 60’s and 70’s the line continued to expand and with his son John, the Third Lord Gretton following his fathers love of steam the American Berkshire class steam loco was constructed on contract at the Stapleford Works to cope with the heavy lakeside trains, more passenger stock was constructed, and a tunnel added near to the top of the bank by the house.

Later on, the line was extended from the lakeside Haven to run around in a balloon circuit via the lakeside to return over the river to the Haven via a sprung point (The railway used to run opposite to the current direction, which now crosses the river first). A simple halt was also built in the Chestnuts picnic area of the loop, called “Chestnuts” and the current station, then called the car park was also constructed.  Visitors would park near the zoo and catch a train to the Central station and House. They could then get a different one to the Haven and lakeside circuit.

The Second Lord Gretton’s death in 1982 saw the Estate and railway closed to the Public at the end of that season, the Third Lord Gretton putting the railway into safe storage. The house was sold in 1985, and is now a country house hotel.

However, the railway and Estate remained within the Gretton family and almost everything remained untouched.

His wife, Jennifer, Lady Gretton and son, the 4th Lord Gretton decided to bring together a small group of enthusiasts to see if it could be restored and preserved. This small band grew into what is now known as the FSMR who to this day with the full support and direction of the Gretton Family keep alive the original ideals and ethos of the SMR.

John O Gaunt (now named John H Gretton) and Blanche Of Lancaster double head a train up from lakeside in the early 70’. Blanche was sold and now operates at the Trago Mills shopping centre railway in Devon. Still in her original blue livery with the SMR lettering
The third Lord Gretton, the late John H Gretton brings the Curwen Green “John O Gaunt”(now renamed after him) down the bank to lakeside in the mid 70’s
The third Lord Gretton, the late John H Gretton brings in the Curwen Green “John O Gaunt (now renamed after him) to the new car park station circa 1979. The signal box now sits on the triangle to the left of the loco
Box tunnel portal after closure. The trees above the tunnel were all removed during the total rebuilding of the tunnel by the FSMR prior to public reopening in 1995 but the craftsman built stonework on Box portal was carefully rebuilt

Map of the SMR

Below is a map showing the layout of the SMR. The engine shed is on the far left and the tunnel is mid picture. The line is run in a balloon shape at the lake end and is just under 2 miles in total, trains take on average 14 minutes for a round trip at scale line speeds!

Description of the Line

  • Trains leave the car park station and run around the top curve on a falling gradient down through the 50 metre long tunnel to the lake. At Haven, the line diverges on a sprung point, passing lakeside junction box taking the left road to cross the river Eye on Haven bridge and then run parallel to the river along the back straight.
  • The line then crosses a small stream at Colby’s culvert before rounding the sharp curve to cross the river again on Jenny’s bridge. The railway then enters the wooded section, called appropriately Chestnuts and runs on a rising gradient to badgers bend, before clearing the woods and running along the eastern shore of the lake.
  • The line then crosses the lake out-fall on the spillway before arriving back at the Haven Lakeside box to rejoin the Haven to top curve section via the sprung point.
  • The train now has to re-climb the long gradient up the bank and through the tunnel back to the top curve, no easy task with a full train and wet rails, and a severe test of driver and Locomotive!
  • Arriving at the top curve points, the train can either run directly into the station, or run into the triangle head-shunt, to be reversed or piloted back into the station to be facing the correct way around.
  • If run “straight in” during multiple engine operations, a locomotive will be waiting in the triangle to back on to the station ready for a quick departure, the train leaves and the “trapped” loco(s) can then run out backwards following the train, to then run forward back into the head-shunt via the top-curve point. They are then watered and coaled ready for backing onto the next train.

Operational Details

  • Normal signalling operations use one signalman in the station box controlling all train movements, the main station gantry and all point-work around the station and triangle, including the new switched diamond. as well as various other interlocked signals. A single line token controls all access to the top curve section and beyond onto the main railway. All train guards are in radio contact with the signalmen, operation control and each other ensuring a smooth and efficient service and fast response to any problems.
  • At heavy passenger times, a second box is opened at Haven, controlling access to the Haven back to Lakeside section and despatch / receiving of trains in the Topcurve to Haven section. This allows two trains to operate on the main railway at the same time, increasing passenger numbers to the theoretical maximum.