Surrey’s steamy wonderland main line is 50!


Just five weeks after steam haulage ended on Britain’s national network, classic locomotive types from the country’s illustrious railway past began to entertain eager crowds again. However, this time it was on a much smaller scale and courtesy of the world’s most famous railway publisher, who set up his own miniature line, the Great Cockcrow Railway, on a greenfield site in Surrey 50 years ago, writes Robin Jones.

Show me a Fifties’ or early Sixties’ short-trousered schoolboy who claims he never read, yet alone owned, an Ian Allan locospotters’ book – and I’ll show you a liar.

Back in 1942, a young Ian, who worked at Waterloo station in the Southern Railway’s PR department, had a brainwave of a business idea. He received so many requests from enthusiasts wanting lists of the company’s rolling stock that he decided to publish them in a book, the ABC of Southern Locomotives.

Watched by railway founder Ian Allan, driver Philip Simpson tends the fire in K5 2-6-0 No. 206 heading the inaugural public train on the Great Cockcrow Railway, as the chairman of Chertsey Urban District Council cuts the tape at the official opening on September 14, 1968. This locomotive was the first to steam on the new railway. GCR

It was an overnight success and it led to similar titles covering other railway companies and, in short, not only was a major transport publishing venture formed, but it evolved into a business empire covering a host of other and often disparate interests.

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That is a story for another day, but suffice to say that Ian did not stop at publishing books about railway rolling stock – he built his own railway.


While this year several events and special trains will mark the 50th anniversary of the end of BR steam, two other occasions mark its resurgence.

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LMS ‘Black Five’ 4-6-0 No. 45440, which dates from 2004, arrives back at Hardwick Central. To the left is the station building, which represents the biggest investment made to the line since it was established. ROBIN JONES

The first, as we have just seen, is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, which quickly became a major influence on, and inspiration for, the embryonic heritage sector.

The second is the half centenary of the railway that Ian founded – the 7¼in gauge Great Cockcrow Railway, set up on a patch of land owned by the Allan family near Chertsey, and which opened on September 14, 1968. This year, on Sunday, September 9, it will hold a public open day to mark its 50th anniversary too.

Read more and view more images in Issue 244 of HR – on sale now!

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