It seems inconceivable that a steam-worked narrow gauge railway would be built in the 1960s to fulfil a real passenger transport need.
It lasted remarkably well but as Mark Smithers reports, its new incarnation at the opposite end of the Lincolnshire coast is now more orientated towards preservation.
Britain’s preservation-era steam railway history has seen some important instances of contrasting fortunes for individual lines, with projects at one end of the scale, such as the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland railways having become national institutions, whereas others, such as the scheme to save the Longmoor Military Railway, having now faded into fairly distant memory.
The story of the Lincolnshire Coast Light Railway, however, is of a narrow gauge line that was to gain a unique place in the affections of enthusiasts over a quarter of a century before ‘falling to rise again’ several years later at another location.
The original line was situated in Humberston, three miles south of Cleethorpes and ran from North Sea Lane station to a terminus close to the Fitties Holiday Camp. Part of the line’s unique character was inherent in the fact, recorded by the late Ken Hartley, that the original scheme, laid down by its promoters in 1958, did not set out to preserve an existing railway supported by the subscriptions of its society members, but to create from scratch a new railway supportive of reasonable commercial success.
Aided by the availability of suitable second-hand diesel locomotives and rolling stock, obtained from the recently-closed 2ft gauge Nocton potato estates railway, the line was able to open on August 27, 1960, but apart from being covered by the Grimsby Evening Telegraph, the opening went largely unnoticed by the press at large.
Smith’s Crisps Ltd
The Nocton system was owned from 1936 onwards by Smith’s Crisps Ltd and its stock consisted of surplus ex-War Department Light Railways 20hp Simplex locomotives, fitted with diesel engines in lieu of the original petrol variety, and ex-WDLR ‘D’, ‘E’ and ‘P’ class wagons and ambulance cars, in many cases extensively modified (in the case of four of the ‘P’ class wagons into unbraked guards/postal vans) to suit their new purposes.
By 1960 the system had been superseded by road transport and early passenger traffic on the Lincolnshire Coast Light Railway was being worked by one of two ex-Nocton Simplex locomotives acquired by the line accompanied by one or two open carriages constructed on ‘D’ class wagon chasses.
During 1961, two more locomotives were purchased from another source, namely Rugby Portland Cement Co Ltd’s Southam works in Warwickshire. One of these, a Ruston Hornsby 30hp four-wheel diesel (No. 168437 of 1933) was scrapped in 1968, with its engine going to the Talyllyn Railway, but the other, Peckett 0-6-0ST No. 1008 of 1903 Jurassic, was destined to become the railway’s flagship locomotive, entering service almost immediately after its arrival on the line.
In addition to ‘D’ class wagons, representatives of the ‘P’ class wagon and bogie ambulance van had been acquired and during the next few years, other locomotives and rolling stock appeared on the LCLR from a variety of sources.
Two of the four bogie carriages ordered from the Gloucester Carriage & Wagon Co on July 11, 1924 and delivered on January 3 the following year to Derbyshire’s Ashover Railway were retrieved from their sojourn as sports pavilions and transferred to the LCLR in 1961, entering service, initially in a maroon and cream colour scheme and fitted with ex-Liverpool Corporation tramway seating, on April 4, 1962 and November 2, 1963.
Second steam locomotive
Attempts to find a suitable second steam locomotive proved to be more problematic, however, largely as a consequence of the use of original ex-Nocton 20lb/yd rail. The first attempt to satisfy this requirement came in the form of ex-Cliffe Hill Granite Co ‘Bullhead’ Bagnall 0-4-0ST No. 2067 of 1917 Peter.
Although of similar cylinder dimensions (7in by 12in) to Jurassic, Peter’s axle loading was spread over two axles rather than three and the engine also required a considerable amount of restoration work to return it to working order. Transferred to Brockham Museum, Surrey in 1963, this locomotive is now an important part of the 2ft-gauge operational locomotive fleet at Amberley Chalk Pits Museum in Sussex, having migrated to the site with the remainder of the Brockham collection in 1982.
In 1962 LCLR director JR Burdett bought another ‘seven-inch’ locomotive, ex-Penrhyn Railway Hunslet 0-4-0ST Elin, and it was overhauled locally prior to its first appearance on the railway on November 2, 1969. Once again, this locomotive (which had been fitted with a non-standard Marshall boiler of 1928 vintage approximately a decade later) proved to have too great an axle loading for frequent use on the line, and there were also problems with check-rails caused by the method of machining of the 1ft 1¾in-gauge tyres to suit 2ft gauge track. Elin stayed on the railway throughout the remaining years of operation at Humberston, passing in 1986 to the Yaxham Light Railway and, more recently, the Richmond Light Railway in Kent.
The ex-Ashover carriages were a boon to passenger operation on the LCLR, enabling one of the open carriages to be withdrawn from service (incorporating one of three ‘D’ class chassis units to be scrapped during the Humberston years). Passenger capacity was further boosted on June 17, 1967 with the acquisition from a southern-based enthusiast of the 1924-vintage Robert Hudson bogie coach body originally constructed in 1924 for the 18in-gauge Sand Hutton Light Railway, situated between York and Hull.
Use as a pavillion
Following closure of the SHLR in 1932, the body was purchased by a local farmer, a Mr Lockwood for use as a pavilion for Harton Ladies’ Cricket Club, a function it fulfilled for several years. Restoration of the body involved replacement of plywood panelling and the replacement of the missing ironwork at both ends, together with the insertion of ‘infill’ pieces to make what was originally a ‘well-frame’ body suitable for a ‘single floor level’ chassis made out of two ‘D’ class wagon chassis shortened and butt-jointed together.
Over a decade later, the body of the Nocton system’s only passenger carriage was retrieved from a local taxi firm, but its peculiar design rendered it unsuitable for return to ordinary passenger traffic.
During its early years of operation, the LCLR did indeed fulfil a commercial transport need, but clouds were on the horizon as early as 1962 when the local authority, Grimsby Rural District Council, introduced a rival bus service, which resulted in a drop in the railway’s revenue of over 60%. Nonetheless, operation continued and by the end of the 1960s, North Sea Lane terminus had been rebuilt in enlarged form (equipped with ex-GNR ‘somersault’ signalling and platform railings) and the line was re-aligned south of the original formation and extended (via a new Beach station) to a new eastern terminus at South Sea Lane to serve the camping site there.
More rolling stock and locomotives had been acquired from various sources and during the 1970s and early 1980s three of the ‘P’ class wagon chasses inherited from Nocton departed from the LCLR, with two going to a trout fishery at Louth (in conjunction with a Robert Hudson skip chassis) and one to Brockham Museum and thence to Amberley, being the only item among this group still believed to exist. In addition, one of the two bogie ambulance vans departed to the South Tynedale Railway, with its remains passing (as a long-term restoration project) to the Moseley Railway Trust in 2010.
A charity, the CLR Historical Vehicles Trust, with a constitution based on that of the Vintage Carriages Trust, was formed in 1981 to take ownership of and restore the most important of the vehicles on the railway and, as will be seen, its activities were to have an important bearing on subsequent events.
The final five years of operation at Humberston were widely regarded as a golden age of the LCLR, with the railway able to fulfil its operational demands, yet present a splendid none-too-pristine ‘Colonel Stephens’ aura that other British narrow gauge steam railways of the era found difficult to faithfully replicate (the presence of the ex-Ashover and second-hand WDLR equipment was the major contributory factor to this property).
The Sunday market at Beachholme Holiday Camp provided an important boost to revenue during this period, but other factors were conspiring to bring an end to the Humberston line. Holidaymaker’s tastes were changing: the Spanish resorts with vastly superior weather conditions to those found in Lincolnshire, were now becoming more accessible and this was eating into the railway’s customer base. Matters were made worse by the 1984-85 miners’ strike, which further depressed revenue.
The lease on the line’s formation was also becoming due for renewal by Grimsby RDC and this was subject to potentially onerous conditions, including the erection of a six-foot high lineside fence, which would have totally ruined the line’s atmosphere and also its photographic potential. At the end of the 1985 season the railway company was forced to bow to the inevitable and cease operations at Humberston, with Jurassic’s last steaming on the line taking place during August that year. The LCLR, although down, was not out and destined to rise again in another form and location.
Following the closure of the Humberston line, the company-owned stock was put into open storage next to the now-defunct Lincolnshire Railway Museum at Burgh-le-Marsh in late 1985. As Jurassic still had some time left on its boiler ticket, it was loaned to the Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway for its 1986 gala prior to returning to storage.
The trust-owned ex-First World War equipment (at this stage a ‘P’ class wagon; two ‘D’ class wagons and the remaining ambulance van) was renovated with Science Museum grants, receiving a Transport Trust Award and initially put on display at the Museum of Army Transport at Beverley before being put into private storage near Mablethorpe during the early 1990s following early signs of financial failure of the MAT, which closed in 2003.
In 1995, however, a new site for a resurrected LCLR was offered at Skegness Water Park, Winthorpe, near Skegness and work began on the construction of a new line and a
five-road locomotive and rolling stock shed. In September 2003, the ex-Beverley items were moved onto the site, while the company-owned items were transferred from storage as and when needed for construction work, or when it proved convenient to do so.
Construction of the new line’s infrastructure, which includes a platform at the Walls Lane terminus (incorporating 1898-vintage ramp edging bricks salvaged from Wainfleet goods shed and the GNR railings previously used at Humberston) continued slowly but steadily during the first decade of the new millennium, with the first open day held during the weekend of September 10 & 11, 2005. During this occasion, Simplex motive power was the order of the day, while all of the line’s then-available passenger rolling stock and Jurassic were on display, but the foundations for the future had clearly been laid.
Reopening to the public
On May 3, 2009, the LCLR reopened to the public in the presence of the then-Mayor of Skegness, Coun Neil Pimperton using Simplex locomotive No. 8874 of 1944 Major (now Major J A Robbins RE) and one of the ex-Ashover carriages, still in blue and white livery. The train was driven by Historic Vehicles Trust secretary Jim Smith and it worked the entire length of the new line between Walls Lane (then known as Lakeview) and South Loop on a formation skirting the site’s airfield.
Jointly with the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway, the resurrected line was awarded the Heritage Railway Association Small Groups Trophy in 2009 as a consequence of its reopening. The importance of the Historic Vehicles Trust has been mentioned and it must be emphasised that from the nucleus of four restored vehicles that were surplus to the company’s requirements, its collection has grown to three ‘D’ class wagons: the two ex-Beverley items of Gloucester Carriage & Wagon Co manufacture plus an additional specimen (adapted from the open carriage surviving in 1985 and known as ‘the tub’) built by Clayton & Shuttleworth, which has been adapted with the aid of a National Lottery grant as an accessible open carriage by means of a set of steps and a supplementary door in one of the dropsides. This wagon also bears artillery damage from its period in use with the WDLR.
The ambulance van and ‘P’ class ration wagon restored to original state are also still trust property. There are several other vehicles from various sources, including a pump trolley from Killingholme Pier.
From the locomotive point of view, the trust owns a Simplex 20hp diesel No. 9264 of 1947 from Skegness brickworks, while acting as the curator for the privately-owned 40hp (Deutz-engined) ex-Bolton Fell peat works Sark (Motor Rail No. 8825 of 1943). More importantly, it now owns Jurassic.
Still in the ownership of the railway company are five 20hp Simplex diesels: two ‘bow frame’ examples from Nocton: Nocton (No. 1935 of 1920) and Paul (No. 3995 of 1926), and three ‘straight framers’: Nos. 7481 of 1940; 8622 of 1941, and 8874 of 1944, respectively Wilton, Gricer and Major J A Robbins RE, together with the four ‘closed’ passenger carriages, two ‘P’ class wagons as adapted for use on the Nocton system and a ‘pool’ of spare ‘D’ class wagon bogies.
Following the 2009 re-opening, the September gala became an important highlight of the operating season over a period of nearly two decades that saw Nocton lose its Humberston-era wooden body during the winter of 2010-11; a visit by Mark Simmonds (MP for Boston and Skegness) in 2013; the fitting of a new all-metal body to Wilton in 2015; the overhaul and repainting of one of the ex-Ashover carriages in 2016; the death of LCLR founder and company secretary William Woolhouse on March 16, 2017; an official visit by the Princess Royal on April 25, 2017 and the ongoing construction work on an extension incorporating a longer South Loop, capable of accommodating a locomotive and two-coach passenger train.
Throughout this period, the line’s main limitation from the point of view of customer potential remained its lack of operational steam motive power. Thoughts eventually turned to remedying this problem and in June 2014, work began on dismantling Jurassic (starting with removal of the saddle tank and cab) in order to assess the locomotive’s condition prior to its restoration to working order.
By January 25, 2015, the boiler had been lifted from the chassis and during the following month it was moved to the North Norfolk Railway’s workshops at Weybourne for overhaul. During the succeeding 14 months, the inner firebox was removed as scrap, along with the foundation ring and much of the wrapper.
On June 8, 2016, the LCLRHVT announced that the Heritage Lottery Fund had awarded a grant of £43,600 to assist with the restoration and display of Jurassic. Throughout the remainder of 2016 work continued on the boiler at Weybourne, with the fitting of the new inner firebox and foundation ring, wrapper side sheets, smokebox and other sundry repairs and component replacements. Meanwhile, at Skegness, work proceeded on a general refurbishment of the mainframes including cleaning, sanding, painting and the fitting of a compressor (driven from the rear axle) for the air braking system.
Initial hydraulic and steam tests were carried out on the boiler at Weybourne on January 10 and 19, 2017 respectively, and the boiler returned to Skegness on January 25. Within four months the re-assembly work had proceeded to the stage where initial steaming could tank place, and on June 10, Jurassic passed its steam test to enable the locomotive to obtain its 10-year boiler certificate.
During the remainder of the summer season, final re-assembly work was completed and more running tests undertaken, during which time the air braking system was connected up to enable safe passenger operation.
Finally, the date of the locomotive’s official public relaunch was set for September 17, 2017 to coincide with the Skegness Water Park’s ‘Classic Wheels’ show, following final operating tests in the presence of company and trust members during the previous day. Jurassic’s official public operating debut at Skegness was a success and well justified the effort and resources involved in the restoration process.
Despite the reputation of Skegness for its ‘bracing’ weather, the area remains a popular destination for seaside campers in tents and caravans, particularly from the East Midlands and this should ensure a healthy footfall for the LCLR in the years to come.
In several aspects the resurrected and relocated line is very different in character from the original LCLR of the 1960s, given that it now has a dedicated preservation arm in the Heritage Vehicles Trust, greater historical authenticity in its restoration policies and woodland scenery for much of its current route that is more reminiscent of the Sand Hutton Light Railway than Rye and Camber Tramway.
On balance, however, the advantages of the reconstructed line would appear to outweigh the loss of the original site, and the return of steam motive power will ensure that both the LCLR company and Historic Vehicles Trust can look forward to the future with confidence, especially when the new extension is completed.Enjoy more Heritage Railway reading in the four-weekly magazine. Click here to subscribe.