Statfold’s museum in a million

Old classic narrow gauge locomotives never die. Wherever in the world they extinguish their last fire, they are whisked away to the great steam hereafter… also known as the Statfold Barn Railway. Now a stunning new museum has been opened to showcase the magnificent fleet on this private line, and Robin Jones went along.

For years I have come to expect the unexpected when visiting Graham Lee’s private Statfold Barn Railway in the rolling Staffordshire countryside just north of Tamworth.

Graham, who holds the pre-1971 steam era rights to Hunslet and other manufacturers including Hudswell Clarke, Avonside and Manning Wardle, has spent the past two decades globetrotting in search of unwanted industrial narrow gauge locomotives.

Taking centre stage on the museum turntable is Lautoka No.11 Fiji, one of an initial batch of three 0-6-0s ordered from Hudswell Clarke in 1911 for trunk hauls of sugar cane from field to mill on the extensive 2ft gauge network of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Ltd in Fiji. Lautoka Mill’s ‘main line’ eventually extended to 82 miles, hence the need for powerful locomotives with sufficient coal and water capacity to make non-stop runs of up to 40 miles with loaded cane trains weighing up to 300 tons. In 1995 it was converted to diesel power for use on the Coral Coast Railway’s tourist train, but Graham Lee saw it still had potential, brought it back to the UK in 2011 and restored it as a steam locomotive. ROBIN JONES

And at each open day for enthusiasts, there is more often than not a ‘new’ locomotive in service, having been restored from a heap of scrap metal barely still on wheels.

However, when I received an invitation for the opening of a new museum at Statfold on March 10, I assumed that I would find a modest shed or outbuilding adapted to contain four or five tank engines, with interpretation boards and a few items of railwayana adorning the walls.

I could not have been more wrong.

This time, Graham has exceeded all expectations, even those in a narrow gauge fan’s wildest dreams.

Turning off Ashby Road into the entrance to the Statfold Barn Railway, I noticed that the usual car park field was not open, and neither was there steam billowing from the terminus station. I thought I had got the date wrong, but all the same carried on down a freshly-laid tarmac road to what from the outside seemed an unremarkable modern farm building with a few mature trees around it. At the end of the drive a significant number of cars were parked – oh no, I thought, I’m going to have to walk all the way back to the station.

I then saw a ‘this way please’ sign pointing to an open gate, through which a concrete walkway had been laid. A few feet later I found myself at the midway point on the venue’s Field Railway, Oak Tree Halt, which allows visitors to disembark and visit the Grain Store, where unrestored engines have been kept while waiting their turn in the workshop queue.

Something was amiss. I walked into the store and the huge entrance room was filled with guests sitting at tables while, aided by Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways general manager Paul Lewin, Graham announced from the top of the flight of stairs the launch of the Statfold Narrow Gauge Trust with the intention of securing the future of the collection of engines into perpetuity, for the benefit of generations to come.

A few engines, including two standard gauge ones, were displayed in this entrance hall, while there were more on the balcony at the top of the stairs from which Graham and Paul had spoken.

However, the best by far was yet come.

Beyond the entrance hall, a set of glass doors, with the new trust’s logo inscribed on them, led into the main museum hall, which was filled with brightly-coloured narrow gauge locomotives and rolling stock. The museum has 30 locomotives, 20 of them serviceable, and these were positioned on roads around a turntable like some form of narrow gauge roundhouse! Herein lay the very definition of the concept of ‘the wow factor’. A track links the turntable to the main running line.

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