The History of the Line
In the early 1960′s I realised that I might be able to build a miniature railway which would be a viable proposition and able to tap the ready market of visitors who came to visit Audley End House. Accordingly, I wrote to the firm of Bassett Lowke. They immediately put me in touch with David Curwen, who at that time was running the firm Curwen and Newbery in Devizes in Wiltshire. David provided enormous encouragement and help for the whole project. The success of the Railway is very much due to his knowledge of running railways and his ability to design and build hard-working and robust locomotives so necessary for a commercial operation.
Track laying was started in 1963 using secondhand 14lb mine section flat-bottom rail spiked to wooden sleepers. We purchased a quantity of full-sized railway sleepers at ten shillings (50p each) and each sleeper made nine for our railway by cutting them into three crossways and then into three lengthways. The sleepers are spaced at 18″ centres and the rail is spiked to them with dog spikes. The sleepers are approximately 2’10″ in length, somewhat wider than most 10 1/4” gauge railways, but this does give much better lateral stability. The original section of the line did not call for any major earthworks, save for one cutting for a short distance, and the track was laid by myself and members of the Audley End Estate staff.
In 1964, a bob a ride!
The line was ready for opening on the 16th May 1964 and the ceremony was performed by the famous racing driver Sir Stirling Moss. In those days the cost of a ride for an adult was one shilling (5p) and children travelled at sixpence (2 1/2p). Two locomotives were available for the opening of the line; Western Thunderer and the secondhand Curwen Atlantic which originally ran at the Kursal at Southend and was constructed in 1948. Our Estate carpenter constructed two sets of four articulated carriages.
We were greatly helped by the proprietor of a railway at Lowestoft, who kindly provided all his drawings for his carriages for us to copy. They are constructed out of timber, have proved to be highly successful, and are still in use 40 years later.
A further set of four were constructed by us and two single carriages were purchased, giving us fourteen carriages in total. On busy days all our rolling stock is in use. The bogies were constructed by Curwen and Newbery. They are extraordinarily robust and are still giving excellent service, though the original cast iron wheels have been replaced by steel ones. We found the wear on cast iron wheels very considerable and it was necessary for us to re-turn the tyres and flanges every few years.
The Railway proved to be an attraction to the visitors to Audley End and to the local inhabitants. The original line was extended in August 1979 to the present layout. The railway is operated on the “staff” system whereby whilst one train is running, the second train is filling up with passengers at the station and does not leave until the first train has returned to the station, and handed over the “staff”.
40 Years on
In 2010 we carried 42,000 passengers and in the early days we would never have imagined that this was possible. I did not appreciate how popular the Railway would be.
All our carriages are now covered in so no-one minds running in the rain! Naturally the passengers approve. We also have an invalid carriage which is totally enclosed and is able to accommodate a passenger in a wheelchair. It has many safety features including a warning device to the engine driver, lighting, heating and a cool blower for use on hot summer days. It also doubles as a restaurant car which can seat four people in comfort at a table which is easily fitted. The carriage was built by Jonathan Leech, the Chairman of the Saffron Walden Society of Model Engineers. My wife and I had a marvellous four-course dinner served to us in the carriage last year.
David Curwen (30th November 1913 – 26th May 2011)
David Curwen was born at Sydenham, Kent, and spent his early years fascinated by all things mechanical.
He was educated at King’s School, Canterbury, and in local garage workshops.
He fell in love with the internal combustion engine and rode, drove or maintained numerous motorcycles and cars before joining Short Brothers as an aircraft engineer in Rochester in 1935.
For the next ten years he worked on the design and production of flying boats and, in wartime, on the Stirling bomber.
In 1950 he became chief engineer for the Tal-y-Llyn Railway revival project and he and his wife Barbara, an actress, moved to Wales for a year.
The couple returned to Devizes in 1951 where Mr Curwen went into partnership with the late A E Newbery to create Curwen and Newbery.
David left the partnership in 1966 and set up a workshop at his home in All Cannings where he built more than 50 locomotives, powered by steam, petrol and diesel.
Most are still operating at parks and private railways in Britain, Europe, the USA and Australia.
His name and locomotives are known to enthusiasts all around the world.
Two books have been published about him and his work, his autobiography, Rule of Thumb, came out in 2006, and The Miniature Locomotives of David Curwen in 2008.