"3-foot gauge in Britain, revisited"

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Calthrop

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There was a thread on this sub-forum in July 2019, about incidences -- overall, never immensely numerous -- of the 3-feet gauge (a personal favourite gauge of mine) in Great Britain: going in different ways, beyond the very few conventional public railways on that gauge which ever ran on "our archipelago's biggest island and immediate-neighbouring lesser ones". With that thread's having been, with the elapsing of time, closed; I'm herewith taking up the subject anew -- concerning stuff which I confess is in the "minutiae" category, but which has, however, attracted my attention. It so happened that within a metaphorical couple of weeks recently, I in different ways -- via material on RailUKForums -- learned for the first time, of three (admittedly "small-time", and very short-lived) highly different and diverse and to me interesting, 3' gauge undertakings which long ago, operated in widely-separate parts of England. ("Pointers" given below -- I'm unfortunately incompetent in the matter of "doing" links -- for any who might feel similarly intrigued.)

Working north-to-south: one of the discoveries was the Blake Dean or Hardcastle Crags railway in the Pennines, in West Yorkshire -- nearest point on the main rail system, Hebden Bridge: active roughly 1900 - 1910, its purpose to assist in the making of reservoirs (going by various names) to provide water for Halifax. This 3' gauge system, totalling about five miles, was physically isolated from the national rail system far below: locomotives and plant had to be horse-hauled from railhead up to the relatively "lower" terminus. The railway was worked by small saddle-tank locos -- fifteen of them in all -- and included a high and impressive trestle viaduct. One of its upper termini was colourfully named Dawson City -- a temporary settlement for workers on the project and their dependents.

A Net reference -- with my track record, likely not to work as a link: [Edit -- well, I'm blowed -- seems it does work.]


Otherwise -- Googling "Blake Dean railway" will yield various material, including the item referenced above.


Next one southward -- discovered totally by accident, actually in a non-railway context; interest stimulated by its being basically in the part of the country which I hail from -- a 3' gauge timber-hauling system at Santon Downham: on the Ely -- Norwich route between Brandon and Thetford, village never had a passenger station. Said system came to be, late in World War I; initially for the purpose of timber extraction re the war's great need for that commodity. System was in two branches heading essentially southward from the standard gauge at Santon Downham (at which point a sawmill was set up), its total route length just under three miles. The motive power was three Bagnall 0-4-0ST; the system commenced operation in summer 1918, working for the Ministry of Supply --passed into private hands after the end of the war, and continued to work until approximately 1922.

(One can Google "Santon Downham Tramway".)


Last, and distance-wise very much least -- the LBSCR's Brighton -- Devil's Dyke branch (abandoned 1938) had for a brief while, a short but dramatic prolongation at its upper terminus, involving the "three-foot". There was a 3' gauge, double-track, passenger funicular line -- length 840 feet -- running from, basically, "the top of the hill", down to the (inland) village of Poynings at its bottom. The LBSC standard-gauge terminus; and the funicular's upper terminus; were kind-of linked (with two bits to be negotiated on foot) by a quite exciting cable-car set-up which spanned the chasm that divided the two. This whole thing -- marvellous though it strikes me as having been -- never prospered financially: in part because, as with many delightful railway byways in Britain and elsewhere, it essentially came into being too late in the day. These Devil's Dyke / Poynings doings, together, essentially ran for some ten / a dozen years, from the mid / late 1890s to very late in the decade of the 1900s. Even this early in transport history, the funicular's traffic came to be largely taken away by road motor buses running between the "summit", and Poynings.

I simply found the just-above one fascinatingly strange, and hitherto totally unknown to me. Have previously expressed on this site a sentiment that for me, funiculars are not real railways: feel that way for sure, re non-passenger ones; but this thing in Sussex just seemed so wonderfully odd. Interest kindled in part by my having a railway atlas which tries -- sometimes erratically -- to feature "all the railways that there ever were in Britain": way beyond just the national public rail system at its peak roughly a century ago. With attention directed by an item on these Forums, to the Dyke branch: I noticed this atlas's showing a short line from a separate "The Dyke" station, to Poynings; thought, "what the ****?", and resorted to Google.

(Googling thus: "Poynings cable railway".)
 
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PeterC

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I recall seeing a reference to a 3ft guage loco being purchased for the Twyla Quarry near Blaenavon. All traces are long gone of course although around 20 years ago I did see a couple pieces of rail repurposed as fence posts when walking in the area.
 

S&CLER

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The authority on reservoir railways was Harold Bowtell. He wrote books on the reservoir railways of the Yorkshire Pennines and the Manchester area, and possibly others. Worth a Google. I would guess that the contractors owned 3 foot gauge locos, which they would be eager to re-use on another contract once one was finished and the track lifted.

I think the original tramway from the slate quarry at Kirkby in Furness down to the harbour may have been 3 foot gauge, but I'm not quite sure; it was certainly sub-standard. You can walk much of its old track bed, quite a pleasant downhill stroll. Nothing left of the old slate quay as far as I can see.
 

randyrippley

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Some interesting photos of the Stocks Reservoir railway in Bowland on this web page

while this site has more photos and a lot of detail of the construction

The valley of Dalehead and the village of Stocks in Bowland are no longer to be found on maps of the Forest of Bowland on the border between Lancashire and Yorkshire.
Much of the area of the upper Hodder Valley was flooded by the construction of a dam in the 1920s and early 1930s to create Stocks Reservoir in order to collect water for the increasing population of Blackpool and the Fylde.

In the years prior to the First World War, the Fylde Water Board purchased land and farms in the three townships of Easington, Bowland Forest Higher Division and Gisburn Forest to provide a water catchment area. A dam was then built across the River Hodder and 344 acres of the valley were flooded by March 1933 to form Stocks Reservoir.

Over the years following the purchase of the land in Dale Head the water catchment area was depopulated, many of the old farmsteads were demolished and a large proportion of the remaining land was planted with Sitka Spruce, Norway Spruce and Larch trees by the Forestry Commission to create "Gisburn Forest".

Stocks Reservoir and the surrounding water catchment area are now sensitively managed by United Utilities PLC and Forest Enterprises who balance the primary aim of providing clean water with the subsidiary needs of the environment, wildlife, farming, forestry, outdoor activities and tourism.

This non-profit making website aims to record, display and share some of the history and genealogy of the flooded village of Stocks-in-Bowland, the valley of Dalehead and of those former residents who were forced to leave their homes by the creation of Stocks Reservoir. Much of the information and photographs on this site have been kindly donated by interested individuals and descendants of Dale Head residents. United Utilities PLC have kindly allowed the reproduction of many photographs from their archives. In addition the Lancashire Library Service has allowed the use of many photographs from their collection of the work of Clitheroe photographer, Edmundson Buck. This site would not have been possible without the help of these individuals and organisations.

This website is very reliant on old photographs. Some pages may therefore be rather slow to load.
 
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bassmike

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Blue circle (Portland cement Co: ) had a 3 ft: gauge line near Halling Kent from quarries to works at one time.
 

david_g

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Another Blue Circle works with a 3ft gauge railway was Greaves Cement works & quarry at Bishop's Itchington adjacent to the line from Banbury to Leamington Spa.

This link has some information: https://www.warwickshirerailways.com/misc/harbury-cement.htm

I think the nearby Ufton quarry also had a 3ft gauge railway but I can't find my copy of Warwickshire Lime & Cement Raiways by Sidney Leleux to confirm it, nor anything on't web.
 

billio

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With respect to the Blake Dean Railway, I could never make sense of those stone pillars in the river bed at Blake Dean. But now, having seen the photograph of the viaduct, it was truly an amazing structure. Thanks for the info.
 

Arglwydd Golau

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Kettering Ironstone railway was also 3ft gauge, I have vague memories of visiting with my father in the early 1960's and was lucky enough to be on the train shown in the photo, sadly the loco (Kettering Furnaces No. 7 - a Manning Wardle) was scrapped.


img556 (2).jpg
 

Irascible

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The Torrington & Marland railway in N. Devon was turned into a standard gauge route in 1925 - any more examples of that?

In vaguely the same area ( well, Dartmoor ) was the rather short-lived Redlake Tramway, which I've only just discovered.
 

Calthrop

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Thanks to all posters -- much interesting material. Admittedly, the 3-feet gauge was not actually all that rare in Great Britain, except on public railways (a little further west than this island, it was of course a different story); my feelings are coloured by greatly liking this gauge, and wishing that there had overall been more of it ! -- my impression is that 3' came to be surprisingly uncommon worldwide -- the slightly wider metre and 3'6" gauges "caught on" globally, much more. The only area I can think of where 3' noticeably burgeoned, was as it were "the middle of the Americas", USA to Colombia / Peru inclusive.

Nonetheless, as we see, there has been a fair bit of industrial 3' in G.B. -- impression got, that it was especially popular for temporary "contractors' " lines, as with reservoirs; such as Blake Dean and others, mentioned in this thread.

The authority on reservoir railways was Harold Bowtell. He wrote books on the reservoir railways of the Yorkshire Pennines and the Manchester area, and possibly others. Worth a Google. I would guess that the contractors owned 3 foot gauge locos, which they would be eager to re-use on another contract once one was finished and the track lifted.

Thanks for the Harold Bowtell material. I'd heard the name, albeit rather "in passing" -- admit to the north-west being only restrictedly on my radar: think my hearing of him was in connection with his writings on public lines in the Lake District as mentioned in your link. So he's the man for reservoir-line lore...

And @randyrippley, thank you for "Bowland / Fylde" info.

With respect to the Blake Dean Railway, I could never make sense of those stone pillars in the river bed at Blake Dean. But now, having seen the photograph of the viaduct, it was truly an amazing structure. Thanks for the info.

As mentioned in my OP, this location totally unknown to me until it cropped up lately on these Forums -- glad to have been instrumental enlightenment-wise !

A further interesting oddity, "within my ken" only in relatively recent times: is the atlas which I mention in OP, re the Devil's Dyke "complex" -- Tony Dewick's Complete Atlas of Railway Station Names -- which is more than just what its title suggests: it's a fascinating and very useful publication, but quirky and none too big on consistency. Its maker seems to try to show, not just all the conventional public railways with their stations, which the British Isles have ever had; but in some categories, "all the railways there have ever been" -- very many industrial ones featured; and also isolated temporary-contractors' outfits, such as Blake Dean and Stocks, and a number of other such. However, for some reason or lack thereof, he generally refrains from featuring "agricultural" or forestry lines: so re the three locations written of in my OP, the atlas shows the Blake Dean line and the Devil's Dyke funicular; but not the Santon Downham timber line. Presumably all this makes sense in some way, to Mr. Dewick...
 

randyrippley

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Temporary railways seem to have been used during construction of the Haweswater and Thirlmere aqueducts, though of varying gauge.

Check the first and third photos in this set of the Thirlmere one being built

First one shows a narrow gauge tramway heading into the tunnel, note the state of the timber holding back the rockface
Third one shows what looks like the ends of twin 3-foot very rough tracks, presumably disappearing into a tunnel hidden from view
 

Merle Haggard

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The Kettering ironstone 3' system has been mentioned, but there was a quarry system at Wellingborough that was metre gauge. There might have been other metre gauge systems around here - I can't find my Eric Tonks handbook at the moment
My point is that it's a puzzle why that gauge was chosen - I think it opened around 1875 and the locos were, I think, British built. Just a small difference from 3', can't see an advantage.
 

billio

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The Valley of Stone website describes a number of tramways in the West Pennines some of which were 3 feet.

This one, the Scout Moor Quarry tramway, looks as though it is might be 3 feet gauge. I used to walk over all those hills in the late 50's and early 60's and I remember seeing the locomotive being cut up on a siding at the bottom of the incline.

Scout Moor Tramway
 

bassmike

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Interestingly enough, the railways in Majorca were all 3 ft: origionally, (the Soller line still is.) I think British interests built them origionally-? The other island lines were converted to metre gauge in the 60's. I had a picture of Inca station (then limit of services) with the gauge gradually reducing to 3 ft: just beyond the station..-why I dont know. ( perhaps they were envisaging talgo vehicles!) Can't find the pic at pres:
 

Spamcan81

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The Kettering ironstone 3' system has been mentioned, but there was a quarry system at Wellingborough that was metre gauge. There might have been other metre gauge systems around here - I can't find my Eric Tonks handbook at the moment
My point is that it's a puzzle why that gauge was chosen - I think it opened around 1875 and the locos were, I think, British built. Just a small difference from 3', can't see an advantage.

IIRC a pair of metre gauge Pecketts from that system have been preserved.
 

Calthrop

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The Kettering ironstone 3' system has been mentioned, but there was a quarry system at Wellingborough that was metre gauge. There might have been other metre gauge systems around here - I can't find my Eric Tonks handbook at the moment
My point is that it's a puzzle why that gauge was chosen - I think it opened around 1875 and the locos were, I think, British built. Just a small difference from 3', can't see an advantage.

Per my understanding, Britain's only use of the metre gauge was at three venues in the East Midlands ironstone fields: the Wellingborough line as above; not far from there, to Loddington west of Kettering (converted late in the day, to standard gauge); and at Eaton north of Melton Mowbray. It does indeed seem odd that metre gauge was hit on just for these very few lines -- one might hypothesise: perhaps lines all of the same commercial undertaking, which might for some reason have had a pro-metre-gauge agenda? -- one gathers that there was in Victorian times, a small but ardent movement in favour of Britain's adopting the metric system.


Interestingly enough, the railways in Majorca were all 3 ft: origionally, (the Soller line still is.) I think British interests built them origionally-? The other island lines were
converted to metre gauge in the 60's. I had a picture of Inca station (then limit of services) with the gauge gradually reducing to 3 ft: just beyond the station..-why I dont know. ( perhaps they were envisaging talgo vehicles!) Can't find the pic at pres:

Again as I understand things, the only occurrences of the 3' gauge on public lines in (broadly expressed) continental Europe: were in Majorca; and on one line in mainland Spain, near the French / Spanish border, Bay of Biscay side -- line abandoned long ago; but was 3' from opening in 1889, until conversion to metre in 1916.
 

S&CLER

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I've just looked up the Wikipedia article on British narrow gauge slate railways, which has useful tables (one for Wales, one for the rest of the country) showing gauges, and find that the Kirkby in Furness line (the Burlington quarry tramway) had a gauge of 3 feet 2.25 inches, and not 3 feet as I thought. This must have been a one-off, since no other line of the same gauge is listed.
 

Calthrop

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I've just looked up the Wikipedia article on British narrow gauge slate railways, which has useful tables (one for Wales, one for the rest of the country) showing gauges, and find that the Kirkby in Furness line (the Burlington quarry tramway) had a gauge of 3 feet 2.25 inches, and not 3 feet as I thought. This must have been a one-off, since no other line of the same gauge is listed.

There have been for sure on the industrial-rail scene, numerous very odd gauges -- unique, or with very few representatives. A case, one feels, of "anything goes -- or did go" !
 

Merle Haggard

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Per my understanding, Britain's only use of the metre gauge was at three venues in the East Midlands ironstone fields: the Wellingborough line as above; not far from there, to Loddington west of Kettering (converted late in the day, to standard gauge); and at Eaton north of Melton Mowbray. It does indeed seem odd that metre gauge was hit on just for these very few lines -- one might hypothesise: perhaps lines all of the same commercial undertaking, which might for some reason have had a pro-metre-gauge agenda? -- one gathers that there was in Victorian times, a small but ardent movement in favour of Britain's adopting the metric system.

I've found my copy of the E.S. Tonks handbook relating to the Wellingborough area (a later booklet, not the original all-embracing one) Unfortunately, the gauge origins of the Wellingborough line is not clear (and not all together clearly expressed in the book, apart from the confusing inclusion of the system under 'Finedon' rather than 'Wellingborough'). A precis is; originally a horse tramway; 2 Hunslet locos, described as " 3' 3" gauge (nominal)" bought; company went into liquidation 1888; the sale documents described the system as 'metre gauge'; new owners 'laid a completely new tramway of metre gauge'; very opaque!. There was another former horse tramway which was 3' 8 1/2" gauge - I wonder how the flange profile and crossing clearances were calculated for these obscure gauges - possibly the advantage of metre gauge was that these were known standards.

Back to the mainstream thread, a 3' gauge line in the area (not a public one) now seems interesting, but I didn't think it worth visiting at the time. It was at Irthlingborough, and served an ironstone mine, i.e. extraction by tunnelling ('mining' is sometimes used loosely). It used electric locos from the start (1916), power being drawn from overhead conductors. ( I can't resist saying that 3' gauge OLE in a tunnel sounds hair raising :lol:). In the 1960s, the Inspector of Mines invoked safety conditions that meant the only practical solution was replacement with battery locos - I wonder if the I of M had not been aware of the system until then.
 

D6130

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Let's not forget the 20 mile-long 3 foot gauge Lochaber Narrow Gauge Railway in the West Highlands of Scotland. Operational from 1924 to 1977, it was built to assist with the construction of the dams, reservoirs and eleven mile-long water tunnel of the Lochaber hydro-electric scheme for the British Aluminium Company. For many years after completion of the project, the line was retained for maintenance works and delivery of supplies and featured several spectacular bridges, including a trestle viaduct across the West Highland Line at Fersit, near Tulloch, at the North end of Loch Treig.
 
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Calthrop

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The Gorseddau tramway started off as a 3ft gauge line when it was built in the 1850s, before becoming the Gorseddau Junction and Portmadoc Railway and converted to 2ft gauge. It eventually became part of the 2ft gauge Welsh Highland Railway.

Let's not forget the 20 mile-long 3 foot gauge Lochaber Narrow Gauge Railway in the West Highlands of Scotland. Operational from 1924 to 1977, it was built to assist with the construction of the dams, reservoirs and eleven mile-long water tunnel of the Lochaber hydro-electric scheme for the British Aluminium Company. For many years after completion of the project, the line was retained for maintence works and delivery of supplies and featured several spectacular bridges, including a trestle viaduct across the West Highland Line at Fersit, near Tulloch, at the North end of Loch Treig.

Both of the above get a mention in the July 2019 thread referred to in my OP; as does, briefly, the Kettering 3ft.


Wasn't Penmaenmawr Granite Quarry, complete with a de Winton, 3ft gauge?

Yes indeed: there's a short but interesting Wiki item about it. Had several De Winton vertical-boiler 0-4-0T, two of which are preserved.
 
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