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Profile Longleat Railway
The Longleat Miniature Railway must be one of the best kept secrets in the miniature railway world.It’s well known to thousands,or perhaps millions,of visitors to this West Country stately home:the line carries 5,000 passengers a day in the season,and as many as 450,000 a year - no one’s quite sure,because of the Longleat Estate’s complex ‘passport’ ticket system.If that ridership figure is correct,this 2km (1 1 / 4 mile) line is one of the busiest miniature railways in the country - possibly the busiest.But its route, history and locomotives are little known. The story begins in 1966 when Lord Bath first opened his Wiltshire home and Estate to the public.The main attractions were the house itself,and the wildlife safari park,but a number of peripheral attractions opened too,including a miniature railway. Rather than build and operate the line themselves,the Estate leased land to Les Anderson,then running a miniature railway at Severn Beach near Bristol.Anderson built a 15-inch line at Longleat,from a station near the stately home,for about 800 metres ( 1 / 2 mile) along a massive earth dam built by Capability Brown in the 19th Century to create
Miniature Railway 1 “...listening to the locomotives... he began to wonder if he had made the right decision...”
an ornamental lake.At the north end of the lake,the line was extended to a total of 1.2km ( 3 / 4 mile),but this twisty, steeply graded extension was rarely used by passenger trains. The railway opened with a number of locomotives including Ceawlin,a Rio Grandestyle 2-8-0 steam-outline diesel/hydraulic (with the diesel engine in the tender!),and a vaguely Brazilian-inspired diesel railcar,known only as the ‘Maroon Railcar’.The two diesels were joined in 1967 by Muffin,an 0-6-0 tender engine built by Berwyn Engineering,and in 1970 by Dougal,a tank engine manufactured by Severn Lamb. During these early years a rather unwilling sales rep was getting to know the line on occasional visits to the Longleat Estate.John Hayton came from a railway family.His father and two brothers worked on the railway,and for ten years from 1956 he worked at Appleby on the Settle & Carlisle line himself.By the mid-1960s,the industry seemed to be in terminal decline,and John left,working for a while at Shap quarry,where - listening to the last Princess Class locomotives thundering north - he began to wonder if he had made the right decision. From Cumbria,the family moved south,and John found work with a veterinary supply company based,oddly enough,in the yard of Castle Cary station on the West of England mainline.Unable and unwilling to shake the railway bug,John gradually began to
PHOTO:Photo Precision Ltd
1980s.As usual,Rio,far left,is in reserve,while Dougal departs from platform 2 and the railcar arrives on platform 1.This sort of manoeuvre was difficult in practice
Miniature Railway 1