Saturday, 2 July 2022

Missing Miniature Mystery (2)

 Birchley House and Railway

The rather splendid Birchley House, near Biddenden in Kent, used to come with its own delightfully miniature railway which ran right past the fine and historic pile.
An on-line article, prompted by the offer of house and railway for sale, gives some background. the article has been expurgated by fbb.

In 1968, Jennifer Randall and businessman husband Drummond (photograped in 2013!) ...
... and their two toddlers, Edward and Catherine, moved into Birchley House, a run-down 17th Century mansion outside Biddenden, Kent, and started renovation.

Two years later, Drummond moved on to a quite different project.

He decided to build the biggest, most show-stopping, fantasy scale miniature railway in their home’s five-and-a-half acres of grounds.

His idea was to turn into a lifelong obsession and even intended digging a 202ft tunnel to allow his steam engines to pass under the property’s drive.e concentrated on the railway in the grounds. He put down another 200ft of track, and, in 1980, set about his biggest engineering feat – the tunnel under the drive.
He then looped the track around the front gardens, making a run of a quarter of a mile, before creating an extension into the rear groun ds to make a half-mile circuit in all.

All the while Drummond was also expanding his stock of engines. He now has four – all steam locomotives – in his sidings. He also built a signal box – a perfect replica of the type found on the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway.
The work inside the house, overseen by Jennifer, was equally substantial.

Birchley is an impressive Grade II mansion, but when the couple bought it for £11,800 it was in dire need of care and attention. During their first winter, the snow would blow in through the holes in the roof. The interior was dark and miserable and the grounds were overgrown.

But now the Randalls are selling Birchley because their children have all flown the nest and the six-bedroom house, with its beautifully landscaped grounds, including a covered swimming pool, is too big for them.

Birchley’s new owner can either buy some engines and keep the line working – or Drummond will be quite happy to dismantle the whole track and take it away.

The article is dated 2013 which ties in with one of the Sunday 4th dates of the "final" open day.

But it seems that the "dismantle and take away" option was what happened.

The line is, indeed, no more; hence the firmly closed front gates.
Fortunately, thanks to Google Earth, we can see some of the locations, now bereft of track and trains, that we spotted on yesterday's video. The quality is not great, neither is Google Earth, but you will be able to follow the circuit.

We start at the station ...
... and set off past the signal box (now removed) ...
... the past turntable and engine shed.
The remnants are clearly visible on Google Earth. The train then passes through a foliage archway ...
... and then runs along the boundary fence.
The little train crosses the spectacular girder bridge ..
... and into the famous tunnel. These features are not visible from above due to trees - the bridge may have been removed, - but here it is under construction.
We can, however, spot the exit from the tunnel ...
... just to the left of the drive; after which the line curves gracefully round ...
... to chuff happily past the front of the house.
A sharp left hand bend takes us though another hedge ...
... and we are back in the station.
Here is an overview of the site and you should be able to plot the sausage shaped line.
Drummond Randall did not stop there, however, and he built a bit more. There was a junction just after the tunnel, which led to an extra section through the woods (and therefore invisible to Google Earth).
It ran to a terminus near to those firmly-closed main gates and required proper signalling (hence the signal box) ...
... and proper single line token operation. 

Here we go:- veer right and into the woods ...
... alongside the road from Biddenden ...
... token dropped for the next train back ...
... past another signal box and in to the terminus.
These last four pictures are stills from a video taken on the very last day of operation, August 4th 2013.

The line has been "gone" for over ten years and it's passing was a sadness for many.

The blogs all started with a label in a Seaton antique shop.
Weird isn't the word!

More Matford model railway snippets will now follow as part of the Sunday Variety blog.

Talking Of Tail-Chasing Model Railways
fbb has, at last, assembled a simple circular test track which will enable him to do "stuff" more effectively on the dining table - especially in inclement weather.

Seen here is fbb's extension of his tank wagon collection, progressing into the complex world of cylindrical tanks for the transport of cement and other powder products.
Six so far! More to come.

 Nexct Variety blog : Sunday 3rd July 

Friday, 1 July 2022

Missing Miniature Mystery (1)

Where Is Wadhurst? and Why

The mapping web site "Where's The Path" - fbb's fave - doesn't think it exists; but Streetmap does!
And there it is, on the wiggly railway line between London and Hastings. As you would expect, the station is some distance from the settlement from which the station takes its name. Both are in East Sussex.

The next problem was caused by an item for sale in one of Seaton's Antique shops, a sign which fbb spotted as he went for coffee with "the girls" (all aged!) last Saturday.
Clearly it was a windscreen label for a bus route, one which ran to or from Wadhurst.
Traveline offered nothing helpful with all its 784s being nowhere near Wadhurst; indeed nowhere near East Sussex. But then a second challenge to the old man's brain arose. Where, when and what is "The Birchley Railway".

fbb's encycloaedic but rapidly decaying leeedle Poirotesq brain cells could not dredge up a Birchley Railway.

YouTube offered a few videos, this from 1989. We first get a trackside view, then take a ride round as a passenger.
It is worth the five minutes plus to appreciate this delightful layout.

But where is it? One source suggested Biddenden in Kent ...
... which seems a long way from Wadhurst. Ashford looks nearer and has a better train service! But there it is, Birchley House - near Biddenden.
Google Streetview offers no mention of a railway thereat, just a finger post to a farm ...
... and a pair of decidedly uninviting gates, possibly to the "big house".
For the record, Google Maps seems confused. It shows "house" against some farm buildings and "farm" against the big house.
But there was no sign of the sunshine jollity shown in the 1989 video. And not one yard of miniature railway track.

Further on-line searches brought a clue.

Birchley Railway Open Day 4 August

Birchley railway is up for sale and our estate agent is trying his best to find a buyer – see our website

In consequence Sunday’s Open Day may well be the last under the present management.  Depending on whether the future owner wishes to keep the railway running is an unknown factor and all the equipment may be removed sometime soon.

Our Final Day will be supporting Action Duchenne again.  Duchenne’s disease is a form of Muscular Dystrophy which affects only young boys who rarely reach 20 years of age.

Please come and help us support this really worthwhile Charity.

There will be a barbecue and refreshments including Jennifer’s home made cakes (Eat your heart out Mary Berry).

Free parking and unlimited train rides

Admission  Adults £5;  Children £2.50;  Family 2+2 £12.50

Other interesting stands arranged by Action Duchenne themselves.

See you Sunday,


August 4th fell on a Sunday in 2013 and 2019. Is that a clue?

More tomorrow!

Matford Models 2
Of course, end-to-end layouts are fascinating, but often with less happening. One example at the Exeter show was a substantial model in "P4".
Protofour or P4 is a set of standards for model railways allowing construction of models to a scale of 4 mm to 1 foot (1:76.2), the predominant scale of model railways of the British prototype. 

The P4 standards specify a scale model track gauge of 18.83 mm for standard gauge railways. The standards were published in Model Railway News by the Model Railway Study Group in August 1966.

Just as in the prototype railway, on a model the wheel-rail interface is the fundamental aspect of reliable operation. So as well as a track gauge, P4 also specifies the wheel profile and track parameters to use, which are largely a scaled-down version of real-life standards with some allowances for practical manufacturing tolerances.

The accurate track gauge and scale sleeper spacing does look much better than conventional OO gauge (16.5mm). Contrast and compare P4 ...
... with OO.
As well as striving for accuracy, you would need to fit P4 wheel sets to all rolling stock and locos. 

The layout has used a neat touch to save too much trackwork, namely a double track line that has been "singled", the reduction to one track including a bridge ...
... and a station.
The one platform halt is surprisingly busy!

Models of real locations are rare, largely because real locations are large. This is an N gauge (9mm track) representation of a location not too far from the Marford exhibition centre.
Below is the full-sized view back from near the top left of the above picture, showing the parked "holiday" carriages.
It is, of course, Dawlish Warren.

And fbb Nearly Forgot ...
The seagulls are already planning their invasion of the new Exeter Bus Station. Advance Party "Hissing Sid" was casing the joint last Saturday. Sadly he found no chips!

Tomorrow -  more on both topics.

Auntie Frances to the Rescue
The withdrawal of Stagecoach 9A between Seaton and Lyme Regis is a big cut, removing an hourly service ...
... but local reports suggest that Axe Valley Travel (based in Seaton) will operate a replacement service, although no timetable has yet been published. The boss, Frances Searle, has always been keen to support the local community, but, fbb suggests, her offering will not be hourly!

 Next Miniature Mystery & Modelling blog : Sat 2nd July 

Thursday, 30 June 2022

Mystery Mailing and Matford Models

Once Upon A Time ...

The dedicated trainspotter of yesteryear was generally equipped with pencil, notebook and his "Combine". fbb's (above) cost ten shillings and six pence, a small pocket-money fortune for the callow youth. For those unaware, the pocket-sized volume listed every British Railways locomotive arranged by marque and number. The tradition was that you underlined the number when you "copped" the engine.
And you got the "namers" as well!
In case you wondered, the above pictures are from he interwebnet - fbb never "opped" as many Eastern Region locos as are underlined here. But find memories, none the less!

... But Now:-

But today there are far fewer locos and much much more information. This book popped through the letter box at fbb mansions and fbb really doesn't know why - maybe it was an offer consequent upon taking out a new subscription for Modern Railways.
It is what we must now call a "bookazine" with 148 pages which includes covers.
It is packed with information, so much so that there are three columns of closely spaced abbreviations used in the text.
Essentially you need to refer to these abbreviations to unravel the meat of the book which is a list of every diesel and electric loco operated on Britain's Railways with: date of building, renaming and/or re-engineering, date of disposal/scrapping (and by whom) plus present location if still extant.
It is too wide a list for a blogged extract but one example will suffice to explain its scope. fbb will quote the info as it reads left to right across the A4 printed page.
D1666 was renumbered as follows:-
47081  02/74
47606  02/84
47842  01/90
47606  02/93
47778  11/93

The loco was named:-
Odin  03/65 to 07/90
Irresistible 07/93 to 10/02
Duke of Edinburgh's Award 11/03 to 03/04

Built at:-
BRC - British Rail Crewe Works

In Service:-
03/65 to 02/94

Cut up:
European Metal Reprocessing, Kingsbury

Of course the "Combine" did not list deceased engines! What is quite sobering it to tot up the number of locos in each class and then look at today's much diminished railway.

You can even look up, for older locos, what its number is now and what it was before the TOPS computerised system was introduced.
There is even a list of pre-nationalisation numbers and their BR successor.
HST power cars are treated as locomotives ...
... and there is a good smattering of photos throughout the esoterica! Kestrel is there ...
... as is the byais for a slightly inaccurate model from Hornby.
If you are interested in such detail or even if you are starting off on the British Railway Anorak Study Course ...
... this publication is ideal for whiling away winter evenings (and some summer ones as well). Published by Key (publishers of Modern Railways) at £9.99 but on offer from the publishers at a fiver.

Matford Models
Folk may know the Matford Centre as a place where you might buy or sell your livestock ...
... but on Saturday 25th inst it was the home of the Exe Valley Model Railway Club's annual exhibition returning after the obligatory Covid gap.
They had hosed the floor down! 

fbb started his visit with lunch ...
... of steak and kidney pie, roast potatoes, peas and a cardboard cuppa. This fortified the old man for his perambulations.

Because not all our blog readers are convulsed with excitement about matters model railway, fbb will slip in snippets over the next few days. The aim of these mini reports will be to show things slightly out of the ordinary.

There weren't many!

Most layouts were "end to end", lacking the continuous runs of tail chasing trains familiar in fbb's youth. But there were a few like that.
It was good to see trains tunning round in circles rather than waiting for the operators to send a realistic train at realistic speed some 12 feet along a layout. Sometimes realism can be a bit tedious however detailed it may be.

There was a good O gauge layout which was designed to watch the trains go by. The sound of a train clattering over the rail joints is very satisfying in the larger scale. Sadly, fbb failed to attempt a bit of video due to memory problems. The lack of memory was not on the phone but in fbb's head.

He forgot!
There is more and more O gauge stuff available now in ready-to-run form, so, if you (or your club) had got the money and thee space, a layout in the "senior scale" is much easier to create.

Apparently no one was injured - except perhaps the diver's pride, but the situation is a little "unfortunate".

 Next Playing Catch-Up blog : Friday 1st July