NB. The Blakesley Hall site is completely private land and there is no public access at all so please don't trespass.
This pioneering 15” gauge line, which was never officially known in its time as the Blakesley Hall Miniature railway, was built for C W Bartholomew in the early years of 20th Century. It linked his residence, Blakesley Hall (which actually lay in the parish of Woodend), with Blakesley’s East & West Junction Railway station. The layout was much modified throughout its existence from 1903 until around 1944, but at its longest basically consisted of a roughly half mile long main line running from Blakesley station to some cattle sheds beyond the hall. At various times it had a short branch leading off directly to the hall itself, a secondary branch leading to a loop, which together with the main line formed a train turning triangle.
Charles William Bartholomew (1850-1919)
CWB was a strange mixture of country squire and playboy; he was a very wealthy man and a member of the Young Conservatives, his family's fortune had been made in the coal mines and canals of South Yorkshire yet he was a philanthropist who was a friend of George Bernard Shaw and may have changed his political allegiance to the Liberals later in life. He had a passion for the modern technology of his time which embraced everything from the latest steam locomotives to internal combustion engines. He had a collection of ‘F Moore’ oil coloured photographs of main line locomotives and a garage full of Daimlers and Humbers. CWB's godson, Charles Simpson, was a director and partner of the Locomotive Publishing Company that produced the 'F Moore' series of postcards from the originals.
One of CWB's 'F Moore' hand coloured photographs showing a GER Claud Hamilton hauled express which hung in Blakesley Hall. He also had ones of GCR, NBR and GNR Atlantics as well as at least one of the BMR itself.
His father, Charles Bartholomew, Engineer and General Manager of the South Yorkshire Railway, had made a vast fortune investing in coal mines, canals and railways. Charles also owned Wombwell Colliery. Blakesley Hall was a wedding gift in 1876 to CWB and his new wife Lucy but he didn’t actually own the house until his father died in 1895.
The marriage only lasted a few years, after which CWB took a new partner, Sarah. They had two children, Ivy and James. CWB died in 1919 but his partner Sarah lived there until 1947 when her health declined and she went to live with her son’s family. The hall became derelict and unsafe and was demolished in the 1950s when it was discovered that local children (yours sincerely included!) were playing ‘ghosts’ and ‘hide and seek’ inside it, but the workshops and garage remain as does the garden wall and the farm bungalow. The gatehouse lodges at the entrance to the driveway remain as private dwellings. The site of the gas producer electricity plant and engine shed was bulldozed and levelled in the late 1950s. The land now belongs to Mr Phillip Burt who is building a new Blakesley Hall on the site.
CWB was a pioneer motorist and RAC member owning several motor cars, he installed electric lighting (powered by his own generating plant) and an internal telephone system at the hall. He had large shareholdings in the Great Central and the East & West Junction railways and sometimes unofficially drove the trains on the latter. On one such occasion he overshot the platform at Blakesley and had to set back. By coincidence one of his employees at the hall unaware of who was driving ran along the platform and demanded “What bloody idiot is driving tonight?” only to meet the boss! CWB thought of it as a great laugh, it appealed to his sense of humour and he enjoyed the company of the villagers. In 1901 he had constructed a large clockwork model railway to entertain his children. George Bailey, his decorator and odd job man, who was responsible for the layout, became an unrecognised pioneer of modern model railway practice as he was one of the first people to construct bridges, tunnels, buildings and scenery for a model railway. But CWB wanted something more impressive and in 1903 he got it.
Nowadays very little evidence remains of the Blakesley Miniature Railway’s route and the site is strictly private property.
Some idea of the original layout can be obtained from various sometimes conflicting descriptions in the engineering press of the time and of books produced since, from old photographs and from the few remaining people who can remember it in the final years of its existence. Dr Bob Tebb in his excellent book has made a good job of trying to map the original layout as it probably was. The layout was extensively altered in 1909 when miniature railway pioneer Henry Greenly produced a gradient profile of the main line which gives some indication of the location of bridges and points. From all the fore mentioned sources it is however possible to produce a fairly accurate map of the system as it existed in its later years.
(Sketch map largely based on Dr Bob Tebb's map with alterations based on recently acquired new information)
The original main line ran from the 3 track corrugated locomotive and carriage shed next to the hall more or less directly towards Blakesley Station, passing through the horse chestnut meadow and crossing the brook by a bridge and incidentally passing from Woodend to Blakesley parish in the process. Shortly to the east of this bridge a circular route diverged to the left using two more bridges to cross the brook and passing the ‘Summerhouse’ folly. Dr Bob Tebb is of the opinion that this circle could be isolated from the main line by means of two set of points so that CWB’s children could drive around it without interfering with trains using the main route. This arrangement is better understood by referring to the map. To the right a separate branch passed through a double gateway in the hall’s garden wall directly to the hall. This gateway still remains in 2013. There was no station at this end of the line. At the far end of the meadow another branch which linked with the circle trailed in forming a turning triangle. From here the line passed by means of a shallow cutting through a plantation of conifers and laurels towards Blakesley station, as the track separated only from the E&WJR line by originally a laurel hedge, soon to be replaced by an iron fence, actually utilised the E&WJR main line’s route passing under SMJR bridge 24 (the road bridge that is still in situ and carries the road from Blakesley village towards Woodend) in the process. CWB must have had a lot of influence to get permission for that!!
The fence separating the BMR from the SMJ as they passed together under Bridge 24 can be seen to the right of the crossing trespass warning sign. However did CWB get permission for such a setup? !!!!
The Blakesley Miniature Railway had its own little wooden platform next to the E&WJR’s down platform. There was a ticket office and a rustic wooden waiting shelter. Between this platform and bridge 24 a branch curved off sharply towards the E&WJR’s siding, crossing the station approach road turning in another tight curve towards the E&WJR’s siding’s buffer stop. In the late 50's, long after the track had been removed a dip in the road was noticable which would jolt Ted Botterill's coal lorry as we passed over it. 'Hang on to your seat, boy," he would say to me, " 'cause we are just about to go over the Squire's railway!" It’s likely that this freight branch was never worked by locomotives once the Cagney had been withdrawn from service. It is known that workers from the hall manually pushed tipper wagons along this branch and on occasions all the way back to the hall! It’s possible but unlikely that at one time this branch ran in the opposite direction (ie. away from the buffers) as shown in Cooke’s SMJ diagrams. One centegenarian I interviewed was of this opinion, but Bob Salmons who actually worked on the BMR for a short while in the 1940s confirmed that then the branch ran towards the buffers. Contemporary photographs appear to show that the original BMR platform complete with a run around loop and a different station office may have been located on this branch or else on a separate branch the other side of the station goods yard approach road. ( see the map)
When the locomotive Blacovesley was acquired in 1909 the curvature of bends had to be lessened from 80 ’radius to 100’ radius and around this time much of the circle and the northern line of the turning triangle were taken out of commission. About this time a turntable was installed at the engine shed. Part of the circle was believed to have been retained in use as a branch for leisure use or for the maintenance of the ‘Summerhouse’ folly or for timber haulage. In my opinion possibly one curve from the main line towards the folly, the turnout of which was located to the east of the easternmost bridge, may have been constructed with an easier curvature some time after the arrival of ‘Petrolia’ and not been part of the original layout, but this is just my conjecture. Probably the western most bridge was the first to go. The girders formed of old flat bottomed rail of the redundant middle bridge which had carried part of the circle remained intact to the 1950s at least, crude wooden trellis parapets not seen in any photograph also remaining.
The late Doug Blake's researches into the use of the hall as a showground lead him to a detailed map of the layout of the Blakesley Horticultural & Agricultural Show that was held at the Hall in 1910. This coincidentally also shows the BMR main line being in place but with no sign of the branch that went through the gateway in the wall, nor of the circle. It appears that the main line bridge over the brook might have been relocated slightly further west than before and at a narrower diagonal angle, which would have involved a slight change in the allignment of the main line itself. This might explain the unfamiliar look of some of the published photos of bridges on the line.
The main line was extended to the farm bungalow in 1909 and to the cowshed the following year. Gradients on this extension were quite severe as much as 1 in 24 approaching the bungalow and probably fiercer still towards the cowshed. The original layout had virtually no taxing gradients at all much being virtually level.
When I was a child I heard unsubstantiated stories that the line originally ran from a point roughly halfway along the cutting and crossed a bridge over the brook reaching the hall on the opposite side from the established route, or alternatively ran on a circular extension from the main house branch right around to where the 'Back Brook' boating lake was later constructed. Jordan's inaccurate map supports the first route to some extent. There certainly was the remains of a substantial bridge over the brook in place as late as the early '50s, but this most likely was built as a brook crossing for the footpath from School Lane to Woodend which CWB falsely claimed he had received permission to close and which fell into disuse. However I don't think that the first route could have been used as the line would have been the wrong side of the hall for serving its kitchens or its electricity plant. would have encroached on the cricket pitch and there is no mention either in contemporary articles about the BMR. As for an extension of the main house branch, that might possibly have been the case, but extensive landscaping when the 'Back Brook' was constructed and also bulldozing when the hall was demolished would have destroyed any evidence of the existence of such a route. It also would either have predated the accepted 1903 dating of the start of the BMR or been in place for a very short while between 1906 and 1909. However Phil Kingston thought that this had been the case and that it formed a circular route through the gardens. Born around the turn of the century he might have been just old enough to have remembered seeing such a route but may well have been told first hand about it by someone who knew of its existence. We will probably never know the truth. The annoying thing is that half a century ago I knew village people much older than Phil (including my own grandparents who worked for CWB for a while) who would have been able to have told me if this was true if I had been interested enough to ask at the time. There were after all various village myths about the hall: that the chestnut meadow was haunted by a Grey Lady, that there was a secret tunnel from the 'Summerhouse' to the hall, that a ghost train ran along the BMR route after its closure and that mysterious lights could be seen coming from the deserted hall before its demolition. Actually the last myth can be explained. There was a definite link to the fact that several village lads when asked what they wanted for Christmas surprised their parents by requesting powerful torches!
The track consisted of 12lb to the yard rail supported by pressed steel sleepers and a deep layer of granite ballast. Strangely, originally the bridges had the track laid directly on wooden planks which lay on girders made from old railway rail and spaced 15” apart, but by around 1909 the main line bridge at least had received ballast. Alongside the track were metal poles which supported telegram and electricity cables. The latter cables supplied power for signalling as well as for lamps which were attached to these posts. Signalling, on the rare occasions that it was actually used, was by ‘state of the art’ Sykes electric banners. Another unusual feature of the line was the metal gates which had to be manually opened and closed for the passage of trains in order to keep in place the Jacob’s Sheep and other livestock which grazed on the estate.
Locomotives & rolling stock
The childen on the loco are Ivy and James Bartholomew, the youth far right Percy Wyatt
The original locomotive acquired in 1903 was a Cagney 4-4-0 locomotive, typically 19th century classic American eight wheeler in style of design. It remained on the line until the 1930s but was seldom steamed after the petrol locomotives arrived. It was modified by the fitting of a wooden running board to the tender noticeable in the photographs attached to this article, which makes it easily identified from other Cagneys including the other Cagney that was at Blakesley for a short period. It eventually ended up at the Deans Mill Railway but has not survived. It came as part of a kit with a train of small 4 wheeler 4 seater coaches. CWB soon modified the rolling stock by combining three of the coach bodies onto a longer frame with two of the original bogies underneath. Three such coaches were constructed. Other spare bogies were used to make a long platform wagon and six V shaped mineral tipper trucks. One bogie has survived into preservation.
Strumpshaw's Cagney, almost certainly the one that ran on the BMR for a short while.
A similar Cagney locomotive which probably didn't belong to the BMR was used on the line for a short while and this is firmly believed to be the one preserved at Strumpshaw Hall. Phil Kingston was almost certain that at one time CWB owned two Cagney engines but if this was the case the Strumpshaw loco didn't stay at Blakesley for long.
Petrolia as originally built, note the steam loco chimney style exhaust and the radiator on the rear of the tender
In 1905 ‘Petrolia’ was constructed by Groom & Tattersall of Towcester although it was probably assembled at Blakesley Hall's workshop. A bill for the foundry supplying 'Petrolia' to CWB has recently come to light. CWB and his engineer and regular engine driver Alec Wyatt were very much involved in the design and build of this 4-4-4 loco which had a 8hp single cylinder internal combustion engine of around 100 cubic inches displacement. It was strange looking device but performed well in its original condition. It could pull a train of 6 tippers at around 16mph and was even used to deliver the equipment for the electricity plant weighing 8 tons loaded on the platform wagon from Blakesley station to the hall. It was predominantly used for goods workings but could quickly be put into use to pick up any unexpected guests arriving at the E&WJR station. Unfortunately it was unsuccessfully rebuilt as a 0-4-4T steam outline loco by Bassett-Lowke in 1910 and this led to much animosity between CWB and Greenly.
The rebuilt 'Petrolia' at the BMR station. Note the rustic waiting shelter and the tippers.
It was seldom used afterwards. It may have also been acquired by the Deans Mill Railway and possibly parts of it have survived into preservation.
Back (L to R) Frederick Green , Alec Wyatt, Henry Greenly, Percy Wyatt
Front (L to R) W J Bassett-Lowke, 'Blacolvesley', C W Bartholomew
This locomotive was introduced in 1909 and was built by Henry Greenly at Bassett–Lowke in Northampton.
Alec Wyatt with 'Blacolvesley' on the main line bridge over the brook
It was a steam outline 4-4-4T powered by a NAG petrol engine with transmission through a Wicksteed built state of the art syncromesh gearbox. Extremely handsome and modern looking it also proved to be reliable, reasonably powerful and fast. It first appeared in primer at the time of the Blakesley Show in 1909 but was soon after painted in two shades of green both similar to Great Northern Railway Green. It was timed at 32mph under test conditions along the cutting section of the main line. It remained the mainstay locomotive until the line’s demise. After it belonged to several other owners on various lines, including being renamed ‘Yvonne’ while at the Redlands Railway and then as ‘Elizabeth‘ to honour our present queen’s coronation in 1953 while at the Saltburn Railway. More recently it was acquired by Dr Bob Tebb who has superbly restored to as near original condition as possible bearing in mind that at some point its NAG engine had been replaced by an Austin 8hp one. He keeps it at Ravenglass on the ‘Ratty’. Its the oldest surviving internal combustion railway loco in the world.
Copyright Dr Bob Tebb
'Blacolvesley' in 2012
Passenger trains ran as required to transport parties of guests to and from the Bartholomew residence. Extensive services were put on at high days and holidays. Combined tickets costing 6d or 1/- were available when Blakesley Agricultural & Horticultural Show took place each year. The ticket shown could not have been issued as it is known that tickets were punched. At one time I was in possession of the actual hand punch that was used but unfortunately it was lost in a house move many years ago. It was small in size possibly so a child could do the job and clipped out a triangular ended section of the ticket.
In addition the family ran trains for their own amusement and CWB’s children were able to drive the Cagney, often supervised by Alec Wyatt’s son, Percy. Recovering soldiers who were hospitalised at the hall during World War I also were treated to passenger rides.
Coke was brought by tipper trucks from the siding in Blakesley goods yard to the gas producer electricity plant and coal delivered to the hall’s fires and kitchen. Often these tippers were pushed manually along the line. In the early days two young men with learning difficulties were employed to keep a steady supply of coke and coal available by these means. Recently the late Miss Olive Shepherd of Blakesley recalled often seeing ‘Blacolvesley’ hauling tippers while waiting for the morning LMS school train to Towcester during the 1930s. After the locomotives left the line manually propelled trucks were again used for a short while with anyone of the hall’s male staff being required to do the job. (see the page ‘Bob Salmons- Signalman’ on this website)
Fallen timber and other heavy loads were handled on the bogie flat wagon and presumably other goods brought into the hall travelled on this truck although it must be remembered probably not food as the hall was self sufficient in fruit and vegetables and there was a butcher with a slaughter house and a baker in the village.
1903 - Blakesley Miniature Railway opened with a Cagney steam loco as motive power.
1904 - another Cagney and set of Cagney four-wheeled coaches either visited or were acquired temporarily. This second Cagney is almost certainly the one preserved at Stumpshaw Hall Steam Museum in Norfolk.
1905 - ‘Petrolia’ was built.
1906 - some work to the route was reported as being on-going
1909 - line remodelled, much of the circle and triangle abandoned. Extension to the farm bungalow. The branch through the gateway may well have been abandoned by now. ‘Blacolvesley’ arrived on 11th September. Cagney loaned to Sutton Hall Railway.
1910 – line extended to cattle sheds, now 804 yards long in total. ‘Petrolia’s’ disastrous rebuild. .
1912 – visited by The Railway Club.
1914 – Cagney returned by Sutton Hall Railway.
1919 – C W Bartholomew died on 29th April.
1923 – unsuccessful attempt to sell the Cagney.
c. 1928/9 – extension beyond bungalow abandoned.
1932 – last usage as a link to Blakesley Show.
1935 – opened to celebrate King George V’s Silver Jubilee.
1937 – opened to celebrate King George VI’s coronation.
1936 – Cagney and possibly ‘Petrolia’ and some track sold to Deans Mill Railway.
1942 – ‘Blacolvesley’, the remaining coaches and possibly some track were somehow obtained from the Bartholomews by the notorious ‘Lady Bountiful’ Miss Dorothy Elliot JP, long term family friend and secretary of Wombwell Colliery. It later transpired that she had embezzled £91,630 from the colliery funds, for which she was imprisoned. The sale of her house and possessions raised £21,000 towards repaying the stolen money.
1942 – c. 1944 – the main line track still remained in place to the generator plant, coke was manually pushed in tippers along the line.
c.1946 – the remains of the line were lifted and the wagons scrapped.
1947 – Blakesley Hall was abandoned after an auction sale of its contents when Sarah moved to her son’s house in Norfolk.
1949 – the grounds were sold to the Hesketh family but later changed hands several times.
1953 – Sarah died aged 89.
1957 – Blakesley Hall was demolished.
The late Doug Blake, Dr Bob Tebb, Bob Salmons, the late John Butler, Ann Weekley, the SMJ Society members & the late Olive Shepherd for sharing their knowledge. Philip Burt for granting me permission to pay a visit to this private sensitive site.
‘Blakesley Hall & its Miniature Railway’ and various other books by Phil B Kingston
‘The Blakesley Miniature Railway and the Bartholomew Family’ – Dr Bob Tebb (Silver Link 2009)
‘Beside the Crooked Brook’ – Doug Blake (self published in 2009)
'Astride the Hill of Knowledge' -- Doug Blake (self published in 2013)
Updated June 2017 Dick Bodily
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