Organised, words and photos by Barry Cossins
Early this year I had a chance meeting with 2 of the volunteers that help to run and maintain the museum and railway at Fawley Hill. They said that following success of the Great Model Railway Challenge which was filmed there they were having 4 open days this year and gave me the information on the application process as there is a limit on the number of visitors they can manage in a day. Having been there myself of course for the TV programme I wanted a chance to see the museum at last and to ride a train around the grounds so applied for some tickets for the Ealing Road team but it quickly became apparent that many of the members of the club would welcome the chance for a visit as well. I was given an allocation of 38 places for the second of this year’s open days (the first being fully booked by the time I made my inquiry)
So on Sunday 11th of July a party of 34 of us visited Fawley. The party apart from the Ealing road team and their partners was made up from our membership and partners and some members of the Hemel Hempstead Model Railway Society. Just before the visit and to my surprise I was given a ticket for one of the party to have a footplate ride on the day! Names of the visitors that were interested donated £10 to enter a draw which was picked by Paul on a club night with the winner being David Lane. The donations summed to £200 which was split and donated to the club funds of both R&DMRC and HHMRS.
The sign on the way into Fawley probably says it all as it states “Welcome to Fawley Hill twinned with Narnia & Middle Earth” You then enter walking past some Pullman coaches, some rolling stock and a signal box to arrive at a station in the middle of nowhere in particular. The station came from Somersham in Cambridgeshire and was part of William McAlpine's passion to retain some of our railway heritage. It was very busy with about 6 other visiting groups, two of which were car clubs so the car park had some interesting old cars to look at. It seems that Fawley soaks up people being a large site with lots of different things to do and see. So much so that I never saw everyone in our party during the course of the day.
The museum is an eclectic mix of all sorts of railway memorabilia, very wide ranging and hugely interesting. It starts with a large collection of stunning O gauge locomotives and then continues on and on with display cases of GWR Silver, Engineers tools, station paraphernalia, fine art railway scenes, working models, engineering samples, large gauge live steam locomotives etc. Every nook and cranny was packed with something of interest.
The engine they use is a Hunslet Saddle Tank pulling a planked wagon and brake van. The train departs from the station down a 1 in 13 hill towards a sharp left bend! Brakes on, round the corner, down the hill past all sorts of salvaged architecture to one end of the line. Forward again across a set of points (another signal box) to the other end of the estate. We are now in Scotland it seems as we passed a sign telling us that. Back to England, then past the signal box, points switched and up the hill. Stop first though and whistle to get the deer of the track, full throttle gets us up just and back into the station. What a ride, it’s the steepest incline of any railway in the UK.
Above: David Lane on the loco footplate
The train was packed all day running every 30 minutes and while the weather was sunny most of the day, late in the day there was a brief but heavy shower. The folks riding in the penultimate trip in the open planked wagon were soaked!
All around the grounds are a number of architectural features all of which stem from William McAlpine's habit of saying “send it home” when he discovered some feature about to be destroyed or scrapped. There is of course the “Iron Henge” which are concentric circles of iron pullers from the undercroft of St Pancras station, entrance arch to the parcels depot at St Pancras, the iron bridge skillfully landscaped to form the edge of a terraced garden, a very ornate London Chatham and Dover Railway sign, a wooden clock tower and a whole host of other things laying randomly or scattered around the grounds.
Last but not least one has to mention the animals, you can’t miss them they are everywhere. Apparently there are 20 different species most running free and stem from a long association that Sir William had with the ZSL (London and Whipsnade Zoos). He started by taking unwanted usually male animals beginning with some deer. I spotted 3 types of them when I was there (they have 6 apparently) I also saw some wallabies in a large enclosure by the car park, emus, alpaca, llamas, peacocks and some meerkats in the walled garden. There are lots of other species about the place as well it would seem.