Narrow Gauge Pleasure

The Duffield Bank Railway

A long closed railway of historic interest

Although this railway was an experimental or demonstration railway built entirely on private property it deserves mention here because of the pivotal role it played in narrow gauge history as the original 15" gauge railway.

In 1874 Sir Arthur Heywood began experiments with very narrow gauge railways on his estate at Duffield Bank in Derbyshire. Sir Arthur believed that narrow gauge railways could be invaluable to the farming community and would be essential to provide a rapidly installed transport infrastructure at the battle front in any future war.

Sir Arthur's vision of a very low cost and quickly built or moved light railway could only be realised by using the smallest possible gauge. At the time when He began His experimenrts the Ffestiniog railway had just proved (against most expert advice) that a 2' gauge steam hauled railway was a practical proposition, so he was truly a radical when he began construction of a 15" gauge railway to prove his concepts.

Dissatisfied with all very narrow gauge equipment available at the time Sir Arthur chose to manufacture everything himself, with the exception of the engine frames, boilers and rails which were beyond the capabilities of his workshops. Sir Arthur built his railway over a period of seven years culminating in a line of around a mile in length with gradients as steep as 1 in 10 and some very sharp curves

The locomotives Sir Arthur Constructed were idiosyncratic as he struggled to apply his principle that there should be no trailing wheels (to give as much weight as possible on the drivers) with the very narrow gauge. He opted for an unusual boiler layout without the deep firebox dropped between the frames found on most locomotives and his designs suffered from poor steaming as a result, they were however ruggedly built and reliable machines. He constructed no fewer than six of these engines starting with four coupled and evolving through six to eight coupled designs through the life of the railway.

In constructing rolling stock the emphasis was on proving that the narrow gauge did not preclude the use of a wide variety of vehicles. As well as some rugged 16 seat passenger coaches weighing around 1 ton each he built a four birth sleeping car with toilet and a dining car which seated eight and had a seperate cooking compartment.

Time was to prove Sir Arthur both right and wrong. Although his plans for agricultural use were developed on a small scale at Eaton Hall, the 15" gauge was little used for this purpose and the internal combustion engine took over directly from the horse for most of the agricultural traffic between main line rail and the farm. As far as military use was concerned the first world war required very much the type of narrow gauge railway he had envisaged, and on a massive scale, but the gauge selected was larger at 60cm.

While he never promoted the 15" gauge for tourist traffic, this is perhaps where it has had its finest hour! Sir Arthur's work is honoured by the three major 15" lines in Britain and none more so than at New Romney where a part of the museum is given over to Heywood related items. The three 15" gauge lines in operation are:

Skip Navigation Links.
As well as maintaining this site Nick is an IT professional. For more information visit Nick's personal page or see Nick on LinkedIn.