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: