Sunday, 9 August 2009

Bicton Guides and Books

Below is a collection of guides and books that have been available over the years. Some of the dates for publication are a good estimate rather than a confirmed year of print. My colection is ongoing, so I will add to this list as I acquire more Bicton goodies.

Bicton Gardens Guide

1963 N. D. G. James / The Raleigh Press

Bicton Woodland Railway

1963 N. D. G. James / The Raleigh Press

Bicton Gardens Fourth Edition

1966 N. D. G. James/R.H. Tilbrook / Jarrold & Sons Ltd.

The Trees of Bicton

1969 N. D. G. James/ Oxford Basil Blackwell

Souvenir Guide to Bicton Gardens

1977 N. D. G. James / Beric Tempest & Company Ltd.

Souvenir Guide to the Bicton Gardens Countryside Meseum

1977 N. D. G. James / Beric Tempest & Company Ltd.

Bicton: Countryside Museum • Railway • Gardens • Hall of Transport

1979 Severn Advertising (SW) Ltd.

Beautiful Bicton: Bicton Park Botanical Gardens

2001 David Mead/Simon & Valerie Lister/Park Publishing

Friday, 7 August 2009

Bicton Gardens New Look Website

The official Bicton Gardens website has recently been overhauled and features new content as well as a new look.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Past Attractions - The Hermitage Bus

The Hermitage bus was another attraction that took visitors on a tour of the gardens making its way to the Hermitage through the Pinetum. I currently don't have much information on the vintage bus except that it was an Austin. As you can see from the pictures, it was painted in the Bicton blue colour. I remember it being a very rickety ride but good fun and something else to look forward to once the ride on the railway had come and gone. I am guessing that this attraction was introduced after the gardens had been opened for a while and lasted until sometime during the 1980's.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

BWR - Did you know?

  1. BWR used to had a buffet car to serve teas during busy months which was positioned on a siding at the main station.
  2. Signal posts and levers were purchased from British Railways - taken from Lympstone on the Exeter to Exmouth line.
  3. The original train driver at Bicton was Mr George Clarke who had nearly 50 years of railway service experience.

The beginning of Bicton Woodland Railway (BWR)

As mentioned in a previous post, the Bicton Woodland Railway was created as an added attraction when the the gardens were being prepared for opening to the public in 1961. The House and adjoining Home Farm had been sold off in 1957 and as most country estates had a mansion, Bicton needed something to replace this feature.

It was decided that a miniature railway should be built through the grounds providing visitors with a way of viewing the further reaches of the gardens. A survey began and enquiries were made into the purchase of locomotives and rolling stock. A route that would connect the Italian Gardens with the Hermitage summer house was intended but as heavy gradients were involved, this plan was scrapped. Although extra work was eventually made to include this route in 1976 when the Hermitage stop was built. The original track followed a course towards St Mary's Church, looping through the Pinetum to return.

As significant gradients were still unavoidable, it was decided to make the railway narrow gauge rather than Miniature so that the locomotive used could have the power to haul a train around the gardens. A 18-inch gauge steam locomotive was available for purchase from a yard in Brakley in Northamptonshire. Before resting in Brakley, the engine had been in service on the lines of the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich - infact it carried the nameplate 'Woolwich'. I won't go into technical details but Woolwich proved to be just what BWR needed.

Track was sourced by M.E. Engineering Ltd, who had also helped locate Woolwich. The timber for the wooden sleepers were cut by the estate sawmills. Before the track could be laid, a bulldozer was used to clear a bed for the ballast. In May 1962 the first length of track was laid down and shortly after the locomotive arrived. A selection of rolling stock including covered and open wagons were acquired from the Royal Arsenal and worked on at the estate. On the 10th August 1962 the lines were complete and the owner, Mr G. N. M. Fane Trefusis, drove in the final spike. Improvements were made in the following months such as the construction of an engine shed and covered work area, fitting of signals and sidings.

The line was ready for Bicton Gardens opening in the summer of 1963 and has proved to be hugely popular ever since. I will return to the subject of the BWR again with information about the various locomotives that have worked at the gardens since 'Woolwich' started the first journey.

Pictures: ©Raleigh Press, ©Jarrold & Sons Ltd, ©Beric Tempest & Co

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Taste Of Things To Come

Here are a few pictures that I took on Saturday to give those who haven't visited Bicton, an idea of its beauty. I am looking to cover the following areas in future posts.

  • Bicton Woodland Railway
  • Countryside Museum
  • St Mary's Church
  • Bicton House
  • The Hermitage
  • Gardens
  • Past attractions
  • History

Thursday, 28 May 2009

A Brief History Of Bicton

The Manor of Bicton was originally known as Buckinton. It was land granted to John Janitor by Henry I for his services at Exeter Castle. The estate passed through several families before being sold to Sir Robert Denys who enclosed a deer park and re-built the house. His daughter married Sir Henry Rolle and the property became inherited by the Rolle family.

During the period that the Rolle family owned Bicton, many of the features that we can see today were developed. In 1957 Bicton House, the lake and Home Farm were sold to Devon County Council for use as an agricultural and horticultural college and in 1961 the decision was made to restore the existing gardens to their former glory after neglect during the war years. It was two years later that the gardens first opened to the public. The woodland railway was created as both an attraction, now that a Manor House no longer provided a feature, and also an interesting way for visitors to view the gardens and get to the Hermitage summer house at the far end of the grounds. In 1986 Bicton was given to a charitable trust.

Today the 63 acre, Grade 1 listed gardens are owned and run by Simon and Valerie Lister who bought the Bicton in 1998. The main attractions are still preserved and the gardens look as great as ever.

Photograph: The Gardens in the early 1960's. ©Jarrold & Sons Ltd.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Budley not in Budleigh

In the last post I featured a picture of my sister and I sitting in the cab of an engine called 'Budley'. After a good Googling, I have found my old friend.

Budley was a Ruston & Hornsby locomotive type 13DL, purchased by the Ministry of Works in 1945 for use on 2ft guage track. In 1959 the Fairy Glen Miniature Railway re-gauged the engine to 18 inch and six years later it was sold to Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway. Bicton Woodland Railway then got it in 1974 and named the engine Budley after Budleigh in Devon. 

Budley is just a shell without gearbox or engine. Its new owners, The Royal Gunpowder Mills are going to re-build budley to a working engine. They purchased Bicton's other locomotives along with old Budley in 2000. More on this another time.

Picture below © 'Jampics'

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Welcome to Bicton Park

Bicton Park Gardens is an area of outstanding beauty containing a collection of trees and plants as well as an 18-inch narrow gauge railway and other day-out attractions. It is situated on the A376 between Budleigh Salterton and Newton Poppleford, near Devon's great city of Exeter.

My grandad George Cook used to take me to Bicton when I was young. When I get out in the car park, even now,  I still recall eating my picnic with grandad on a day when we arrived at lunchtime, enjoying the cup cakes and Kit Kats that were reserved for special occasions such as this and being fascinated by the textured vinyl roof of grandad's car.

We would explore everything Bicton had to offer - walking round the gardens and trees, looking round the Countryside Museum and, most importantly having a ride on the narrow guage woodland railway.

Some things have come and gone, which I will go into in more detail later. The short lived Bicton Hall of Transport and vintage bus rides around the grounds are two of the things I miss the most. 

Me and my sister Sam sitting in 'Budley'. This engine was near the station and was placed off the rails on the tarmac for kids to play with. I could not get enough of it but it is sadly long gone.
The steam engine 'Woolwich' makes its way through the gardens.

My grandma Olive outside Bicton's gift shop. Taken by grandad on one of their visits. (edit. I don't think this is Bicton but I like it all the same)

Another of 'Woolwich' on a sunny day.

My grandad George.

(All pictures taken by George Cook except picture 2 unknown)

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Coming Soon

This blog will give an insight into the history of Bicton Park Gardens in Devon and I will also explain  my own fascination with this beautiful place. I will also share my collection of images. Please be patient and you will be rewarded.