Tuesday, 30 June 2009

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


  1. Lovely to see the old photos of the railway, do you by any chance have any more of Woolwich either before or on arrival?

  2. Hi Richard, thanks for leaving a comment. I am going to get some more material up shortly and I am always on the look out for more images - especially of the railway.

  3. hi

    my name is Ron Goddard and i am station master at Whipsnade zoo Railway. I have come accross what appear to be some original outline drawings of the locomotives at Bicton. If you are interested to know more please write to ronald.goddard@zsl.org