Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway

Gauge: 3ft (915mm) and 15in (380mm)

The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway in Cumbria was built to transport iron and copper ores from the Nab Gill Mines near Boot, and slate from the local quarries, to the main line railway at Ravenglass, about 8 miles away.

Originally opened as a 3ft gauge railway in 1875, it was converted to 15in gauge in 1915, becoming more of a tourist railway. The upper terminus was moved next to the main road at Dalegarth.

Today the Railway carries in excess of 100,000 visitors between Easter and the end of October each year, and also offers a limited winter steam service. Passengers are rewarded with a spectacular journey from the coast into the Lake District National Park.

The first public narrow gauge railway in England, the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway was opened in 1875 to 3 foot gauge. Known locally as the “Ratty” its major purpose was to transport iron and copper ores from the Nab Gill Mines near Boot about 8 miles away, and slate from the local quarries, to the main line railway at Ravenglass. The line was extremely scenic and after much improvement of the line passenger trains were introduced in November 1876. After a hesitant beginning, and despite becoming a tourist attraction, it was uneconomical and within six months the railway was bankrupt. For the next few years it struggled on in the hands of the receivers. The mines ceased working in 1884. The last goods train ran in April 1913. In 1915 the line was bought by the well known model engineer, Wynne Bassett-Lowke and R. Proctor-Mitchell, (representing Narrow Gauge Railways Ltd).

By 1917 the entire line had been re-gauged to 15 ins and a service was established using locomotives designed and built for use in pleasure parks. Bassett-Lowke’s locomotives, built as models not for hard work, proved too flimsy and underpowered for their task. The new Company was fortunate to acquire most of the equipment, and all of the locomotives, from Sir Arthur Heywood’s Duffield Bank railway following Sir Arthur’s death in 1916.

A major part of the railway’s traffic was from the re-opened Beckfoot Granite quarries, transporting stone to a crushing plant at Murthwaite. To cope efficiently with both stone and passengers a new locomotive, River Esk, was designed and built in 1923. Four years later the ex-Heywood tank locomotive Muriel, which had arrived at the Railway in 1917 was rebuilt at Ravenglass and renamed River Irt. The Irt and the Esk proved to be the mainstays of the Railway for many years to come. The line was one of the first in Britain to use internal combustion engined locomotives. From the 1920s a high proportion of the trains were worked by petrol and then diesel power.

As well as passengers, the line transported goods and mail to and from the valley. In 1922 a granite quarry was opened at Beckfoot, and the railway was used to transport the granite between Beckfoot Quarry and a crushing plant at Murthwaite. To cope efficiently with both stone and passengers a new locomotive, River Esk, was designed and built in 1923. Four years later the ex-Heywood tank locomotive Muriel, which had arrived at the Railway in 1917 was rebuilt at Ravenglass and renamed River Irt. The Irt and the Esk proved to be the mainstays of the Railway for many years to come.

From 1929, the track between Murthwaite to Ravenglass was converted to dual gauge, with standard gauge track straddling the 15in gauge rails. A standard gauge 0-6-0 diesel locomotive built by Kerr Stuart No.4421, was obtained to work the Ravenglass-Murthwaite section.

The line was one of the first in Britain to use internal combustion-engined locomotives. From the 1920s a high proportion of the trains were worked by petrol and then diesel power.

Both quarries and railway closed in 1953 and five years later the then owner, The Keswick Granite Company put the railway up for sale. No purchaser was found and in desperation a public auction was proposed. If an acceptable bid for the whole was not forthcoming, the railway was to be broken up into 60 lots. The railway was rescued from this fate with a bid from a new operating company formed from, and supported by a Preservation Society. Under the chairmanship of Lord Wakefield of Kendal many improvements were made, a policy perpetuated by members of his family today. In addition to extensions at Ravenglass, new buildings at The Green and Muncaster Mill, and a radio link for train control, new locomotives joined Irt and Esk, and covered carriages became a priority.

3ft Gauge

Number / NameManufacturerTypeNotes
DevonManning Wardle & Co. of 18740-6-0TScrapped 1915
Nabb GillManning Wardle & Co. of 18740-6-0TWithdrawn 1908. Scrapped 1915

15in Gauge

Number / NameManufacturerTypeNotes
1 Sans Pareil Bassett-Lowke of 19124-4-2Arrived 1915. Withdrawn 1920s
2 Colossus Bassett-Lowke of 19134-6-2Arrived 1916. Dismantled 1927
3 Muriel / River IrtSir Arthur Heywood of 18940-8-0T, later 0-8-2Arrived 1917. Rebuilt 1927
4 EllaSir Arthur Heywood of 18810-6-0TArrived 1917. Rebuilt 1927 as ICL 2
5 Sir Aubrey BrocklebankHunt & Co. of 19194-6-2Dismantled 1927
6 KatieSir Arthur Heywood of 18960-4-0TEx Eaton Hall Railway 1916. To Southport 1919, then Fairbourne. Returned 1992.
7 River EskDavey Paxman of 19232-8-2Powered 0-8-0 tender fitted 1928, but removed shortly after and stored.
8 River Mite (1)Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway 19274-6-0-0-6-4Parts from 2 and 5. Scrapped 1937
9 River Mite (2)Clarkson of York of 1966 2-8-2Used Poultney tender chassis from River Esk.
10 Northern RockRavenglass & Eskdale Railway 19762-6-2
11 Bonnie DundeeKerr Stuart & Co. of 19000-4-0WT, rebuilt 1982 as 0-4-2T, rebuilt 1996 as 0-4-2Ex-Dundee Gasworks 1976
12 Whillan BeckKrauss No.8457 of 19294-6-2Ex Spain 2016
SynoldaBassett-Lowke of 19124-4-2Arrived 1978
ICL No.1 BunnyFord c19144w PM, rebuilt 1926 as 2-B PMArrived 1923
ICL No.2Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway 19272-6-2 PMWithdrawn
NG 41Muir-Hill of 19294w Petrol/TVOWithdrawn 1953
ICL No.4 Passenger Tractor / PerkinsMuir-Hill of 19294w Petrol/TVO. Rebuilt 1933 as 0-4-4
No.5 QuarrymanMuir-Hill of 19264w Petrol/TVO
No. 6 Royal AnchorCharles Lane of 1956B-B DHEx Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch 1961. To Steamtown 1978
No. 7 Shelagh of EskdaleHeathcotes / Severn-Lamb of 1956–74-6-4 DH. Rebuilt 1998 as 4-6-4 DM.
Silver JubileeRavenglass & Eskdale Railway 1977Diesel RailcarConverted to hauled stock
No. 8 Lady WakefieldRavenglass & Eskdale Railway 1980B-B DM
GreenbatGreenwood & Batley No.2872 of 19574w BEEx Storrs Bridge Fireclay Mine 1982
No. 9 CyrilR.A. Lister of 19324w DMEx Moseley Railway Trust 1985
BlacolvesleyBassett-Lowke of 19094-4-4 PM Steam outlineEx Lightwater Valley 1994. To Cleethorpes 2010
No. 10 LesR.A. Lister of 19604w DMEx Bredegar & Wormshill
No. 11 Douglas FerreiraTMA Engineering of 2005B-B DH