Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

Gauge: 15in (380mm)

The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, located on Romney Marsh in Kent, is a 13 mile miniature main line, opened in 1927.

The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway was the dream of two men. Both were millionaires, landowners and amateur racing drivers, as well as enthusiasts of 15in gauge railways.

Count Louis Zborowski of Higham Court in Kent was an eminent racing driver of his day, famous for his exploits with the fearsome aero-engined car Chitty Bang Bang. Fascinated by speed, the Count was keen to build a fully working miniature express railway using 15″ gauge. Captain J. E. P. Howey, an enthusiastic owner of large-scale miniature locomotives, shared this vision. The pair had attempted, unsuccessfully, to purchase the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway in the Lake District. Despite this, the Count ordered two 1:3 scale pacific locomotives, to be designed by the leading model engineer of his day, Henry Greenly and built by Davey, Paxman and Co. These would run on the 15in express line the pair were determined to build. Tragically, before they were delivered Count Zborowski was killed racing at Monza in the Italian Grand Prix. Howey was left with finding somewhere to run the two locos. He commissioned Greenly to build him a railway that would “last his lifetime” . Greenly had the idea of Romney Marsh as a location.

When opened to the public on 16th July 1927 the line covered, in double track, the eight miles between Hythe and New Romney, the railway’s main terminus. Howey soon extended the line and in 1928 double tracks took the trains to Dungeness offering a “main line” ride of 13.5 miles. The railway received much publicity as “the smallest Public Railway in the World” and people came in large numbers to ride on the trains. The locomotive fleet was extended to nine mainline express engines and more luxurious coaches were built.

In 1929 a branch line was constructed curving away inland from south of Romney Sands at the request of the War Office, and provided a train service to a secret military installation working on acoustic aircraft detection at Denge. This branch was lifted in 1951. In 1940, the whole line was requisitioned by the War Department which created the world’s only miniature armoured train. In 1944 the line was used extensively during the building of PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) which fuelled the Allied invasion force into Normandy.

With peace restored, the RH&DR was keen to reopen. Hythe to New Romney was back in service in 1946 and the Dungeness section a year later with Laurel and Hardy cutting the ribbon.

The costs of hostilities were obvious. New Romney to Dungeness was now single line, as the materials to rebuild were scarce and expensive. The post-war years were good however, and the publicity gained from being a front-line railway paid some dividends. The fifties saw a boom in tourism and the Kent coast and RH&DR benefited greatly. The arrival of cheap package holidays abroad saw the passenger numbers fall. Captain Howey was ageing and investment in the railway was lacking. Howey died in September 1963.

The extent of the RH&DR’s suffering became apparent under a succession of new owners. Bridges were in poor condition, rolling stock was ageing and locomotives were costly to maintain. A new consortium, headed by Sir William MacAlpine, saved the day in 1973 since when much investment has taken place. New bridges were built, rolling stock replaced and two new diesel locos purchased. School trains were introduced, demonstrating that the railway could play a true public transport role. The RH&DR Association plays a key part in supporting the railway both financially and with volunteer staff throughout the year. For passengers the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway still offers Howey and Zborowski’s dream – a real steam mainline in miniature.

Number / NameManufacturerTypeNotes
1 Green Goddess Davey Paxman & Co. No.15469 of 19254-6-2
2 Northern Chief Davey Paxman & Co. No.15470 of 19254-6-2
3 Southern Maid Davey Paxman & Co. No.16040 of 19264-6-2
4 The BugKrauss of Munich No.6378 of 19260-4-0
5 HerculesDavey Paxman & Co. No.16041 of 19274-8-2
6 SamsonDavey Paxman & Co. No.16042 of 19274-8-2
7 TyphoonDavey Paxman & Co. No.16043 of 19274-6-2
8 HurricaneDavey Paxman & Co. No.16044 of 19274-6-2
9 Winston Churchill Yorkshire Engine Co. No.2294 of 19314-6-2
10 Dr. SynYorkshire Engine Co. No.2295 of 19314-6-2
11 Black PrinceKrupp of Essen of 19374-6-2
12 John Southland / J.B.SnellTMA Engineering of 1983Bo-Bo DM
14 Captain HoweyTMA Engineering of 1989Bo-Bo DM
PW1 SimplexMotor Rail Ltd. of 19384w DM
PW2 ScooterRomney, Hythe & Dymchurch of 19490-4-0 PMBuilt with parts from WD loco
PW3 Red GauntletJacot / Keef of 1964 / 19750-4-0 PM
Theakston FordsonTheakston of 1928B-2 PMWithdrawn c1935
War DepartmentWar Department of 19290-4-0 PMBuilt for the WD Branch. Dismantled 1949 and used for PW2.
Rolls Royce / BluebottleRomney, Hythe & Dymchurch of c1932B-2 PMRebuilt 1946. Withdrawn 1961