History of the Railway

With the restoration of Isabel nearing completion, the Society’s attention turned to finding a suitable site within the Borough of Stafford where Isabel could be based. Various options were explored and eventually an agreement was reached with Amerton Farm at Stowe-by-Chartley. Prior to commencement, the obligatory sod-cutting ceremony was carried out on 26th May 1990 by the Mayor of Stafford, and construction of the railway really started in June 1990. This is the history of the Amerton Railway.

Phase 1 1990-1993

The overall plan was to provide a secure shed for Isabel and other equipment, and to build half a mile of new railway on a green field site in three distinct phases. Phase 1 consisted of the station area and approximately 1/4 mile of mainline, and this was carried out by a very small band of volunteers working mainly on Sundays. A borrowed JCB backhoe carried out much of the excavation, and over 2000 tons of hardcore was imported and placed to form a firm foundation for the line. Materials in the form of rail, sleepers and other fittings were also acquired during this period from a variety of sources including a number of closed collieries and a farm silage clamp.

Part of the agreement with Stafford Borough Council regarding Isabel was the provision of a suitable shed, and a 60ft x 30ft steel-framed building was in due course erected alongside the mainline and clad in corrugated sheeting to provide space for three covered sidings.

In a big push over the Easter of 1991 members laid a total of 246 yards of track, in fact the majority of the Phase 1 mainline, a substantial task indeed. Work progressed steadily, creating various occupation and footpath crossings over the line, new point-work, and a small ground frame. The shed was fitted out with a stove and workbench.

By Easter 1992 work had sufficiently progressed for H.M. Railway Inspector Major Olver to be invited to inspect the railway. Permission was granted to begin services, and the first revenue-earning train ran on 19th July 1992, consisting of Isabel and one coach.

The much-needed income enabled the paying-off of various loans, and the provision of a ticket office, platform shelter, and sufficient rails and fittings to virtually complete the rest of the permanent way.

The official opening of the railway was held on 27th March 1993, when invited guests and members of the Council witnessed the Lady Mayor declaring the railway well and truly open.

Phase 2 1994-2000

Work commenced on extending the railway in January 1994 with the construction of Bridge No. 1 across the Amerton Brook. Further items of rolling stock and locomotives were acquired and put on display. Most of these are now in full working order.

Other projects have included the installation of period lighting in the station area, including one of the few remaining Stafford Borough Council gas lamps, further equipment and improvements for the shed, and the construction of an elegant McKenzie and Holland signal dating back to the 1880s.

1997 saw the Isabel 100 Gala to celebrate the centenary of Isabel, which attracted five other Bagnall steam locomotives and over 1600 visitors.

1997 was also a significant turning point for the railway, since we had a new landlord at Amerton Farm who promised a 20 year lease and gave encouragement for the completion of the railway.

A completely new route was surveyed, taking much more advantage of the available land, and completing a closed circuit of almost one mile in length.

The line has been engineered to resemble the many industrial narrow gauge lines built in the UK, and it follows the contours of the land with minimal need for earthworks in the traditional way.

Construction of Bridge No. 2 started in November 1997,

following which a contractor was employed to complete the foundations of the new line, using brick hardcore from Stoke-on-Trent. SNGRS members completed the track-laying and ballasting. A lengthy passing loop, Chartley Road Loop, was laid. This was to become the site of Chartley Road Station, to serve a picnic area, and to house Santa’s Grotto each December. Much of the track is new and will give good service for many years to come.

Phase 2 opened for traffic to the new Chartley Road Loop on 26th March 2000.

Phase 3 2000-2001

The Stowe-by-Chartley Platform Shelter

During this period one of the most important acquisitions was the old Great Northern Railway platform shelter from Stowe-by-Chartley Station on the nearby Stafford – Uttoxeter line, generously donated by Mr P. Evans.

The original platform shelter at Stowe-by-Chartley station, in the centre of the photograph. The line was closed from RAF Stafford 16 MU to Bramshall in the 1960s and the track was lifted.

The original platform shelter from the Stafford and Uttoxeter Railway at Stowe-by-Chartley station, in undergrowth after the abandonment of the line. The shelter was removed to Amerton in 2001.

Another view of the original site.

Delivered to Amerton, the 1880s wooden shelter has been fully restored and repainted by members of the Staffordshire Industrial Archaeology Society, while SNGRS members have constructed the foundations and concrete slab. It will be the permanent museum where some of the smaller items of Staffordshire interest may be displayed.

The Waterhouses Signal Box

On 10 August 2001 the railway was very fortunate to acquire the Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway/North Staffordshire Railway (The Knotty)/LMS Signal Box from Waterhouses Station. This controlled both the narrow gauge and standard gauge lines at Waterhouses.

A Unique Video

The signal box as it was in 1930 is visible at the beginning of this YouTube video of the Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway in operation. It can be seen in the opening shot to the left of the standard gauge box wagon, which is carried on a narrow gauge transporter wagon just behind the locomotive at the front of the train. The video also shows:
1. manual shunting of a standard gauge wagon onto a narrow gauge transporter wagon;
2. milk churns on flat wagons;
3. the journey through the tunnel; and
4. the standard gauge section of track which was provided at several of the L&MVLR stations for offloading a standard gauge wagon from a narrow gauge transporter wagon.

The video finishes with a high speed cab ride out of The Secret Valley (Hamps) towards Waterhouses.

Three different views of the Waterhouses signal box during the operating life of the Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway/North Staffordshire Railway/LMS line 1904 – 1937:

Top of the steps which gave access to the platforms from the road, with the signal box in the background

The signal box on a winter’s day

Demolition train in 1937 by the signal box

Transporting the signal box:

The former signal box in use by a farmer at Wetton.

This narrow gateway initially posed some problems for the low loader.

After a tortuous journey through the very narrow lanes around Wetton, the signal box arrived at Amerton on 8th August 2001.

Moving the box from the delivery spur through the platform to its new position at the rear of the existing ground frame.

The box at its new site.

The signal box is in remarkable condition, and it will be sympathetically restored, so that it can once again perform its role of controlling a Staffordshire Narrow Gauge Railway. When the restoration is complete, the signal box will house the ground frame. This is a significant and very important addition to our Staffordshire collection.

The remaining track back to Amerton Station from Chartley Road Loop was constructed by 2001, and the first revenue train to complete the full circuit ran in the late summer of 2001. It is now possible to travel in either direction around the loop, using a token system for the single line sections, and demonstration goods trains have been run at the same time as passenger trains on Gala Weekends.

A new Carriage Shed was constructed in 2002.

Major infrastructure additions were the New Workshop and Inspection Pit in 2006.

The April 2012 route of The Amerton Railway (North at top, with the sheds, workshops and Amerton Station buildings at the South West corner. Image courtesy of Google Earth

A long-standing aim of The Amerton Railway had always been to own the land on which the railway runs. On the 12th April 2012, the 20-year dream came true when Paul Williams, the owner of the Amerton Farm and Craft Centre, agreed to sell the land at Stowe-by-Chartley that had been rented by the railway since March 1993. This became possible thanks to very generous donations from members of the Staffordshire Narrow Gauge Railway Ltd matched by a mortgage from HSBC Bank PLC.