The Vicarstown Railway Museum started out
in the September of 1987, as a fledgling organization known as the Sodor Railway Preservation Society, whose main base
was on a section of the sidings, at Ballahoo. The society rented the land from a former railwayman of the North Western Railway,
for a peppercorn rent every year.
The society's collection started with the purchase
of an ex-industrial Rolls Royce Sentinel Diesel ('Rollo'), who has proved a valuable asset right up until the present
day. They were later asked to be the custodians of two steam engines - namely, the Sodor China Clay Work's 'Snake' and 'Newt'
(two contractor's engines which had helped to build the Brendam line). Soon after, they started acquiring several examples
of original Sodor & Mainland, and Furness Railway rolling stock, from various private locations across the island. Their
small collection also included the currently un-restored Inspector's saloon, 'Penelope', after much negotiation with
the North Western Railway in 1993.
The SRPS built up their railway centre at Ballahoo
over the course of the next decade, creating a demonstration line, and two platforms at either end, allowing access direct
from their trains, to the NWR's platform at Ballahoo station. The crowning achievement came in 1997, when the society opened
their new, state of the art shed - outwardly, a red brick shed which fitted in well with its surroundings.
In 2004, the society's lawyers were instructed to meet
with, and negotiate, the purchase of the land outright from their landlord. Sadly, the owner died prior to the signing of
their new lease, and the new owner, his son, was not interested in keeping the original agreement. He changed the terms of
the rent, and the society soon found the payments unsustainable - quickly reaching five figures for a single year's stay.
In 2005 the society voted unanimously to leave Ballahoo,
and moved their collection to Crovan's Gate, where the North Western Railway kindly allowed them space for storage purposes.
The railway centre at Ballahoo was demolished only a few days after the society had left, and what lies there now is a strip
of land, overgrown, with rusty rails and piles of brick and mortar lying here and there.
In 2007, the society discovered that the old railway
complex at Vicarstown was up for sale. A.W. Dry & Co. had purchased the old railway buildings, and surrounding land, from
the NWR, in 1965. This had come up for sale, when the smaller shed which the NWR retained, was finally closed. A.W. Dry &
Co, however, had found the early 90s a most trying time, and began to downsize by the turn of the Millennium. The society
were invited to inspect the area, and it was of great delight that it was discovered the old turntable well, and associated
shed area, was still in existence, albeit under several tonnes of granite chippings and sand.
The original Administrative Headquarters of the NWR
were also still in existence, though it was with great regret that the terraces which had formed the homes of many railwaymen
in the town, had to be demolished due to their inadequate structural qualities.
Then began a period of negotiation with A.W. Dry &
Co, the NWR, and the SRPS, towards the purchase, and then redevelopment of the land forthwith. The breakthrough came in 2008,
with the site finally being handed over to the society and NWR in a special ceremony, overseen by the NWR's no.73, and former
no.19, 'Parker' (who would become the first new engine the society would own since the purchase of their Sentinel
Diesel, in 1989), and of course, Sir Topham Hatt III (the society's patron since their exile in 2005). It was at
this point that the name of the society was to change for the first time: they became the Vicarstown Railway Museum Society
(VRMS), and have been known as such ever since.
The redevelopment of the land following the ceremony
was quick and painless enough, and over a period of three months, the turntable pit was excavated, the concrete floor of the
old shed area filled with new rails, and the framework for a replica shed started. At the other end of the complex, a full
set of sidings, and a workshop facility were built, mainly using prefabricated buildings in the interim, until such funds
were available to replace them.
The society spent some eight months refurbishing the
area surrounding the Administrative buildings. They created a children's play area, complete with an old industrial saddletank,
painted in bright colours, and rebuilt to become a climbing frame. At the same time, a special set of platforms were built,
just past the shed complex, and to the left of the outlying administrative offices. One was built for the incoming trains
from the NWR, and one for the demonstration trains which would be pulled for a while by the now preserved NWR no.19. A narrow
gauge line was built later for the two intended exhibits, ex-Mid Sodor Railway 'Jim' and ex-South African Railways
'The Devil'. As of 2013 the former is out of traffic being overhauled, and the latter is now operational at the Mid-Sodor
Heritage Railway. In their place, the Mid-Sodor have supplied 'Edwin Richard' to run the line as he nears the end of
his boiler ticket.
The Museum was declared fully functional from 2009,
with the newly built half roundhouse and turntable complex fully operational, and storing several of the restored exhibits
the volunteers have taken on themselves to repair over the course of the last year. They include two ex-Furness Railway engines,
'Fern' (an 0-6-2T) and 'Sharpe' (an 0-4-0 tender engine), 'Neil' (an original Sodor
& Mainland engine), and the startling appearance of an ex-British Railways Diesel Hydraulic!
Fern was one of the few steam engines left in the Crovan's
Gate sidings, and was considered a "swap" for another preservation group who had been left bereft of their steam engine (the
now operational NWR no.58, 'Emmeleia'). She was cosmetically restored to full Furness Railway livery, and sits on display
in the half roundhouse.
'Sharpe' was a chance discovery - he had been
plinthed at Kirk Ronan, and wrongly painted as a Sodor & Mainland locomotive. After his pedestal was damaged by Parker,
Sharpe was brought back to the museum for examination, and restoration. Discovering his origins, allowed Neil, of true Sodor
& Mainland vintage, to be rescued from his tarred remains, and restored to operational capacity, as an example of the
development of the railways on Sodor.
'Zelda' was another surprising discovery in
the sidings at Crovan's Gate - the result of Sir Topham Hatt II's attempt to bring in more domestically-owned Express power
in the early 1980s. Found to be beyond restoration, she lay for a number of years until a chance incident led to her rediscovery
- initially, it was proposed she be scrapped. However, the Diesel-Hydraulic Advance Project stepped in, realizing the historical
value of this wretched engine and cosmetically restored her for the Vicarstown Railway Museum. Her last engine unit having
been donated to Tidmouth some years back, she was converted into a hollow exhibition displaying the past, present and future
of diesel hydraulics both in Great Britain and the world.
NWR no.19, Parker, was for a year the Museum's demonstration
engine, alongside Neil. However after a severe failure in the tubeplate of his boiler he was retired and help hired in, in
the form of NWR no.72, 'Warrior', who was repainted into Furness Railway livery to match the other exhibits in the
roundhouse he shares.
After a couple of quiet years at the museum, 2013 turned
out to be a year of great change.
In what was viewed as a highly unusual - and somewhat
controversial - move, Snake and Newt were sold by the Trust, moving to a fledging Quarry Railway Museum on the Mainland. Here,
they are undergoing overhauls with a view to returning the pair to traffic on the former Quarry lines. There is every intention
of returning them to Sodor for semi-regular visits once these repairs have been completed, as well as sending VRM engines
to visit the Quarry Museum. It is hoped that links between the two enterprises will be greatly advantageous for both.
In their place the Culdee Fell duo 'Eric' and 'Stephanie' have taken residence,
forming part of a brand new display detailing the operation of Rack Railways on Sodor and around the world. They were swiftly
followed by Penelope - her restoration finally completed - and 'Mark', the latter a BR Mk1 Buffet/First who now acts
as the Museum’s main catering outlet, replacing a rather tatty Portakabin at the end of the carpark.
At time of writing, Sharpe, having been extensively overhauled, is now the museum’s
principle demonstration engine, supported by Neil and Warrior - the latter whom is swiftly approaching the expiry of his boiler
ticket and is to be withdrawn in 2014. Parker remains out of traffic until repairs to his tubeplate can be carried out. It
is hoped that he will be returned to traffic in time for Neil’s withdrawal in 2016 but with work yet to start this looks
increasingly unlikely and contingency plans are already being discussed with the NWR...