The Vicarstown Railway Museum - A History

The Vicarstown Railway Museum - A History

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...