The Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway was originally built way back in 1873 and was commercially opened on the 24th May 1875. The Railway's main purpose was to transport iron ore, that was being mined in the hills above the village of Boot, down to Ravenglass where it could be transferred onto the Furness Railway's mainline to Barrow. The Railway was also open to passenger traffic (beginning in 1876) and was built to the narrow gauge of 3ft (between the rails), this made the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway the first public narrow gauge Railway in England!
Forced Closure and The Great War
The Railway was forced to close in 1913 due to diminishing quantities of iron ore and falling passenger numbers, the Railway's trackwork and rolling stock had also begun to fall into disrepair and a couple of mishaps had not escaped the authorities. However this was not the end for the Railway as in the midst of the Great War came an unexpected twist of fate.
Narrow Gauge Railways Ltd and Locomotive Testing
In 1915 miniature railway engineer and prolific model makers WJ Bassett-Lowke and R Proctor-Mitchell, (representing Narrow Gauge Railways Ltd) acquired the Railway line as a base for testing their little locomotives under fairly harsh operating conditions. These engines ran to a smaller gauge of 15'' or 381mm. They steadily began to re-lay the line and on 28th August 1915 the first train ran as far as Muncaster Mill - this service was commemorated with a re-enactment in 2015. By 1916 the re-gauged track ran as far as Irton Road, and the following year these miniature trains were running the full length of the line. However there was a slight deviation from the original course - the original 3ft trackbed carried on beyond Beckfoot, up Beckfoot Bank, and along the fellside to the village of Boot. Bassett-Lowke thought that the continued climb away from Beckfoot might be too far for his tiny locomotives so he curved the track away from the fell, in front of the former miners cottages and over Whelan Beck to its terminus and present day position at Dalegarth for Boot.
Keswick Granite Company
Quarrying recommenced on the line near Beckfoot in the 1920s, this time for granite, which was transported to Murthwaite, where they were crushed for use mainly as road stone and railway ballast. By 1946 ownership of the line had transferred to the Keswick Granite Company, who in 1953 decided to cease quarrying operations. With the exception of the war years, passenger traffic continued throughout.
Formation of The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway Preservation Society
In 1958 and again in 1959 the line and fittings were offered for sale but unfortunately without any serious potential purchaser, it was announced that the 1960 season would be the last. The Railway was to be sold by auction in September. The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway Preservation Society was formed by enthusiasts looking to take over the Railway but hopes were not high. Fortunately, two interested parties (Colin Gilbert a midlands stockbroker and Sir Wavell Wakefield a local landowner) stepped in on the day of the auction with the balance of the purchase price, £12,000, and the Railway became theirs.
The Wakefield Family and New Locomotives
By 1968 the Railway moved on, becoming an integral part of the Wakefield family business in the Lake District. Much work had already been done to catch up with the backlog of maintenance, new coaches had been built and the Preservation Society had funded the building of a new locomotive, the River Mite. Further major works continued; Ravenglass station was re-modelled and a further locomotive, Northern Rock was built in the company's workshops, entering service in 1976. The Preservation Society has also funded the diesel locomotive, Douglas Ferreira, named after a long-serving General Manager.
New Station & Visitor Centre
In 2005 work started on the building of a new station and visitor centre at the Dalegarth terminus, the building was officially opened by Pete Waterman in April 2007. In 2011 the old café on Platform 1 was renovated and extended, officially opening in 2012. 2018 saw the completion of the Ravenglass Railway Museum Renovation Project. The building was opened in June by Paul Atterbury and is full of great new interactive exhibitions. Our new project is the renovation of our carriages which will be taking place over the next few years.
The full story of the Railway is outlined in the Railway Museum situated on the opposite side of Ravenglass Station car park.