95 Chasewater Railway Museum Bits & Pieces
21st Anniversary Edition – 2
Twenty one not out
Hednesford Depot (The wagons in the background are on the line to Cannock Wood pit, now a footpath. The building still stands, the sides bricked up and the doorway filled in. 2021)
The history of the Chasewater Light Railway goes back to a meeting called at the Station Hotel, Stafford on October 10th, 1959. This meeting led to the formation of the West Midlands District of the Railway Preservation Society, whose aim was to set up regional depots around the country where railway relics could be collected, restored and eventually returned to their native area.
1054 at Hednesford
The first West Midlands Division was set up at Hednesford, Staffs. in a siding belonging to Penkridge Engineering Limited, and was in fact the 3rd Standard Gauge Preservation Society.The first items of stock acquired were the Maryport and Carlisle and Great Eastern coaches from the National Coal Board, Rawnsley. The siding at Hednesford was partially covered and so in 1962 the ex London & North Western Railway coal tank 1054 was offered a home there. This engine later went to Penrhyn Castle, North Wales, and then to Dinting Railway centre, appearing at the ‘Rocket 150’ celebrations in 1980.
The West Midlands District decided in the early 1960s to find a suitable length of line on which to operate their growing collection of rolling stock.
The state of the track
In 1963 it was suggested that the remnants of the Cannock Chase and Wolverhampton Railway around Chasewater would make a suitable length of line. At this time the area was desolate, and it wasn’t until 1967 that the Society actually moved to Chasewater, development of a Pleasure Park had made the line more attractive. By this time all the National Coal Board buildings and workshops had been demolished and all that was left was 600 yards of double track belonging to British Rail (ex Midland Railway) and 1½ miles of former Cannock Chase and Wolverhampton Railway, plus a 300 yard spur which formerly led to Conduit Colliery, upon which a lease was taken.
The first task at Chasewater was to lay over 800 yards of track, partially along the former Midland Railway track bed and partly along new formation into the Pleasure Park. Much of this work was done by hand – even the first wagon was a luxury.
It wasn’t until late 1967 that motive power arrived in the shape of Pittsteel Hibberd No.1. Development at Chasewater was slow and laborious and it wasn’t until 1970 that all stock at Hednesford had been transferred to Chasewater and the Hednesford depot closed.
To return briefly to general aspects of Railway Preservation Society’s history, apart from Hednesford, depots had been set up at Quainton Road (London Railway Preservation Society and Falkirk (Scottish Railway Preservation Society). However the main movement of Railway Preservation was to either preserve solitary engines or complete branch lines and so the broader aspects of Railway Preservation Society policy evolved into a body known as the Association of Railway Preservation Societies, which is an advisory body which gives help, advice and information to many preservation groups and has over 200 member societies.
Returning to Chasewater, as already stated all stock was there by 1970 housed in a security compound and thought was given to giving regular steam-hauled train rides.
During 1968/9 and 1970 several open days had been held with either AB1223 (Colin McAndrew) or HL 2780 (Asbestos) in steam, and limited train rides were given. The formation of the Chasewater Light Railway Company in 1970 was necessary to enable trains to be run legally. In 1971 a regular service was given using Nos. 20 and 21 at either end of the Maryport & Carlisle coach whilst ‘Asbestos’ was under repair. Regular steam-hauled services began in September 1972 when ‘Asbestos’ was re-commissioned. For the rest of the 1972 season ‘Asbestos’ hauled a train comprising of the 1875 Maryport & Carlisle six-wheeler and the 1880s 16 ton Great Western brake van – as far as the bridge at the South end of the double track section where the embankment was burning. 1973 saw a start made on building a permanent platform at what is now Brownhills West and also saw the purchase, from British Rail, of E56301 (non-powered) driving trailer – ideal for observation and working push-pull.E56301 on her way
E56301 in through the farm gate at Chasewater
(Trailer car 56301 was the first diesel multiple unit car to enter preservation in 1969, originally being used at the Chasewater Railway)
The Society’s aims were to run a service along the whole two miles of railway as and when track was brought into usable condition. In 1974 British Rail ‘rediscovered’ that they owned what is now the central section of Chasewater Light Railway and banned any use of it, due to the burning of the embankment. This was a major blow as Society members were just ready to start work on this section. In 1975 British Rail allowed work to start on the burning embankment, which was completely dug out and replaced with non-combustible material and negotiations were opened for the purchase of this section. The purchase price was raised by 1978, actual purchase taking place in 1980.
In keeping with its aims, the Railway Preservation Society changed its name to the Chasewater Light Railway Society in 1977, owning most of the rolling stock and relics whilst Chasewater Light Railway Company is responsible for the legal implications of running trains, i.e. insurance, etc.
The Neilson with Gloucester E56301 working at Chasewater.
In 1979 a great step forward was taken with using a Government sponsored STEPS project for rebuilding the railway, especially the causeway across the lake, which had been much eroded by wash from power boats on the lake. The work accomplished in 12 months would have taken Society working parties 3 to 4 years to accomplish and will allow regular steam-hauled services to run over the majority of the line in 1982, subject to the granting of a Light Railway Order and a satisfactory inspection by the Railway Inspectorate.