Gauge: 3ft (915mm) and 15in (380mm)
The first public narrow gauge railway in England, the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway was opened in 1875 to 3 foot gauge. Known locally as the “Ratty” its major purpose was to transport iron and copper ores from the Nab Gill Mines near Boot about 8 miles away, and slate from the local quarries, to the main line railway at Ravenglass. The line was extremely scenic and after much improvement of the line passenger trains were introduced in November 1876. After a hesitant beginning, and despite becoming a tourist attraction, it was uneconomical and within six months the railway was bankrupt. For the next few years it struggled on in the hands of the receivers. The mines ceased working in 1884. The last goods train ran in April 1913. In 1915 the line was bought by the well known model engineer, Wynne Bassett-Lowke.
By 1917 the entire line had been re-gauged to 15 ins and a service was established using locomotives designed and built for use in pleasure parks. Bassett-Lowke’s locomotives, built as models not for hard work, proved too flimsy and underpowered for their task. The new Company was fortunate to acquire most of the equipment, and all of the locomotives, from Sir Arthur Heywood’s Duffield Bank railway following Sir Arthur’s death in 1916.
A major part of the railway’s traffic was from the re-opened Beckfoot Granite quarries, transporting stone to a crushing plant at Murthwaite. To cope efficiently with both stone and passengers a new locomotive, River Esk, was designed and built in 1923. Four years later the ex-Heywood tank locomotive Muriel, which had arrived at the Railway in 1917 was rebuilt at Ravenglass and renamed River Irt. The Irt and the Esk proved to be the mainstays of the Railway for many years to come.
The line was one of the first in Britain to use internal combustion engined locomotives. From the 1920s a high proportion of the trains were worked by petrol and then diesel power.
Both quarries and railway closed in 1953 and five years later the then owner, The Keswick Granite Company put the railway up for sale. No purchaser was found and in desperation a public auction was proposed. If an acceptable bid for the whole was not forthcoming, the railway was to be broken up into 60 lots. The railway was rescued from this fate with a bid from a new operating company formed from, and supported by a Preservation Society. Under the chairmanship of Lord Wakefield of Kendal many improvements were made, a policy perpetuated by members of his family today. In addition to extensions at Ravenglass, new buildings at The Green and Muncaster Mill, and a radio link for train control, new locomotives joined Irt and Esk, and covered carriages became a priority.
Today the Railway carries in excess of 100,000 visitors between Easter and the end of October each year, and also offers a limited winter steam service. Passengers are rewarded with a spectacular journey from the coast into the Lake District National Park.
Devon Manning Wardle & Co. of 1874; 0-6-0 tank. Scrapped 1915
Nabb Gill Manning Wardle & Co. of 1874; 0-6-0 tank. Withdrawn 1908. Scrapped 1915
Sans Pareil Basset-Lowke of 1913 Quarter Scale Atlantic; 4-4-2 tender
Colossus (John Anthony) Bassett-Lowke Class 60 Pacific of 1914; built for J E P Howey
Katie Built at Duffield Bank 1896; 0-4-0 tank. Purchased 1916 ex Eaton Railway. Sold 1919.
Ella Built at Duffield Bank 1878-1881; 0-4-0 tank. Withdrawn 1926.
Sir Aubrey Brocklebank Hunt & Co. of 1919; 4-6-2 tender
7 Muriel (River Irt) Built at Duffield Bank 1894; 0-4-0 tank. Rebuilt as River Irt 0-8-2 in 1927
11 Bonnie Dundee Kerr Stuart & Co. of 1901; 0-4-2
Blacolvesley Bassett-Lowke of 1909; 4-4-4
Synolda Bassett-Lowke of 1912; 4-4-2
6 River Esk Davey, Paxman & Co. of 1923; 2-8-2. Designed by Henry Greenly.
River Mite Articulated Loco rebuilt 1928 from Colossus and Sir Aubrey Brocklebank; 4-6-0+0-6-4.
9 River Mite Clarkson of York of 1966 (using Poultney chassis once fitted to River Esk); 2-8-2
Built for the Ravenglass and Eskdale Preservation Society.
10 Northern Rock Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway Co. of 1976; 2-6-2
Bonnie Dundee Kerr Stuart of rebuilt 1982 ;0-4-2 tank. Ex-Dundee Gasworks 0-4-0 well tank
Shelagh of Eskdale Severn-Lamb diesel-hydraulic of 1969
Lady Wakefield Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway Co. of 1980 Bo-bo diesel
Silver Jubilee Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway Co. of 1976 to 1984; railcar set (2 powered, 2 trailers)
Perkins Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway Co. of 1984. Rebuilt from Muir-Hill tractor of 1929
Greenbat Greenwood & Batley battery-electric of 1957. Purchased 1982