A Brief History of the Railway
Construction of the Fawley Hill Railway began in 1965 with 100 metres of track being laid along the valley. This coincided with the arrival of the first locomotive, Hudswell Clarke Saddle Tank No 31, which had to be hauled on temporary track laid across the field from the Henley-Marlow road. The following year a short length of track was laid at the top of the hill and a second loco, and the first item of rolling stock, arrived.
No 31, shortly after arriving on site, being hauled across the field on a temporary track
In the late 1960s, the valley line was extended and track was laid at a 1 in 13 gradient to connect the valley to the top of the hill, where a platform was constructed. A short length of tunnel was built next to this for storage of wagons. By 1971, Shobnall Maltings signal box was in place and the engine shed had been completed.
The track on the hill had degraded into a poor condition and, in 1976, it was relaid on a different alignment to smooth out the sharp bends and slightly reduce the overall gradient. The following year, the former Somersham station arrived from East Anglia and was erected in position.
Shobnall Maltings signal box was formerly located at a brewery in Burton on Trent
By the end of the 1970s, it was clear that the amount of work required to maintain and run the railway was too much for the small band of incumbent enthusiasts. In 1979, Sir William contacted the Marlow and District Railway Society (MDRS) to see if any members would be able to help with all the work that was needed at Fawley. Following this appeal, about 30 members visited Fawley on a winter’s Sunday in February 1980. From this first visit the MDRS had an ad hoc arrangement to assist at the railway.
Somersham station arrived in pieces from East Anglia and was reassembled on site
This arrangement worked for about a year, but by late 1980 it was agreed that a slightly more formal arrangement would benefit both Sir William and the volunteers. Along with the four original enthusiasts, volunteers from the MDRS formed a committee and the Fawley Museum Society (FMS) was created, holding its inaugural meeting on 22 February 1981. Following this meeting it was agreed that the FMS would operate the FHR on behalf of Sir William.
With the sudden influx of 30 or so willing volunteers, a lot of work was carried out in the early years of the FMS. In 1981, three sidings at the top of the hill were laid and the following year, the loop was installed at the bottom of the hill. This was followed by the installation of a loop and a station at Inverernie
By 1985 the Valley Line had been brought into full use, with the end of the line being named Pinewell Bottom. The following year, the waiting shelter from Bourne End arrived, and was soon moved into the park to become Bourne Again Junction. Because of the growing amount of rolling stock, a further siding was added in the yard in 1986. The Class 03 diesel arrived from Fawley at the end of 1986 as number 03120 in the standard British Rail blue livery.
Having contacts in both the rail and construction industries meant that Sir William was well informed about rail-related buildings and structures that were about to be destroyed. Thus, the SECR crest, Ludgate Hill façade and Waterloo Arches arrived at Fawley in 1990, the Sheffield Shunters hut and Darlington towers were sited in the park in 1994, to be joined the following year by the GWR Parcel Depot façade from Cardiff Riverside station.
Bourne Again waiting shelter finds a new home, 12 miles from its original location
The façade from Cardiff Riverside is one of many classic railway structures that have been saved from destruction by Sir William and relocated in the park at Fawley
In 1995, a signal box was finally located at Bourne Again Junction, at the bottom of the hill. This was a redundant crossing keeper's box which had arrived at Fawley in 1984 in a derelict condition and lain for over a decade before a new purpose was identified. Equipped with a 12-lever frame and signalling equipment, it provides an essential function for the running of the railway.
Between 1995 and 1997, Fawley became the destination for two Royal Coaches, owned by the National Railway Museum, and the Great Eastern Railway Directors' Saloon No. GE1. Getting these long vehicles up the hill into the Fawley site and unloaded into position was an extreme test of skill for all concerned.
Directors' Saloon GE 1 is rolled off the trailer in the sidings at the top of the hill
The footbridge from Brading is reassembled at Fawley, having been reduced in width. New stair timbers have been installed and painting is in progress.
The final structure to arrive at Fawley was a footbridge from the Isle of Wight. This arrived in 2000 but had to be reduced in span to suit the space constraints of the site. In was installed in 2001 and now allows our visitors to cross the track at any time whilst providing an excellent vantage point for photographs.
Fawley Museum Society continues with the task of maintaining and operating the railway as it has done for the past 42 years. The summer periods are spent entertaining visitors, painting and gardening while the winter periods are spent on maintaining the track and locomotives and rolling stock. There are no plans to extend the railway into other parts of the park.
In 2013, FMS held a special day to mark the Centenary of steam locomotive, No 31. The following year there was a celebration for Judy McAlpine’s 70th birthday and, to mark Sir William’s 80th birthday, a celebration weekend was held in 2016. This was officially titled ‘Fawley Vintage Festival’’ and has been repeated in recent years as a charity event in aid of MacMillan Cancer Support.
On 24 March 2018, Sir William took his last journey on his beloved Fawley Hill Railway. Sir William’s funeral train (consisting of an open wagon and brake van behind No 31) operated on the whole line, finally coming to a halt at Inverness Station Frame. From there the cortege proceeded up the hill for a private burial service.
A typical Invitation Day scene on a beautiful summer's day as No 31 hauls a passenger train up the hill to Somersham station.
Since the death of Sir William and, more recently, the disruption caused by Covid, Fawley Museum has continued to host Invitation Days and private visits where the railway plays a prominent part. In addition, the grounds and buildings of the estate have been used for many events: photo-shoots, weddings, parties and television shows. Fawley has been the venue for the National Transport Trust Annual Awards since 2021 which, in 2023, allowed us to provide our very own Royal Train for the Patron, HRH The Princess Royal.