Isle of Wight Steam Railway
As the steam railway system was being phased out there were ideas afoot to try and preserve something of the past for future generations. From such small beginnings blossomed forth the present Steam Railway.
The Wight Locomotive Society was formed in 1966 by a group of enthusiasts in London, whose intentions was simply to acquire one of the old locomotives to restore as a static exhibit. There was wise support from many quarters, so much so that after an appeal for donations on the last day of steam operations on the Shanklin line, five passenger coaches were also acquired, and attention was turned to operating the Society's engine on a length of Island line. Sadler Vectrail Ltd. planned to purchase the Cowes line, and operate a rail car service. It was intended that the Society should have joint use of the track. Soon after the Society had purchased engine No 24 Calbourne and the five carriages, without warning the junction at Smallbrook connecting Ryde and Cowes was removed for electrification work. They were now left with the problem of the engine stranded at Ryde and its carriages at the now closed Newport Station. It was not until the 15 August 1969, with the unexpected arrival on the Island of a low loader, that the Calbourne was transported by road to Newport.
Just prior to this members had purchased an ex London South Western Railway "Road Van" and an ex London Brighton and Southeast Railway Flat Truck which was located at Ryde, St John's, and loaded by volunteer labour together with five other wagon formerly reserved for Vectrail and transported to Newport.
By 1970 the carriages had been restored and the engine passed its boiler inspection, but all was not well with Sadler Vectrail, and in September 1970 it was announced that efforts to reopen the Cowes line were to be abandoned.
It was decided to turn attention to the Havenstreet, Wootton line, and negotiations between BR and the County Council, who had acquired the track bed, continued throughout the winter of 1970-71. In the meantime BR had sold the remainder of the Cowes line track to scrap merchants and the Society was given just five days' notice to vacate Newport Station or have the rails cut from beneath them.
Fortunately preparation was well under way, although not complete, for the move to Havenstreet, and after a great deal of effort by volunteers the track was made ready. On Sunday 24 January 1971 four trains were successfully run from Newport to Havenstreet.
After much hard work, the station was opened to the public in the summer of 1971. Nearly 9000 people visited the railway on alternate Sunday afternoons during the first season.
In 1973 attempts were made to bring back into operation the former Wootton station as the western terminus of the preserved line. It was to be in vain for the clay subsoil proved impossible to control and any remedial works would have been beyond the financial capabilities of the fledgling railway.
A decision was therefore taken to abandon the site and build a new station to the east of Station Road. Much civil engineering work was involved, including digging out more of the blue clay, in order to create a terminus on a level site. The three-arch bridge and original station are now buried. It was on 7 August 1986 when passengers were able to board or alight from trains again at Wootton, some 33 years after its original closure.
The station recreated on a new site has the air of a sleepy country terminus. The signal box structure came from Freshwater after having served as such for the railway and then as a bus shelter. The levers inside were retrieved from Shanklin signal box when that was demolished. The small booking office on the platform was originally the ticket collectors’ booth at Ryde Pier Head.
Wootton now sees trains again in season and the line was extended to Smallbrook Junction on 20 July 1991, with the electric trains from Ryde to Shanklin.
Operated by a dedicated team of volunteers backed by a small full-time force, the Railway has received several prestigious awards and commendations including Railway of the Year. Film and television crews have used the line extensively, programs ranging from period dramas to documentaries. The Isle of Wight Steam Railway is unique in offering travel exclusively in vintage carriages all of which formerly ran on the Island system. It offers a rare chance to experience branch line travel not just for yesterday. but also of the day before that!
Work started on the Carriage Workshop 28 January 2003. 'Birch Grove' returned to the Island as LBSCR E4 on 28 January 2003.
Subsequently, Royalty has returned three times to the Steam Railway and Wootton. On 27 January 1976, Earl Mountbatten of Burma drove a Royal train from Haven Street to Wootton and back. On 20 August 2001 HRH The Duke of Edinburgh visited the Steam Railway and travelled to Wootton and return. On 19 May 2004 Her Majesty The Queen arrived by road and boarded a train at Wootton Station to be conveyed to Haven Street where Her Majesty unveiled a plaque to commemorate the official opening of the carriage and wagon workshop, built with the aid of a Heritage lottery grant.
Source: Mrs. E. Loughlin for the Wootton Millennium ProjectLink: http://www.iwsteamrailway.co.uk/pages/front_pg/intro.htm This page was last edited on: 4th March, 2015 06:17:10