Mark Smithers first visited the Amberley museum in 1987, and returned to the railway for its recent gala to review nearly 30 years of progress.
FOLLOWING Amberley Museum & Heritage Centre’s summer gala in 1987, I wrote a feature covering what had been achieved during the first five years of railway preservation at this Sussex-based venue. Published in The RM for April 1988 (so nearly three decades later) it seems appropriate to review the changes that have taken place during the intervening period.
Although the history of railway preservation at Amberley may be familiar to many readers, it may be helpful to outline the historical background against which any meaningful assessment of the current state of affairs can be undertaken.
Amberley Museum & Heritage Centre was established in 1979 (then known as Amberley Chalk Pits Museum and Heritage Centre) as a regional museum covering the impact of technology upon the working lives of ordinary people over a period of about 150 years to the present day.
The location was once the chalk quarry and lime kilns of Pepper & Son Ltd, a concern which had its own private standard gauge railway with a connection to the LB&SCR system. This is known to have possessed three locomotives: two 0-4-0 geared steam locos (an 1878 Marshall of Gainsborough product and Aveling & Porter (No. 4371 of 1899), which were scrapped in 1958, plus a 1953 vintage Hibberd four-wheel diesel, which survived until the closure of the internal railway system, c1962.
From the beginning of the creation of a railway collection as part of Amberley Museum & Heritage Centre’s appeal, the pattern was set with an emphasis on nominal 2ft as the operational gauge and the first relevant acquisitions were Motor Rail – Hibberd diesel (No. 1980 of 1936) and other equipment of this gauge from Southern Water’s City of Chichester sewage works at Apuldram.
This was shortly to be followed in 1982 by all of the remaining equipment of the same gauge from the locally based Thakeham Tiles Ltd.
The nucleus of the Amberley collection was the inward physical transfer during the summer 1982 of the assets of the Brockham Museum Trust following the failure (owing mainly to local planning issues) of two decades of efforts to establish a permanent narrow gauge railway museum in the Brockham Lime & Hearthstone Co quarry near Betchworth, Surrey.
The equipment concerned was built to a variety of gauges, including the unusual dimension of 3ft 2¼in, and those items formerly owned by the Brockham Trust (as opposed to ‘permanent loan’ items) were legally vested in the trust at Amberley in 1994 when the Brockham Trust was formally dissolved.
Before considering last year’s gala event itself, let’s outline some of the changes to the railway infrastructure that have occurred since 1987. The most obvious of these is that the operational line, some 500 yards in length, has been extended further into the eastern part of the site to a new terminus, called Cragside, situated next to the ‘new’ Locomotive Shed (completed early 2005) and the museum’s Connected Earth Telecommunications Hall. This extension was opened on August 26, 2007, and part of its course skirts the railway workshop building and the exhibition and conservation hall, which was partly funded by a grant of £108,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and officially opened on May 25, 2004 by Prince Michael of Kent (who had been present at the official opening of the Narrow Gauge and Industrial Railway Collection on June 5, 1984 and returned on April 22, 2008 for the official opening of Cragside station).
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