History of 7 ¼” Gauge

7¼" Railways: Where Did It All Begin?

Sparked off by Robert Carlisle's letter below, we now want to compile a definitive history of the 7¼" Gauge. If you can help please send your ideas and comments.

Here is Robert's well researched contribution:

The 7¼ inch Gauge Society published a booklet in 1988 tracing the history of our railway gauge. It was written by Peter James and highlighted the role of Louis Shaw who is credited as having a significant role in developing working live steam 7¼ inch gauge locomotives from about 1910 in Great Britain.

Peter James recorded that models in 1½ inch scale to a gauge of 7¼ inches had been built occasionally by engineers since the earliest days of railways (from the Rocket Trials in 1829) to demonstrate the practicality of particular designs intended for full size construction.

In researching material for this article it is evident that much has been written about "Miniature Railways" but they include general references to miniature railway gauges between 7¼ and 15 inches, which can be confusing at times. In addition, in Greenly's biography by Ernest Steel, it is apparent that in the early 1900's, Greenly traveled extensively on the Continent visiting European Model and Toy manufacturers who were developing in parallel miniature live steam models. There were also at the time miniature live steamers in America who were building passenger hauling locomotives, but not necessarily in 7¼ inch gauge.

In the early 1900's, it was proposed by the famous Henry Greenly, who had a long association with the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch 15 inch Railway in Kent, that standards be adopted for 7¼ inch gauge. These early standards, which in various forms have laid the foundations for our miniature railway, were forthwith adopted by the Society of Model and Experimental Engineers, so that there would be uniformity and "members would be able to run on other lines as well as their own".

Model Engineers, Messrs Bassett-Lowke, at Northhampton, played an important role in the development of miniature railways. In the Autumn of 1904 Mr W J Basset Lowke formed "Miniature Railways (Great Britian) Ltd and in December 1904 started work on the famous 4-4-2 "Little Giant" locomotive in 15 inch gauge which resembled a 4-4-2 North Eastern Atlantic. In those days the emphasis was on the building of scale steam locomotives in the 10¼ to 15 inch gauges as there was a demand for estate railways and for amusement grounds. Henry Greenly was their chief engineer and designer and the locomotives produced were influenced by the four Cagney Brothers of America who in 1894 formed the Miniature Railway Co to supply miniature railway locomotives to amusement parks. The Cagney 4-4-0 locomotives were tough and somewhat over scale so as to take the hard work expected of them. Their locomotives, which were exported to Great Britain and the Continent, were built by the Cagney Brothers uncle, one Peter McGarigle who owned the McGarigle Machine Co of Niagara Falls, New York State.

The acceptance of 7¼ inch gauge at this time however, was overshadowed by the success of the larger gauges and commercial manufacturers tended to encourage the 15 inch gauge as it was more adaptable for a wide range of pleasure and estate uses and was more stable to carry passengers. Whilst 7¼ inch gauge still needed heavy turning equipment, which was not readily available to enthusiasts, it nevertheless had a following, as it represented an opportunity to build and operate an engine which was powerful enough to pull passengers, albeit at a much cheaper cost to build, operate and repair.

We also know that, as reported in the Model Engineer Centennial Celebration Collection published in 1999, there was a tantalizing reference to a debate on gauges at the March 1899 meeting of the Society of Model Engineers, and that three gauges were proposed, namely 3¼, 4 2/3 and 7 inch gauges "and that a Sub Committee be appointed to settle what the gauges should be".

Bassett Lowke were claimed to be the first to build a 7¼ inch gauge locomotive commercially. In 1908 they received an order from a Mr E S Coats, of Paisley, to build a Great Central outline 7¼ inch gauge 4-6-0 locomotive with a 6 wheel tender, called IMMINGHAM. Henry Greenly was commissioned to design the locomotive and it was prominently featured in their trade catalogues of the era together with associated rolling stock, track and equipment necessary for garden railways.

Louis Shaw was said to be one of only four British model engineers known to have used 7¼ inch gauge prior to 1914. He built his first 7¼ inch gauge loco in 1910. It was GMR number 1910, and although only a two cylinder, was based on Deely Midland Railway 4-4-0 compound Number 1043 that was built in March 1909. He operated this engine at a commercial miniature railway that he had established in Ilkeston Park near Nottingham, from 1915.

In Henry Greenly's book, "Model Steam Locomotives", he recorded the standards set for 7¼ inch gauge equipment as follows:-

Back of Tread: BT 6.75" DVR Values (was 6.75") now 170 mm
Flange Width: FW 1/8th of an inch DVR values (was 15/16") now 6 mm
Wheel Tread: WT 13/16ths of an inch DVR values (was 3/4") now 25 mm
Flange Depth: FD 3/16th of an inch DVR values (was 5/16") now 6-8mm
Min Curve Radius: 35 feet DVR values (40 ft) 13 m
Average Curve Radius: 60 feet DVR values (60 ft) 18.5 m
Average Speed: 12 mph DVR values (5-8 mph) 8-12kph
Average Loco Weight: 560 lb (280 kg) DVR values Now 600 -1,200 kg
Average Train Weight: 4,500 lb (2,200kg) DVR Values Up to 3,000 kg
Boiler: Loco type Briggs Type (No water wall)
Fuel: Coal Char (Refired briquettes)
Standard Loading Gauge: 13.5" x 20.25" Now 600 mm x 1,100 mm

In the book Model and Miniature Railways, edited by Patrick Whitehouse and John Adams published by Chartwell Books in 1976, it has been suggested that a Mr Mitchell of Nottingham was credited with the first 7¼ inch gauge passenger carrying layout in 1906. It was also generally accepted that 1½ inch gauge models were being produced in the early 1900's and that at this time an un-named London Company was producing models for a gauge of 7 inches.

In the post Second World War period a number of builders produced models based on colonial narrow gauge locomotives for 7¼ inch gauge. These models were at up to 3½ inch scale and, as such, allowed the construction of more powerful locomotives and rolling stock more heavier, comfortable and spacious which gives a totally different sensation when traveling.

Consequently, whilst the antecedents of the DVR stretch back nearly 100 years, it is the un-named pioneers world wide , who experimented after the Second World War in narrow gauge and larger scale equipment running on 7¼ inch gauge, that gave encouragement to the early pioneering days at Chelsworth Park, Ivanhoe, and, that in turn lead to the evolution of the Diamond Valley Railway as we now know it as a 2 inch scale railway operating on 7¼ inch gauge track.

This information has been communicated to the 7¼ inch Gauge Society in Great Britain and initially they had no answer but are now researching their archives to see if there is an agreed date that we can all adopt as the starting date for 7¼ inch gauge passenger operation.

Perhaps the October 2006 DVR Corroboree could be the appropriate time to celebrate 100 years of 7¼ inch gauge miniature railways where steam locomotives hauled carriages carrying passengers. This date is also significant as it is the 45th Anniversary of the Railway commencing to run passenger carrying trains at Eltham Lower Park.

With a new signal box storage facilities, extensive relaying of the main line with 6 kg rail and perhaps some additional storage tracks in place we would be in good shape to host a 7¼ inch gauge convention and invite clubs throughout Australia and New Zealand to come and join us for a special weekend.

Food for thought!

Robert Carlisle,  Melbourne, Australia, 30th June 2004

Further Information

The Brook House Railway

Robert Carlisle mentions that a Mr Mitchell, of Nottingham had the first 7¼" gauge garden railway. Is this the same Guy Mitchell, who actually lived at Grove Road, Totley Rise, Sheffield - only a stones throw from my house and about a mile from the Sheffield Model Engineers' track? There has been quite a bit written about this railway and several photos exist. So could the reference to 'Nottingham' be a mistake or did Mitchell move to Sheffield from there? Watch this space.

See photo of Mitchell's Brook House railway on the right.

The Saltwood Miniature Railway

Mention also must be made of The Saltwood Railway which began life in Sheffield around 1910 and then moved to Kent. Until its closure in 1987 this was the oldest existing 7¼" gauge railway (as distinct from the first - a fact which initially had me confused). This is how it was explained to me by Timothy L’Estrange of the S.M.R.:

"The Saltwood Miniature Railway claimed (I believe entirely accurately) from around 1970 onwards to be “the world’s oldest miniature railway”. It did not claim to be the world’s first miniature railway. There were examples of older railways in the 7¼” gauge, but these had (to my knowledge) all closed. This is also why the wording on our website reads “until its closure in 1987, the SMR was the world’s oldest miniature railway”. This position was held by SMR for many, many years, making it an important part of miniature railway history, but sadly it is no more, and the title has now passed to another line – I know not which!"

And here is a plea from Timothy:  We continue the search for the current whereabouts of our very first SMR locomotive “Trojan” (details on the website). She has vanished without a trace (maybe overseas). However, if you have any clues, we would be most interested to know of it! She is the rebuilt version of that original tank engine built and supplied by Jubb in Sheffield back in 1920.

Mick Savage  24 December 2005

 
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