First-time visitors to the Midland Railway Butterley, Derbyshire, the biggest and most comprehensive attempt to commemorate one of Britain’s finest pre-Grouping railway companies, might initially be underwhelmed by the presentation of the place.
Riding in a rag-tag collection of railway carriages with slow speeds, limited mileage and much standing in stations may not impress at first.
The full length of the line is 3½ miles, and you can’t get off at either end, but the main site at Swanwick Junction is extensive.
There are meticulously reconstructed station buildings in the classic Midland design at Butterley and Swanwick Junction, four Midland-pattern signal boxes and other structures including the tin church of St Saviour from Westhouses, Derbyshire.
There are actually several railways: apart from the standard-gauge line there’s a narrow-gauge railway, a miniature railway and a garden railway.
A notice in one of the museum buildings apologises for the dust – because “we are a working museum”.
That’s the key.
This is a hugely ambitious project, driven by a consortium of preservation groups, “dedicated to the glory of the Midland Railway”, according to the website strapline: http://www.midlandrailway-butterley.co.uk/home.
The scale of the task is measured by the contrast between the finished preservation projects, such as the Midland Railway royal saloon and the only surviving Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway coach, and the desperately decayed relics waiting for attention.
Butterley reminds me of the Sydney Tramway Museum in New South Wales – another grand scheme to recreate a vanished and much celebrated transport system.
The Midland Railway project has been at Butterley now for forty years, and it might take another forty to accomplish the vision. No doubt an influx of volunteers and repeated injections of cash would help, but the place is busy.
I spoke to a seasoned enthusiast on the train back to Butterley. “There’s a lot here,” he said. He thought he’d be on his way home by 2.30 and it was coming up to half past four.
That’s the short-term measure of success – and the encouragement to return.
The 60-page, A4 handbook for the 2018 ‘Waterways and Railways of the East Midlands’ tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.