Thursday, October 01, 2009

Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway Steam and Diesel Gala

Southern Maid arriving at Dymchurch

The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway is holding another of it's popular Steam & Diesel Galas this weekend 3rd/4th October.

Eight vintage steam locomotives such as the Southern Maid pictured above and two more modern diesel engines will be plying the 13.5 mile route along the Kent coast from Hythe to Dungeness and back.

The RHDR was founded by two flamboyant characters - Captain J E P Howey and Count Louis Zborowski, both millionaires and former racing drivers.

Sadly Count Zborowski was killed in an accident at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 1924 and never saw the opening of the railway in 1927.

I will be writing a more detailed post about the Count and his connections to Kent in the near future so please watch this space (or should that be blog?)

The railway is 15 inch gauge and all the locomotives are one third size replicas of the original mainline engines on which they are modelled.

When it opened in 1927 the railway ran from Hythe to New Romney but in 1928 it was extended through to Dungeness. It was dubbed "The Smallest Public Railway in the World".

The railway served not only the tourist trade but was also used by the locals going to the shops, for parcel and mail deliveries and to move freight such as fresh fish caught by the boats off Dungeness up to Hythe. To this day, local children still travel to school on the railway.

During World War Two, due to it's proximity to the coast and construction sites for the PLUTO (pipeline under the ocean) project **, the railway was taken over by the armed forces. The army even had one of the engines converted into a miniature armoured train!

In 1947, to officialy reopen the section of line from New Romney to Dungeness after the war, the RHDR received two famous visitors from across the pond. None other than the much loved veteran slap stick comedians Laurel and Hardy.

Whilst researching the history of the railway I found a very interesting web site which tells the story of Laurel and Hardy's visit to the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway in more detail and also contains pitcures and a Movietone news reel.

Please click here to visit the site

During the 1950's the RHDR benefited from the increase in tourist traffic to holiday camps along the route of the railway. However, following the death of the co-founder Captain Howey in 1963 and several changes of ownership the railway began to decline.

In 1973 the railway was taken over by another consortium lead by Sir William MacAlpine. Since then there has been investment and the railway is now again in good shape.

Here are some more pictures that I took during a recent visit.

The Southern Maid leaving New Romney after taking on water for the run down to Dungeness.

New Romney is the location of the RHDR's engine shed. There is also a large model railway and a light airy cafe on the station with a good selection of hot and cold meals at reasonable prices.

The Southern Maid was built for the RHDR in 1926 by Davey, Paxman & Co and weighs in at over 8 tons and is 27'7" long (in old money).

It is amazing to think that an engine over eighty years old is still in regular daily use.

The Samson (right) pictured arriving at Dymchurch station
was built by Davey, Paxman and Co for the RHDR in 1927.

If you are looking for somewhere to go this weekend, I would highly recommend a visit to the RHDR.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, you may like the following from my archives -

Bredgar & Wormshill Light Railway

Wrotham Classic Rally

** - PLUTO - was a temporary pipeline laid under the English Channel in 1944 through which fuel could be safely pumped to the Allied invasion forces who landed in France on D-day.


  1. Hey Glen! Interesting to hear about this. For me a railway that is 1/3 size of the regular railways seems quite unusual. And there are still functional little steamers running on it! By the way, isn't it a bit unconfortable to drive such a small locomotive (or to sit in the small train cars?). Too bad i'm not a millionaire, I found build a similar little railway, well, maybe a bit larger :)

    Your readers may be also interested in my post about the 760 mm gauge mocanita train in Romania, here's the link:

    Best wishes and keep up the good posts!


  2. Hi Andras,

    Thanks very much for your comment.

    Although the trains and carriages are small they are not too uncomfortable and the journeys are quite short (maximum about one hour from Hythe all the way through to Dungeness).

    The Queen even had a ride on the railway once although they made a special Royal carriage just for her!

    By the way I enjoyed your post about the forest railway in Romania. I hope they can keep that going in the future.

    Best regards