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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 10 (January 2, 1939)

The English Scene — Kent and the World's Smallest Railway

page 41

The English Scene
Kent and the World's Smallest Railway


Miniature Canadian type locomotive as used on the world's smallest railway.

Miniature Canadian type locomotive as used on the world's smallest railway.

If New Zealand visitors, finishing up their holiday in London, could arrange to spend the last week quietly in Kent (which is comparatively near London), they would find it one of the most beautiful counties in England—full of historic interest, enchanting scenery and a place where they would find the necessary peace and relaxation enabling them to start for home with nerves thoroughly rested and many pleasant memories to carry back. Kent offers much to interest the visitor.

First there is Canterbury Cathedral, one of the finest in the world—ideally situated—and with its peaceful cloisters, sculpture, and fine windows is almost unrivalled from an architectural view-point. The town itself, except for the presence of motor cars, looks much as it did a hundred years ago; and the surrounding country (rich farmland) is a treat to eyes tired from looking mostly in shop windows.

A few miles away is the seaside town of Deal, where Julius Caesar landed in 55 B.C., and opposite are the Goodwin Sands (plainly visible at low tide) and the famous Downs, through which about 20,000 vessels are said to pass in the course of a year. Deal is also known as the birth-place of the finest boatmen and the pluckiest life-boatmen in the world. Deal Castle, built by Henry VIII, is also a place of interest as it formed one of the chain of smaller coast defence castles.

Hythe, quite near, is famous for its Church of Skulls, under which, during excavations made years ago, hundreds of skeletons were discovered. These bones are now placed in the crypt where may be seen a wall of thigh bones some five feet high and over thirty feet long, while hundreds and hundreds of skulls in rows on shelves decorate the walls, making a gruesome but interesting exhibit.

New Romney, on the south east coast, comes next and is also worth visiting.

To anybody particularly interested in railways, the Romney, Hythe and Dym-church Railway is unique. This public
Pullman coaches at Hythe Station, Romney Hythe Dymchurch Railway.

Pullman coaches at Hythe Station, Romney Hythe Dymchurch Railway.

railway stands alone because it has the smallest useful gauge, sometimes termed the “minimum gauge,” of 15 inches, and, as the guide book says, it is attractive because its Lilliputian accessories are, as far as is practical, exact replica of a full-size railway system. At the same time it is no mere toy, for it is capable of carrying thousands of passengers per day, and tons of general commodities. The railway is also unique in that it is practically owned by one man—Captain Howey, who was always an enthusiast in things mechanical. He built the railway out of his own resources, supervising every detail of its construction. The Company is controlled by Directors and Share-holders, and is as strictly supervised as any large railway undertaking in the country. It is, nevertheless, the outcome of one man's enterprise and energy.
The railway, laid with a double track, runs from Hythe, through Romney Marshes to Dungeness. The miniature engines are just as orthodox in design page 42 page 43
Typical scenes on the world's smallest railway.

Typical scenes on the world's smallest railway.

and construction as the monster locomotives which haul the trains to Scotland.

The line was commenced in 1920 and opened to public traffic in 1927. There are seven locomotives in use, five of which are the express type, designed on the lines of the engines of the London and North Eastern Railway. The carriages are most comfortable, each compartment accommodating four passengers. In the summer months some open carriages are used, and prove popular. Between Hythe and Dungeness (fifteen miles) there are no hills to negotiate, a fact which simplifies the operation of the line.

The main depot, offices, a machine shop, forges, power house, accumulator, and other accessories are situated at New Romney, where also is a locomotive shed, eighty feet by twenty-one feet and capable of housing nine locomotives.

For the further enlightenment of New Zealand railwaymen, I should like to mention that the rails used are 24 lbs. per yard British Standard flat bottomed section, spiked to 9 ins. by 4 1/2 ins., Baltic fir creosoted sleepers 3 ft. long placed at about 22 ins. centres—six spikes per sleeper and eight at rail joints. Points are either on an eight (125 ft. radius) or on a nine (150 ft. radius). The signal boxes are interlocked with standard tappet and tappet lever interlocking. New Romney and Hythe signal boxes have seventeen levers. At Romney Hythe and also at Dymchurch, there are three turntables each thirty feet long.

The small locomotives used on this railway can haul a train containing 300 passengers at 25 miles an hour on grades up to 1 in a 100. But this speed has been exceeded to more than 30 miles an hour on many occasions. It is also of interest to note that the total staff employed on this little railway number about thirty members. The terminus of the railway is at Dungeness, where is to be found one of the finest lighthouses on the coast.

Less than twelve miles from Hythe is the quaint old city of Dover. It is not a watering place in the accepted sense, but really a shipping port, and about nine miles behind the town are three coal mines employing over 6,000 miners. From the pit-head of one of these mines a very ingenious arrangement is worked to convey coal right to the vessel to be loaded. It consists of a double chain of overhead buckets seven miles long.

Dover Castle, probably one of the most historic spots in England is a magnificent pile standing right up on a hill. The complete history of this castle which has sustained many sieges, has yet to be written, for although existing records take us back to 55 B.C., it is known that it dates back earlier than this.

In the castle also can be seen the Church of St. Mary, dating back to the 4th century. The walls of the Keep are 83 ft. high and from the top (469 ft. above sea level) one of the most wonderful views in England can be obtained.

If one desires something gayer and more fashionable, one may visit Folke-stone, about six mile away. It is much more prosperous, but not so quiet or restful. An endless stream of buses takes one all over the county, in most parts of which fruit and flowers are grown in profusion. It is probably for the latter reason that Kent is known as “the garden of England.”

If a visitor from New Zealand ended his holiday as I have suggested, instead of feeling wearied by the endless traffic noise and crowds of London he would carry home with him an imperishable picture of the real England, its beautiful countryside, and its towns and villages.

(I am indebted to Captain Howey for the technical details in connection with the railway and for the photographs which accompany this article.—F.A.H.)

page 44

A Tapu Isle Of Birds

(Continued from page 21.)

bino parent of this feathered piebald—the Spanish “pinto” would sound better—was still alive, and very fine and healthy. He saw it, as was the usual way, on a shiny night of full moon.

Life with Hauturu's birds was full of such almost faerie touches. There were strange and lovely intimacies with nature. The wood-pigeon, the kukupa, so lost its shyness that it joined the other berry-eaters on the trees around the house. “One can almost catch them with the hand,” said Nelson. He went out to the garden barefooted one night. A kiwi came up to him and rested its long beak on his foot. Nelson half-expected it to give him a jab with that sharp beak, but Mr. Apteryx was merely satisfying his curiosity in the course of his worm-digging.

The Fairy Tiora.

The stitchbird and the saddleback, birds which have quite vanished from the mainland, have a congenial home on Hauturu. They are only seen in the heart of the bush. The saddleback (tieke) was introduced from that even more secluded isle, the Hen, or Taranga. A Nelson diary item: “On one of the ridges I saw a very pretty stitchbird (tiora), a male. He was the most handsome of his kind I have ever seen.” Another time: “I saw a pair of beautiful stitchbirds on one of the ridges.” Again: “In one of the gullies, and near it in rough country, I saw fifteen stitchbirds, in pairs and small parties. They were all very tame, and sat preening their feathers quite close to me.”


In this magic-belted isle of bird-song, every creature of the forest strives to chant “Creation's music.” Even the doleful owl must add his call to the universal chorus of joy and gladness. One evening, while the sun was still shining, and the bellbird and tui and other birds were singing cheerily in the trees near the house, the custodian was amazed to hear a morepork joining in the general song. Old Ruru sat sombrely on a branch by himself, the Ishmael of the bush, but he could not resist the urge to utter his “kou-kou, kia toa” as the Maoris have it.

A tuatara lizard was found living in a rocky retreat near the west landing. It was christened “Jim.” The old fellow used to come out when he was called to be fed, and submitted to being picked up and stroked. One would imagine this spiny creature about the least promising subject for petting, but on enchanted Hauturu all living things seem responsive to the magic call of aroha.

* * *

Men come and go, generations pass, but always let us hope the dawn music of bellbird and tui will ring on Hauturu:

Mighty songs that miss decay;
What are they?
Crowds and cities pass away
Like a day.
Books are out and books are read;
What are they?
Years will lay them with the dead—
Sigh, sigh;
Trifles unto nothing wed,
They die.”

But the Maori birds will chant “Song's Eternity” after we have gone. The writer of those lines, that most exquisite of nature-singers, John Clare, the Northamptonshire peasant, who found such joy in the bluecap's “tootle, tootle, tootle-tee,” might have been uplifted to even sweeter flights had he heard a dawn-time concert of tui and korimako in the forest-fringe, where the birds “sing Creation's music on” in rhythm with the sea on surf-washed Hauturu.