Narrow gauge railways played a vital part in the Industrial
Revolution which laid the foundations for the steam
railway concept. Just as the development of the coal, iron
and steel industries in County Durham and Teesside paved
the way for the development of the steam locomotive, so
the slate industry of North Wales nurtured the narrow
gauge version. Outside Wales, other industries started to
use narrow gauge railways to move freight, notably ironstone,
limestone, china clay, brick clay and metals. Britain
often also chose narrow gauge for lines serving sparsely populated
rural communities.The 1ft 111⁄2in gauge Lynton
& Barnstaple Railway in Devon is but one classic example.
By late Victorian times, the public fascination with steam
railways had reached the point where they began to be
built for pleasure and tourist purposes. The 3ft gauge
Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway in the Lake District,
employed scaled-down versions of main line locomotives
for motive power. These paved the way for the Romney,
Hythe & Dymchurch Railway, opened in 1927, which for
decades boasted that it was the world’s smallest public
The advent of cheaper road transport and mass car
ownership halted the expansion of the British railway
network in the 20th century, and many classic narrow
gauge lines either lost their passenger services or were
closed altogether in the 1930s. However, the takeover of
the near-defunct Talyllyn Railway by a team of volunteers in
1951 followed soon afterwards by the revival of the
Festiniog (now Ffestiniog) Railway, launched today’s railway
preservation movement, which has grown to be a major
player in the 21st century tourist market.
Not only have
many of the great narrow gauge lines along with their
locomotives and stock been restored, but new lines have
been laid along disused standard gauge trackbeds, and
more revival schemes are underway.
Robin Jones looks at the finest of Britain’s narrow gauge
steam today. In more than 60 images and with a sharp and
incisive text, Spirit of Narrow Gauge Steam is the ideal brief guide, in
Halsgrove’s collectible, pocket-size format.
A graduate of the University of
Central England, Robin Jones, founding
editor of Heritage Railway magazine,
was a news editor and chief
investigative reporter at the Birmingham
Evening Mail, and over the years
has produced several books and
special publications, along with
historical features for numerous other
newspapers and periodicals.
He has been interested in railways
from a very early age, when his
elder brother Stewart took him
trainspotting atWidney Manor station
in Solihull at the age of four, at the end
of the British Railways steam age.
Imprint: PiXZ Books. ISBN 978 0 85710 050 4, hardback, 110x156mm, 64 pages. Published June 2011.