Henrietta, Victoria and Elsie

Sir Richard talks about the Ffarquhar Branch Line's 'Vintage Train' hauled by Toby the Tram Engine!

When Toby arrived at the North Western Railway in 1951 following NWR No.1, 'Thomas' finding trouble with the law, he brought with him an original GER four-wheeled 'tramway' carriage whom was colloquially known as 'Henrietta'. Like Toby, Henrietta was not based at the Wisbech and Upwell but was from a very similar and poorly documented branch in East Anglia, built by the same workshops for the same purposes.

 

Toby had brought Henrietta with him quite unprecedented. It seems that British Railways were all-too-eager to dump every piece of stock it could from the closed line upon the North Western Railway for the all-inclusive price of Toby himself. The closest alternative was her being taken free of charge by the stationmaster at the old railway's 'top station' for a henhouse in his newly decided career in agriculture. My great-grandfather, ever happy to receive a bargain, was quite pleased with the results, despite the cost that would be required to get the pair into 'proper' service.

 

Henrietta, like Toby, arrived dilapidated. She was even older than the tram engine - having being built in the mid 1880s, evidenced by her shorter four-axle wheelbase. She needed a complete overhaul and refit - the springs in her seats had practically become dust, her paint was flaking and there was a leak in her roof.  Her once proud seating arrangements were now ripped and stained, and her chassis was not much better, having seen little attention over a long career.

Henrietta was overhauled and refitted along with Toby a short while after arrival, and soon saw use every morning and evening with the passenger train that took workers to and from the quarry. The train became a very popular fixture with quarry staff, the general public and enthusiasts alike and the curiosity of it all made it an instant icon of the NWR's Ffarquhar Branch.

 

Toby's train was soon joined by Elsie, a long-lost piece of stock from the Wisbech and Upwell. Elsie is a typical wooden four-wheeled parcel van from the Wisbech tramway, built for the passenger services before they ceased in 1927, becoming underused unless excess freight reared a head - which sadly became a rarity very quickly for the tram line. She was found on a farm during one of my great-grandfather's many visits to East Anglia, having been removed from her chassis and placed down as a storage shed. She was in surprisingly fine physical condition and would be very useful not only for the heritage aspect of Toby's service but also to carry parcels and supplies that occasionally appeared for the quarry on mornings. This soon became extended to include excess quarry workers and any lunchboxes that would take up otherwise essential space on Henrietta. Elsie is not a commonly used piece of stock and you won't have seen her in any stories or illustrations - she was, however, immortalised by the Reverend Awdry on his model of Ffarquhar's station.

 

By now the 'Vintage Train' was growing in popularity as the quarry expanded, and slowly grew fuller. Originally the service would be 'fleshed out' with spare four-wheel coaches but suitable ones were growing increasingly difficult to source as the rest of the NWR became busier and busier. By the 1990s, a problem was becoming evident, and Sodor Roadways LTD. produced bus services alongside wherever possible, but for obvious reasons could not carry the same timing, access or capacity. On Sodor, particularly the areas serviced so well by railway, car ownership is still not majorly popular - about one to every three households is the estimate of census,  and parking facilities at the quarry were poor. Ultimately, it was up to us to fix the issue. My father, controller of the NWR at the time, soon realised another carriage was needed to sort out the growing problem.

 

One day during the summer of 2006, the usual bus - that's right, Bertie!  - Fell ill. With no alternative for the overflow traffic, the quarry workers all crowded onto Henrietta, and many were forced onto her balconies. This was not the first time it had happened, but this particular morning it could have had very perilous consequences. After a sudden stop due to an impatient car, the workmen left the train with bruises, and Henrietta's frontmost veranda's railing was bent - if it had not held, it is of no doubt severe injuries could have been recorded. The local constabulary, of course, were very disapproving, and it wasn't long before a by-law was presented, stating, quite rightly, that passengers are not permitted for carriage on balcony or veranda of railway coaches. It was now a very difficult situation. My father had no spare stock and growing traffic elsewhere was receiving the majority of the railway's attention.

 

It was the next day that a chance meeting took place at Elsbridge station. A local orchard, alongside the railway, was clearing a very overgrown patch nearby the station building. In doing so, the groundskeeper had uncovered an old Furness Railway carriage, called Victoria, whom had become a summerhouse, parked up on a few metres of railway line there when she reached obsolescence - her wheels and frames were later removed for the war effort, leaving her in the state she was discovered in. She was a fairly typical 2nd class coach from the late Victorian era, built by the North London Railway, with her stomping ground varying over the years until she reached as far north as the Lakeside and Haverthwaite branch line, which became her main 'base' of work until retired during the early 1930s.

 

She was now neglected, in terrible condition with a badly leaking roof, rusted framework which itself wrapped around warped, broken and in some cases rotten boards. Thomas, upon meeting her, became most excited, and when hearing the difficulty on Toby's train, made haste to present it to my father. My father made arrangements, and Victoria was purchased, taken to Crovan's Gate and underwent a heavy restoration. Victoria became firm friends with Edward, who of course shares much of her Furness heritage, and was soon sent to Knapford, where she met an afternoon service with Thomas and was taken to Ffarquhar, forming what is now known as 'The Vintage Train'.

 

She is a fairly typical 2nd class coach from the late Victorian era, and was built by the North London Railway, her stomping ground varying over the years until she reached the Lakeside and Haverthwaite branch line. She does not quite fit the basic theme of Toby's train, but her age is about right! She has filled a much needed position on the NWR, and is now a popular fixture both on Toby's Vintage and some of the more popular passenger services hauled by Thomas in the summer.

 

Bizarrely - or perhaps due to freak coincidence - Victoria's history - and basis - is largely shared with the recent restoration of the Furness Railway Trust's NLR 2nd Class coach. This carriage can now be seen on Victoria's old branch, which is now a heritage railway. The Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway is a favourite of mine - if you're ever in Cumbria, give them a visit - I can promise on their behalf you shan't be disappointed.

Find out more about Henrietta and her origins on the internet's definitive Awdry Railway Series website - The Real Lives of Thomas The Tank Engine.

Find out more about Victoria and her origins on the internet's definitive Awdry Railway Series website - The Real Lives of Thomas The Tank Engine.

The LNER Encyclopedia gives a greater insight into the old tramway that Toby and Henrietta’s prototypes used to work on - the Wisbech and Upwell Tramway.

The Furness Railway Trust - a group dedicated to the preservation of the memory of the Furness Railway.

Click the link above for relevant books and products about the Furness Railway and the Wisbech and Upwell Tramway!