The N&L.L.R

A Narrow Gauge Garden Railway in Rural Leicestershire


History Before Closure

 Pre-Railway Age

Records Exist as far back as the early 1600's documenting a horse drawn tramway that ran between an aggregate pit in Enderby and a navigable portion of the River Soar in Aylestone, Leicester. The start of the industrial revolution led to the part of the river between Leicester and Loughborough being made navigable in 1784. The first detail of the original company comes to light around 1814, when the River Soar was connected to the Grand Union Canal; these documents show that around this time the 'Aylestone and Enderby Tramway Company' purchased two winding engines to handle the increased volume of traffic that was now being shipped as far as London due to the canal extension and that the tramway used a gauge of 2ft and 6in, the gauge that would stay with the N.L.L.R throughout its life. The embryonic history of the N.L.L.R ends in 1842 when vast deposits of granite were discovered in the area surrounding the villages of Narborough and Littlethorpe. Later that year permission was granted to create new pits at these locations and the Tramway was to extend to serve the three new pits. However the tramway's operators were left with the problem of motive power, they did not have the funds to build enough winding engines to serve the proposed extended line and horsepower would not provide sufficient haulage capacity.

Humble Beginnings

The history of the 'modern' line begins in 1844, when the extensions were completed, the original tramway upgraded to an iron road and an order placed with Foster, Rastric and Company for two 0-4-0 tender engines. The No.1 arrived in June of that year and was named 'Stronghold', No.2 arrived in December and was named 'Jelson Barratt'. At this time the company renamed itself to the Narborough and Littlethorpe Light Railway, after the location of its headquarters and locomotive sheds. The line now ran between the 4 large quarries and the original basin in Aylestone and it continued like this until 1864 when the South Leicestershire Railway was given permission for its planned extension that included a station in Narborough. Sensing the opportunity that this provided the N.L.L.R arranged to build a set of transshipment sidings at Narborough to allow aggregate to be passed onto the mainline. The LNWR's purchase of the SLR 3 years later did not affect the N.L.L.R much, except that it allowed their product to be easily shipped around the LNWR's extensive network. In 1869 a group of local farmers approached the N.L.L.R about using the railway to move their goods to the mainline, where they could be easily passed onto Leicester market and further afield. Following this two small halts and sets of sidings were built at Enderby and between the villages of Blaby and Whestone. The sheds at Narborough also constructed a number of closed vans and open wagons to allow the movement of the new goods of the line.

Growth and Prosperity

The railway trundled along in its 1870's state until the start of the new century when a large change in the way the railway operated was brought about by the Great Central Railway opening their extension through Leicester in 1899. This new mainline passed over the Canal and very close to the railway. The next year a new canal exchange and transshipment sidings were built to serve the GCR and the GUC, with the old canal exchange being demolished soon afterwards. This then allowed to line to be extended towards Aylestone where a new set of freight sidings were built. It was soon after this that a passenger service was rumored. In June 1901 the line's first passenger vehicles were delivered and the farm and goods halts were upgraded to handle passengers. A passenger service now ran between: Lower Aylestone - Enderby - Narborough and Littlethorpe - Blaby and Whestone. After this point it was realised that the two original locomotives (though upgraded and overhauled as they were) could not handle the increasingly heavy and varied traffic. In 1904 an order was placed with the Baldwin Locomotive Works for a 4-6-0T owing to a backlog of orders following a prolonged engineering strike in Britain. In early 1905 a number of large crates arrived from the U.S.A and their contents were quickly assembled to build No.3 'Leicestershire', a large tank that easily outstriped the original locomotives on performance. By 1908 the railway had been turning over a sizable profit for a number of years and it was decided to purchase a second new locomotive so that the originals could be completely removed from primary services. This was an export locomotive purchased from Andrew Barclay and Sons, that never got shipped abroad. The 0-6-0T was shipped to Narborough whole, whereon arriving was lettered No.4 'Fosse'. The last noticeable event in this period of prosperity was the arrival of larger passenger and goods stock in 1912 to compliment the increases in traffic and the more powerful locomotives.

During this period the politics of the railway took an interesting change. The ownership of the quarries served by the railway passed into the company of a pair of brothers. The Narborough and Littlethorpe Joint Quarries Company (NLJQC) owned by a Mr. Samuel Davenport Pochin and Mr. Henry Davis Pochin had first taken over quarrying and brick making at Croft and then moved to purchase the remaining pits. The track mileage of the N.L.L.R was now effectively split between the two companies, the N.L.J.Q.C owning nearly as much mileage as the mainline in internal networks and goods branches. The decision was taken to pass all aggregate goods stock to the N.L.J.Q.C, who would then take over responsibility for maintaining the stock to mainline standards and all future purchases and replacements. The N.L.L.R would still supply mainline motive power to transport the wagons to Narborough and Aylestone, as well retaining the passenger and general goods services. The N.L.L.R took responsibility for the maintenance of the goods branches up to the quarries compounds. The N.L.J.Q.C had several internal locomotives which were granted running rights up to the mainline on the goods branches. 

 Harder Times

  Like the rest of the country the N.L.L.R struggled cope with the outbreak of the First World War. Civilian traffic decreased, the civilian building contracts became almost non-existent, reducing the need for aggregate and many of the young men who operated the railway, and quarried the stone left to fight overseas. The heavy demands of wartime production for concrete and railway ballast quickly took their tolls on No.s 3 and 4, and the two original locomotives were not powerful enough to be of much use. As there was a restriction on building new locomotives the decision was taken to 'overhaul' the Fosters and Rastrik locomotives into a completely unrecognisable new locomotive. The result was an 0-6-0 tender locomotive, 'North'. Rumors suggest that the boiler may have been taken from a Road locomotive with the cylinders stripped off a pair of retired stationary engines from a couple of the local mills. It retained the wheels, axels, connecting rods, bell, whistle, buffers and tender frames of the originals. By 1917 the railway was so understaffed it was limited to a policy of 1 engine in steam. The war ended in 1918 and slowly the railway began to return to normal. In 1920 a small motor rail petrol locomotive was purchased and regauged to aid the maintenance of way teams, it was numbered 6 but never named. By the time the N.L.L.R was grouped into the LMS in 1923 the post war rebuilding had allowed the railway to completely repair the war damage with the profits. 

The Downturn

Under the LMS the railway lived an uneventful life, all locomotives retained their names and numbers and stock was repainted into LMS maroon lake. However in 1939 the world was once again struck by war, this time round the line came under control of the War Department, passenger traffic on the line was seen as non-essential and was almost completely cut back, while the fours quarries were put to work producing aggregate for concrete production needed for bunkers and military buildings. All locomotives were painted into wartime black at this point, a livery they carried for the rest of their time under LMS ownership. Military engineers were brought in to relieve some of the railways own staff and allow all three locomotives to be in operation, constantly moving aggregate to the mainline, For 6 years the railway was subject to the ruthless bombardment of wartime operation and by 1945 the rot had started to set in. Locomotives and stock were worn out and the permanent way was in a very bad condition. The profits from rebuilding were spread thin and used to overhaul everything to a satisfactory condition. However by 1948 and nationalisation the damage had still not been properly repaired. Under the ownership of British Railways the engines were renumbered starting at 15099 onwards and were painted into the prototype 'BRITISH RAILWAYS' livery, which they retained for the rest of their lives. The line continued facing more and more competition for its passenger and farm services from buses, trucks and personal automobiles. This eventually led to the passenger services being withdrawn in 1954 and replaced with a local bus service. This set the trend for things to come, the next year in 1955 the three smaller quarries became exhausted and closed. After this BR took up the N.L.L.R and the link to the remaining croft quarry was replaced with a standard gauge link.

After the closure the railway's locomotives passed into the ownership of the Croft Quarry Company, the company left controlling the quarry after the disbanding of the NLJQC. The locomotives were purchased to displace some of the quarry's aging fleet. No.'s 4, and 6 worked a number of years successfully in the quarry however 3 and 5 were found to be to large and heavy to work the quarry's lightly laid track. After a small time in service they were stored and only occasionaly steam to move large pieces of equipment. Some N.L.L.R goods stock worked it's way into the quarry however only 2 of the coaches sold; going to local farmers to be used as sheds. 


The Beginning 

In the early 1980's a group of narrow gauge enthusiasts were having a drink in a local pub. They'd shortly come back from a trip to some of the narrow gauge railways in Wales when One of them bought up the subject of the narrow gauge lines that used to work in their local area, and so after a long talk, the Narborough and Littlethorpe Railway Preservation Society was born.

    First of all they secured some of the original track that was used in the lines between the Croft Quarrys and Narborough. They sent off planing permission to rebuild part of the railway that was never turned into a puplic footpath, the strech between Narborough and the Quarrys. About two months Later the first track was laid.

    Most importantly the line needed a locomotive. fortunately the unusual gauge of the line (2'6''ft) allowed the volunteers to search for a locomotive in continental Europe; where steam was used until a later date, and before long two were secured in a scrapyard in Germany. They were two Stainz type well tank engines that had been used in an industrial park. The first, was to be left in the livery as it was found in the industrial park, was in near running condition and so was the railway's need for a locomotive. The second needed major repairs before it could be returned to service and would eventually be painted into the livery of the DR in Germany, where both locos were originally operated.

So by 1983 The first Stainz, that the society named Guido, hauled the first train down the finished section of track. The second Stainz Named 'Franz' was a long way off being finished and money was running out, so in 1985 along with the operators of the Local canal, a goods movement restoration plan was developed. With support from the council on grounds that more goods could be moved for less money spent on fuel and easier using the canal with new narrow boats. The missing link between the Canal and Quarry was covered by the railway, and since the train could coast most of the way down to the Canal it was consiered economical to utilise the railway.

So earning money both from passengers and the aggregate movements, the line purcased it's third locomotive 'Mike' from a museum in Norfolk. Mike was built in the USA and is a 2-4-0 tender locomotive that found little use in the museum. Mike arrived in early 1987 and was given European style couplings and handled the line's gradients with ease.

The 1990's 

In 1990 the society purhcased a B-B mining shunter that was planned to be used on aggregate trains. The society named the locomotive 'Carl'. Not much is known about where Carl spent his working life, but when he appeared strangely in a scrapyard on the outskirts of Leicestershire at a price they could not refuse, he was purchased almost immediately and put to good use. Carl was brought in mind of a thunder bird locomotive as at the time the society did not own a diesel locomotive.

 A small diesel locomotive, like those used in the building of the channel tunnel was purchased from a factory in Birmingham, He was named 'Terrapin'. And was generly used on MOW trains, but occasionally saw light passenger use. Then finally in 1996 the rest of the money needed to restore Franz was raised, and by 1988 Franz was in regular use and hauled the first train of the 1998 season. Due to the increasing wieght of the lines trains, Franz can commonly be seen working with Guido.

The 2000's 

During march 2002 Carl was sold to a working narrow gauge museum due to being too heavy and too big for regular use as originaly indended. Leaving the N.L.L.R in desprate need of another diesel engine that was capable of rescuing failed engines or pulling trains. In March 2008 the N.L.L.R's problems were solved by a small 0-4-0 industrial engine that was bought from a BP refinery. He was named Carl II on arrival to the railway. Two wagons were also bought from the refinery, to be used to take fuel up from the tanker truck that came to the road connection once a month. He is an unusual locomotive having sideskirts like a tramway engine.

In April 2004 A 2-6-0 tank engine originally from Germany was bought on long term loan from the Charnwood forest railway, to haul the new heavier trains till a permanant loco could be sorced or restored. It is Named Cropston and is CFR number 11.

During the middle of 2009 the railway bought up a 0-4-0 diesel locomotive from an RAF light railway. The loco was built in Germany and was repainted when she arrived on the railway as well as being fitted with a compatible braking system. The locomotive was named 'Terrier' while at RAF Chilmark and the railway has decided to keep her name.

The 2010's

In May 2010 Discussions were made with the Rugensche Baderbahn about the purchase of a V51 diesel that the railway was about to retire. A price was agreed upon and plans were made to to move the locomotive to Narborough during the later half of the year. The locomotive has been name 'Elefant', in the tradition of naming diesel loco motives after animals and will carry the markings of the Rugensche Baderbahn. The plan is to use Elefant to handle the increasing weight of the aggregate trains, increasing income for the railway.

During the second half of 2010 the track at Narborough was completely overhauled. This made it uneconomical to continue to run steam hauled trains during this period as the run around loop was torn up and water and coaling facilities had to be temporarily moved. To keep the Bus replacement service going the railway hired an articulated diesel rail car which proved so successful running between the villages arrangements were made to purchase it. The rail car shall be named Newt.

In early 2011 the railway purchased two pieces of redundant stock from a private line in Nottinghamshire, the first a American balcony combine was purchased without bogies to complete the line's set of American stock. The coach had a new set of bogies made and has been pressed into service. A loco was also purchased, in need of restoration with an interesting history. The loco was originally built by Corpet-Louvet of France and shipped to America to another narrow gauge line. While in America her tanks and cab back were removed and scrapped in order to have a tender added. The NLLR have little use for the loco's tender and it only hinders reverse operation so new tanks and cab back and bunker will be constructed. When finished the loco will be named 'Samson'.

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