When we are proudly showing visitors round the ALR, mention is always made, deservedly, of the Little Melton Light Railway, without which, the ALR would not be anything like the railway you see today...! So a few words about this wonderful railway, we hope will be enlightening to our readers and may trigger some happy memories (and photos, not many about??) (with acknowledgments to Bob Brett for abstracts from his booklet about the line and several photocopy updates from persons unknown. Thank you!)
The LMLR was the brainchild of Bob Brett who lived at Vine Cottage, Little Melton, Norwich, where the railway was constructed, from 1986. Initially, wooden ash rails on cedar sleepers were tried at
10 1/4” gauge for about 200 yards, but this was unsuccessful and so aluminium track with keruing sleepers on granite was built at 71/4” gauge, starting in November 1987, with approx 5000 feet completed by April 1988.
Various contacts were made to help Bob with trackwork, buildings, landscaping, signals and rolling stock. The first loco to be built for the line was ‘Thunderbox’ by David King (using Sweet Chestnut) along with 3 coaches, using elm. These were ready by February 1989. At this stage there was approx ¾ mile of track. There was also another loco, ‘ Alice’, but we have no details...
An opening ceremony was held on 22nd and 23rd April 1989, with Bob’s mother cutting the tape, and the proceeds from the two days were donated to the Little Melton Church Organ Fund and the West Norfolk Seal Rescue charities. The line opened once a month to raise money for a wide variety of Charities and many thousands of pounds were raised over the years, until the line closed in 2001.
In 1990 another line was laid from the station to a terminus near the Old Piggeries Tearoom which involved a 50 foot long curved trestle over a pond.
In 1991 Edwin Peck had completed ‘Sir Matthew Pilgrim’ a wooden ‘Shay’ locomotive, and Norman Duffield and Reg Ives built ‘General’ (24volt 1 hp motor with petrol engine powering a generator to charge the battery (s), and by then a third set of coaches had been completed.
In 1996 an additional line , the Paddock line, was laid from Melton Wood Junction, running through woodland in a large figure of eight back into the station. for about ¼ of a mile, giving a total track length of over a mile. A new loco, ‘Big Ben’(big yellow American outline diesel?) was built by Malcolm Cox for his son, Alex, being petrol powered, driving a hydraulic pump supplying two independent bogie mounted hydraulic motors driving 8 wheels, a powerful loco (no photos?)
In 1997, Norman Duffield and Reg Ives had a steam loco ‘Hotspur’ built by a Northampton company.(named in honour of Reg and sister Margaret (Duffield)’s father who drove a Brittannia Class loco on the Norwich to London Line in the late 1950’s.
As well as the monthly charity events the line ran Father Christmas Specials in December each year and also ran ‘Birthday Specials’ and ‘specials’ for handicapped youngsters. One note seen records that as at April 1999, the LMLR’s 10th year, nearly £13.000 had been raised for various Charities and some 34.670 passengers carried, with the record being 811 in April 1999!
The Brett family were a well known local family specialising in timber and ran over the years, North Heigham Cabinet Works in Paddock Street Norwich, Heigham Sawmills, Bretts Antique and Reproduction furniture (St Giles Norwich), Looses in Magdelan Street Norwich, and Bretts Retail Furniture Store in St Benedicts Norwich.
Bob who never married, sadly passed away at his home, Vine Tree Cottage, in July 2001, aged 64, after a long battle with cancer, leaving a sister, Julie Champeney
A fine railway, sadly missed. We will always be grateful to Norman, Reg and the Champeneys for their help and co-operation in enabling the Ashmanhaugh Light Railway to be created. We would also be delighted to hear from you if you have any photos or interesting recollections of the line.