We have tried here to outline some of the history of the various miniature railways that have existed in Bognor Regis at various times. Our tenure in the park is easy to chronicle, but it has not been so easy to trace the others. The internet and local libraries have been very useful but often information conflicts, so whilst the information has been given in good faith, we welcome corrections and in particular any photographs or line layouts or descriptions you may have.
Since the Second World War there have been five miniature railway sites in Bognor Regis:
Southern Miniature Railways
Southern Miniature Railways were a Portsmouth based company which ran several lines including Poole Park, Southsea & Stokes Bay. In 1946 (?) they took over an existing railway in Bognor on a site later to become Butlins. The track gauge was 10 1/4” and SMR sold the railway in 1951 to another operator. He had two Curwen standard 4-4-2 locomotives. We know that one of the locomotives was 2448 'Canadian Chief', built by David Curwen Limited in 1948 and depicted in this rare photo of the railway. The locomotive left the railway in 1950 & still exists – renamed as “John H Gretton” at Stapleford Miniature Railway.
As yet we have not traced when the site ceased be used for a miniature railway, but we believe the site survived until the late 1950s and that Butlins opened their new camp on the site in 1960. One gentleman visitor to our railway remembers as an 8 year old having his photo taken with the train. Hopefully he will send us a copy which might give some indication exactly where the site was. We've had several visitors to the railway who remember it but are unable to describe it's exact location - so near yet so far!!
Click on an image to enlarge it.
Beaulieu Gardens off the Esplanade
Ian Allan Miniature Railways opened this little railway in 1968 situated in a corner of Beaulieu Gardens, just off the Esplanade opposite the pier. It was a 7 1/4” circular track just 100 yards long. We believe the hut was used as the kiosk for the railway & that this corner was the location of the railway. The two locomotives were built by Shepperton Metal Products in 1968, known as “Thunderbolts” and numbered 1 and 2. The line closed in 1981. Thunderbolt Number One is still in existence and owned by a gentleman who plans to build a 7 1/4" railway in his garden.
The gentleman has now built his railway and the photo below shows Thunderbolt Number One still earning it's keep:
There has been a succession of railways in Hotham Park since 1969, the first being operated by Ian Allan Group setting the standard for the gauge at 101/4” . Amongst the various locomotives, most of the Meteor locomotives built by Shepperton Metal Products (part of the Ian Allan Group) spent some of their time at Hotham Park which was used as a testing ground for the class. For the next 37 years with a number of different concessionaires and stock. One of these was Jack Hudell, a well known Miniature railway engineer who had the concession from 1996 to 2003 (??). In 2005 the then concessionaires on the termination of the lease, lifted the railway leaving the park with no railway for the next 18 months.
In early 2007 the current railway was laid out to a track gauge of 12 1/4” with new rails and components on virtually the same layout as the previous 101/4” railway. It started running in May 2007 and remained as such until August 2009 when the new loop into the restored part of the park was added.
In 1987 Butlins opened their own miniature railway within their holiday camp. 250 yards long it closed in 1991. The railway was a Triang Minic Railway 10 1/4" gauge using the standard components made by Triang, a photo of the Bognor camp train is shown below.
Sorry the quality is not good. However those of you wishing to find outr more of this facinating range by Triang in the Sixties can access http://www.tmnr.co.uk/main.htm.
The Pier Railway
Currently I know little about this railway other than it shuttled up & down the pier. As far as I remember there were no run-rounds or passing loops, the locomotive propelled the train back on the return journey. However a picture has come to light which is shown below:
Second photo that was sent to us showing it was definately a push/pull type of operation