11th May 2021 · “Railways in the Chiltern Counties & the Watford Miniature Railway”

Presenter: Dr. Rudi Newman

This evening’s Zoom meeting featured a double bill from Dr. Rudi Newman, firstly we heard all about the social and economic impact on the Chiltern counties of Beds. Herts and Bucks in the latter half of the 19th century. The railways had an enormous impact on the communities living in these areas and bought changes that had a far-reaching effect on the society. Once the main lines to the north and London had been established, encouraging businesses to transport goods by rail rather than road, the land owners soon saw the benefits of the railways along with the urgent needs of the Railway companies to expand, branch lines to the remotest areas began to spring up. Consequently, people gradually saw the benefits of living and working close to the railway, with industry growing up much closer to stations and junctions, with whole communities gradually moving away from the land and land based work to factories and offices. As we moved into the 20th century houses and estates began to establish closer to major points on the system, one such prominent popular area was Watford and Bushey where commuting had begun to happen, so much so that one developer was offering a first class season ticket to London with the purchase of a house. One exception to this move towards being close to the railway was the town of Wolverton, being around 60 miles from London, this was where the locomotives of the needed coaling, as most tender loco’s had tenders that would permit 65 miles of running before needing refilling. Hence Wolverton became a railway town with a new community building up around its depot and works that had been established there. Rudi had many maps and graphics demonstrating just how and why all these changes were taking place, a fascinating somewhat different talk showing just how the communities in our area have changed so much in the since last the railways took hold of our lives.

After the break we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Watford Miniature Railway and looked back from its inauguration, through all its trials and tribulations through to this milestone celebrated on 2019. The railway situated in Cassiobury Park, is a 10 ¼ inch line, originally around 200 yds. long a straight there and back line, it has gradually developed into the sizeable railway we see today, approximately a ¾ mile long loop with sidings, two stations, an engine shed a properly controlled signalling system. Starting with one tank loco named “Nipper” the railway has progressed to have eleven engines, a mix of diesel and steam, to having the capacity to handle 45000 visitors a year, its coaches used for passenger carrying duties are all air braked and meet the highest safety standards. Situated adjacent to the River Glade the WMR has had its problems with occasional flooding, particularly so towards the end of last year. Well worth a visit.