Wednesday, 11 July 2018

A new heritage project !

A new project for our heritage group, and a new title for the blog. This reflects the continuing aim of the heritage group to bring improved GWR heritage to the railway. There will be further projects! Hayles Abbey halt was the beginning.

Our little GWR halt is a year old now, up and running, and seeing lots of use. The bridge and the halt are very attractive to lineside photographers.

We've been promised a corrugated iron lamp hut for it so that we can store a lawnmower and some small tools, so that is a job still to do. The hut is reserved for us and is just waiting for its current owner to finish using it.

But in the meantime we have found a new heritage project. It's the recovery and rebuild at Winchcombe of the weighbridge building at Usk. It's taken a long time to get the project up and running, but not for want of trying. Several other ideas were floated, but failed for various reasons beyond our control. Now we have approval, and the paperwork is done. Usk is on !

In fact Usk station, opened in 1856 as part of a line form Pontypool to Monmouth Troy, is an old friend of the railway, as we already have the goods crane, now located at Toddington, and a corrugated iron halt, now located at Hayles Abbey. The weighbridge building is made of the same pinkish sandstone as Monmouth Troy station that is now at Winchcombe, so it's a lovely fit.

When we first investigated the building, it was completely covered in vegetation.

Here it is, seen from the vehicle side. The lintel over the big window has failed, allowing some of the stones to fall out.

This is a view of the other side. The chimney is visible in both pictures. It is made of blue engineering bricks.

Finally, a view from the main road. The door is on the left, and on the right of the picture was once the table on which vehicles stood to be weighed. It was removed a long time ago. We will recover what is left of the mechanism (most of it in fact) but we have no firm plans for it.

Winchcombe already has its original GWR brick built weighbridge, all intact.

Usk station, like Broadway, was in two parts. There was a passenger side on one side of the river Usk, and a goods yard on the other side of the river (and road). The large, brick built goods shed is still there, and closely resembles the examples on the Honeybourne line. It might also be available...

We've had a couple of working parties down there to do a bit of initial surveying and clearance.  This picture shows most of the greenery removed. In the foreground is the main road, and in the background you can see the goods shed peeking out from behind the stone building. The two seem to be of different eras.

Here's the entrance view, with the shadow pointing to the location of the weighing table, now gone.

The other side of the building, seen from the yard. There are two small windows, and a large one.

Inside, the building is of undressed stone, with a flagstone floor. There's a fireplace in the corner, for those cold Welsh winters.

Outside there are dressed quoins on the corners.

The roof is a very simple truss structure, covered in slates. Most of these are still present.

During our last visit the site was made secure with Heras fencing, and there followed a long period for the preparation of the paperwork. But we have got there! The railway's heritage group has lots of different skills, and our retired builders look forward to putting this back together again with the correct lime mortar.

If anyone has more pictures of this area, we would be pleased to hear from you. (breva2011 (at)

The new location at Winchcombe is adjacent to the barrow crossing at the northern end of platform 2. The area will be landscaped, and opened to visitors. We would like to give the building a meaning at its new location, and our idea is to turn it into a goods office, or coal merchant's office, with a few period attributes scattered around it. There is also an idea for a short platform and some goods vehicles parked in it.

Here is a shot of where it will go:

Basically, behind the Toad, with the platform area behind P2 extended up to the oak tree. The barrow crossing will cut the two areas in half, with a new goods area to be fashioned by the oak tree. We hope the oak tree will survive, because currently all the oak trees seem to be dying. What is happening to them all?

We will update when the first retrieval mission is completed, in about 3 weeks.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Wash and brush up

The Hayles gang had a reunion today - well most of them meet on Wednesdays as part of the PWay gang anyway, but this time it was at Hayles Abbey halt. We decided to give our little halt a spring clean, and remember the good old days when we sat on the terrace in the sun with a bacon roll.

Here we are again, happy as can be.....
(Maitre d') Paul, Rick, Tim, Jules and Jim share an appalling joke - so that hasn't changed then.

Unfortunately a few things have changed - the terrace has gone, and so has the sun. It rained pitter - patter on the roof as we sat in the former Usk shelter.

One thing hat hasn't changed is Lucky the Dalmatian.

We'd only been there a few moments, just the time to open a packet of doughnuts, when he appeared on the other side of the fence.

Each one of us was sniffed in turn for goodies.

We learned that Lucky is 11 human years old, and will some time this year get a new Dalmatian puppy in the house. That we want to see!

We felt that the halt looked pretty good, after nearly a year of use. The selective weedkiller on the grass has worked well, and it can now be mown relatively easily as John is doing below. Other gang members are dotted about the site doing this and that to give a bit of care to the old place.

The mower came in the back of John's car and in due course we will have a tin hut to store it in. We have negotiated with the Broadway group to take over their (former railway) corrugated iron shed, currently used to store cement during the build. This used to stand in an orchard in Breedon, and was recovered by your blogger a few years back.

Someone else who was mowing was the contractor with the remote controlled flail, here getting a bit of TLC after a morning's use, coincidentally right next to the halt.

We last met him half a mile away last Wednesday. The machine does an excellent job.

Above Lucky is being led away, after once again being naughty and refusing to give up sniffing for goodies among us.

Jules got out the white paint, your blogger the black. We each had our job, and did not meet, luckily.

Here Jules is painting an extra white line to show how far passengers may walk along the platform (to the top of the slope).

Rick had the strimmer out and did the steeper parts of the grass.

He seemed to have a wide range of power tools in the back of the car, because here he is with a hedge trimmer giving the brambles a light trim.

The 'wooden' platform got a topping up with creosote by John and Jim, with Tim at the other end. No trains at all today, alas.

We then held a whip round to buy John a new belt for his trousers.

Is that even legal, John?

Paul gave the roof of the shelter another coat of black, just to make it more presentable.

Rain stopped play at about 2 o'clock, but by that time we had done pretty much what we set out to do. The halt now looks very neat. The timetables have been topped up, the notices are up to date, and all the woodwork has had a lick of creosote.

Over the past months the Hayles gang has looked at a number of other projects, but it is strange how difficult it is to get one off the ground. Something always seems to get in the way of a good idea. We shall keep looking, this useful and motivated little team with building skills.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Fame at last

The Beeb came round to see us on June 5th, so Hayles Abbey halt has become famous.

Here's the clip, in case you haven't seen it:

Three of our volunteers were interviewed. We've decided to go for another closing lunch at the fruit farm tea room, just to celebrate.

Such fun we had.

Really good to see the railway has benefited from the publicity too.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Now it's in use

Hayles Abbey halt - on an ordinary operating day...

This train didn't stop there, it's a steamer - DMUs only this season. But you can still take photographs of them. Sadly, the steamers shut off just before the bridge, so drift by until Toddington.

But we came here to see 1450 and W238W CHAFFINCH one last time. The auto coach was kept in the 'Parlour Road' at Toddington during its wonderful stay with us.

Here it is being retrieved, and shunted into platform 1 for the first service of the day, two trips up the extension to Little Buckland. It even says 'BROADWAY' on the destination board.

Before you write in to report a broken rail on the left... You know how you find a place in a line of guys to take a photograph? You position yourself so that no one is in your line of sight, give everybody a bit of room. Then, just as you press the shutter release, your neighbour raises a hand...

Yes, I confess, I photoshopped it away. However, Photoshop then substituted it for another piece of rail...

Shotly afterwards 1450 pushed the auto coach up the line to Little Buckland. This was a rare experience, to sit in our own 'Coffeepot'. Having seen several grainy B&W photographs of the actual Coffepot service in the 1950's, here was an unexpected chance to see what it was really like. It was big inside, roomy. There was a family atmosphere about, like the sharing of an experience. Behind the glass window the driver pushed and pulled at the regulator, trying to get the right position for the speed required. Bells and whistles were sounded. Once we got the right amount of steam on, we motored along quite happily, until all too soon the new stop board appeared.

If you'd like to know what it was like from the first row, as it were, here is a video of the first trip on Sunday, the last day of operation of 1450 and the auto coach with us. Then they went back home.

After the second trip up to Little Buckland, the 'Coffepot' did what we at Hayles have been building up for. It drifted down from Toddington, and came to a silent stop. No water sloshing out here, but otherwise this scene is now a very close copy of the famous B&W picture taken just before the end of stopping services. We modelled the whole halt on it.

After a brief pause, the Coffepot moved off again.

Did anyone get off, actually use the halt?


To be honest though, we didn't build this halt to boost the passenger numbers, but to recreate the past, following the GWR Trust's mission 'To build and maintain a railway museum for the benefit of the public'. But if we can generate more interest, and a few more ticket sales along with it, that would be great. And there is more interest. For one thing, the bridge is a great place to photograph our trains, before or after you have taken a trip on the railway. It's a reason to come and see us.

You can even take a passing shot, as 1450 accelerates away towards Winchcombe, where it would reverse.

Now the halt has fallen silent again, except for the twittering of the skylarks.

We still haven't quite finished pimping and polishing our little halt. One of the things that were missing was a seat inside the shelter. This is a replica, home made using bench ends supplied by one of our sponsors, GWR Benches at Moreton. Its a 'triple', which is how these benches were originally constructed. The 'doubles' came much later, and are less authentic.

We thought we'd just sling it on the back of the truck, but - mistake! These things are heavy. Six of us groaned as we lifted first one end on, then the other. Fingers were crossed that we would actually get it into the shelter, as we knew it was a tight fit. Let's see.

What do you mean, you can only see five heads? Well, someone had to take the picture, it was only for a moment, then we heaved that thing down the slope.

Their faces do look rather rosy with the effort.

Here it is, a GWR bench installed in the GWR shelter. It did fit after all, phew. No schoolboy carving of romances on it though, please.

Of course, we had to test it thoroughly. It passed!

Faces less pink already.

We'll stay in touch from time to time to let you know what we are up to. Most of us are also members of the track gang, so tomorrow we will do what track gangs do: lay track! Got to get the rail that was delivered yesterday on to those sleepers laid out last week, then we can move the supply train up.

Monday, 5 June 2017

The official opening

Sixty invited guests came today to see what 12 men had built: a perfect heritage copy of the original 1928 GWR halt at Hayles Abbey.

And what better way to celebrate this wonderful moment, than with an original 'Coffeepot' in the form of GWR 1450 and its own auto coach 'CHAFFINCH'.

Here's the 14xx pulling out of the Parlour road at Toddington.

The Gods were angry with us:

''You have stopped eating doughnuts!
You shall have rain!!!''

And we did. No matter, we had a very successful launch, and a lot of fun on the way.

While the Hayles gang and the 60 invitees were sipping tea and coffee in the Flag & Whistle, the auto train hissed and dripped away quietly in the platform at Toddington. This then is quite an authentic scene, the local stopping train from the 1950s, no passengers, two or three staff in a huddle on the platform.

In a year or so, we should be able to do this again at Broadway. Or would it be even more interesting to have a Railmotor visit us next time?

The driving compartment in the trailer was quite interesting. 

While the fireman stands on the loco behind, the driver at this end actually has a regulator to operate. Amazing, the sort of linkage that must be required from the ceiling here, down the end wall, along under the floor, across the gap between the buffing and drawing gear, under the bunker and back up to the top of the boiler in the cab.

Further down is a picture of a driver actually operating this regulator handle. 

The auto coach had a surprising seating capacity, and the whole crowd did indeed just about fit in. There was a great air of jollity, typefied by the happy faces of the Hayles gang sitting front left.

More of us on the right hand side.
And where are we going to next, guys? They knew the answer in a flash !

(interesting to see that the autocoach was already equipped for this next destination, we borrowed the destination board from the driver's compartment...)

The Gods now started to smile upon us a little bit, as the rain let off as we arrived at Hayles. 

Maxine had prepared a lovely piece of velvet curtain, just for the event.

Lord Wemyss of Stanway House, our neighbour, gave us a very congratulatory speech. Then came the big reveal. A tug, and:


Newspapers, television, radio, and our very own house photographers in the foreground came to witness the scene. Hayles Abbey halt is back! Hail the driver from the platform, or tell the guard if aboard, any DMU operated train will stop for you here from now on.

To the delight of the photographers, we then played around with the train a little, letting it reverse back, come back in to stop, and pull away forwards and come back again.

They're all up there, those photters. When will they pretend to run in with the auto train? Will the tanks overflow again? (sadly not, although a sharp stop was attempted the first time)

Here's the train just pulling into the halt, after receiving a request to stop from a small group of waiting passengers.

Want to see that again? Here we are near the new running in board, whistle blowing. Those big 12 inch letters look like one inch ones from here. This is pretty authentic, isn't it? Didn't we do well?

Now the auto train is stopped at the halt, and a lone passenger starts to walk up the ramp. The fireman looks on,while the guard has gone off to chat with someone at the rear.

There's no hurry.

Finally, the auto train sets off for Winchcombe. One of our neighbours here did this every day in the 1950s, to go to school in Cheltenham. We invited him to the opening too.

Ah yes, how does the driver work the regulator from his little seat?

Well, he doesn't really use that seat, this regulator is just as stiff as the one on an old freight loco, so you have to get up and shove it hard, with both hands.

After a return journey to Little Buckland, our party was treated to a super sit down lunch in the Flag & Whistle, a great conclusion to a great day.

We were delighted to hear the chairman of our trust remind us of our objective:

'To build and maintain a railway museum for the benefit of the public - fence to fence, buffer stop to buffer stop'.

Well said. What else can we do to improve our heritage here? The Hayles gang is up for it.


Two more pictures received from Malcolm Ranieri, who was kind enough to give permission to use them on this blog:

After the unveiling of the running in board, Tim Bazely (head of our Heritage Group) stands proudly with the Mayor of Cheltenham, and Lord Wemyss.

The Hayles Abbey halt gang. Thanks, Malcolm, for once your blogger is in the picture.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The last doughnut

There was an air of nostalgia about us today, this last working day on the Hayles Abbey halt project.
There was a good team of 11 on the site, and we met early. We had finished our tea and doughnuts on the platform by the time Lucky came galoomphing down the slope, and a quick nasal survey of the area told him that the doughnuts had all gone.

How people come to work at Hayles,  by car and - by Telehandler. Park it over there with the others please.
There was a small number of outstanding jobs, and otherwise it was site clearance day. We need to have it nice and neat for the opening next Monday.
Dave had scraped together half a dumpy bag of ballast, and for one last time Minnie the Mixer was coaxed into life. She didn't like being touched by new people, and ran obstinately at a snail's pace. Your blogger had to move a secret lever from 'Tortoise' to 'Hare' and then she obliged with a happy chuntering. This made us a couple of barrow loads of weak mix, with which we finished off concreting in the fence posts.

Here's what the pathway now looks like, with all the posts in, and their foundations hidden by chippings and earth.

Jim H made a useful noticeboard for those contemplating the use of the halt.

If you want to know what it says, you'll have to click on the picture for an enlargement.

It says the halt opens on June 6th, so we are definitely off! Only the DMU will stop though.

Site clearance then. The Telehandler was brought up from Winchcombe so that we could load the heavier items still left on site. The first bit was our water container. You might say, why not drain the water out and lift it by hand, but we still needed that water for a while.

Jim G and Paul watch the goings on with the water container. We need that area to place the new bench, at the top of the slope.

And here comes that bench. There were complaints from the gang of 4 that walked it to the neighbours house for storage last week, so to get it back we used hydraulics.

Where would you like it, sir?

After the water container came the remains of the sand and ballast. They can best be used up by B&S at Winchcombe, so the Transit was loaded and dispatched southwards.

Today was a running day - hooray! - so there was plenty of train action. Here's Foremarke Hall accelerating away past the halt.
The trains today were well filled, which was good to see, even the DMU. Mrs. Blogger says it's because of the school holidays, and grandparents needing somewhere to occupy the kids. We can take care of that.

After a while, Foremarke Hall rumbled past in the other direction, tender first. If you were a passenger waiting in our new shelter, this is what you'd see.

Once the Transit had returned from Winchcombe, it was used to take the remaining blocks and blue bricks, this time going via the trackbed. The site is starting to look very neat and tidy now.

What do you think of this then? We're pretty much finished now, just a little bit of last minute fettling of the shelter. We put some expanding foam under the eaves at the end, as the the prevailing southerly wind is driving the rain in that way. The grass is growing well (so are the weeds) thanks to the recent rain we've had, especially last night. Rick gave the whole area a good strimming.

With the removal of the container, our tea making facilities have reduced to the most basic level (one tiny burner, placed on the concrete inside the shelter) and the sausage rolls have ceased altogether.
Our teapot and saucers have sat in the container off-site for a fortnight and are less fresh than they might be. Paul is giving them a good clean here.

Then it's lunch on the platform. We now have a first row seat of the passing trains, so we wave cheerily to driver John and his passengers.

After lunch, it's a bit of plane spotting. We seem to be on one of their 'routes' and had several interesting ones today.

The first one was this Chinook. See how it hopped over the Cotswolds edge, and then hugged the terrain down into the Evesham Vale.

It flew quite close to us too, you can see right through it here.

Behind is Cleeve Hill.

An Apache flew the other way, also close to the ground, but this one had to pull back to rise up over the Cotswold Edge, where the Chinook had come from.

Then finally, a pair of Hercules', also low, and doing a graceful bank round Dumbleton hill.

After lunch, Foremarke Hall steamed by again. This would be a pretty good picture, if we hadn't all parked our cars along the fence.

Last week we fitted the hooks on to the lamp posts, and this week Jim G brought the actual Hurricane lamps.

This is what the arrangement looks like. In real life, the lamps were very rarely caught by the camera, we know of only a single picture where you can make one out, barely.

It's all a bit flimsy, but the GWR built this halt cheaply, and these lamps were only hung up during the hours of darkness, being brought out from the station responsible for the halt (Toddington).

What does one look like? It's like this. An ordinary Hurricane lamp, with G.W.R., a number and the name of the station painted on. Jim G did all that, didn't he do well?

We are not going to bring those lamps out every time it gets dark, so we have opted to attach them permanently to the hooks, so that they are not easily removed. In any case, they are cheap to buy - only £5 each! So not really worth the effort of bringing a ladder to steal one.

One of the jobs was to extend the hand rail at the top into a fence. Here Paul is giving it a coat of dark woodstain.

Inside the shelter the 3 notice boards made by Jim H have gone up. They are really neat. So that you can see what the notices say, we have photographed them for you below:

What a great map, to show you where the abbey is.

The board on the left.
The board on the right gives pictures of what we did, as a construction record for the curious vistor, while the one on the left honours our principal sponsor and gives a brief history of the halt, with an old timetable as an example of the service that was provided up to 7th March 1960.

At the northern end is the new running in board, manufactured by our own Buildings and Services department, using partly original and partly reproduction cast letters. They have been secured with one way screws.
We have covered the board up with a piece of Terram for the grand unveiling on Monday, but the rain has made it rather transparent!
Now you can see why one of the posts was taller than the other.

Once again, Foremarke Hall steamed by with an open regulator. She has managed to hide the Terram covered running in board, and the plastic chairs set out for lunch, but you can still see our cars and the ladder used to clean off the sealant foam.
In a couple of weeks all the unwanted baggage here will be gone, and you should be able to take a photograph of this site just like the historical ones from before 1960. Just like the real thing.

Please note that you should not park your car in the entrance to Hayles Abbey halt. It is in very regular use by large agricultural machinery, and the farmer would have a very dim view if he found his passage blocked. In addition, part of it is the reserved parking area for our neighbour, who would also be unhappy if he found it occupied.

The last job of the day was to locate the new GWR style bench at the top of the slope.

The bench is pretty heavy (hence the complaints from the 4 that walked it to our neighbour) but just in case we have also bolted it to 4 concrete filled concrete blocks. It's all underground, you can't see it, and the area has also been seeded with grass.

Here it is in place. Even if you don't want to catch the train, you can sit here and enjoy the view.
That grass will  need mowing from time to time, so we hope someone can be persuaded to take this on.

And finally...

It's a big cheer from us, to you, our blog watchers. Perhaps you have also helped us with a donation to the GWR Trust, because without your contributions our little heritage recreation would not have been possible.

We have shown that the GWSR has the skills to create an attractive heritage project, on time, and within budget, and with a very reasonable outlay. We could do more.

Next Monday then is the official opening, an invitation only event for a limited number of people, but one which will be reported on the blog, so you won't miss a thing.