Friday, 22 December 2017

Nocton Estate Light Railway

Local history

I have already visited this topic in my blog some while ago - on 29 May 2007 and more recently 31 Jan 2017.

A Simplex 20HP engine, originally from Nocton Estate
[now operating on the Lincolnshire Coast Light Railway, Skegness]

My research into the standpipe situated on the bridleway between Nocton and Dunston has prompted me to provide more information about the innovative use of narrow-gauge track on the Nocton Estate.

In 1920, W. Dennis & Sons built four miles of 1ft eleven and half inch gauge rail at Nocton on the heavy fenland east of Wasp's Nest. Trucks were originally pulled by horses or pushed by hand. The line was greatly extended after 1926 to connect the fen to the railhead at the centre of operations, close to the standard gauge railway between Lincoln-Sleaford (now the MAC Ltd facility). A small stone quarry was also connected by a line. In total the Nocton Estate Light Railway (NELR) extended to almost 23 miles of track.

In the 1930's a further extension was planned to be laid northwards through Nocton to Manor Farm, but this was refused permission by the County Council, so the line ended at Wray's Yard. The NELR was to become the largest and longest lived agricultural narrow gauge in the county, if not the country.

The NELR served every aspect of the farming operation, by transporting a variety of produce (mainly potatoes, grain and sugar beet). It also carried muck for spreading, coal for the pumping engine on the fen, food and water for the livestock and provided a regular water supply to the many farms and cottages remote from the villages (the water was loaded into large water tanks mounted on converted wagons). It even delivered the post in the guard vans.

There was even a special passenger coach (called the Queen Mary) provided exclusively for the shooting parties. Staff were also regularly carried in the wagons. Gangs of potato pickers were collected from the main train line and transported into the fields for work.

A couple of steam engines were purchased to pull the loads, one was a Fowler 0-6-0 tank engine, but the other has not been able to be identified. Built in 1926, the Fowler 0-6-0 was built new for the NELR. For the enthusiasts, its works number was 16991.

The Fowler 0-6-0 had a greater shunting capacity over the smaller Simplex engines and was purchased to run the 'main line' of the Nocton Estate. The petrol-fuelled Simplex engines acted in support, operating down the many spur lines into the fields. Unfortunately, the Fowler proved too heavy for the track and she was sold after just 4 years of service to George Cohen and Sons - a scrap metal merchant. I understand this tank engine was offered for sale again in 1937, but with no offers she was sadly scrapped at Burnhope, Co Durham in 1938.

Of course, all steam engines require a water supply to operate efficiently. In addition to the two steam tank engines, there were steam traction engines and ploughing sets operating in the fields, and there was a wider requirement for a supply of water around the estate, as mentioned earlier.

To avoid having to return to the centre of operations at the railhead to obtain water, a series of  standpipes were provided in various locations around the estate. We have now identified one such standpipe, located on the bridleway between Nocton and Dunston - and there was another on Nocton Fen, but its exact location is now unknown.

In later years, as tractors started to take over from the steam engines, there was a new requirement for the NELR, as fuel had to be transported around the estate. This was done in specially converted wagons, so that the tractors could be filled up locally.

In 1955, the NELR was still operating, carrying around 17,000 tons of produce per annum. However, work to improve the estate roads started in earnest to enable lorries to access the fields directly, so by the end of the 1960's, much of the light railway had closed.

There are very few physical reminders of the NELR remaining on the estate. When the author wrote his book 'The Lincolnshire Potato Railways', there were still some remains of track at the railhead both inside and outside the grain mill on the MAC Ltd site, along with some old water tanks removed from the wagons. There was also some track over a culvert running towards the old pump station on the fen.

Although, many of the items above may no longer be in situ, we can report that one of the standpipes is still in its rightful place - the one on the Nocton to Dunston bridleway.


I can recommend viewing the many fascinating photographs and images of the Nocton Estate Light Railway on the 'Lincolnshire Coast Light Railway - History' web-link.

Much of the equipment found on the LCLR owes its survival to being utilised on the Nocton Estate. The oldest locomotive is one of the Simplex 20HP bow-framed units (Motor Rail No. 1935 dated 1920), however the original Dorman petrol engine has been replaced by a diesel. As can be seen from the photograph above, the name plate on the unit commemorates 'Nocton' as its place of work.

You may also like to know a Nocton Estate Light Railway inspired model (4mm scale - 9mm gauge track, representing the narrow gauge) was built for the Staffordshire 'Tracks to the Trenches 2014' Great War Centenary event.

There is a video on YouTube that gives you an idea of what these narrow gauge railways were like

I have managed to locate a website (Rail Map Online) that shows the route of the Nocton Estate Light Railway overlaid onto a map so we can see its exact route over the topography of the area.

View focused on railhead

The full route of Nocton Estate Light Railway

Main extracts from:
  • 'The Lincolnshire Potato Railways by Stewart. E. Squires - ISBN 0 85361 352 4]
Minor extracts are from:

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