Monday, 2 February 2015


It's been so long since the last update that no-one would blame the hundreds of thousands (yes, really!) who've been reading this blog for thinking that we've given up. Far from it, but we were asked to not to publicise the important development that forms much of this content. This update revolves around patience and we thank you for your patience with us. This might prove to be one of the most important updates we've given, for whilst it doesn't say that we're opening a railway, a very considerable amount of previously unmentioned work has been done towards building one. All can now be revealed, so do read on...

We admit it, we need more money, and the next few months will see strenuous efforts to raise it. Just over a year ago we submitted an application to the UK's Heritage Lottery Fund which is how the restoration of many British locomotives is financed. Whilst our application was deemed to be an excellent example of its kind we couldn't meet some of the conditions that the Lottery laid down and nor could we today. Despite that disappointment we've completed, in terms of time, about 70%, perhaps 75%, of the work to restore this historic locomotive to as-new condition. About GBP50,000 is now required to conduct the work that we can't do ourselves. Such things as boiler repairs and replacement water tanks come to mind. Now we could reduce our specifications and get this work done cheaply. Yet typically, a quick job on her boiler would get her running again for a while, but a quality job could see the boiler's life extended by as much as 40 years. We've chosen to be patient and take the quality, long-term option. WOOLWICH is too important a machine to be the subject of second-rate work.

Some tasks, mainly painting, have been done in the past year and as the photographs show the entire loco is now in an excellent state of conservation. Our visitors aren't generally railway experts and most never realise they're looking at a steam locomotive, let alone the very last of the Royal Arsenal's many dozens of narrow gauge machines. Our late July open day saw a wider realisation though thanks to a Gentleman who brought along his wonderful models of WOOLWICH and ARQUEBUS, one of the Arsenal's earlier locomotives. As far as any of us are aware these are the first scale models of Arsenal 18 inch gauge machines ever made. They sat on the real thing's mainframes and were a joy to behold. It's hoped that these models will return to Crossness in 2015 - in steam!

So, not a great deal to say about 'Woolwich' but even if she was in working order she'd need a railway to run on and...

Our site is located the width of a fence from The Royal Arsenal within one of the largest sewage treatment works in the World. Crossness Sewage Treatment Works purifies almost all of South London's liquid effluent at the rate of some 14 tons per second. It's not possible to allow general public access through such a strategic and vital plant and thus the very limited number of open days we can have. For some years Thames Water and the Crossness Engines Trust have been striving to find a method of allowing the life-blood of paying visitors into the preserved pumping station on a more frequent basis. Railways hold the key. (Of course!)

The first parts of the Sewage Works were constructed between 1860 and 1865 and to build them the contractors, Lucas & Aird, built a two and a half mile long standard gauge railway across the marshes from Plumstead. Remarkably the course of their railway remains all but unimpeded today. That line would come to delineate the Southern boundary of The Royal Arsenal as the great military factory extended Eastwards from the mid 1890s reaching Crossness in 1903.

In late 2011 Thames Water and the Crossness Engines Trust entered discussions about using that former railway's course as an independent access route to the magnificent 1860s pumping station. A substantial, surfaced, footpath is now complete and it is designed to allow construction of a narrow gauge railway alongside. Whether that will happen depends on Thames Water's permission. Detailed proposals are being drawn-up at the time of writing and should the go-ahead be given an application for planning permission will be made. As there are no properties within sight of the proposed line, yet alone close-by, objections are considered unlikely.

This modest line of 700 yards wouldn't open rapidly, probably no earlier than 2016. Thanks to some splendid donations of Permanent Way materials we have an additional incentive. A large amount of superb 80lb per yard rail has been delivered and there's more to follow, hopefully enough to complete the line.

Speaking of rail, the large number of photographs accompanying this update include the remarkable discovery of a surviving section of the RAR. All was thought to be lost so a thrilling time was had surveying it. Some came away with prizes for doing so, pocketfuls of genuine RAR loco coal!

The image above of WOOLWICH, the Powder Wagon that's been preserved, and the cranes of the Arsenal's Cross Ness explosives handling pier depict what would have been seen at this time of year in the late 1930s.

Please do look at the photos that come with this update, their captions add a great deal of important detail and are best read in order. The first are of WOOLWICH and the lovely models that came to see her. After that there are maps, plans, and photos, concerning the hoped-for new railway and a picture really does speak a thousand words here. Finally there are some intriguing glimpses of those remnants of the RAR that haven't seen a train in half a Century. DO HAVE A LOOK!
Album 1: Woolwich, Large and Small
Album 2: A New Line for Woolwich?
Album 3: Look What We Found - Original Track!

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