Many railway enthusiasts can only dream of having their own garden railway with model trains to play with at their leisure. Sir William McAlpine however has gone one step further for it is not a model railway which resides in his garden, but a full size standard gauge railway running for almost a mile in length. Not content with that alone, the railway also contains the steepest track for a conventional railway in the UK- if not the world- with a gradient of 1/13! The railway began life in 1964 when Sir William, the great grandson of
railway pioneer Sir Robert McAlpine (famed as 'Concrete Bob' for his work on the West Highland Extention), purchased locomotive No 31, a Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0 which was to be scrapped by his company. A short length of track was laid for the locomotive and the railway has expanded ever since. Not only does the Fawley Hill railway, near Henley on Thames have track and it's own locomotive, the collection of artefacts collected by Sir William is quite astonishing! A two story museum is packed with railwayana- models, locomotive nameplates, station benches, cutlery, even limited edition chocolate trains- quite literally everything! As if that was not enough the grounds of his home contain even more unusual railway artefacts- several complete stations, a signal box, footbridge, oh- and two arches from Waterloo station removed for the construction of the international terminal. In a strange way, all these artefacts seem quite at home here with Sir William and his equally interesting collection of wildlife.
Fawley Hill holds several opening days each year which are attended by invitation only. My thanks goes to Jonathan Hall of Hampton Court Model Railway Society for organising our visit, and to Sir William McAlpine and the volunteers at Fawley Hill for having us. A most enjoyable day was had by all!