PHIL THOMPSON'S GREAT WILLOWGARTH RAILWAY..for 2015 construction see the bottom of this page...


The Great Willowgarth Railway is currently in the course of construction, in a garden alongside a medieval moated site known locally as the Willowgarth.  The moated area comprises an island about 25m long by 20m wide, surrounded by a ditch up to 12m wide, for the most part filled with water.   Construction of the GWR commenced in April 2006, after some 20 months of planning and preparation including the removal (by hand) of a conifer hedge made up of 42 trees (inconveniently growing exactly where part of the line was intended to run), together with refurbishing trackwork and a bridge used on my previous garden railway.


 The GWR will be built in stages and the intention was to complete Phase 1 in time for an open day scheduled for August 2006 – just 18 weeks from the start date.  A detailed project plan was drawn up (just to prove that construction was possible in the time available), but the plan was modified as work progressed – for example when heavy rain brought work to a halt and when another ****** conifer proved to be in the way and had to be removed from an awkward location. However, the existing garden layout was a great help to rapid construction, making use of an existing retaining wall about 0.9m high for almost half of the current line.  Phase 1 was completed just in time for the planned opening.   There are currently two stations built on the retaining wall and the pictures give some idea of the station layouts.  The station throat for one station is on an embankment, which leads to a bridge some 5m long across a large shrubbery.  This leads to a second embankment, faced with a “dry stone” wall.  By the end of this second embankment, the line is at ground level, where it occupies a shelf cut into the earth embankment along one side of the moat. The line is in the form of a dumbbell, with a return loops at both ends and stretches of single line between.  There are, however, plenty of sidings and passing loops and the single line has proved to be no restriction to operation – we have had as many as six trains running at the same time!  One return loop is “temporary” and is intended to be moved as additional phases of the line are completed. 

 Phase 1 provides a circuit of around 80m.  I hope that future phases will add around 10m to 15m each year, with the temporary return loop being repositioned each time.  Present plans allow for another four or five phases, but I’m not sure when I will stop building.  One thing’s sure, I will never use all the potential space, which could comfortably accommodate a circuit of around 300m – that’s over three scale miles at 16mm to the foot! Phil Thompson    Two pictures of the moat, taken from the island in the middle and looking towards the garden.  The pictures were taken when most of the 42 conifers were still standing as a hedge – they are now gone!  Whilst this looks a great location for a garden railway (just think of the bridges you could build!), the site is scheduled as an ancient monument by English Heritage - and hence most building work is banned


Front station Station by one of the dumbbells – as yet, this station does not have a name.  A large concrete slab was laid at the same height as the retaining wall and the track plan was finalised afterwards.  With a passing loop and plenty of sidings, there is space to steam up four or five locos and still have room to pass two trains.  Garage station The second station built on the existing retaining wall is a junction, with two long passing loops and two steam-up sidings.  I have counted six trains in this station at once – and everything kept moving.  As you will have seen, the line is fully ballasted. 



Garage station throat The two lines from the above station converge at the junction (also currently without a name).  One line is shown on the picture, whilst the other is just off-picture to the right.  The three-way point was made by Marcway Pointwork of Sheffield and there is another at the other end of the junction station.

 After the bridge, there is a passing loop built on a “dry stone wall” embankment, before the line reaches a “shelf” at ground level.  The Willowgarth moat is in the trees in the background and part of the temporary return loop can be seen on the right.  All of the line across the bridge, along the embankment and up the shelf to the temporary loop is built on a rising gradient of 1 in 80. 


Photos © Phil Thompson

Bridge  The bridge through the shrubbery.  The bridge girders were built for my previous garden railway and had become a little careworn.  However, I had them shot-blasted and powder-coated in South Yorkshire Transport “bus-stop blue” and it now forms an impressive feature of the line.

The temporary return loop.  This is double track so that trains can pass if required.  The boards were salvaged from the old Yorkshire Area Group portable layout.

August 09

The extension is completed for The Open Day on schedule!!


The mound still remains!!


Everyone marvels at the achievement!!

photos©David Hill

Open day 2011 recorded by Andy Cooper


Improvements in 2014


Extending the line to Fosters End – the big build of 2014

 Under the original plan, I intended to build the extension to Fosters End after completing the large return loop at the end of the garden. But then, in the autumn of 2012, I decided this was not a good idea – for reasons that now escape me.  Instead, I started to build the intended extension onto the side of the moat.  Winter then intervened and, by the time the weather was again half-decent, I found myself busier at work than for many a year.  So 2013 passed by without any further building work. As summer 2014 approached, I marked out the extension to Fosters End and worked out the quantities of materials required.  This was initially out of curiosity, but it was a shock to discover that Fosters End would need at least twice the amount of concrete blocks and stone than the extension to the moat.  As I’m not getting any younger, I decided to tackle the bigger job first. The plan is to build a lifting (and removable) bridge from the existing “head of steel” under Lovetot station, on a falling gradient of 1.6 degrees, to a small passing station on a curve.  The line will then cross a high bridge before branching right into Fosters End.  This station will have a number of steam-up sidings and a small engine shed.  Its facing “dry stone” wall will incorporate the headstone removed some years ago from grandpa Foster’s grave.  After passing through Fosters End station, the line will enter a long curve and disappear behind a hill and some planting on a balloon loop, before it reappears at the high bridge.  All of the extension will be at table-top height and most of it will be on a 1.6 degree gradient, to follow the lie of the land. The bill of quantities for the first stage of the wall was initially estimated at 700 4” concrete blocks, 300 concrete bricks, 100 bags of sand, 6 tonnes of ballast, 9 tonnes of crusher and 75 bags of cement.  That’s over 30 tonnes to barrow from the front of the house.  By the time the stone facing is added, the total weight of materials will be around 50 tonnes.  So far, I’ve shifted nearly 30 tonnes and shed almost 20 lbs from all the exercise. The high bridge will use four carved stone double arches acquired a few years ago.  Each double arch is 15cms wide, by 75cms long and 50cms high.  I was just able to lift a double arch, which posed a problem as I wanted to bond pairs of arches together to create two stone arch bridges, each 30ms wide.


In the end, I devised a way of bonding the arches close to where they were needed, on a raised platform made out of a pallet.  Oversize holes were drilled in adjacent sides of both arches, to take 12cm long pins, made of 6mm stainless steel threaded rod.  The rods were smothered in a slow-setting thixotropic epoxy resin and inserted in the holes.  The epoxy resin was also coated on the face of one arch and the arches brought together.  The ensemble was then laid on one side, resting on wooden battens, and the two arches were squared up.  The resin was left to cure for a week before the double-thickness arch was levered upright and slid into position along a couple of 4” x 2” wooden beams.


The stone arches are 1.5m apart and will be connected by a metal girder bridge.  I thought it might look odd if they were on a gradient, with the arches leaning to one side, so they are built level.


The photos below show how construction has progressed during 2014


Here’s the block wall for the station on a curve, nearing completion in early August 2014.  The lifting bridge will land on the end of the wall in the foreground.  The triangular space is now filled with earth and will be planted out in due course.  The visible faces of the blockwork will be faced in stone, with the mortar placed at the back where it won’t be seen.  This creates the look of a dry stone wall, without the need for the full skills of a dry-stone-waller.

Having spent a week on its side whilst the epoxy cured, the second pair of arches has been levered upright on top of the pallet platform.  The pair of wooden beams has been inserted, supported at each end on concrete blocks plus some wooden packing to get the height right.  The beams are on a slight incline, so the arches can be pushed along them, onto concrete bricks smeared with a mastic-gun applied glue that claims to stick anything to anything.

Phew – the second pair of arches is now in place, lined up with the first pair of arches, checked to make sure it’s all level (or close enough) and the wooden beams removed.  By now it’s late September and about one-third of all the concrete blocks are laid.

By mid (ish) October 2014, the rear wall of the balloon loop for Fosters End is well advanced, but not yet up to the same height as the top of stone arches.  The wall alongside the hedge is over 12” thick, to give enough mass to hold back the weight of earth to be piled up in front, forming a hill in the middle of the balloon.  Somebody asked how the trains were going to negotiate the steps down and then back up again.  Were they serious?


April 2015


Step 1 - fill the space between the two concrete block walls with well-tamped crusher.  In this case, 2 and a half tonnes required, shovelled and tamped over two days. Step 2 - prepare for concreting.  This begs the question: what is the garden railway builder's most useful piece of kit?  In my case, the concrete mixer would have to come top of the list - there's no way I could mix the amounts I need by hand-mixing. Step 3 - concrete has been laid and, after twenty four hours setting, any lumps and bumps have been scraped off to get the finished slab as level as possible. Now, I'll leave for a week or two so the concrete can set undisturbed.  Then, I'll start to shift the pile of earth seen in the background into the middle of the return loop.  That'll take a while ...