Suddenly in the early 1870s the local iron ore became invaluable. Henry Bessemer found a way of making steel cheaply. At first it needed iron from hematite mines within a 25 mile radius of Ravenglass. The most productive were around Egremont to the north and Dalton in the south. Even the old mines in Eskdale, once the source of iron for the Romans, reopened. Huge steel works were built at Barrow in Furness and Workington. Steel was rolled into rails that did not wear out for many years. They were in demand all over the world. Speculation pushed ore prices up and up. Whitehaven Iron Mines Limited was set up to mine all over the Lake District mountains by the unscrupulous Faithful Cookson. Selling shares on the London Stock Market, Cookson became rich – others lost money! This Company needed to get ore from its mine in Eskdale to the main line railway faster and cheaper than by horse and cart. In 1873 Parliament passed the special Act to build a seven mile line from the Nab Gill mine at Boot to the station and harbour at Ravenglass. A full sized track would have cost £90,000 but laying rails to a narrow 3ft (915mm) gauge only cost £32,000. Whitehaven Iron Mines Ltd and Ambrose Oliver, the contractor, took equal shares. 50 navvies started work in February 1874 and within a year ran trains to Eskdale Green. When the loco Devon arrived from Manning, Wardle in Leeds, the full length line opened for goods in May 1875. However, passing the government Board of Trade inspection to carry the public took two attempts. Colonel Yolland had never seen ‘masonry…of such indifferent quality’! The first passenger train left at 8:35am on Monday 20 November 1876 ‘gaily decorated with flags…. The district was quite en fete over the event…’. Within 6 months of opening, unpaid bills forced the railway into Receivership. Although ‘bankrupt’ the trains continued to run every day for the next 32 years.
After the Great War started in 1914 the old railway was overgrown but not forgotten. Elsewhere trains, tracks and a complete railway were requisitioned for war service. 3 friends in Bassett-Lowke’s model business found the derelict line in June 1915. Earlier they had built small trains for exhibitions, funfairs and rich mens’ estates. They set up Narrow Gauge Railways Ltd to run railway services. In seven weeks they had a lease and started men to relay the old rails to a smaller 15 inch (381mm) gauge for their miniature steam locos. One delay was retrieving 4-4-2 loco Sans Pareil and its open coaches from Norway following the 1914 Jubilee Exhibition. Only 12 days after a German submarine shelled the local coast, the first trains on the small railway ran to Muncaster on 28 August 1915. Carrying over 700 passengers in four days, it was an immediate success. Make a visit to the Museum part of your Railway journey. Discover how things have changed as you travel through the past to the present and learn when and how our story began. Find out who lived and worked in the valley and the railway. Explore how the railway has evolved through the years, we weren’t always little ! Its not just about the railway though, did you know that Ravenglass was once a very important strategically placed harbour in Roman times with links to Emperor Hadrian, Mussel fishing was the trade in past years but was that before or after the iron trade. That’s what a visit will help you find out so come and explore the Museum on your next Railway trip. It is known affectionately as La’al Ratty meaning “little railway” in olde Cumbrian dialect. Download the phone app from iTunes or from Google. You can ride the railway to Muncaster and visit the fascinating (and haunted) Muncaster Castle and explore the extensive Himilayan gardens.
Location : Ravenglass, Cumbria CA18 1SW.
Transport: Ravenglass (National Rail). Bus from Ambleside (X33).
Opening Times: Daily March to October and Whenever the Railway is running in Winter.
Tickets : Museum Free.
Railway (Day Pass) : Adults £12.70 Children (+5) £6.35.
Railway/Muncaster Castle : Adults £23.00 Children (+5) £11.50.
Tel: 01229 717171