Sign 1 - Jaywick Miniature Railway

Jaywick Miniature Railway

The Jaywick Miniature Railway would most likely have been built to 15-inch gauge except that, at the time of its initial planning, a second-hand 18-inch gauge steam locomotive happened to be available; this was duly purchased and the whole line was then in effect designed around it.

The Jaywick line was, at least initially, planned as a means of getting from 'A' to ‘B’. It was the brain-child of the Stedman family, who owned the Jaywick Sands Estate on the Essex coast just south of Clacton-on-Sea. F.C.Stedman, known to family and friends as 'Foff' (his own holiday home was called "Foff's Corner"!), together with his son Reg, had already been responsible for three developments at Jaywick, but these were all 'holiday homes'. Some were little more than wooden shacks, selling for £50 or so and intended purely for summer accommodation. The Stedman’s fourth development, however, was designed to provide 'proper' permanent homes, costing from about £325 for a two-bedroom house or around £150 for a 145 x 30-ft plot. (Lest these prices might seem a bargain, even at pre-war levels, it should be pointed out that initially they included neither running water nor drains - water had to be taken from standpipes in the street, and toilet facilities consisted of "Elsans" which were emptied nightly!) At the time (1935), Jaywick had a rather unsavoury reputation due to the ramshackle nature of many of the existing properties and the Stedman’s discovered that, despite giving the new development the rather grandiose title of "The Tudor Village Estate", local building societies and banks were reluctant to advance loans for house purchase there. This problem was neatly circumvented by 're-locating' the estate to "West Clacton".

Aware of the indifferent nature of local transport facilities, Reg Stedman had the novel idea of building a miniature railway to carry prospective home-buyers from the sea-front to view the new project. A virtually ready-made route was already available along the top of an old earthen sea wall, which ran from the coast to near the edge of the planned estate.

To design and construct the line, the Stedman’s engaged the firm of Miniature Railway & Specialists (sic) Engineering, of Terminus Road, Eastbourne.

The locomotive had had quite a complex history prior to its purchase but at this point it is only necessary to note that it was built to the somewhat unusual gauge of 18 inches, and this therefore determined the track dimensions of the Jaywick line. To accompany the engine, the railway's designers approached the firm of Caffyns, a well-respected and long-established coach-building concern in Eastbourne (which incidentally is still trading there under the same name, almost seventy years later, as a car main-dealership). Caffyns duly produced three identical enclosed bogie coaches to Parsons' design; despite their success, are believed to be the only railway items ever produced by that firm.

A fascinating document recently unearthed by David Camis in the Stedman archives at Clacton Library comprises a large-scale 1934 map of the Jaywick area, on which the proposed route has been sketched in crayon. The plan differs in several respects from what was actually built:

a) a "suggested bye-pass" (sic) inserting a section of straight track to eliminate a 180-degree curve in the bank about half-a-mile from the southern terminus

b) a `balloon loop' at the northern end of the line at a point on the sea wall nearest to the site of the housing estate.

As both the above would have involved additional earthworks together with bridges or culverts across the drain they were discarded; the balloon loop arrangement would also have left passengers with a 1/2-mile walk across reputedly marshy meadowland to reach the nearest road.

c) an extension, dropping off the sea wall on a gradient of 1-in-100 and then crossing the fields to a point marked on the map as "Site of Terminus" immediately adjacent to the location of the new estate. Note that this original terminus proposal was located at a point some distance east of the site actually used, the latter being adjacent to the junction of Cross Ways and Meadow Way; the amendment was presumably made once the layout of the housing was finalised.

Some distance along the extension, the route encountered an ancient barrow or burial mound, which could easily have been avoided. However its presence provided the perfect excuse for incorporating an almost genuine example of that feature beloved of all miniature railways, namely a tunnel! The description 'almost' applies because the barrow wasn't high enough to necessitate more than a modest cutting but, nothing daunted, the line's builders added a corrugated roof and sides high enough to provide sufficient headroom. Some sixty feet long, it was embellished with `brick' portals, though these were in fact painted wood.

Apart from the locomotive and three coaches already mentioned, the only other initial item of rolling-stock was a small four-wheel flat wagon used for track maintenance purposes. The track-plan was also the minimum compatible with efficient operation, there being but five sets of points. Four of these were spring-loaded and formed the ends of run-round loops at either end of the line, the fifth giving access to a loco-shed spur at the inland terminus (named Crossways (one word), after one of the adjacent roads). The track into the shed was raised a couple of feet (one reference says three feet) above the ground on reinforced concrete pillars, to allow access underneath for loco maintenance. The 20ft. loco shed was substantially built of brick and concrete and contained a comprehensive set of maintenance equipment, including lathe, drills and a 'hacking machine' (the last presumably a powered hacksaw or shaper), also an air compressor to assist in raising steam. The machine tools were powered by belts and shafting linked initially to a Douglas flat-twin petrol engine, this subsequently being replaced by an electric motor.

Apart from the loco-shed, other 'lineside features' included the two neat little stations, each complete with platform (concrete at Crossways, wood at Jaywick Sands), traditional-style white palisade fencing, bench seats and electric lamp standards, the last (along with the electrically-lit coaching stock) allowing trains to run after dark. At the sea-shore end there was also a small wooden ticket-hut, though tickets were normally issued on the train, whilst alongside the inland terminus a Sales Office, again of wood, was built to welcome the hordes of would-be house purchasers which it was hoped the little line would attract.

At Crossways an elevated water tank and coal bunker were provided; rather curiously, a 1936 photo shows the former alongside the headshunt, whilst on a later one taken in 1938/39 it appears next to the run-round loop. In either location, the loco could be `refreshed' during the day without going 'on shed'. Apart from the previously-mentioned `tunnel', the only other feature of note was a small bridge over a stream near the northern terminus. There were no signals, the line always operating on the one-engine-in-steam principle.

The first operation of the day would have been Empty Stock to Jaywick Sands, from where the initial passenger train left at 8.30 a.m. to begin a half-hour interval service. As already mentioned, the line was equipped for running after dark, though whether much advantage of this was ever taken is not known. Since the three coaches only seated a maximum of twenty-four adults, train capacity must have been strained at peak periods - one report claimed up to 2,000 journeys per day, to achieve which almost every seat on every train would have been occupied!

Fares were very reasonable for the period; an unbroken round trip cost 6d (2'I2 p.) for adults and 4d. for children. `Period Returns', at 9d. and 6d. respectively, were available for those passengers who wished to inspect Mr. Stedman's `Tudor residences' and, in subsequent years, for their occupants to visit the beach.

It is doubtful whether, in fact, the line ever fulfilled to any great extent its owners' initial intention to provide access to the Cross Ways Estate for potential house-buyers, but there was clearly enough casual holiday traffic to keep the railway busy; according to a local newspaper there was also the added attraction of a 'Miniature Zoo' to entice visitors to the northern end of the line. The J.M.R. is reputed to have made a steady profit during the first four seasons of operation, the 'bottom line' no doubt being helped by the fact that the Stedman’s paid Bob Bloomfield the princely wage of £2.10s.0d. (£2.50) per week, to earn which he put in seven twelve-hour shifts in the season!

There were few reported happenings to mark one day from the next, the most exciting probably being the occasion, very soon after the Grand Opening, when Bob omitted to apply the brakes as the train entered Crossways Station, the Single demolishing the stop-block and ending up in the gravel minus its nearside front buffer! Photographs indicate that it ran 'one-buffered' for some time afterwards.

The little line closed in September 1939 and all the stock was stored under cover locally; later, some at least of the track was removed as part of the 'scrap drive' and the line's days seemed over forever.

In 1946 the Single was sold (for £20) to Mr. A.L.Bird of Cambridge, and the following year the remainder of the stock also left Jaywick, being purchased by Commander Tommy Mann, who ran the Tower Grounds Amusement Park at New Brighton.

For the 1949 season, the railway was revived by a Mr. Ayres; a fragment of a large-scale map in the authors' possession indicates that only the southern half of the line was used, 'end of track' being exactly half way round the previously-mentioned 180-degree curve some 14,-mile from Jaywick Sands terminus. There were no run-round facilities so operations were clearly `out-and-back'. The line only ran for a single season.

In June 1981 the Clacton Gazette reported that a "local entrepreneur" had attempted to re-open the line, but abandoned the idea when only given planning permission for one year's operation.

Then in June 1992, three Jaywick men, including the proprietor of the Amusement Arcade and a local builder, made a fresh application to Tendring District Council to open a 101/4-inch gauge line, again on the original alignment, but this time for a distance of 530 yards "stopping at the head of the Lions, instead of going across the fields to the junction of Meadow Way and Cross Ways". This was envisaged as being Stage One of a more ambitious plan to continue "across the Lions back to the Tower Caravan Site, thence to St. Osyth Beach".

The planning application referred to other successful steam railways, including the Bure Valley, Ffestiniog and Romney lines, and stated that operations at Jaywick would be from Easter to the end of the season, working from 9 a.m. to dusk; trains would run at weekends only to begin with, but daily during the summer. The round-trip journey time was estimated at 30 minutes; train capacity was approximately twenty passengers, and a steam locomotive would be employed "as shown in photo" (it appears to be a Curwen Atlantic or similar).

The Council granted planning permission the following year "subject to the owners entering a legal agreement concerning the position of the track", whatever that meant, but the said agreement was never signed, as one of the partners was apparently unable to raise his share of the capital, and planning permission eventually lapsed. A site visit in September 2003 revealed that, perhaps uniquely, almost all the route of the line is still passable, more than fifty years after the last train ran.

Information provided by: L. Little – ‘A single to the seashore – The Jaywick Miniature Railway’ - Narrow Gauge Railway Society

Last updated on: 22/07/2021 - 15:47