The Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway (L&MVLR) was a narrow gauge railway in Staffordshire, Great Britain that operated between 1904 and 1934. When in operation, the line mainly carried milk from dairies in the region, acting as a feeder into the standard gauge system. It also served small villages and beauty spots. The line was built to a gauge of and to light rail standards to reduce construction costs, and came about largely as a consequence of the Light Railways Act 1896 which allowed private companies to construct short railways to serve more remote places which the standard gauge systems would not have reached.
The route of the line is now a foot- and cyclepath.
The North Staffordshire Railway's branch from Leek ended at Waterhouses. The L&MVLR continued from an end-on junction with this line. It ran for 8¼ miles down the valley of the River Hamps as far as Beeston Tor, before turning up the limestone gorge that the River Manifold had formed, through to Hulme End. It is quite remarkable that such a short line should have had so many stations, and there were even refreshment rooms at Thor's Cave and Beeston Tor. In all the line crossed the river Manifold dozens of times - including nine times in the short section between Sparowlee and Beeston Tor.
All stations had rather grand signs (sometimes grander than the facilities!) and platforms were just 6 inches high. All stations had sidings except for Beeston Tor and Redhurst Halt.
Authorised in 1898, this was the narrow gauge section of the Leek Light Railways. The railway ran for 30 years, from 1904 to 1934. Its engineer was E.R. Calthrop, who had experience of building narrow gauge railways in India. A private concern, it was run by the North Staffordshire Railway on a percentage basis, but it later came under the control of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1923.
The line was constructed to a high standard, Calthrop applying lessons learned on his other railways. Rail used was 35lb/yard, and the quality of trackwork is reflected in the fact that no re-laying was ever necessary.
The line was a single line, and most services (which began from Hulme End, where the locomotive sheds were) only involved the use of one engine in steam. There was passing loop at Wetton Mill, but it was never used as such.
At Waterhouses the timetable allowed for connections from Leek.
Trains ran at a maximum speed of 15 mph, and most halts were run on a request basis. More than this, the train would also often stop to pick up passengers at other places on the lineside footpath, if requested. Timetables mostly show single journey times of 50 minutes (with some showing an hour).
Most outbound freight consisted of milk, in both churns and bulk tankers, and the products of the dairy goods factory at Ecton. In all, some 300 milk churns were handled daily at Waterhouses, and from 1919 a daily milk train ran from Waterhouses to London specifically for this traffic. Latterly milk tanks were used, carried on the transporter wagons. Passenger traffic was minimal - the settlements were mostly some distance from the line - except on Bank Holidays when all the line's rolling stock was used to run frequent services to handle the crowds.
There was some talk of extending the line northwards, whereby Hulme End (and its engine shed) would become the half-way point of the line, but this never materialised.
There was no turntable on the line, and engines ran chimney first DOWN the line, despite initial concerns (usually engines on a gradient run the other way, to keep the water over the firebox crown) about the steeper down section (1 in 40) out of Waterhouses. In latter years E.R. Calthrop returned from repairs in Crewe facing the other way, as can be seen in later photographs.
There were four coaches; two first class and two brake composite thirds. These were originally painted primrose yellow, and later repainted in LMS Midland red.
Freight wagons consisted of one box van and two open wagons. These open wagons were built by the Leeds Forge Company and were largely designed for the transport of loose milk churns.
Additionally there were also five (four short and one long) transporter wagons, technically "low side bogie goods wagons". These were supplied by the Cravens Railway Carriage & Wagon Company at a cost of £315 each. Uniquely in Britain, in a piggy-back style these were capable of carrying standard gauge wagons - particularly milk tankers and coal wagons - to standard-gauge sidings along the route. However, the extra height and width of the loading gauge caused by this arrangement (such as seen in the dimensions of Swainsley Tunnel) undid some of the benefits of using a narrow gauge. This arrangement also meant that standard gauge lengths of track (on sidings) had to be constructed level with the rails of the low transporters.
After opening, there were initially three trains daily in each direction. This increased to four on Thursdays and Saturdays (and later to five). After an attempt by the North Staffordshire Railway as easly as 1904 to reduce the service during the winter months to a service only on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the Manifold Company secured an agreement that there should be a minimum of two trains in each direction throughout the year. On Bank Holidays there were some seven trains daily, and at peak times both engines and all carriages/wagons would be in use - planks and awnings were placed on the open wagons to make them usable by passengers, albeit rather rudimentary. It is recorded that in Whit week in 1905 some 5000 passengers were carried, and the most intensive service saw trains operating from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday services began in 1905, but stopped in 1930, thus losing much tourist revenue.
J.B.Earle was cut up at Crewe, whilst E.R. Calthrop was used in the track-removal train before being itself cut up.
Had the line survived until the 1950s, it is possible that it might have been saved by preservation society, as happened with some other lines during that decade.
The Manifold Valley footpath and cycle way (now called the Manifold Way) was opened in July 1937 after the LMS handed over the trackbed to Staffordshire County Council. It continues on to Waterhouses, via Hulme End, as a bridle path, and, being tarmacked throughout, is ideal for wheelchair users, prams etc. For about 1½ miles, near Wetton Mill, the route is shared with motor traffic where the B-road has been diverted, and this section includes Swainsley tunnel, built by Sir Thomas Wardle who, despuite being a shareholder in the railway, did not want to see it crossing his land. Some spectacular scenery can be found along the eight mile route, including Thor's Cave, Wetton Hill and Beeston Tor. Many consider that this section bears comparison with the better-known Dovedale a few miles to the east. (The National Trust own several of these sites, as part of their South Peak Estate).
The Old Railway Hotel at Hulme End is now called the Manifold Inn. There are campsites at Hulme End and Wetton Village.
At Ecton Hill a 4,000 year old copper mine lies along the route; there is still evidence of the railway's loading platforms along the route of the old railway. A dairy once stood here and you can still see where milk churns were once loaded onto the morning milk train. The Ecton dairy was famous for its Stilton cheese.
Slater's Plasticard produce an O16.5 scale kit of the locomotives, with Dorset Kits offering brass coach construction kits to match in this scale. Port Wynnstay models of Derby offer a resin outline of the short wheelbase transpoert car/wagon, but there does not appear to be a maker of the flat wagons or the single box van. Meridian Models recently produced an (009) scale locomotive body in white metal to fit on a (Minitix) chassis and Worsley Works produce a basic scratch kit for the carriages, requiring addition of couplings, door handles, and interior to complete. A third company has apparently produced the transporter cars/wagons in this scale. Roundhouse has produced a live steam model of the Kitson 2-6-4 locomotive in the NSR livery. There is a model at the visitor's centre in Hulme End along one wall inside the former station building. This shows a representation of Hulme End station, yard and nearby buildings in (009) scale with a short run (scaled down distance) to a model of Butterton Station.