The first visit in our 2005 programme was to the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway (EVR). We started on the platform at Wirksworth Station with a talk from the Station Master, Anton Shone and this was followed by a short return trip on a restored diesel unit. After this, we were given a conducted tour of the site by Anton.
The EVR is the latest railway preservation project in Derbyshire. Fourteen kilometres in length, the line joins Wirksworth to Duffield where its termination is adjacent to the main line from Derby. To date, only one kilometre from Wirksworth to Gorsey Bank is licensed for passengers but the whole length can be used by non-passenger traffic. It is hoped that the whole line will be available in stages to passengers by 2008. In September 2005, a small line will be opened northwards to the National Stone Centre and to the path of the Cromford and High Peak Railway, now a walking route.
Passenger carriage started on the original line in 1877, ceasing in 1947. However, the major use of the line was for the transporting of stone from the Wirksworth Quarries and this continued until 1988.
At the Wirksworth end, the remains of two tunnels can be seen which gave direct connections between quarries and the standard gauge line. One, the Dale Quarry Tunnel (about 450 metres long) passed directly under the town centre and carried a standard gauge line. After WW2, the ballast was built up to allow lorries to also transport the stone; use ceased in 1968. The other tunnel, the Bailey Croft Tunnel, carried a narrow gauge line and its use ceased in 1906. As can be seen, it passed very close to a house – fortunately lived in at the time by the Station Master.
After the use of the line stopped in the 1960’s, over time it reverted back to nature. In 1993, British Rail took up all the lines (but not the sleepers) but didn’t get round to moving the lines from the site. With privatization, it became possible for Wyvern Rail plc to acquire the site and for the EVR Association to start the preservation work, including re-laying the lines. Wyvern Rail has managed to raise over a quarter of a million pounds through a share issue and the Association members carry out the preservation work on a voluntary basis. In addition, the Association has been able to obtain grants.
The EVR has also found a ready market for the use of its line by outside bodies for testing work because it can offer a swifter response and a much lower charge than Network Rail; its proximity to Derby is also a great advantage. Contract work is also carried out - latest is assembly of “EROS 1” , a lightweight prototype for Rail Bus Industries. This is the small white vehicle in one of the photographs.
But what about these “Cold War Connections” ? The line is fortunate in that most of the original station platforms (and some of the station buildings) are still intact. One of these is at Idridgehay, which is about six miles east of Ashbourne. The station buildings are now a private house but the village name appears in the index of a recent book called, I think, “Cold War Structures”. The Government decided that, in the event of a nuclear attack on the UK, it would be necessary to have emergency centres to control what was left of the rail network. One was to be sited at Idridgehay. I gather that only the foundations were laid before the project was shelved and I’m told that the “station resident” has used it as the base for his garage.
If you are in the area, a visit to Wirksworth Station is highly recommended. As well as a the train ride (normally every 30 minutes at weekends throughout the year, daily in the summer), there is a way-marked “quarry walk”. The station has toilets, sells hot drinks and souvenirs. You can also support the project through its “sleeper appeal” or by buying shares – minimum purchase £100.
Contact details for the EVR:
EVR, Station Rd, Wirksworth, DE4 4FB (01629 823076)
Secretary Ashbourne Section CROCA
Dale Quarry Tunnel
Bailey Croft Tunne