The North Bay Miniature Railway

Scarborough’s North Bay Railway is one of the town’s most enduring and well-loved attractions.  Passengers can board the train at either Northstead Manor Gardens (the stop, however is called ‘Peasholm‘, after nearby Peasholm Park) or Scalby Mills, and take a scenic ride through park, along the seafront and back again.

North Bay Railway

Above: The North Bay Railway (source)

The railway opened in 1931, as part of the brand new Northstead Manor Gardens (Pleasure Gardens), which would eventually include a water chute, open air theatre and boating lake. The gardens were the brainchild of Harry W Smith, a prolific engineer who designed many of the town’s most successful tourist attractions. However, the miniature railway proposals met with a mixed reception from locals, gaining the nickname ‘the Borough Engineer’s Toy’.

Northstead Manor Gardens

Above: From the early development of Northstead Manor Gardens at Hodgson’s Slack (source)

At 2pm, Saturday May 23, 1931, the railway began taking passengers. As with all of Scarborough’s opening ceremonies of this era, the occasion was a grand one, with the presentation of artefacts to the driver (see below). Neptune was the name of the original locomotive, and Alderman Whitehead, presiding over the occasion, made the following solemn decree:

“On behalf of the National Union of Drivers, Engineers and others, I have to present you, the first driver of the North Bay Railway Engine, with your insignia of office, your oil can and your ‘sweat rag’.”

Neptune is the oldest engine, having begun its service in 1931. Triton and Robin Hood followed only a year after, and in 1933, Poseidon. The first two locomotives are still owned by Scarborough Council (then the Scarborough Corporation), with the remaining two owned by the operators (North Bay Railway Company), to whom Triton and Neptune are leased.

North Bay Railway

Above: The train setting off from Peasholm station (source)

A number of companies were involved with the construction of the trains and carriages, including Robert Hudson Ltd (Leeds), Hudswell Clark, Slingsby and Armstrong and subsequent additions and restorative work completed by Rail Restorations North East Limited, of Shildon. The original carriages have undergone much restoration to ensure their survival to the present day. Furthermore, the Patent Enamel Company provided the station boards whilst advertising boards and posters were provided by LNER (London and North Eastern Railway).

North Bay Railway

Above: Passengers enjoy the picturesque Manor Gardens (source)

However, after only a year of operation disaster struck. In 1932, 10 July, a collision occurred at the now disused Beach station, overlooking the North Bay.

Driver Herbert Carr, only 25, lost his life, and numerous passengers were injured. Thankfully when a similar accident occurred in 1948, everyone survived and injuries were minimal.

On July 6, 1940, the attraction closed until Easter 1945. WWII no doubt led many to fear a repeat of the bombardment that occurred during WWI, and securing coastal defences took priority over the running of the railway. Interestingly enough, the small tunnel in Manor Gardens gained a new function – as a place for the Royal Naval School of Music to store their musical instruments whilst operating from the nearby Norbreck Hotel.

North Bay Railway

Above: The tunnel at Northstead Manor Gardens (source)

The railway was acquired from Scarborough Council in 2007 by the North Bay Railway Company, who also now operate the Water Chute, Boating Lake, Sky Trail and more. Thanks to their continuing hard work, the miniature railway still delights passengers today, and aspiring train drivers can even book a session at the controls.

North Bay Railway

Above: The train and the water chute in the background (source)

There are plenty of stories to be told about the railway – any memories are very welcome, as are corrections, additional details and so on.

Please comment below or get in touch via the Facebook Page.

Sources

North Bay Railway’s website

A short history of the North Bay Railway

In-depth history of the attraction here

Scarborough Civic Society

Materials held at the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library

 

Bertram Otto And His Miniature Railway

As mentioned in this post, Stories From Scarborough is in the process of adding further former attractions to its collection; one of which includes the Corner Café. Built in 1925, this venture went from being a humble cafe to a popular entertainment complex hosting live music and various forms of entertainment before it closed in 1997.

cornercafe3

Above: Postcard image of the Corner Café, date unknown (from the author’s collection)

One of the highlights of this history was the miniature railway exhibition in 1967; a touring creation called The Spectrackular. This impressive model was engineered by entertainer Bertram Otto, who turned a childhood hobby into a venture which took him across the world, and saw his spectrackular world of trains showcased to millions.

The scaled-to-life settings include 24 churches, 148 country cottages and farm buildings, 400 shops and stores of all descriptions, 200 schools, fire stations and other public buildings, 150 factories and administrative buildings, 100 skyscrapers, supermarkets and multiple-business structures, and over 500 railroad stations and siding sheds.

(source)

Otto was born in London (in 1902), to a Swiss father and an English mother, but grew up in both Switzerland and India due to his father’s job. A life-long model-railway enthusiast (he later became president of Thames Ditton Model Railway Society in Surrey), Bertram initially built a career for himself as a theatrical entertainer, specialising in illusions, magic, and later TV. He was well known for his ‘professional pickpocketing’ tricks, and was a regular performer at Eastbourne:

The Redoubt Bandstand was well used, for every morning Monday to Saturday, Uncle Bertie (Bertram Otto) entertained the children with magic, Punch and Judy, a talent contest and sing a long, again for one shilling.

(source)

It was only later in life that Otto’s hobby made the transition to a full-blown business enterprise, with the assistance of his wife and mother-in-law. Both he and his wife jokingly suggested that the latter take on the role of chief miniature railway operator – imagine their surprise when she calmly agreed!

Mrs Palmer came by this most unusual occupation – only woman scale-model chief engineer in the world – most unexpectedly. In addition to being the Spectrackular’s most dependable and accomplished operator, Mrs Palmer has also become her son-in-law’s right hand in maintenance, modelling and even the complex logistics of moving the Spectrackular, as when it was recently shipped over the Atlantic for display at the Fair.

(source)

In 1951 Otto exhibited a small model of his work in Eastbourne before travelling the world to seek out inspiration for a bigger, more comprehensive railway system. Visiting different countries enabled him to put together a truly global model, illuminated by 6000 bulbs, with moving traffic, skiers on Swiss slopes and a sailing ship. Naturally there were also trains – 100 of them to be precise, and 8000 model inhabitants of this bizarre miniature world. Not only were countries and landscapes from across the world featured, but there was also a City of the Future.

The City of the Future featured a flying saucer, rocket launch pad and a monorail, amongst other things; evidently anticipating developments in space travel that would soon follow. You can see a video of the railway here, and read more about it.

Returning to Eastbourne in 1959, Otto premiered his new, improved railway in the southern seaside town once more. It was displayed in the Gold Room of the Winter Gardens there from June 29 until September 19, 1959. Five years later it was in New York, making an extended appearance at the Better Living Centre as part of the city’s grandly titled World Fair.

You can read more about the New York appearance here.

The then Lord Montagu of Beaulieu (Hampshire, UK) saw the railway on a visit to New York, and arranged for it to be put on display at Beaulieu’s Motor Museum – an institution he founded. However, it didn’t stay there for long.

Above: Inside the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu (source)

In 1967 Bertram’s model railway came to Scarborough’s Corner Café, where it attracted 100, 000 visitors across the summer season. This was a major coup for the town – local press pictures from the time depict young visitors eagerly observing the moving trains, and reporters covering the event were full of praise for the model.

Due to copyright restrictions Stories From Scarborough is unable to re-publish any of the images here, but local press coverage can be viewed at Scarborough Library.

After this point history becomes rather murky. Otto was already in his sixties when he brought his railway to Scarborough, and some sources have suggested that the Corner Café had a smaller miniature railway on display during later years. So what exactly happened to the original model? How long did it stay for? There are rumours that it also visited Colchester and Brighton in later years. This source states that the railway moved to Ireland in 1996. The question is, where is it now?

Do you have any answers? Maybe you know what happened to Bertram Otto’s famous railway? How long did it stay at the Corner Café? Please get in touch.

Sources

1964 New York World Fair Press Document

1964 New York World Fair Web Page

Beaulieu Light Railway

Material from the Scarborough News and the Doris and Cyril Prescott Collection at Scarborough Library.

The Historic Water Chute

One of Kinderland’s best loved features was the Water Chute.

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Above: The Kinderland Water Chute (from the author’s personal collection)

Passengers boarded this boat-shaped vessel and were swiftly transported, via tracks, down to the nearby boating lake in Northstead Manor Gardens.

Manor Gardens

Above: The former Kinderland boating lake – the Water Chute tracks are just on the left behind the trees (source)

The descent ended with a huge splash, and the ride was completely free for Kinderland ticket holders.

Kinderland

Above: Another view of the Water Chute (source)

Although the Water Chute was acquired by Kinderland when the activity park opened in 1985 – the chute itself had existed since 1932, operating independently for over 50 years.

The Historic Water Chute

Above: An early postcard featuring the Water Chute (source)

The earliest water chutes were developed during the early twentieth century, and by the 1920s were making their way into fairs and parks across the UK.

southport water chute

Above: An early Water Chute in Southport (from the author’s collection)

Blackpool, Southport, Southend-on-Sea all had one, and North Yorkshire was no exception, with chutes opening in both Hull and Scarborough. The design is often attributed to Charles Wicksteed, who founded Wicksteed Park in Kettering. This park also, unsurprisingly, features a Water Chute – one of the first to be built and one of only a few still in operation today.

Wicksteed

Above: The Water Chute at Wicksteed Park – very similar to the one in Scarborough (source)

Below: Charles Wicksteed (source)

Wicksteed

In 1928 construction of the Water Chute in Northstead Manor Gardens (also known as Scarborough Pleasure Park) began, taking four years to complete and eventually opening alongside the nearby Open Air Theatre in 1932.

Pleasure Park

Above: Water Chute (centre), Open Air Theatre (background) and the miniature railway on the left (source)

One year earlier, the miniature railway had transported its first passengers past the Water Chute site, then under construction.

BBC

Above: The early days of the North Bay Railway (source)

Northstead Manor Gardens, which also featured a boating lake, was built on Hobson’s Slack – the geography of the area was ideal for an amphitheatre. The Open Air Theatre has been recently redeveloped following its closure between 1986 and 2010. It has since hosted a range of big name acts including Status Quo and JLS.

Theatre

Above: The new Open Air Theatre (source)

The Water Chute has also benefited from recent regeneration in the Manor Gardens area. Having suffered vandalism and disrepair following the closure of former operator Kinderland in 2007, the attraction was restored and reopened in 2008 with funding from The Sands redevelopment project. It is now owned by North Bay Railway.

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Above: North Bay Railway logo (source)

Whilst advances in engineering and design have since produced ever more complex and thrilling water rides, there is still something to be said for the simple pleasure of the original Water Chute experience. Indeed, its endurance as an attraction (for over 80 years!) is testament to this fact.

Have you taken a ride on the Water Chute? Do you remember it being part of Kinderland? Are there any mistakes in this post? Please comment below.

Sources

North Bay Railway

UK Rides Info

National Fairground Archive

Wicksteed Park