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Thursday, January 3, 2013
How the story behind a miniature railway reminds us of an extraordinary and world famous Norwich company - Barnards.
Why would a book called The Chessington Zoo Railway 1931-1985 make the people of Norwich and Norfolk as proud as punch?
Because it was made by the pioneering and world famous city engineering company Barnards which operated between 1826 and 1990.
Barnards, which provided work for generations of skilled craftsmen, is known for inventing wire netting and for making an extraordinary range of projects - from lighthouses off the coast of Brazil to the great gates at Sandringham.
But now, for the first time, the story of how the company built this miniature railway at Chessington is told is a delightful little book by Ken Bean
Few places of amusement can have given such pleasure to so many people, especially children, as what was Chessington Zoo in Surrey, later to become Chessington World of Adventures.
It opened as a zoo in 1931 with an intermingling of a children’s playground and numerous other attractions.
The railway was integral to the zoo from its creation, taking adults and children on nearly a mile circular tour through the grounds. In the first year it attracted some 2,000 visitors. By 1984 this has risen to more then half a million a year.
And every generation of children over half a century remembered the “Chessington Train” - built in Norwich - with such affection.
At the start of the 1930s Barnards, a highly respected company, were building the cages and other ironwork for the zoo when they were asked by founder Reginald Stuart Goddard to build a railway.
It was their first, and in its various forms, the only one they were every to construct.
Author Ken points out: “Barnards Ltd’s management and employees, in Norwich, were of that breed of East Anglian engineers born of the 1800s who expected to be asked to make anything and sometimes did. Barnards, one must conclude always did!”
It all came about after Charles Barnard opened a small ironmonger’s shop at the back of the Market Place in 1826. On the back of wire netting the company expanded and kept moving to bigger premises moving to Coslany Street, forming the big Norfolk Iron Works employing around 400 men and boys.
In 1921 part of the old Mousehold Aerodrome site was bought for storage as the company continued to grow.
Foundry work continued at Coslany Street where the company produced an incredible array of products, utilising iron, steel, indeed any metal and wood.
Their work included:
<t> The great gates at Sandringham.
<t> The pagoda which won awards at the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1876 and the Paris Exhibition of 1878 before returning to Norwich where it stood in Chapelfield Gardens until it was scrapped.
They also built a lighthouse off the coast of Brazil, trolley buses for Sheffield, 60ft long plant bakery ovens...and little wooden wheelbarrows for children.
The Chessington railway, consisting of locomotives, carriages and track was another example of outstanding engineering work - and a project the company has received little credit for - until now.
The author of this new booklet, ken Bean, has known the railway since boy he was a boy and acquired much of it on closure and disposal in 1985.
He researched its history by talking not just to those who operated it throughout its working life but also to those at Barnards who had built it.
In the 1980s he met the two directors, William and Paul Bower. who in their 20s had designed all six of the locos and rolling stock Barbards had built, as well as senior management at Barnards’s Mousehold Works just before its closure.
As a railway enthusiast himself he realised how little of what the company had achieved was recognised in the growing world of enthusiasts for miniature railways.
The booklet is a treat for anyone who loves little railways and has an interest in Norwich and its glorious history.
<t> The Chessington Zoo Railway 1931-1985 is available from author K.W.B Bean, Yew Tree House, Smallfield Road, Horne, Surrey RH6 9JP. The book costs £5 and please include £1.20 or two first class stamps for p&p.
<t> Coming up later in the week. We’ll meet some of the workers at Barnards and follow the fortunes of this extraordinary company.