Deep in the town of Northampton, in a smallish field atop Hunsbury Hill in the middle of a housing estate, is an even smaller fenced-off museum dedicated to the saving of a unique part of the area's heritage - Ironstone Railway Locomotives.
The Northamptonshire Ironstone Railway Trust is actually sited near an old opencast ironstone1 mine. From the late 18th Century until the 1930s when the mine was shut down, sturdy locomotives would shunt the raw material to iron and steel foundries all over the English countryside. Once upon a time the trains were oiled daily, lovingly cleaned by their fitters and then thrashed to death by the drivers who wanted to drive on the mainline and couldn't, so took out their frustrations on the small and what some considered very important locomotives.
The Trust museum is open on the weekends from April to October, and there are some absolute gems on display. If you are a train, wagon or locomotive spotter, or just curious to see what the big red building in the middle of the field contains, the following will surely not disappoint.
The Trust restores and preserves many old shunters, these being their pride and joy:
287 Vigilant - Hunslet 0-4-0 saddle tank Steam Engine - built in 1882, the Vigilant was used by Corby Iron Ore until it fell into disuse. It is the star of the museum's fleet.
2087 No. 16 - Hunslet 0-4-0 Diesel Mechanical - dating from 1940, the black painted No. 16 was purchased from the Ministry of Supply in 1966 for Anglia Building Products Ltd, to shunt the concrete works sidings. It was delivered to Hunsbury for preservation in 1974.
9365 Belvedere - Sentinel 100 BHP vertical boiler Steam Locomotive - delivered to Thos E Gray & Co Ltd in 1958, the green painted Belvedere was used to shunt wagons at Mertsham Lime Quarry. The locomotive moved to Hunsbury for preservation in 1975.
9369 Musketeer - Sentinel 100 BHP vertical boiler Steam Locomotive - built in 1946 and again delivered to Thos E Gray & Co Ltd in 1958, the blue painted Musketeer was also used to shunt wagons at the lime quarry. It was named after the HMS Musketeer that Mr John Gray served aboard during the Second World War. The locomotive was delivered to Hunsbury with its companion the Belvedere in 1975.
4220001 Charles Wake - John Fowler Diesel Mechanical - delivered new in 1959 to Fisons at Stanford-Le-Hope in Essex, the green and red painted Charles Wake was put to work at Avonmouth Docks near Bristol. The shunter was declared surplus to requirements, and was stored in a siding until it was delivered to Hunsbury in 1998 for restoration. It is named in honour of former NIRT President and driver Charles Wake, who passed away in 2005. Another John Fowler, 4220033 light-blue painted Lois, can be seen on site.
D697 Hudswell - Hudswell Clarke flame-proofed 0-4-0 Diesel Engine - built in 1950, the green Hudswell was delivered new to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in Grangemouth, Scotland. Sometime later Young's Paraffin & Mineral Oil Company (a subsidiary of BP) took over the ownership, where it remained throughout its career. The locomotive was found in a scrap yard in Ipswich by members of the Trust, and was soon transported to Hunsbury for restoration.
3967 Hylton - FC Hibberd 'Planet' Diesel Hydraulic - built in 1961, this green Planet was operated by Wiggins Teape Ltd of Sunderland paper mills. It was later transfered to the paper works at Cardiff in 1973, but when the rail traffic ceased, it was purchased by Track Supplies of Wolverton. The Hylton was delivered to Hunsbury in the early 1980s for preservation.
There are also a couple of rusty Ruston & Hornsby diesels, the Sir Alfred Wood and Muffin, and a Grafton Steam-Crane Ship Canal-Side Tipper to see, but it is the running locomotives that attract most attention. These are periodically taken out and put through their paces on the small length of standard gauge track on-site, and the museum provides train rides for a small fee on the mile or so of demonstration line seasonally, or for extra special occasions. Also in the museum's collection are a number of coaches including a 422 BIG buffet coach, a coach from a 4DD double-decker train and three Mk1 SR TSO coaches which have been converted to private use by Northampton Social Services and a private artist.
The museum has a passionate membership group who regularly look after the track and the collection, giving up their weekends to make sure the Trust continues its important restoration and historical work. They are all very welcoming and extremely knowledgeable about the Ironstone Railway and the locomotives, so visitors can feel comfortable in asking any of the staff a question to receive a friendly answer in return. Entrance to the museum is by donation, but if you are keen on gaining membership yourself, at time of writing the fees are as follows; yearly membership for an adult is £10, children £5, senior citizens and those registered disabled £7.50, while life membership will set you back about £250.
To get to the museum, in the area of Hunsbury Hill Country Park, Camp Hill, Northampton, there are a number of methods. You could drive by car, or you could take the bus or train. If you choose to use the bus, then you need to catch the Number 10 from Greyfriars Bus Station in Northampton. Ask the driver where to get off; they're usually quite helpful. If you get the train into Northampton Castle Station, which has regular services from Birmingham New Street or London Euston, you can again either wander along to the Bus Station (about a ten-minute walk) and catch the Number 10, or hop into one of the many taxis that habitually park outside the main entrance of the station. The museum is able to provide access for wheelchair users, has a children's play area and also offers some limited catering facilities (not to worry, you can get yourself a cup of hot tea for a nominal price).