Hythe Pier Railway
Darren Kitson

[Source: Darren Kitson]

Pier railways are variously referred to as railways or tramways and that on Hythe pier is no exception, but for many years its official name has been ‘Hythe Pier Railway’ and the initials 'HPR' have appeared on the rolling stock at various times. Tickets have also borne the title 'Hythe Pier Electric Railway'. In this article the term 'railway' will be used but it should not be confused as being any reference to the Fawley branch.

A number of pier railways still operate in the UK with perhaps the best known being those at Southend, Southport and, of course, Hythe. Their original purpose was usually to carry luggage and then also passengers to and from steamers. Indeed, steamers were the reason that most piers were built during the Victorian era and for many years regular services were provided, but most ultimately ended up as a destination for summer pleasure trips for holidaymakers before disappearing altogether as trends changed. Obvious exceptions are ferry services with perhaps the best known being those of Caledonian MacBrayne serving the Scottish islands.

The ferry between Hythe and Southampton Town Quay is the reason for the existence of the Hythe Pier Railway, and although the railway attracts some tourists and railway enthusiasts it was, and still is, a regular public transport service. It is well used, including by commuters who take advantage of the short cut if offers to and from Southampton. The ferry runs daily throughout the year, Christmas Day and Boxing Day excepted, at half-hourly intervals between 06:10 and as late at 22:30 on certain days and with which the railway connects. The ferry carries foot passengers and cyclists and happens to be a vantage point which to view ocean liners at Southampton although nowadays this mostly comprises cruise ships of the type which resemble floating blocks of council flats. Since 1991 the ferry, pier and railway have been owned by White Horse Ferries Ltd, a Swindon-based company, with, as of 2016, the Hythe operation managed by Hythe Ferry Ltd. With the exception of the Glasgow Subway, pier railways are now the sole surviving non-heritage narrow gauge railways on the UK mainland operating to provide regular public passenger services, while the Hythe Pier Railway can be singled out as the only one now having a commercial, as opposed to tourist or pleasure, purpose although it does fulfil all of these functions.

A ferry is on record as having existed in 1575 and probably landed on the gravel area in front of what was to become the Drummond Arms. The ‘hard’ (a ramp running from the shore into the water) was given Royal Assent in 1844) and, as constructed, ran to the low tide point in Southampton Water. The advantage was that boats could be boarded and disembarked from irrespective of the tide but, by default, contact with the water was difficult to avoid. Whilst this situation is not a problem for fishermen and maritime people in general, it is not suitable for the travelling public and complaints resulted. The eventual solution was Hythe Pier, which opened on 1 January 1881 following a lapse of the original powers - a situation not unfamiliar in the field of railway construction during the nineteenth century and which frequently resulted in proposed railways never being built, either in the form authorised by the Act or not at all.

This photograph originated on an F G O Stuart postcard and shows Hythe Pier sometime prior to 1909 when the railway, then known as a tramway, was built. The large building to the right of the pier is the Drummond Arms.
Photo from Peter Harding collection

The Origin of the Pier Railway
Subsequent to the lapse of power, in December 1874 the rather awkwardly titled Hythe Pier and Hythe and Southampton Ferry Company came into being. Behind this were Robert Drummond, a Fawley resident who was a senior partner in Drummonds Bank, London, and the then Lord Montague of Beaulieu: this family and the Beaulieu Estate need no introduction. There is no known connection between the Drummond banking family and Dugald Drummond of the L&SWR. Drummonds Bank, which dated back to 1717, was destined to be taken over by Royal Bank of Scotland and as a subsidiary still exists today and is best known for being bankers to the Royal Family and the Conservative Party among others. Drummonds, incidentally and in the context of the bank, possesses no apostrophe.

1931 1:2,500 OS map.

The pier railway dates from 1909 and at its inception appears to have been referred to as a tramway, almost certainly because the rails were originally flush with the surface of the decking. It was a simple affair for conveying luggage and passengers on manually propelled trolleys and construction is rumoured to have been contracted to a local undertaker. To today's generation this may appear comical if not puzzling but at one time, especially in rural areas in the days before road motor transport and instant communication were available to the masses, the local undertaker was very much locally orientated and had to be multi-skilled as funeral requests hardly rolled in on a daily basis. A fictitious, but nonetheless historically accurate, example of this was the local garage in the television series 'Heartbeat'. Along with the local undertaker was the equally essential local blacksmith and in some cases the undertaker and blacksmith were one and the same. One example of the type of work either could and did perform was the building or conversion of lorry or bus bodies to operators’ requirements onto chassis acquired as government surplus and in particular following World War I. Thus if the story concerning the Hythe Pier Railway be true it was by no means unusual for the time.

A hand-propelled trolley heading for the shore in a photograph which originated on a pre WWI postcard. The flush rails can be seen, making the line technically a tramway during this period. Obvious in this view is the reason for the trolley being double-decked. There were originally two trolleys but only one now survives. The trolley is of quite substantial construction and 'drivers' would need to be very fit. Presumably the trolley operated irrespective of the weather and there would have been more than one 'driver'. Before the line was installed, luggage was trundled along the pier by porters with hand barrows and many, if not all, of the porters were women. How these porters were paid is unclear; there may have been a basic wage bolstered by tips or the sole income may have been through tips - in a sense what we now refer to as 'piece work'. At this time there were a number of wooden shelters along the pier for the benefit of pedestrians, anglers etc. Photo from Peter Harding collection

The straight single-track 2ft-gauge line runs the full 640 metres pier length (there are also a couple of sidings in addition) and was electrified in 1922 on the third-rail system. Power supply to the third rail is 250V DC. To put this into context, main line railways in the UK using third-rail current collection have voltages ranging between 630V DC and 750V DC. The power supply for the pier railway may therefore appear very feeble but it is adequate for this short, narrow gauge, level, low speed line and the third rail copes perfectly well with the high current draw as a result of the low voltage.

The electrification work was overseen, and subsequent operation monitored for a time by, Gerald Yorke who was an electrical engineer once employed by the London Electric Railway (LER). A detailed history of the LER is not relevant here but a brief background is warranted. LER was owned by the Underground Electric Railways Company of London, this being the body responsible for the now world famous 'Underground' branding which in its original - and still to be seen - form was presented as 'UNDERGROUND'. LER operated the forerunners of what are now the Bakerloo, Northern and Piccadilly lines. On 1 July 1933 LER ceased to exist when its parent UERL become one of the bodies merging to form the London Passenger Transport Board, better known as 'London Transport', of which the denationalised railway side is now 'London Underground Ltd'.

The Locomotives
The railway's two locomotives are strange looking machines which began life as battery locomotives at Avonmouth Mustard Gas Factory at Merebank, Avonmouth, Bristol during WWI. Hythe Pier obtained three of these locomotives, one being as a source of spares. The two survivors are Brush works numbers (w/n) 16302/7 of 1917. Running numbers are transposed, being No.2 and No.1 respectively. The locomotive purchased for spares was w/n 16304. Photographs have survived from when the locomotives were either at Avonmouth or still at the Brush works, Loughborough, but precisely which is unclear. At this time, in battery form, they were neat little machines of the 'steeple cab' design; central cab and sloping bonnet at each end within which were located the batteries, semi-open cabs and uniform windscreen arrangements. The present and rather disfiguring windscreen arrangement was applied sometime around 1980 and at the shore end of the cabs only, the pier head end being coupled to the coaches.

Livery when at Avonmouth was probably green. They had 'M M' with the government upward pointing arrow between the letters, M M being Ministry of Munitions, on the side of one bonnet and one photograph shows the number 7 on the opposite end bonnet. This implies there were at least seven of these locomotives but the bonnet number may simply have been the last digit of the works number. The batteries were four Exide Ironclad lead-acid types providing 100V at 160 ampere/hour capacity. The means by which the batteries were connected is not known but may have been two sets of two series-connected batteries in parallel with each other. Recharging intervals would depend upon loading, the frequency of starting from rest and other factors including driver skill. Driving of electric traction involves much coasting, with power applied only when starting, accelerating, maintaining speed on rising gradients etc. From what figures are available, the battery locomotives probably managed six or seven hours use on a full charge and it is likely batteries were swapped when recharging was due to avoid locomotives being out of service for lengthy periods. Batteries would require renewing at intervals and the whole operation would have been quite expensive albeit necessarily so given the working environment.

Probably referred to originally as an 'accumulator', the Exide Ironclad began life as a battery for electric starting of road vehicles and developed into a heavy duty type for powering electric cars (which are by no means a modern invention, despite today's car manufacturers trying to make us think otherwise), electric delivery vehicles, bus lighting, fork lift trucks and so forth. The Ironclad is still available today and often referred to as 'the fork lift truck battery'. The modern and largest version weighs 250lb and the version available back in 1917 was in all probability equally as heavy. If so, a total battery weight of just under half a ton would be added to these diminutive locomotives and may have been the reason that they were converted to third-rail for use at Hythe. Therein lies one of the two main problems with battery traction and especially when applied to road vehicles, the other being range. More information on the Exide Ironclad can be found via links in the Sources section.

The single Brush traction motor is mounted above the frames and in the driving cab. The motors are of just 2¾hp and the maker’s plate attached to them appears to double-up as the locomotive worksplate. Data on the plates give the locomotive works number to which it is fitted plus another number which is probably the serial number of the motor itself. Other data are the motor type, H5, horsepower given in decimal form, i.e. 2.75, speed rating 900rpm and the voltage given as 80/100 [DC]. The latter is the minimum and maximum voltages at which the motor can safely and efficiently perform the duties required of it and of course reflects the voltage of the batteries once fitted. It is worth noting the original motors are still in use today and, apart from routine maintenance, required no attention until 2002 when they were overhauled and rewound. This is a very good application of the cliché, ‘They don't make 'em like they used to’; and it is in complete contrast to today's limited lifespan approach designed to keep industry going at the ultimate expense of the end user. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends upon which side of the fence one sits.

Upon arrival at Hythe, two locomotives were converted to draw power from the third rail. The third, used for spares, w/n 16304, was presumably never converted and, although unconfirmed, it is likely that the batteries were removed from at least two prior to arrival at Hythe. The conversion was simple and involved removal of the bonnets, fitting shoe gear for current collection, fitting of a 'dead man' device (precisely when this device was fitted is unclear) and at some point fitting of jumpers to permit operation from the driving trailers and also for carriage lighting (see later). A related alteration was the fitting of dropper resistors to reduce the already mentioned 250V DC supply to 100V DC to suit the original traction motors. Power was originally supplied by a purpose-built generating station at the shore end of the pier. Today power comes from the National Grid and the supply is 415V AC three-phase. This is rectified and transformed at the railway's workshop to 220V DC and fed to the conductor rail. This is further reduced to 100V DC by the dropper resistors on the locomotives. In the early Hythe years the bank of resistors, fitted externally on one end of the cab, were exposed but are now beneath a cowling. Presumably resistors are also used in conjunction with the driver's power controller in the time-honoured fashion for DC traction. The controller is similar, but not identical, to those used on traditional tramcars and indeed on electric trains built up to the mid twentieth century.

The pier train on its way to the pier head with the locomotive at the rear. At the front, left, is one of the two driving trailers and these, plus the other two carriages seen here, comprise the railway's passenger stock fleet. The train ran for a time with a locomotive at each end, a mode known today as 'top and tail', because the driving trailers were apparently not ready until 1923. The precise date of this photograph is difficult to determine. The locomotive is not yet fitted with a headlamp but, confusingly, several photographs of the train in 'top and tail' mode show headlamps fitted. The headlamps originally fitted were prominently mounted on the cab roof. When new the trains were initially in an all-over green livery before being changed to the livery seen here which was green, lower, and cream, upper. The 'HPR' lettering, which first appeared with this livery, was cream shaded black. The apparent unequal spacing of the letters is due to the sliding doors of the carriages being open. This livery remained in use until 1963. The locomotive windscreen at the shore end has been narrowed; as delivered to Hythe both windscreens were full width and this modification is known to have occurred during the early years of the electric railway. Absent on this occasion was the luggage trolley. This was attached to the pier head end of the train ahead of the driving trailer. The locomotive is unidentified; numbers were, and still are, painted on the other side of the cab and thus are visible to the public at the shore station only if one makes a point of looking. The locomotive is also lacking the cowling later fitted ahead of the cab at its pier head end. Visible passing over the roof of the train are the jumper cable for the driving trailer, left, and the supply cable for carriage lighting, right.
Photo from John Mann collection

Transmission from the cab-mounted motor to the axles is by roller chain to a final drive unit mounted beneath the floor and then via roller chain to the axle with a reduction gearing ratio of 7.5:1 The Hythe locomotives are rated as being capable of moving 6-ton loads at 12 mph, adequate for their work on the pier. In knowing wheel diameter, which is a nominal 16in, gear ratio and the designed motor RPM it can be calculated that the locomotives are capable of attaining a speed of 18mph to the nearest whole number. This is, of course, theoretical and would depend upon a number of factors but in any event such a speed is not achieved on Hythe Pier, and nor would it be safe to do so. To quote one of Hythe pier's train drivers, ‘joggers go faster than us’.

Hythe Pier's train has for many years operated with a locomotive at the shore end and driving trailer at the pier head end but this has not always been the case. When the locomotives first appeared the train ran with a locomotive at each end and several photographs exist showing it in this form with, after 1923, anything from two to all four carriages present. The driving trailers present were seemingly not equipped until some point after delivery which in turn might suggest the equipment was obtained second hand. This picture is unusual in that it shows a single locomotive in use but at the pier head end, with a driving trailer at the shore end and apparently with its cab facing the shore. The locomotive now has a headlamp but the windscreens are still in their original form; these features tell us the photograph is no later than 1948 but the orientation of the train suggests pre-war and, in all probability, the late 1920s. The carriages bear the HPR lettering but the livery appears monotone, suggesting the initial plain green period. The former battery boxes have, of course, gone but a box-like device has been fitted at the inner end of the locomotive. This, or a similar box, was fitted to the opposite end at some later date. Close examination shows a pipe on the inner end of the locomotive (it is on the side of the sloping panel) which continues downwards and disappears beneath the underframe. This may suggest that this was the time when air brakes were experimented with (see 'Train Operation' section). The side of the underframe has what appears to be a bracket for mounting a third-rail collector shoe; if so, then for some mysterious reason shoes, or provision for, must have once been fitted to both sides. Note the platform; originally it was planking supported by building blocks of some description and set to compensate for the slope of the forecourt, the latter being visible at far right. Later it was infilled underneath and provided with concrete steps at the shore end in place of the original wooden steps. This appears to be the condition visible in this view and with a crude ramp at the seaward end, perhaps of tarmacadam. Much later the platform became the narrow plank structure familiar today.
Photo from Ted Burgess

Current at starting is said to be 80A and once the train is moving 30A. These figures are presumably mean as current drawn will vary according to load. The axles are mounted in a drop-centre frame having the appearance of a convention bogie and, given their age, are quite modern looking. Suspension is via helical springs between underframe and locomotive body. Axle boxes appear to be unsprung, in which case unsprung weight when the locomotives were in battery form may potentially have been a problem but, in practice, the low operating speed probably negated any ill effects.

The operators at Hythe refer to the locomotives as 'tractor units'. This term was once commonly applied to non-steam traction and in particular on the narrow gauge. The WWI Simplex petrol 'trench locomotives' were often referred to as 'Simplex Tractors', 'Rail Tractors' or similar and given the low-speed, load shifting nature of their work the term is quite appropriate.

Another of these locomotives, also ex-mustard gas factory and later working at Welsh slate quarries, has survived into preservation and can be seen at the National Slate Museum, Llanberis. With the exception of its original bonnets being replaced at some point by rather boxy wooden structures it is broadly in original condition. It was acquired by the museum in 2008.

The locomotives were built to a simple and rugged design appropriate to their era and consequently are relatively easy and cheap to maintain and repair. This is why they continue to perform their duties day in, day out and are likely to continue to do so for many years to come. The engineering skills of a century ago were admittedly subject to a steep learning curve where non steam traction was concerned but nonetheless the Hythe pier locomotives are a tribute to those long-gone people, the likes of which will never be seen again as frail electronics and limited life span designing take over the world.

On Thursday 22 April 2010 No.2 departs from the pier head on the short trundle to the shore station, a duty both No.1 and No.2 have performed thousands of times since 1922. In the background can be seen the tank wagon, while visible at the station is the low, narrow platform which serves more as step then a platform per se. A similar platform is provided at the shore station. There is no ticket office for the ferry at the pier head, this facility being located only at the shore station and at Town Quay. The windscreen at the shore end of the locomotives was a modification from the original and rather 'slitty' windscreens. This alteration was made sometime during the 1970s and is obviously designed to give drivers a better view of the coupling. At the lower front of No.1 can be seen the small central buffer, with the coupling below it. Quite why a buffer, coupling and modified windscreen are needed at the shore might be puzzling; the reason is two-fold, first the buffers and couplings are probably original fittings and secondly to permit, if necessary, whichever locomotive is spare to pull vehicles out of the shore station and push them onto the workshop sidings insofar as the conductor rail permits. Once on the non-electrified sidings, vehicles are moved manually. A section of the track can be seen at lower right. The rails are 20lb per yard* flat bottom types mounted on sleepers and the whole bolted to the pier decking. Rails, including the conductor rail, are joined by fishplates in the conventional manner for jointed track. Current return is via the running rails in the usual manner of third-rail electrification and at rail joints bonding is required to ensure continuity. One of the bonding cables can be seen across the rail joint nearest the camera, also at the joint of the conductor rail. Failure to provide bonding can result in a circuit break or, under certain circumstances, excessive current draw. Bonding can also be seen on main line jointed track and on non-electrified routes serves to ensure continuity of track circuits (for signalling). Mechanical connection between fishplates and rails cannot be relied upon for several reasons. Click for a larger view. [*This is the weight of each rail, not track, per yard. 'Track' is the entire assembly; rails, sleepers, chairs, bolts etc. To put this weight into context, standard gauge rails are typically in the range 80lb to 120lb per yard or the metric equivalent.]
Photo from John Mann collection

The Rolling Stock
There are four passenger coaches, two of which are driving trailers. The trains thus work in push-pull mode and always with the locomotive at the shore end. Hythe Pier is narrow, 16ft, and the railway is segregated to one side, therefore the passenger coaches have doors only on one side; otherwise, their appearance is not too far removed from any typical narrow gauge passenger coach. Other stock as already mentioned comprises a double-deck luggage trolley, believed to date from pre-electrification days, and a neat little tank wagon used to convey fuel for the ferry along the pier.

The four passenger coaches are bogie vehicles and quite why bogies were specified for a short, straight line is open to question. The answer probably lies with the sharp curve leading into the workshop. All four were built ostensibly by the Drewry Car Co, but in fact were built by Baguley Cars Ltd. Drewry are often misunderstood; they built few, if any, railway vehicles themselves and despite Drewry worksplates often being fitted, the company acted purely as procurement agents. A good example is the former BR diesel shunters which became Class 04; invariably referred to as 'Drewries' they were actually built by Vulcan Foundry and Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns. Drewry and Baguley had a lengthy, but not always sweet, relationship and are perhaps best known for narrow gauge steam outline petrol and diesel locomotives, commonly referred to as 'Baguley/Drewry'.

The pier train waiting at the shore station on 22 April 2010. The luggage trolley, blue object thereon unidentified, is in its usual place ahead of the driving trailer which on this occasion appears to be No.3. Note the perhaps oddly positioned cab door. Features visible are the points lever chained to an eye affixed to the decking, the unelectrified siding, the guarded conductor rail adjacent to the train and the narrow platform. Quite why the chain is necessary on the points lever in an area out of bounds to the public is unclear. In any event, there would appear to be enough slack in the chain to allow the lever to be thrown regardless. At centre background in the shaded area can just been seen the sharp curve into the workshop inside which, but difficult to see, is the second locomotive. On the right a sign requests ‘No Cyclists Thank You’. Politely worded signs such as this are much more. likely to be taken notice of than more abrupt and somewhat confrontationally worded signs.
Photo by Peter Trimming and reproduced from Geograph under Creative Commons Licence

The two ordinary passenger coaches arrived at Hythe for the start of electric services in 1922 with the two driving trailers arriving the following year. As already mentioned, this is the reason why trains ran for a time with a locomotive at each end but photographs have been seen of the train in the same mode but with a driving trailer present. To divert for a moment, this raises a question about the third locomotive, w/n 16304, in that it might have been in use initially and dismantled for spares after the arrival of the driving trailers, but it is generally assumed to have been purchased as a source of spares. If it was in use for a time, then in what form was it? Was it still battery powered? Was it converted to third rail? The answers to are lost in the mists of time.

The ordinary coaches are 16ft long, 7ft 6in high (from rail level), 5ft wide and seat up to 20 passengers (no, not 'customers' - these are found in shops) on wooden slatted seats. They are w/n 1047/1922 and 1048/1922 being ex works on 26 May 1922 and 22 June 1922 respectively. They have electric lighting and sliding doors on the north-west side only, as do the driving trailers.

The interior of the one the carriages on 2 October 2016. The location is the shore station and with the camera facing the shore. The sliding doors can be seen on the right, the only side to which doors are fitted. There are three seating bays with wooden slatted seats. This type of seating was once common in tramcars and omnibuses and in Europe in suburban and local trains until relatively recent times. They are not as uncomfortable as one might think and for short to medium journeys are no worse than the dreadful seating in modern trains and buses which we are supposed to admire but in reality are designed only for cheapness of construction and maintenance. This interior view of a Hythe Pier carriage will be little different from when the carriages were new. At far left can be seen part of one of the locomotives. It is on the short siding beyond the points leading into the workshop, seemingly the usual place for stabling the spare locomotive.
Photo by Robin Webster and reproduced from
Geograph under Creative Commons Licence

His Majesty King George VI was no stranger to Hampshire and not least during WWII. Believed in connection with Operation Neptune (see Further Reading) the King travelled on the pier railway on 4 June 1944 whilst en route from Southampton to Broadlands, Romsey. The King arrived at Hythe Pier by launch (not the ferry) a few minutes after departure of the 5pm ferry while during these few minutes a team of soldiers hurriedly cleaned one of the pier train carriages. As The King's train trundled along the pier soldiers, positioned by each lamp post along the pier, saluted. Which carriage conveyed His Majesty is not known but whichever it was acquired a small plaque to commemorate the event. This plaque was to mysteriously disappear, presumably stolen, and its whereabouts, if it still exists, remains a mystery to this day. As was usual in wartime, The King's visit was conducted under the utmost secrecy and it seems that even pier staff were unaware until the very last minute, and the presence of military personnel in the area at the time was nothing unusual. Broadlands was then the seat of the Earl Mountbatten of Burma, late uncle of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and continues as the family home, the occupants at the time of writing being Lord and Lady Brabourne. The King's 1944 journey from Southampton to Broadlands via Hythe may seem something of a long way around but was no doubt for reasons of security.

The two driving trailers are slightly longer at 16ft 2in but 7ft 1in high and 5ft wide with seating for up to 18 passengers, again on wooden slatted seats. They are w/n 1327/1923 and 1328/1923, both being ex-works on 12 May 1923. All passenger stock has a central buffer and coupling at both ends. The driving trailers have a cab at their pier head end with controls as per the locomotives. Normally one driving trailer is in use with the other spare, but the spare can also serve as a replacement for one of the ordinary coaches if necessary.

End of the line at Hythe Pier head on 26 June 2014. This date was a Thursday and one of three days per week when the tank wagon is taken along the pier, so perhaps the photographer was present at the wrong time of day. Beside the train, which is complete with luggage trolley as always, can be seen the low and narrow platform which serves more as a step. The conductor rail ends opposite the platform and locomotives are always at the shore end so there is no need for it to continue any further. The bufferstop has no heads of the conventional form but a curved steel strip which acts as a spring; It is akin to a leaf spring but on its side. This view gives a good idea of track construction; rails being affixed to steel sleepers and secured to the decking. The eye in the middle of the track is presumably for chaining unbraked vehicles. A shackle can just be seen on the luggage trolley just above and to the left of the right-hand running rail. It can be better seen in the later picture taken on the same day.
Photo by Stephen Craven and reproduced from Geograph under Creative Commons Licence

The luggage trolley needs little further description other than that it is 7ft long and 3ft 6in wide. It runs coupled to the driving trailer and therefore is pushed to the pier head. The tank wagon is coupled ahead of it when required.

Quite when a tank wagon appeared is unclear. Motor vessels appeared on the ferry service as early as 1915 with the MV Hamble, a rather mysterious and apparently short-lived vessel insofar as Hythe was concerned. In 1927 Hotspur (2) appeared and this vessel is not to be confused with the original PS Hotspur. Hotspur (2) was problematic and received a steam engine in 1932. Hotspur III appeared in 1938. Thus we can cautiously assume a tank wagon appeared no later than 1938. Any tank wagon which may have existed prior to 1922 would, of course, have been manually propelled along the pier. The present tank wagon is modern. The original comprised a steel tank on a wooden underframe but was replaced in the 1970s, although it is not clear if the entire vehicle was replaced or just its tank. The present vehicle is all steel and like the luggage trolley it is a 4-wheeler but slightly longer at 7ft 6in and with the same width. It is fitted with a coupling only at its shore end and is pushed to the pier head three times per week, usually by the passenger train, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Tank capacity is 1500 litres and the wagon's appearance is slightly odd with the tank being a little wider than the bow-ended underframe and offset longitudinally.

Locomotives Nos.1, left, and 2, right, at the landward end of Hythe Pier on 26 June 2014. No.1 is in service and passengers can be seen alighting on the left. The cables seen connected to the cab front of No.1 and passing along the roof of the train are the seven-core control jumper for the driving trailer and the power supply for carriage lighting. It will be remembered that trains operate during the hours of darkness and not just during daylight hours. The sidings, visible on the right, are not electrified. The pitched roof building is the railway workshop and the green structure, right, the substation. Vehicles are pushed manually to and from the non-electrified sidings. Note the substantial bufferstop; at the pier head similar - and absolutely essential - provision is made.
Photo by Alan Murray-Rust and reproduced from
Geograph under Creative Commons Licence

This topic has been touched upon in a caption but a fuller description is warranted. The original, 1922, livery was all-over green for locomotives and rolling stock before being changed to green, lower, and cream, upper for rolling stock but with locomotives remaining all-over green. The 'HPR' lettering on the carriages, which first appeared with this livery, was cream, shaded black. In 1963 livery was changed to blue, lower, and white, upper, for locomotives and rolling stock with the HPR lettering omitted. The change was transitional as would be expected given that there is only one spare passenger vehicle (a driving trailer) and photographs have been seen showing the train with a mix of green/cream and blue/white vehicles. Sources are confusing with regard to the blue/white livery and its date(s) of application, as it was possibly concurrent with the Waterfront Ferry period, of which vessels were blue/white, but the shade of blue applied to the train appears to have differed to that applied to the ferries.

The next livery, believed applied in 1997, was predominantly white with red at the lower extremities but it is unclear if all vehicles received this treatment. In 2000 livery reverted to all-over green with a reappearance of the HPR lettering on the carriages and this remains the case at the time of writing. It is reasonable to assume that paint durability in the sea air has had some bearing on liveries, with green seemingly the winner each time. Photographs suggest that the tank wagon has received a number of liveries during its life, including with the tank painted silver. It is currently green and carries the obligatory 'Hazchem' warning panel. The luggage trolley is more obscure and seemingly has carried green, red or a combination of both at various times.

Hythe Pier head on 3 August 2007, giving a better view of the narrow platform and the end of the conductor rail opposite. Hythe can be seen in the background. The tank wagon is the previous example to that at present but was not original, having had its tank and underframe (the original underframe was wooden) replaced at some point in time before being replaced by the entirely new wagon sometime in the 2008-10 period. This photograph was taken on a Friday, a day when the tank wagon would not usually be seen at the pier head. Hythe Pier is a functional structure, still serving the purpose for which it was built, and the latticework and spandrels seen here add just a touch of decoration to the otherwise somewhat forbidding ambience.
Photo by Peter Facey and reproduced from Geograph under Creative Commons Licence

The locomotive running numbers, mentioned elsewhere, are painted on the south-east side of the cabs where they cannot normally be seen by the public, other than from the shore, but are convenient for staff at the workshop. The numbers, in the form No.1 and No.2, are quite crudely applied and thus perhaps reflecting the functional nature of the railway. Photographs show that the numbers were not always carried, or at least not in the position described and particularly, photographs suggest, in the blue/white and red/white periods so may be relatively recent adornments.

 A second view taken on a wet Thursday 26 June 2014, this time with the new tank wagon present and apparently being discharged. Compare this wagon to the earlier wagon as seen in the 2007 view. The passenger vehicle facing the camera is one of the two driving trailers. These are probably more comfortable for the driver as on the locomotives he has to sit with his legs over the traction motor. On such a short journey, however, driver comfort is academic. There appear to be plenty of passengers from the ferry but as yet no business for the luggage trolley. In recent times much of the trolley's work is carrying buggies (folding pushchairs) and shopping trolleys. Smaller items such as the rucksacks seen here, carrier/shopping bags and so forth remain with passengers.
    Photo by Alan Murray-Rust and reproduced from Geograph under Creative Commons Licence

Train Operation
The general pattern with locomotive, coaches, luggage trolley and tank wagon has already been explained but a little more detail is warranted. The locomotive driving controls comprise a power controller, dead man's handle, reverser and wheel-operated handbrake. These controls are duplicated in the cab of the driving trailers (referred to by the railway as 'drive units'). Locomotive and driving trailer are linked, as already described, by a 7-core cable across the train roof. When the driving trailer is in use the controls are simply paralleled with those of the locomotive and vice versa. Thus when the driver changes ends he must ensure that the controls of whichever vehicle will be trailing are in the ‘Off’ position, having previously done the same with the vehicle which will be leading. The brakes also need to be applied and released in a certain order, per each end of train, when changing ends as braking is fitted only to locomotives and driving trailers.

The dead man's handle, if released, cuts power to the motor and there is no emergency brake application as on main line trains as the Hythe Pier trains have neither air or vacuum brakes. The locomotive handbrake wheel is mounted horizontally whereas on the driving trailers it is mounted vertically.

An interesting and little-known aspect of the trains is that air brakes were once experimented with but never progressed beyond the trial stage and the equipment was removed. Hythe Ferry Ltd informed the writer that the trials took place 'many years ago' but no further details are known so until such a time as more details come to light, if they do, we can only speculate on the system experimented with and why the trials were abandoned. One source states the driving trailers are fitted with an emergency stop button but Hythe Ferry Ltd refutes this. Perhaps such a device was part of the one-time air braking trials but, again, no further details are known. Whatever the truth, with no vacuum or air braking system currently fitted it is difficult to see how such a device could operate.

Braking is effected by contracting bands operating on axle mounted drums. On the locomotives the mechanism is operated via a chain to one axle and on the driving trailers via compensating linkage and worm to a drum on both axles of the bogie at the pier head end. This type of brake can also be found on certain types of road vehicle in which application it is known as a 'transmission brake', the difference being that on road vehicles it is of the expanding type, i.e. the same as a conventional wheel-mounted drum brake but mechanically operated. Regardless of application, and whether expanding or contracting, this type of brake is extremely efficient. On road vehicles it serves as a parking and emergency brake rather than a service brake and is perhaps best known for being fitted to Land Rovers.

A driving trailer bogie in the workshop showing one of the axle-mounted drum brakes as described in the text. New bands have just been fitted and part of the operating mechanism can be seen beneath the drum. This view also gives an idea of bogie construction: simple yet robust enough for the work demanded of it and extremely easy to maintain and repair.
Photo from Hythe Ferry Ltd.

Steel wheels do not and cannot grip steel rails when oil, grease, leaf mulch etc. is present as any train or tram driver will be only too aware. It is this very real issue with steel-on-steel which gives rise to the 'leaves on the line' problem which for many years has been the butt of sneers and jokes by the media. Almost since the dawn of railway locomotives one solution has been to drop sand onto the rails and this is the main, but not the sole, reason why locomotives are fitted with sand boxes. BR introduced Sandite and Network Rail now has Rail Head Treatment Trains (RHTT as they are known) which run at night outside normal service hours. Sandite is a substance comprising sand, aluminium and an adhesive. It is applied to railheads for the purpose of overcoming wheel adhesion problems cause by leaves on the line.

Railways on or near the coast face the additional problem of sea-spray on the rails. As anybody who lives on the coast and especially in areas prone to high winds will know, cars, houses and anything else exposed can become covered in a dirty, salty, sticky slime. The Hythe Pier Railway is no exception and drivers exercise extreme care when approaching the terminals, especially the pier head. The lamp standards along the pier are numbered in the same manner as tramway traction poles, railway catenary masts and so on. Instructions are to adjust speed at such-and-such a lamp standard when approaching terminals and when greasy rail conditions prevail terminals are approached at walking speed. Thus whilst driving the Hythe Pier train may appear to the layman an easy and perhaps monotonous job requiring little skill, this is far from reality and the fact there have been no major incidents attributable to the railway and its staff must be commended. During WWII, despite nearby Southampton being heavily bombed and the pier being highly vulnerable the little train, and the ferry, simply kept calm and carried on; like everybody and everything else, it had to.

The driving trailer end of the Hythe Pier train is heading back to Hythe, seen in the background, on 12 February 2009. The luggage trolley is in its usual position coupled to the driving trailer. Just about anything that will fit is carried on the trolley providing that it does not obscure the driver's view and is permitted on board the ferry. A nice selection of other images, including of the neat little tank wagon, may be viewed here. The conductor rail can be seen on the left, between the running rails and
outer pier railings.
Photo by Peter Langsdale and reproduced from Geograph under Creative Commons Licence

The Railtour Visit
One of the many railtours to visit the Fawley branch provided for a visit to Hythe Pier. This was the Branch Line Society's 'Hants Branches Railtour' of 22 September 1973 which used 'Hampshire' Class 3H DEMU No.1129 - one of the units destined to be involved in the Cowden disaster. Tour participants wishing to visit the pier were not dropped off at Hythe station as might be assumed but at what was recorded as 'Hythe Level Crossing'. This must have been School Road as this is the closest of the level crossings in Hythe to the pier. The train was due at the level crossing 17:09, dep.17:14 from where it continued to Fawley. On the return, timings at the level crossing were arr.17:56, dep.17:59. Participants thus had just 47 minutes, or at best 50 minutes, to visit the pier. Details are otherwise very unclear. It is doubtful whether there was adequate time for a trip along the pier, allowing for time to get to and from the pier from the level crossing, unless a special trip was arranged between the normal 30-minute interval service. Also it is by no means clear how participants alighted from or joined the 'Hampshire' DEMU at the level crossing but possibly the emergency ladder stowed in the guard's compartment was used.

Interestingly, although Hythe station was not used this railtour was possibly the final time when passengers left a train and rejoined it later at Hythe - railtours which may have stopped briefly for photographic purposes excepted.

The Hythe Pier Tramway is the UK's oldest pier line to have seen continuous operation since inception and is recognised as such by the ‘Guinness Book of Records’. This probably also applies to the locomotives which, in third-rail form, have been in continuous commercial service for 94 years at the time of writing. Their age, including when in battery form at Avonmouth, is now 99 years each at the time of writing. There have been breaks in the service, for example on 1 November 2003 when a dredger, MV Donald Redford, collided with and damaged a section of the pier but this was of course in no way any fault of the railway. Commendably the pier and railway reopened on 7 January 2004 but the railway had to be provided with a new electricity transformer as damage to the track as a result of the collision damaged the previous transformer beyond economical repair. The cause of the collision was the dredger's master being under the influence of alcohol.

The little railway has, in its manually and electrically propelled forms, provided a valuable public service and delighted many visitors for over a century and we hope it will continue to do so for many more years yet and with the original locomotives which although they have been modified over the years have now become an attraction in their own right. More importantly and albeit in a different environment, No.1 and No.2 continue to do the job that they were designed to do, day-in day-out on a commercial basis, a century ago. Surely there are few better reminders of Britain's once world-renowned industrial past?


Tickets from Michael Stewart


Thanks go to Hythe Ferry Ltd. who promptly responded to and willingly gave their time to answer questions and also provided a photograph.

Thanks also go to Peter Harding who kindly allowed reference to his work on the Hythe pier railway in preparation of this feature.

Further Reading:
Although only marginally relevant to Hythe Pier, it is worth reading about mustard gas, its horrific effects, the Avonmouth factory and the staff, mainly women, who worked and in some cases died there. Here can be read a brief insight and more on mustard gas can be read here. Broader information on chemical weapons can be read on the Subterranea Britannica website here, here and here.

Mentioned in the text is Operation Neptune. This was the assault phase of Operation Overlord, better known as The Normandy Landings or 'D-Day'. Along with countless other locations in Southern and Eastern England and South Wales, Hythe was very much a part of Operation Neptune, being overseen locally by HMS Squid II (HMS Squid was located at Southampton). The Royal Navy has provided a superb and highly recommended downloadable document detailing Operation Neptune which can be accessed here.

See Hythe Ferry




[Source: Darren Kitson]

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