A clipping from London’s Evening
News in the 1920's recalling one journalist’s encounter
with the railway in Ham:
a W.G. Bagnall Loco at Ham Pits, 1933
Photograph G.Alliez, collection of
Industrial Railway Society.
Just below Teddington Locks, writes Ralph
Harold Bretheron in the “Evening News”, where
a lane turns off from the towpath towards Ham, you see
behind a gate a notice which bids you beware of the trains.
London’s railway map at once jumps into your mind
and you think wonderingly, what trains?
But here, though you may not have known
of it, is Londons’ smallest railway. A quarter or
half a mile of track along the edge of the great ballast
pits of Ham. Most of those pits have been worked so deep
that they are full of water and bear (illegible) of dredgers.
But some of the farther pits still have dry bottoms and
the little railway doubles into the bed of one of these.
The track is off the narrowest gauge. You step over it
in the easiest of strides. The two little locomotives
stand no higher than a horse. Their wheels look to be
barely a foot in diameter. And you wonder that the whole
engine does not tip up when the burly driver steps aboard.
There are some scores of trucks rather like coal scuttles
slung between arms rising from wheeled bases.
The engines take the trucks down into the
bed of the pit and bring them back laden with ballast
to the dock where the barges lie. About a yard of ballast
goes into each truck. It is a rather untidy little line.
Having no sidings to speak of, it throws its surpluses
off the track. They lie scattered in all sorts of positions
by the side of the rails, sometimes with their scuttles
off the hinges.
Yet there is a neat little shed that will
take one locomotive at a time, and there is a loop which
gives room for two engines to pass, for neither can be
conveniently thrown off the track to make passage for
the other. And there is a real junction, where the mainline
sends a branch down into the pit. It is the level crossing,
perhaps, that impresses you most with the reality of the
line. So many warnings are there that you cannot step
across the track without a thrill. Suppose you met a train?
Would it be bad for you, as Stephenson said it would for
Probably it would. Those little locomotives
push as readily as they pull, and they have, you notice,
good butting ends that would certainly hit you pretty
hard. Trains are a common sight to the Londoner. He sees
and, perhaps, uses them everyday. Yet Ham is a suburb
most remote from the railway.
There are people who live there and do
not see an ordinary train all the week. All the same,
in this no-man’sland of London’s railway map,
two small locomotives busily jostle ballast trucks up
and down a self-contained line over what is probably London’s
richest mineral field, a rather exotic-looking region
of deep pits, water, strange machinery and beautiful heaps
of washed stone. So Ham, less intimate than many a country
village, with a railway, has its level crossing. And there
is no excuse for you if you charge into a train there.