Laurel and Hardy Romeny Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

May 4th 2002

On Saturday May 4th (2002) several bus loads of 'Sons of the Desert' arrived at Hythe Station in Kent to celebrate 'Laurel & Hardy's' visit in 1947. On this page you will find the story of 'Laurel & Hardy's visit plus photographs taken on this fun day in May. Bud (Ollie)and Steve  (Stan) Hodgeson enjoyed recreating the 'Boys' visit at the railway.

Laurel and Hardy Romeny Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

Laurel and Hardy Romeny Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

Laurel & Hardy Meet the Mayor in 1947 and 2002.

Laurel and Hardy Romeny Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

Laurel and Hardy Romeny Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

Laurel & Hardy on the loco 'Dr Syn' 1947 and 'Dr Syn' 2002.

Laurel and Hardy Romeny Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

Laurel and Hardy Romeny Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

'The Boys' opening the tunnel at New Romney Station.

Laurel and Hardy Romeny Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

Laurel and Hardy Romeny Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

 

Stan Laurel in the 'Bar Car 1947'/ Our own 'Joan Robertson' in the Bar Car 2002!

 

Laurel and Hardy Romeny Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

This following article, detailing the history of the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway was compiled by Terry (webmaster of the RH & DR website), with additional material by Hans Ligtenburg and "A.J" Marriot.

Officially opened 16th July 1927, the RH&DR stretches for nearly 14 miles from the picturesque Cinque Port of Hythe via the popular holiday areas of Dymchurch, St. Mary's Bay and New Romney, to the fishermen's cottages and lighthouses at Dungeness. From Hythe to New Romney the line is double-tracked, so a train travelling in the opposite direction may pass you. Beyond New Romney the line is a single track to Dungeness, with a passing place at Romney Sands.

The railway was the culmination of the dreams of two men: Captain J. E. P. Howey - a casual racing driver, millionaire landowner and 15" gauge railway aficionado; and Count Louis Zborowski - eminently well-known racing driver of his day (famous for owning and racing the Chitty Bang Bang Mercedes) and considerably richer than even Howey.

The Count was keen to build a fully working express railway using the 15" gauge, and Howey - well known in "miniature" circles for owning large locomotives - was inspired by the vision also. To try to fulfil their ambition, the pair attempted to purchase the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway in the Lake District, but to no avail. Despite this setback, the Count ordered two Pacific locomotives, to be designed by the leading model engineer of his day, Henry Greenly and built in Colchester by Davey, Paxman and Co., which would run on the miniature express line the two men were determined to build. Before the locomotives were delivered however, the Count was killed while racing at Monza in the Italian Grand Prix. Howey was left with two locos and the task of finding somewhere to run them. He commissioned Greenly to help him, and it was he who came up with the Romney Marsh.

When first opened to the public the line only covered, in double-track, the eight miles between Hythe and New Romney - the railway's main terminus. Owner Captain Jack Howey soon had his eye on extending the line and, in 1928, double- tracks carried the trains to Dungeness via Greatstone, a fantastic main line ride of 13.5 miles. During those early years, the railway became famous and people came to ride on the trains. The locomotive fleet was extended to nine mainline express engines and a fleet of luxurious coaches were built. The war years took their toll, the line being requisitioned by the War Department. They even created the only miniature armoured train in the world - used extensively during the building of PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) which fuelled the Allied invasion force. When peacetime returned, the RH&DR soon reopened - firstly the Hythe to New Romney in 1946, and then the Dungeness section the following year, with Laurel and Hardy officiating at the opening ceremony which went as follows:

Immediately after breakfast at their London hotel, Stan, Babe, and Ida laurel boarded a train bound for Ashford, in Kent, from where a car took them to Hythe Railway Station. They were greeted by the Mayor of Folkestone – Ald. H Hughes, and the general manager of the railway, Major J T Holder, who accompanied them on the train to New Romney. There, despite a constant drizzle, thousands of people had turned out, headed by the Mayor - Alderman J. A. Wiles, and the owners of the railway, Mr. & Mrs. J. E. P. Howey.

Mrs. Howey handed the Boys a key which looked like it belonged to a giant clockwork train set and directed them towards the tunnel in which the train engine was awaiting its unveiling. This afforded the couple ample means to improvise a comedy routine centred around the unlocking of the fake set of doors which had been placed on one end of the tunnel. Once the engine had been brought out onto the main line, raucous laughter accompanied the testing of the controls by Stan and Ollie, followed by further hilarity when Stan and Teddy Smith, son of the Dymchurch station master, tried to push Hardy's enormous frame into one of the new Pullman Cars. Fortunately, two camera teams were on hand to capture most of the above action.

With everyone aboard, the new line was declared officially “open,” and the train burst through the fake brickwork on the other end of the tunnel, on its way to Dungeness. Hot toddies served on the train were followed by lunch at the Jolly Fisherman pub in Greatstone; then it was off to the turn-around point at Dungeness Lighthouse, and back to Hythe for tea at the Light Railway Restaurant. On the following Monday, as a “thank you” to Laurel and Hardy for giving up their day, Messrs. Holder and Howey turned up at the stage door of the Palladium and left no less than four hundred photographs for them to autograph. How thoughtful!

(Extract from "A.J" Marriot's book LAUREL & HARDY - The British Tours)

But the costs of hostilities were obvious; New Romney to Dungeness was now single-track only, as the raw materials to rebuild were scarce and the costs high. The post-war years were good, and the publicity gained from being a front-line railway paid some dividends. The fifties and early sixties saw a boom in tourism and the Kent coast and the RH&DR benefitted greatly, but the arrival of cheap package holidays to sunnier climes soon saw the passenger numbers fall. Owner Howey was also ageing (he died in September 1963) and investment in the railway was not all it could have been. As new owners took the concern on and then passed it to yet other new owners, the extent of the decline being suffered by the RH&DR became apparent. Bridges were in poor condition, rolling stock was ageing and uncomfortable, locomotives were costly to maintain. After a near-death experience a new consortium saved the day in 1973 and huge investment has taken place over the past twenty or so years, and so these days the railway seems to be in fine fettle; bridges renewed, rolling stock replaced, two new diesel locos, term-time school train. Passenger figures for the 1996 season saw an increase and the bank balance went into the black. BUT ... the railway needs every visitor it can get to experience the unique journey that is offered on the Romney Marsh; a real steam mainline in miniature. For the RH&DR operates in much the same way as it did in 1927 with the same destinations, the same locomotives. Still one of the railway Wonders of the World. Even the Queen has even travelled on this line, in her own Royal Coach, so it really is "Special" in many ways!

-------------------

Go here for all your Laurel and Hardy Collectables

The Laurel and Hardy Catalogue

VISIT: The ALL NEW 'Laurel and Hardy Catalogue'

   

BACK TO THE LAUREL AND HARDY MAGAZINE HOME PAGE