The railway opened in 1971. It is a dog bone shape nearly half a mile long. It was well engineered with a firm track base and super-elevation for the curves. Like most miniature lines it has a single station near one end of the circuit and a tunnel part way round. Two locomotives were used. On Sundays and other busy days trains were hauled by “King George” a 4-4-2 built by the renowed miniature locomotive builder Bassett-Lowke in 1915. On quieter days plus the last train on steam days the 4 -4w diesel “Wendy” was used. This was named after the owners’ late pet dog. It was assembled by Coleby-Simpkins of Leicestershire from some of their own components plus others sourced by the railway’s owner from Co. Durham firms. The four open carriages were assembled on site from components sourced by the owner. For the next three and a half decades this was a very popular railway.
Over the years several more locomotives came for varing periods: Bill Stewart’s new-build 4-6-2 “Flying Scotsman”, “John” a 4-4-2 built by Albert Barnes of Rhyl in 1921 and one of the many ‘Rio Grande’ 2-8-0 steam-outline petrol hydraulic built on an American design.
In 1990 the site was sold. One of the new owners’ changes was to excavate the lake in the far loop, one of the line’s notable features. By now the saplings planted 20 years earlier were giving the railway a wooded background in places. All trains were now handled by “Wendy”, the sole remaining locomotive. In 2005 the railway closed as the site was sold again. For the next seven years it slumbered under increasing vegetation and the power of the elements.
In 2011/12 it was planned to gift the track and rolling stock to the Sierra Leone Railway Museum in west Africa which is supported by a number of staff at the National Railway Museum in York and Shildon. One of the senior NRM people realised the line’s importance as an example of a classic British miniature railway. With the site’s owner he devised a revival plan. The Friends of the Thorpe Light Railway was formed to put this into practice.
The ‘resident’ loco, Coleby-Simkins Wendy is currently undergoing restoration.