Of all the British narrow-gauge railway survivours, the Candlebridge Tramway is the most unlikely. It is not only one of the oldest English narrow-gauge railways’, at only three miles long it is also one of the shortest.
The Tramways Act of 1870 authorised local boroughs to grant 21-year concessions to private tramway operators and entrepreneurs exploited the Act to build short railways without parliamentary permission.
One such individual was M. Dadd, who built a two-foot gauge Tramway from his home town of Dudcott to the tiny hamlet of Candlebridge on the River Thames, between Abingdon & Wallingford. His Tramway opened in 1878 initially using horse-drawn carriages, but steam power was soon introduced in 1882. The 1870 Act stipulated numerous operating conditions, maximum speed, etc. and although described as a Tramway, the railway did not cross or follow any roads when built!
Much to everyone’s surprise, the line became a local tourist attraction and began to prosper, Dadd even felt compelled to invest in more stock in the late 1880s. Unfortunately, he passed away unexpectedly in 1897 and parish councillor, Jack Butler acquired the Tramway.
Its popularity continued during the 1920s & 30s and ownership of the line passed to Butlers’ son in 1936, but its fortunes declined following the Second World War and Butlers’ son passed away in 1965. For a time the fate of the railway hung in the balance until the Candlebridge Tramway Trust was formed in 1967.
The trust invested in the railway and supported by a preservation society have ensured a secure future for the railway. Over the years, the tramway & village have retained an unaltered charm that has endeared them to enthusiasts & visitors alike.
Passengers usually begin their journey at Dudcott where the tramway’s shed & workshop facilities are situated. A balloon loop was installed at Boot Lane in 1967, trains now depart clockwise from this loop. Leaving the small station, the railway joins Moor Brook and together they dive under the road bridge (built in 1975). With the Brook on the left, the line continues to Peartree. Pausing at Peartree and allowing trains to pass each other, the railway crosses the road and carries on alongside the Brook before bearing right and leaving it behind. For the last half mile, the railway drops through a tree-lined cutting before arriving at Candlebridge. Here the locomotive is turned on the turntable (also installed in 1967), before running around its train and returning to Dudcott.