On this Day 14th December 1902

Penlee Quarry Railway Opens

The Cornishman of 4th December 1902 contains an entertaining and somewhat eccentric account of the opening of the Penlee Quarry Light Railway. The writer of the piece had been invited to visit the quarry by proprietor Mr James Runnalls on the afternoon before the official opening of the railway which was set for 11am on Thursday 27th November. He (or maybe it was she, difficult to tell) seized the opportunity and what follows is largely based on that experience on the afternoon of Wednesday 26th November 1902.

You might ask why, if this event occurred on 26th November it is being recorded here on the 3th December. Well, as I said, it was published in the Cornishman on 4th December, on page 2 column 1 if you want to be precise. Anyway, that's my decision and privilege as editor of On This Day and I'm sticking to it.

It seems Mr James Runnalls was a man with a sense of humour, possibly the sort of robust sense of humour which is not really appreciated today. But then he was a quarryman and while the subtle changes in strata and granular structure of rock may be of enormous consequence to a man of his calling, there is no denying that life's excitement comes from the sort of very loud bangs which cause those of a nervous disposition to have a fit of the vapours.

James Runnalls' invitation to attend the opening of the Penlee Quarry Railway as carried by the Cornishman of 4 December 1902 (Courtesy Morrab Library)Mr Runnalls printed invitations to attend the opening of his new railway. The invitation is attached herewith and you can clearly see that Penlee Elvan Stone Quarries is very much a family business, with the exception of Herr Kronstrand Esquire who is elsewhere described as the honorary engine driver. You might imagine that this gentleman was an engineer sent to induct the Runnalls clan in the ways of their newly acquired locomotive. But then again, he is described as poking up the fire with his walking stick, and elsewhere as being an artist, so I am obliged to wonder if he is in fact the Swedish born artist Bror Karl Albert Kronstraadt (also referred to as Kronstrand) who was known to be in Newlyn in 1902 and executed a charcoal drawing of John Branwell.

And since the subject of the locomotive is raised, I think it only fair that a few words should be said on that topic. After all, what is a railway without a locomotive in 1902? The locomotive on which the exciting ride was taken that Wednesday afternoon was a four-coupled well tank built in Germany by Stahlbahnwerke Freudenstein & Co of Berlin. On the day of the official opening of the railway, 27th November, she was christened Penlee, according to the Cornish Telegraph account of the event which was published on 3rd December. Mr Michael Messenger, writing in the Trevithick Society Journal many years later in 2011 asserted that in her early years the little engine was known as Koppel, the name on the agent's plate, and that this name, being German, was changed to Penlee during World War One. But I prefer to stick with the good old Telegraph version of events which at least has the merit of being published just days after the event. Other than that however I can recommend Mr Messenger's nicely illustrated article which gives a Penlee and her driver Janner Maddern in about 1930 (courtesy of Glyn Richards)comprehensive view of the history of Newlyn's railway. But if it's pictures you want and a first hand account of what it's like to have a train loaded with stone passing your bedroom window within a couple of feet you need to talk to my friend Glyn Richards who provided this splendid portrait of Penlee with her driver Janner Maddern. It has to be said though, the more people you ask, the more accounts differ. According to Glyn the locomotive was called Berlin until 1914 when she became Penlee. Glyn also says that Penlee was assembled in Newlyn in the top store next to Peter Hoskings' sail loft as this was the only suitable location for the job near enough to the south pier.

Penlee, ending her days at Leighton Buzzard Light Railway and clearly a static exhibit. (photo by NearEMPTiness via Wikipedia) 

Penlee, ending her days at Leighton Buzzard Light Railway and clearly a static exhibit.
(photo by NearEMPTiness via Wikipedia) 

The 2 foot gauge Penlee Quarry Light Railway, the adjective “light” being a description which indicated that it operated under the Light Railways Act of 1896 and among other things should not exceed 25 mph, continued to operate until 31st July 1972 when it was replaced by a conveyor. Penlee was retired in 1946 and after slowly decaying in the salt laden air for 36 years she was removed by A.R.C., then owners of the quarry. She was rebuilt in 1983 and now resides at the Leighton Buzzard Light Railway as a static exhibit on one of the shortest pieces of track you've ever seen. Now 116 years years old she is most certainly in retirement but at least she's been captured for posterity again by photographer NearEMPTiness.


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