I must admit that I was at a loss for a prototype for the new line until the summer
of 2007, when I visited the lower terminus of the 2’6" gauge Pentewan Harbour, where
one can still see a few tracks and ramps from which ships were loaded. While sheltering
from the fierce Cornish sunshine, which threatened to penetrate my cagoule and rust
up my camera, I decided to model the PHR’s extension through Heligan to Mevagissey.
In the 1890’s, the railway was faced with the increasing silting-up of Pentewan Harbour,
ironically caused by waste sand from the very industry that it served. The PHR management
and the Tremayne family of Heligan proposed an extension to Mevagissey. The new line
deviated from the original at Nansladron Junction, using the course of an existing
private lane that linked Heligan House with the main St Austell – Pentewan road.
There was a private halt at Heligan House for the Tremayne family and their guests
and a public station for the gardens. Originally, this was to be named ‘Heligan Gardens’,
but this was changed to ‘Pigsty Hill’, a local landmark, to avoid confusion with
the House station.
The route then followed an existing path into Mevagissey, where there was a Town
station, which is now, alas, a car park. A branch ran through the narrow streets
to the harbour, very much after the fashion of the W&LLR at Welshpool. This had the
dual function of exporting china clay and transporting fish to those up-country via
interchange sidings with the GWR at St Austell.
Map of the PHLR
This new line was built under a Light Railway Order and assumed the name of the Pentewan
and Heligan Light Railway, although it was in practice completely controlled by the
Pentewan Harbour and Railway Company. It is conjectured that the omission of Mevagissey
from the railway's name was an attempt to prevent the GWR getting wind of the PHLR's
designs on a desirable holiday resort. This turned out to be academic, as the locals
christened it the 'Pigsty Hill Light Railway' almost from its opening day, and this
name appeared in Bradshaw’s Railway Guide from 1895 onwards.
Incidentally, it was long thought that 'Pigsty Hill' was a named after the Tremayne
estate's famous pigsties, home of the rare Cornish Blue breed, but it is likely that
the name is much older. Recent archaeological research points to a Neolithic pig
cult. The discovery of charred remains of pigs, in shallow pits among evidence of
feasting, gives credence to this theory.
The line did important duty during both World Wars, although security prevented any
photography of its vital cargoes. By the end of the Great War, both locomotives,
‘Canopus’ and ‘Pioneer’, and most of the stock were worn out, and the future looked
bleak. However, by a happy chance, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Tremayne of the Royal
Engineers, a director of the PHLR, returned from the war with knowledge of a brand
new geared 0-4-0T that had been destined for a 750mm gauge mountain railway in Saxony,
but which had been seized as reparations. A number of waggons were also available,
and the appropriate strings were pulled. These arrived at St Austell (GWR) in March
1921 and the railway was saved. A visible sign of this remained to the end of the
PHLR, in that centre couplings were retained on the new rolling stock, replacing
the PHR’s previous system of side buffers, itself most unusual for a narrow gauge
line. The two older locomotives were sold for scrap, raising the princely sum of
After World War II, the forward-looking Tremayne family saw the possibilities of
their gardens as an attraction for the better class of tourist, with the nearby private
Heligan House Halt keeping the hoi polloi away from the house itself. Pigsty Hill
station handled visitors to the gardens. Many holidaymakers who took the train to
Mevagissey returned to the gardens for a closer look, having had a taste of their
beauties on the journey from St Austell.
In the mid 1950’s, much of the china clay traffic was redirected via standard gauge
lines to Par and Fowey but, for a while, things looked rosy with the increase in
post-war tourism. Alas, this didn’t last and, as car ownership grew, passenger numbers
fell off. The PHLR management tried to compete by introducing diesel haulage and
even a diesel railbus, but it was to no avail.
Sadly, the last train ran in 1961. If only it had survived a few more years, it would
have made a delightful preserved line. How the good citizens of Mevagissey would
prefer the ‘emmet dilly’ to today’s traffic jams!
There has recently been much talk of re-opening at least a part of the line, but
the Preservation Society is deeply split as to which part, and little progress has
However, all is not lost. It is now possible to walk the line almost in its entirety.
Cornwall County Council’s ‘Coast and Clay Trail’ faithfully follows the trackbed
from Carthew to Mevagissey via St Austell and Pentewan, with a short deviation around
The Pigsty Brewery and its Railway
Anyone old and lucky enough to have visited Cornwall in the 1950's will remember
the products of the Pigsty Brewery; Old Boar Bitter and Old Sow Cider were a regional,
nay national, institution in that county. The brewery was established in 1898 by
Nigel Trewithen of Cheesewarne Farm, soon after the opening of the Pigsty Hill Light
Railway's Mevagissey Extension. In fact, it was unusual in being dependent on rail
transport from its inception, there being very limited road access to the site.
It is believed that the PBR was the inspiration behind the Oakhill Brewery Railway
in Somerset, opened in 1904, although this only lasted a few years until 1921. During
this brief period, the line was operated on the same push-pull basis as the PBR.
In 1961, the closure of the PHLR, which linked Pigsty Hill with St Austell and the
rest of Cornwall, tolled the death knell for the brewery, and St Austell Ales bought
out its goodwill and its public houses. Indeed, they brewed Old Boar Bitter right
up into the 1980's, although old-timers could be heard to complain that "I tell 'ee,
me handsome, an Old Boar bain't what he were in my day".
Origins of the Railway
The Pigsty Brewery Railway existed solely to link the Pigsty Brewery to the PHLR
at Pigsty Hill station. Because of the availability of second-hand stock and portable
track, it was constructed to two-foot gauge, and very lightly laid. Of course, this
involved trans-shipment at Pigsty Hill to the 2' 6" gauge PHLR, but this was not
seen as a problem, as there were never any plans for through running. A minimum radius
of 48 feet was applied when laying out the line.
When the line was first constructed, trains (and, worse, their smoke) were visible
from Heligan House, spoiling the Tremayne family's view of Pigsty Hill and St Austell
Bay. In those days, the local landowner's word was law, and something had to be done.
The obvious solution was to run the line around behind Pigsty Hill, but there was
insufficient room there to take both the PBR's track and that of the PHLR.
At the request of the chairman of the Pigsty Brewery, officers of the PHLR and Pigsty
Brewery met to discuss a proposal that a section of the former should be converted
to mixed gauge, with running rights for the PBR on the two-foot. Perhaps surprisingly,
the PHLR board agreed to this proposal and committed itself to laying the third rail
at its own expense.
The PBR was to have its own bay platform at Pigsty Hill, with cross platform transfer
of goods and a smart new yard crane.
It might seem strange that the PHLR board was so easily swayed, given the costs involved.
Cynics might take note that the meeting was held at the Pigsty Brewery, after a sumptuous
meal and comprehensive beer-tasting. Furthermore, the minutes were taken by Chastity
Tregorrick, a lifelong teetotaller and niece of the Pigsty Brewery chairman.
Initially the PBR purchased two small 0-4-0T locos 'MALT' and 'HOPS' from Peckett's
of Bristol, which gave many years' good service. They were replaced in the early
1950's by a Rapier 4wD diesel and a curious railcar that would be described as a
"draisine" on the Continent, where these beasts are much more common. They took on
the names of their steam predecessors.
The working vehicles were two 4-wheel waggons and a brake van, but a coach was purchased,
as was the fashion of the times, for the conveyance of the directors. In later years,
these covered vehicles were used for enthusiasts' specials and brewery tours. Curiously,
many of the same faces were to be seen on both.
Realising the Dream
I decided that Pigsty Hill station would be the perfect prototype, with Heligan House
Halt a few scale yards away for a later project. It was of particular interest, exporting
exotic fruit and vegetables and importing coal and other necessities for the house,
as well as visitors to the Gardens. Passing trains carried tourists, fish, china
clay and general goods.
After all, if one is modelling a railway in a garden, why not model a railway in
a garden? It also didn’t escape my notice that Mevagissey quay would be a perfect
setting for my tiny indoor line, but that’s another story.
I decided to model the railway as it was in the early 50’s, when a healthy mineral
and fish traffic was still being carried, and when the tourist traffic was at its
height. It suits my existing locos and stock and gives me the excuse to build, beg
or borrow a railbus, a project that has been much on my mind.
This autumn, I had the pleasure of walking the trackbed of the PHLR. I was delighted
to find the sole remaining building of the old Pentewan Harbour Railway, a china
clay store in the Co-op car park at the bottom of West Hill, St Austell. As I crested
the summit of the line, looking across to Pentewan Beach on one side and Heligan
Gardens on the other, I pondered on the loss of what would surely have become a major
tourist attraction and a boon to the car-infested streets of Mevagissey.
The final extent of the PHLR can be seen on “The PHLR and the GWR” page at Maps and
the layout on “PHLR Mark V”.
NOTE: This page is based on articles I wrote for Garden Rail magazine. See Garden
Rail Index to find my articles
Much of this history is imaginary, but it might well have happened. The Pentewan
Harbour Railway was real, and most of it can be walked today. After sketching out
my legend, I re-read my Bible, ‘The Pentewan Railway’. The PHR did propose extensions
up the Trenance and Gover valleys to the china clay pits, although these were finally
built by the GWR. Much to my surprise, one John Tremyane of Heligan did offer to
invest in an extension to Mevagissey. The route I sketched out does match the Coast
and Clay Trail, although it skirts the actual Gardens.
The Pigsty Brewery is, alas, pure fiction.
The Pigsty Hill Light Railway - a Very Small Garden Railway
The History of the Prototype
An Unreliable History of the PHLR in the Real World