Please note: all latest news is at the top of the page.

Unveiling of the locomotive ‘Bathala’ at Beaulieu
19th December 2006

On Tuesday, 19th December 2006, Janet Kotzé, First Secretary to the South African High Commission in London, officially unveiled the locomotive ‘Bathala’ at the National Motor Museum, in the presence of over 60 invited steam railway enthusiasts.

The plan to establish a narrow gauge steam railway, the Beaulieu Light Railway, on the Beaulieu Estate is progressing and could see Beaulieu’s historic motoring theme extended to one of vintage transport on road and rail, with steam trains transporting visitors around the Estate in a style reminiscent of a now bygone age.

The BLR project is being developed in alliance with the Sandstone Heritage Trust. In a program aimed at exchanging expertise and exhibits, the Sandstone Heritage Trust has loaned ‘Bathala’ to the BLR project so that interested parties can see the size of the operation being considered for the Beaulieu Estate. The locomotive will be on display in the National Motor Museum for a number of months. The Sandstone Heritage Trust is Africa’s leading organisation for the preservation of narrow gauge steam locomotives and rolling stock. Some of the oldest working two-foot gauge engines in the world have been restored to the highest standard in the Trust’s own workshops. Sandstone also owns one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of tractors and agricultural equipment in the world.

Bathala transferred from the workshops
to the Beaulieu Museum

Nearly there - under tow to the
unveiling position

In position, ready for decoration

Ralph Montagu welcoming the guests

Ralph Montagu introducing Janet Kotzé, the First
Secretary to the South African High Commissioner

Janet Kotzé unveiling Bathala with Wilfred and
Linda Mole of the Sandstone Estate in
South Africa and Ralph Montagu

Wilfred Mole, Ralph Montagu and Janet Kotzé
with the unveiled loco

The BBC South Today TV team
interviewing Ralph Montagu

Wilfred Mole, Janet Kotzé and Ralph Montagu
in the cab of Bathala

Bathala in all her glory

Bathala arrives at Beaulieu

August 2006 saw the arrival of Bathala at Beaulieu. The container lorry arrived early one morning and Bathala was quickly unloaded into the Beaulieu workshops. The loco had to be partially dismantled to make the journey from the Sandstone Estates in South Africa.

Since then Bathala has been restored to her former glory. Re-assembled, cleaned and polished in preparation for her debut as a static display within the Beaulieu Attractions.


Ralph Monatgu with the dismantled loco (right)

Doug Hill, Beaulieu's Chief Engineer
removes Bathala from the container

Ralph Monatgu recording a message to
Wilfred Mole of the Sandstone Estates

Bathala rolling into the
Beaulieu workshops

The plaque depicting the loan
of the Locomotive from Sandstone

Re-assembled, polished and ready for display

Clean as a whistle

History of "Bathala"

Ex Dombe Grande Sugar Estates, Angola 0-4-0T “Bathala”
Decauville 302/1899

The jewel of the Sandstone rail collection, “Bathala” was built in France and is affectionately known as the “Little French Lady”. Prior to the devastating civil war that began after Angola 's independence from Portuguese rule in 1975, Angola had a number of operating sugar estates with extensive rail networks. The presence of warring factions, landmines and the destruction of rural areas during the conflict soon led to all these falling into disuse. Many of the sugar estate railways had been dieselised with most of the steam locomotives set aside. Perversely the very conflict that shut down the estates had the effect of preserving old machinery including many steam locos.

The builder of 302, Decauville, began as a manufacturer of portable rail systems for such agricultural areas whereby track could be laid and quickly moved to another area as required. The manufacture of locomotives was an obvious extension of this business. The Dombe Grande Estate had a number of locomotives from various manufacturers, one of which was spotted in a Benguela scrap yard as late as 1974. Number 302 survived as it had been placed in a museum at the Estate around 1930. During the conflict the roof of the building collapsed on to the loco and this, plus the danger of landmines, kept the loco away from prying eyes. Although suffering some damage many of the fittings remained. The works plate and name plate had, however, disappeared.

A visit to Angola in 2003 by a team from Sandstone revealed many rail artifacts still extant including number 302 although its identity was not confirmed. Research into the builder's records indicated that it was number 302 and this has now been confirmed by this number appearing on various motion and other parts. Nevertheless it took two years of negotiation to purchase the locomotive. Being in the southern part of Angola it was decided to transport it by road via Namibia. It duly arrived in Johannesburg in August 2004. Initial restoration work was carried out in Pretoria but then the locomotive was transferred to Bloemfontein for completion. In what is probably a world record for loco restoration, Lukas Nel and his team returned number 302 to steam in just under four months.

Although well over 100 years old the correct size boiler tubes were readily obtained locally and name plates were made up. The works plates were a different matter though. Armed with a photograph of plates from a similar loco, the Sandstone team obtained the dimensions from a French enthusiast and plates were hand made in Pretoria. The locomotive is now complete and has been commissioned at Hoekfontein. Painted in a rich burgundy colour and weighing only two tons, with limited power, the Decauville is limited to shunting and demonstrations with small cocopans but is nevertheless one of the “finds” of the railway restoration arena in the 21st century.

This locomotive is now on a European Tour, commencing at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, in the United Kingdom.  From there it will go to France in 2007.

Bathala prepares for the long journey

After undergoing a check up at the Bloemfontein workshops the little French Decauville engine is secured on a flat back for its journey to South Africa’s Durban Docks. Looking very resplendent in her finest livery Bathala will board a container ship during late June to be transported to the UK and to the Beaulieu Estate, initially to act as a static exhibition. This journey heralds the start of a leasing agreement between Beaulieu and the Sandstone Estates in South Africa where other locomotives are expected to journey north in future months to join Bathala on the Beaulieu Estate.

On Sunday 11th June 2006 Ralph Montagu hosted the first of what will be a series of get togethers of the friends and supporters of the BLR on his Beaulieu Estate. About 25 of our supporters were able to attend the meeting. Ralph Montagu later wrote the following to everyone.

Dear BLR supporters…. ‘’The first gathering to discuss the Beaulieu Light Railway project was held at Beaulieu on 11th June. To those who were able to attend, please accept my thanks for making the time to come along, and contribute your thoughts. For those who were not able to make it, rest assured that there will be other events in the coming months to which you will be invited. I will also be sending you the occasional email when there are significant developments which you might like to know about’’.

Donald Wilson - Ralph Montagu - Paul Abbott

Doug Hill - Eddie Neylon

Ian Wilson - Wilfred Mole - Chris York

John Cohring - Mark Abbott - Ron Shepherd

Eddie Neylon - Ralph Montagu - Wilfred Mole - Peter Mole

On Wednesday 7th June 2006 Ralph Montagu from Beaulieu and Wilfred Mole from the Sandstone Estates in South Africa gave a phone interview to the Julian Clegg BBC Radio Solent programme to update the listeners to recent events surrounding the BLR.