The Museum has a collection of more than 1,000 items from over eighty narrow gauge railways in Wales, England, the Isle of Man, Ireland and Scotland. This includes six locomotives on display (and a several others in store or at other sites); eleven wagons inside with a further eleven outside; a display showing the development of track work from early plateways to modern narrow gauge tracks; several large signals along with single line working apparatus and documents; a growing collection of tickets and other documents, posters, notices, crockery and souvenirs; relics from vehicles scrapped long ago and the Awdry Study, re-created with the original furniture and fittings in memory of the Rev. Wilbert Awdry, an early volunteer on the Talyllyn Railway and best known for his series of railway books such as “Thomas the Tank Engine.”
The Narrow Gauge Railway Museum collection began in the 1950s when the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society (TRPS) was the first voluntary society in the world to take over and run a public passenger carrying railway. Narrow gauge railways were becoming redundant and their equipment scrapped. Immediately, items from other narrow gauge lines began to be offered to the TRPS and a committee was formed to acquire examples of locomotives, rolling stock and other equipment to place on public display. In 1964 a charitable trust was formed to manage and develop the Museum and this was replaced by the present Narrow Gauge Railway Museum Trust on 11 July 1994.
The main activity of the Trust takes place at the Talyllyn Railway Wharf Station. Inside the Museum interactive and static exhibits illustrate the diversity, individuality, technical ingenuity and charm of narrow gauge railways. The fleet of historic wagons kept outside is operational and the original wagon weighbridge from 1865 has been restored and included in a redeveloped section of the Wharf yard including a purpose built weighbridge hut.
The Dundee Gas Works locomotive.
The first museum displays were in the old Gunpowder Store at Wharf station. Soon a walled yard, used for the storage of coal, was roofed over and an extension added in 1964. The building served well but had no insulation, was damp and cold in winter and hot and airless in summer making it difficult to conserve the collection. What was needed was a new museum building with adequate space, accessibility and environment, and professionally designed displays.
At the same time the Talyllyn Railway was seeking to improve its facilities at Wharf station to better meet the needs of passengers and the operation of the railway. When the TRPS took over, there was a single small building which served as a booking office, weigh house, and general office for the railway. Like the Museum, this had been augmented by various extensions and portable buildings: a radical solution was needed. With the approach of the golden jubilee of the TRPS in 2000, an appeal was launched for funds to build a new station and museum. Funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to conserve the unique museum collection plus other government and charitable sources was obtained to match money raised by friends of the Railway and Museum. A two storey building now houses the museum, refreshment room, education room and railway offices, which links with a shop and booking office in an extended version of the original building. Work began in stages in 2001, and the new station and museum complex was opened by H.R.H. Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall on 13 July 2005. In 2010 the Museum gained Accredited status under the MLA scheme to improve standards in museums.
Dinorwic Quarry Railway (Padarn Railway) 4 ft (1,219 mm) gauge host wagon built 1848 to carry three 2′ gauge slate wagons and a 2′ gauge guards van from the Quarries to the Incline down to Port Dinorwic. The line was closed in 1961 and the wagons came to the Museum in 1964.
Nantlle Tramway wagon: gauge 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm); steel: double-flanged wheels, loose on fixed axles, built by Glaslyn Foundry, Portmadoc. Line opened 1828 worked by horses until the final section was closed by British Railways in 1963, the last use of horses by BR. Given to Museum in 1958.
Oakley Quarry Coal Wagon 1 ft 11 1⁄2 in (596.9 mm) wooden body with doors at one end, ran on Festiniog Railway. Purchased 1963.
Bryn Eglwys Quarry Wagon 2 ft 3 in (685.8 mm), wood, for carrying slate slabs out of the quarry. Donated in 1980 and in store until restoration and display in 2001.
Woolwich Arsenal Wagon 18 in (457 mm) wooden flat body for carrying explosives. Gift 1976.
Corris Railway Mail Wagon 2 ft 3 in (686 mm), used for carrying mail by gravity down the line every week-day afternoon, lamp bracket fitted at down end. Four-wheel, end door, 1-ton wagon ex-GWR 31992, TR 10, Turner axleboxes, bought by TR in 1951 and donated to Museum 1994.
Corris Railway. Incline balancing wagon used on incline at Aberlefenni. Given to Museum 2006.
Crofty Tin Mine 1 ft 10 in (560 mm) 14 cu ft capacity tipping mine tub to Museum 1996.
Great Western Railway steel bodied 1 ft 11 1⁄2 in (597 mm) slate wagon for use in Blaenau Ffestiniog area: purchased 1980.
London and North Western Railway 1 ft 11 1⁄2 in (597 mm) steel slate wagon, built at Earlstown 1887, LMS 284465, used in Blaenau Ffestiniog area on piggy back wagons to carry slate for transshipment. Donated by BR 1964.
Talyllyn Railway 2 ft 3 in (690 mm) rebuilt wagons, using original and replica steel and cast iron parts and new timber. (The numbers are simply for identification and do not relate to historic numbers)
101 – two bar wooden slate wagon, 1 ton capacity: the first item in the Museum collection 1953.
117 – metal bodied incline wagon: to Museum 1973.
136 – three bar wooden slate wagon, 1 ton capacity: to Museum 1994.
146 – covered wooden van, with brake, based on parts lying at Rhydyronen from 1930’s to 1997.
164 – two bar wooden slate wagon, 1 ton capacity with brakes: purchased 2000.
33/40 HP diesel loco with 3VRO engine, delivered to Bessacar Gravel Works, withdrawn 1972, restored and cab fitted and donated to Museum in 2004. Further restored, the loco is now operational at North Ings Farm Museum.
Furzebrook Wagon – 2 ft 8 1⁄2 in (826 mm) wooden body with end door and sledge brake, four wheels, from the Pike Bros, Fayle & Co clay workings in the Isle of Purbeck, donated by The Narrow Gauge Railway Society 1958 was loaned for display at the Swanage Railway in 2002.