The Man Who Built a Railway

At the Hythe terminus of the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, in the booking office window, is a small sign bearing the words ‘Greenly Coffee Shop’. It is rather an odd way to remember the engineer without whom there would be none of the iconic locomotives and stations that RHDR  passengers have come to love.

Henry Greenly had an early connection with the railways. His father was a train guard in Birkenhead, where Henry was born on 3 June 1876, the first of five children, The family moved to west London when Henry was eleven. He won a London County Council scholarship, took up a place at a Science School and  eventually won a scholarship to the Regent Street Polytechnic. 

In 1897, he started work in the drawing-office of the Metropolitan Railway Company at its Neasden works, but he did not stay long, despite the security of employment the position offered.  Two years earlier, he had started a lifetime’s contributions to engineering  debates in a letter  to the Engineer about early Great Western locomotives. He was not afraid to take the great engineers of the day to task over technical issues, and he soon became both well known and respected. As a result, on 15 October 1896, he was appointed to a subcommittee at the Science Museum alongside twenty-five distinguished engineers, with the objective of establishing a permanent railway museum.  

While on the board, he was invited to join the staff of the Model Engineer and Amateur Electrician’ periodical, a position he acceptedThat same year, 1901, he married Lilley Maria Richardson, daughter of a London businessman. They had a daughter and two sons. 

One of the many callers to his magazine’s offices was Wenman Basset-Lowke, a pioneer in making scale models, with whom Henry formed a long-lasting friendship. He often acted as a consultant to Bassett-Lowke’s world famous model engineering concern in Northampton.    

Henry in 1906

Henry was a prolific publisher on the subject of model railways. His first book, The Model Locomotive,  was issued in 1904 and was followed by many others, Model Electric Locomotives and Railways (1921) becoming the ‘bible’ for the model railway world. He founded, in 1908, the Models Railways and Locomotives magazine which became a platform from which he could share his knowledge and expertise with others.

Henry’s first book………………………………….and his magazine

The last two decades of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth saw a small craze for miniature passenger-carrying railways. Henry worked with Basset-Lowke on one 15 inch gauge railway at Blackpool. another in Rhyl and one in Geneva. 

Rhyl Miniature Railway, opened 1911, still running today

The First World War called a halt to such activities and Henry spent the duration in the Drawing Office of the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough.  In peacetime, his first venture was the design and construction of a scenic miniature railway at ‘Dreamland’ in Margate which operated until 1979

The Dreamland Railway

He next worked on a narrow gauge railway in Cumberland,  from Ravenglass up to the village of Boot, where haematite iron ore was mined and which was a favourite starting point for hikers. 

His work there brought him to the attention of two very rich racing drivers and miniature railway enthusiasts, Count Louis Zborowski and Captain John Howey. Both had dreams of creating their own railway line and had hoped to buy the Ravenglass line and extend it. Thwarted in this ambition, they nevertheless, with no site or permission to build, commissioned Henry to design two locomotives in 1924. 

Captain John Howey                                      Count Louis Zborowski 

Later that year,  Zborowski was killed while racing in the Italian Grand Prix.  Howey decided to carry on alone and in 1925 charged Henry with finding a place to build his railway.  Henry settled on New Romney, where there was no existing railway connection and where the surrounding land was flat enough to allow trains to run at speed. There were of course, various legal hoops to be jumped through and objections to be overcome, but Henry dealt with them all and brought the first locomotive, Green Goddess,  down to the Romney Marsh. Finally, in May 1926, a Light Railway Order was signed.

Green Goddess (Loco 1) today on the turntable at Hythe Station

Northern Chief (Loco 2)

Howey now started spending seriously. Green Goddess was joined by Northern Chief and then by Southern Maid, Samson, Hercules, Typhoon and Hurricane, all still in service today . The original plan had been for a single track line as far as Dymchurch. Now Howey decided on double track all the way to Hythe. This delayed the opening, but Howey had the good fortune to receive a royal visit from the Duke of York (later George VI). The Duke took a ride with Howey on Northern Chief, which the invited press duly recorded, providing invaluable publicity. Henry, however, was left out in the cold. Seldom more than a few feet away from the Duke during the visit, he was not introduced. Was Old Etonian millionaire embarrassed to acknowledge his scholarship boy Chief Engineer? Or did he just forget his manners? Whatever the case, Henry was angry and the relationship soured. 

With the completion of the line to Hythe, the railway was opened to the public on 17 July 1927. The first train left New Romney at 0630, arriving at Hythe forty-five minutes later, with three interim stops. 

The approach to Hythe station

The line was extended to Dungeness in 1928, to a station designed by Henry, as all the others had been. Howey then departed for Australia via Canada for one of his regular long holidays. In his absence, Henry and the General Manager of the RHDR, a Mr Bellamy had a major falling-out. It concerned drawings for new locomotives with better protection for the drivers. The designs were based, apparently without his permission, on Henry’s originals. One evening in January 1929, Henry went to the office, took them away and burnt the lot. Mr Bellamy called the police who arrested Henry and took him to Lydd Police Station. Nothing could be proved against him and he was released and received compensation. But the adventure was over.  Henry promptly left New Romney, where he and his family had lived for some years, and never returned. 

Henry in later life

The family moved to Heston, Isleworth and Henry continued to design scale models, as busy as ever. One of his creations, in 1938,  was a seven-and-a-quarter inch gauge locomotive for the Saltwood miniature railway owned by Frank and Alexander Schwab.  Called the Maid of Kent, she ran until 1975. 

The Saltwood miniature railway

Henry was invited to the twentieth anniversary celebrations for the RHDR, but was too ill to attend and to meet the guests of honour, Laurel and Hardy. He died at his home, on 4 March 1947 and was buried at Heston parish church. He was survived by his wife, who when she died in 1967 was buried beside him.

Captain Howey died in 1963. He had a diesel locomotive named for him by RHDR. Henry Greenly did not.


Two books were used to research this post. The first,  The Miniature World of Henry Greenly  was written by Henry’s daughter and her husband and is naturally biased in favour of Henry. The other was One Man’s Railway: J.E.P. Howey and the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway  by J.B. Snell. The title says it all. 

And finally, here is a video of Green Goddess arriving at New Romney station at nearly a hundred years old