Fawley Hill is our home: Built by Sir William in 1960 – so not the Georgian pile people think it is. It is, of course, definitely OFF-LIMITS for the May weekend; but can be seen from the field and from the train.
The railway began slowly and No. 31 came in its early days: McAlpine’s very last working engine but even she was to be sold for scrap: so Sir William paid her scrap value and said “Send her home.” The story of her progress across the fields to Fawley Hill made it into the national papers. So, as the terrible race to “modernise” gripped the country and historic buildings were pulled down and replaced with concrete boxes (admittedly many being built by McAlpines!) or worse and stations began to close, with so much being broken up, melted down, thrown away: Sir William kept saying “Send it home”.. and everything that came here was carefully preserved and lovingly placed in the garden or the museum which had started life as a home for his traction engines and the family car collection. Eventually, of course, an entire station building was saved, sliced up, loaded onto lorries and brought here from Somersham to be reassembled and to play its part in the magic that is Fawley. Often parked in the station is “GE 1″ the beautiful wooden private Saloon built for the Chairman of the Great Eastern Railway. Being Canadian, he had it built with a “balcony” on which, presumably, to smoke his cigars as he toured his empire. Two carriages from Royal Trains joined the collection: one Her Majesty’s private carriage and one the nursery coach for Prince Charles and Princess Anne. They are now permanently parked and and provide occasional spare bedrooms.
The latest LARGE addition to the estate is “Ironhenge”. Whilst we jokingly put up signs to explain that it is the site of ancient worship of one of the two Saints Pancras (there really are two). It is in fact composed of columns which had to be removed from the undercroft at St. Pancras Station and of course they had to be carefully preserved. So – there is a “wood-henge” and am”stone-Henge”: why not an Iron Henge?? We think both the Saints would have approved.
Now the whole station and museum complex and of course the trains are run by a dedicated band of enthusiastic volunteers. They, rather confusingly, call themselves the Fawley Museum Society. Without this happy, hard-working band, there would be no trains puffing up the hill. It really IS the steepest standard gauge track in the world and keeping it in good order is no easy job. Naturally, they are always looking for enthusiastic newcomers: so if interested: please ASK! Come and spend a day with them. They come from all walks of life and are united in their love of trains and the opportunity to play with such a big train set. AND of course there are two mammoth 0-gauge layouts in the museum tended not just by the FMS but also by an 0-gauge group who meet here regularly.
As many people are aware, Fawley Hill is also an Animal Sanctuary as accidental in its conception as was the railway.
Sir William has been involved with ZSL (London & Whipsnade Zoos) for longer than he cares to remember. He discovered very early on that while all the Zoos in the world (but we concentrate on Europe) constantly move animals around in order to prevent inbreeding and to conserve species which are dying out in the wild, there comes a point with most species where there is an imbalance: too many males usually (no, girls, you should not laugh! where would we be without them??) This is where we come in. Zoos cannot afford to keep “spare” men who just loaf about and need feeding: so they come to us. Here they live virtually wild. We feed each day and there are plenty of houses and shelters but none are allocated and no-one makes the animals “go to bed” at night.
Animals at Fawley tend to be found, when they die, to be among the longest-lived of their species ever recorded.
This is because they are free, they have no predators and human interference is minimal. Naturally, over the years, we acquire girls to go with the boys and they breed and their offspring frequently go to zoos who need a new gene stream or who have a lonely singleton.
We also have a lot of residents who come from Tiggywinkles, the wonderful animal rescue centre. When an animal cannot be released back into the wild, Fawley Hill is the next best place. So, you may spot a small herd of three-legged deer: all survivors of road accidents, some now quite old, many of them have given birth to several children. They look awkward but clearly being an amputee doesn’t affect their sex lives! We will take any animals who need a home but NO CARNIVORS! That said: we have discovered that Emus ARE carnivores, but they don’t kill – they eat carrion, just like the kites: who wait respectfully for the emus to finish before they try to pick at a carcass or the remains of a hog roast.
Sir William began breeding red deer for the table: now we occasionally send one of our “boys” to help out a park owner with a herd of girls but no boy – but heaven help anyone who contemplates eating any of our “children”!
There are over 20 varieties of animal here in varying numbers: some rare, some not: but all very happy!
We don’t approve of “cages” but some of our animals do need their own enclosures to prevent them pottering into Henley when they feel like it. This is not a joke: the wallabies did: but now although they COULD, they don’t bother. Some idiot once opened our gate, allowing our ancient Tapir to wander down to the Marlow road where, fortunately, she found a tub of pansies so stopped to eat them, enabling someone to call us and we were able to walk her back up. The Capybaras spent two weeks in the centre of Henley before anyone noticed them, but they too seem now to be content here. Two of our male coatis were chased out by the women and one has been seen at Frieth and one at Marlow! So we have made it harder for them to go walkabout. But they ALL have far more land to call their own than a zoo could afford to give them.
One of the most wonderful experiences is to go out feeding early in the morning with our wonderful Estate Manager who is hugely knowledgable and loves sharing his knowledge and “his” animals. It is as close to being Dr. Doolittle as you will ever get. To see so many different animals milling around you, being remarkably polite to each other and to you, is surreal. If you would like to book a feeding trip, please call 01491 571373 and ask for details. We do make a small charge and the money goes towards the cost of feeding and vet bills. We are members of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquaria and therefore have to pay for regular veterinary inspections and, of course, our “Dangerous Wild Animals” licence.
We have been asked to list the animals who live here: so, starting with cats, dogs, a cockatoo, a multitude of hens, ducks and geese, a plethora of goats; we have red, fallow, roe, axis, sika and hog deer, sitatunga, addax, barasinga, wallabies, reas, emus, peacocks, tapirs, capybaras, alpaca, guanaco, llamas, racoons, coatis, meerkats, porcupines, maras, chinchillas, rabbits, tortoises and lemurs. Our old oryx and nilgai have died of extreme old age and we hope to have some more soon. It is rumoured that there are wolves in the wood that surrounds the park … so don’t try climbing the fence!
After several futile attempts, I have given up trying to align this text properly. This programme has a mind of its own! Lady McA