Public running continued on summer weekends for 27 years, from 1960 to 1987. During the storms of February 1974 a good many old trees, particularly elms, were blown down in Blenheim Park. Three of these trees caused considerable damage to the track, narrowly missing the station. The damage took several weeks to repair.
After rumblings for some years, in the summer of 1987 the Blenheim Estate required the Society to operate trains seven days a week during the tourist season. The members of the Society could not undertake this commitment, so the track had to move; the last trains ran at Blenheim on 6th September 1987, and the dismantling of the track started on the following day.
Plans for a new site in Cutteslowe Park in North Oxford had already been drawn up by May 1987, and a lease on the site was arranged with Oxford City Council. The new track was ready for Easter 1988; press reports of the Opening Ceremony refer to the WWOSME, but about this time the society changed its name to the City of Oxford Society of Model Engineers. In spite of the new name it is still the same Society, and in 2005 it celebrated its 50th anniversary. The new site was formally opened by the Lord Mayor of Oxford.
Two more landmarks were reached in 2005: for the first time the we carried 20,000 passengers in one year, and we also carried the 250,000th passenger, seen here.
History of the Society
An Oxford and District Society of Model and Experimental Engineers was in existence in 1946, but seems to have lasted only a few more years. Several of the names of its members appear again in the Witney and West Oxfordshire Society of Model Engineers, which was founded in Witney in 1955, meeting at the Technical College in Witney. The Society ran trains on a portable track at various shows in the area, but was unable to find a local site for a permanent track. After running regularly on the portable track in the grounds of Blenheim Palace from 1955, negotiations for a permanent site were finally successful, and for some years the Duke of Marlborough was the President of the Society.
Members of the Society built the track in Blenheim Park in only 6 months. Articles describing the work appeared in the "Model Engineer" magazine for May and June 1961. The operation involved cutting 4000 oak sleepers and fixing the rails with 25,000 screws driven by hand (no cordless screwdrivers in 1959), not to mention laying 250 feet of water pipe, drainage, and two swing bridges.
In April 1962 the Marchioness of Blandford and three of the Duke of Marlborough's grandchildren were thrown off when a train stopped suddenly. Apart from a few bruises nobody was hurt, and there seem to have been no hard feelings.
When the Society, then the Witney and West Oxfordshire Society of Model Engineers, relocated from our track in the grounds of Blenheim Palace to Cutteslowe Park in 1988 we were given a perfectly positioned site, right in the middle of the Park. We built two railways, one a raised 3½ and 5 inch gauge and the other a 5 and 7¼ inch gauge track.
Soon however members were starting to build or acquire bigger and bigger steam engines and its soon became a dream that one day we may be able to extend our ground level track to make the run longer for both passengers and drivers alike.
After many years of negotiations, in 2009 COSME finally received planning permission to build a much needed new clubhouse. The clubhouse was completed in 2010.
During our 25th year celebrations in 2013 it was mentioned that perhaps the time had now come to look at a track extension once again as previous schemes had failed for various reasons, usually not to do with the society. So a plan was hatched and we approached the Park department first,who could see no reason against it and were supportive, as long as we could decide on a route with the Park residents and the Friends of Cutteslowe Park. Following discussions with all concerned a route was agreed and plans were drawn up.
In the spring of 2016 with Planning Permission passed, works agreed with the Parks, we finally had all the legal bits and pieces signed off by the City Council and work could start.
Work started on the extension in November 2017 and was planned to be finished in 2 years, depending on labour and finances available, as all money was to come from the railway takings and donations.
In April 2018 we had a new milestone- The 500,000th passenger since the railway opened 30 years ago in 1988. Young Leo Wilkinson was the lucky lad and is pictured below.
The new track extension is a total of 240 metres long, due to the change of route and so makes the ground level track now around 650 metres in total and is a firm favourite with our passengers with large queues on our first opening day of the season on 7th April 2019.