Crewe in the Days of BR Blue by Michael Hitchen
Crewe as everyone knows is a major railway centre and has had its fair share of published works covering the subject, both general and historical studies. I wanted a pictorial study of a particular period, that of the much-maligned British Rail corporate blue, which existed between the late 1960s and mid-1980s.
The 1970s and early 80s, a period I enjoyed as an active enthusiast, and to many it was a golden era of the state-owned railway. I was fortunate to grow up in Crewe, was it the constant presence of the railway that shaped my interest, or would I have been interested anyway, I’ll never know, but one thing is certain, Crewe is a byword for ‘railway’. There had been some reduction in the railway estate from the steam era but not significantly so, the two large steam sheds had gone, and the Railway Works had contracted to a site contained west of Chester Bridge, though much of the old works remained in a derelict form.
To the enthusiast at that time there was still much of interest, though at the time we did not realise it! It was taken for granted, looking back railway operation were much as they were in the steam era, loco hauled workings predominated, and variety was the norm. For the local enthusiast, you knew the vast railway estate was largely inaccessible. Basford yard set in flat countryside was hard to observe, the inner workings and locomotives present in the Railway Works were almost invisible. Luckily it was possible to tag along with the weekly organised Sunday visits, and get a view inside this fascinating location. A visit to the station was a regular event, so if you wanted to see freight trains, much of which bypassed the station by harder to see ‘Independent Lines’ days out by bike to nearby vantage points were sort, the bridges at Basford Hall Junction, the nearby elevated land of the former sand siding for the southbound WCML, Rope Lane Bridge and Gresty Lane for workings to Salop, the site of Worleston Station on the Chester line, open land of a former chemical works south of Sandbach for the Manchester line or the Minshull Vernon station site on the Liverpool line, to watch the constant flow of AC electric hauled Inter-City trains.
It is unfortunate today that many are led to believe British Rail was not a success; the corporate British Rail era was tatty around the edges, not helped by certain governments starving it of investment. Crewe built the High-Speed train power cars, one of the most successful railway designs ever, an in-house success story, design and build. I grew up in a community shaped by the railway, one organisation focused on one aim, running trains for their benefit of the country. I hope the reader will enjoy both the nostalgia, but also gain a feel of the day-to-day operation of the railway around the famous south Cheshire railway centre.
Michael Hitchen's book Crewe in the Days of BR Blue is available for purchase now.