Steam Railways by David Reed
Steam Railways - Final Operations in the Southern Region and the Early Preservation Years, published by Amberley Books is my first book. It traces my first years as a railway photographer, from which the enthusiasm for photography generally has blossomed.
As a child I was encouraged by my father to watch trains, jotting down the engine numbers and names in a notebook. Later, like many teenagers, I used the Ian Allan ‘abc British Railways Locomotives and other motive power’ to record my observations. Aged 15 and not content with just recording my observations, I started photographing trains around Basingstoke and on the Waterloo-Bournemouth line in my desire to capture images before the steam locomotives were withdrawn from service. As I relate in the introduction to my book, I started by taking colour slides. This was ambitious, as the Purma camera I borrowed from my mother only had three shutter speeds and a fixed lens aperture. On my first film, several of the pictures were very dark and some rather blurred, but lessons had been learned and my second film was more successful. These days, such a learning curve would not be necessary as modern digital cameras and smartphones almost take photographs by themselves in all lighting conditions!
We occasionally viewed the slides at home on a slide projector or hand-held viewer but they spent most of the time in storage. I would show the slides to friends and work colleagues, and in much more recent years I have been encouraged by my former colleague John Dawson to get the pictures published, primarily due to their historical interest. The years went by and the Covid virus lockdown in 2020 presented me with the time to scan the slides and approach publishers with a view to presenting the pictures in a book. Amberley Publishing felt the pictures fitted their range of books and so Steam Locomotives – Final Operations in the Southern Region and the Early Preservation Years came to be born.
My first pictures were taken around Basingstoke station and at the locomotive shed. A trip further afield to Bournemouth and Poole allowed me to take pictures there. Pocket money had to be rationed as there was also a Hornby Dublo layout at home for which I bought extra carriages and wagons, together with purchases of the Railway Magazine and Railway World. I also had to study hard for my GCE ‘O’ level exams, with homework to be fitted in following after-school shed visits! I later recorded the official Southern Region ‘Farewell to Steam’ excursions, and the very last scheduled steam train on the Southern Region as it passed through Basingstoke.
Steam haulage on the main line finished on 9th July 1967 and after that I photographed steam locomotives at Dibles Wharf in Southampton, and on London Transport at Lillie Bridge and Neasden depots. After the final steam-hauled services had run, the redundant locomotives were gathered in the steam graveyards at Salisbury and Weymouth sheds and I photographed some engines there. A while later, a pilgrimage to Woodham’s famous scrapyard at Barry in South Wales enabled me to photograph locomotives that had been withdrawn some years earlier. Little did I know as I clambered round the rusting hulks at Barry that in later years they would be saved from the cutter’s torch and preserved.
I then moved on to photographing preserved steam locomotives. Many of the preservation sites I visited in the late 1960s and early 1970s are no longer in existence. My father took me to the Great Western Society open days held at Taplow goods yard and to see the various locomotives preserved at the Longmoor Military Railway, including the well-known army loco Gordon and David Shepherd’s two locos, Black Prince and The Green Knight. I never formally met David but have always valued my pictures of him at Longmoor. The Taplow events ceased when the Great Western Society established its headquarters at Didcot. After attempts to establish it as a steam preservation centre were thwarted, the Longmoor Military Railway closed and the locos based there were moved to a number of other locations.
Family holidays presented the opportunity to take pictures on the fledgling Dart Valley Railway, now the South Devon Railway. I was lucky to visit picturesque Ashburton station before it was severed from Buckfastleigh and the rest of the route to Totnes by the A38 dual carriageway. I was fortunate to take photographs at the Dinting Railway Centre and the Ashford Steam Centre, two more preservation centres that no longer exist, before they closed and the locos were dispersed elsewhere.
My book finishes with colour slides taken at two steam railways which certainly do still exist, namely the Watercress Line in Hampshire and the Bluebell Railway in Sussex. Having spent my childhood years in Hampshire, I now live in Sussex and the Bluebell is my local steam railway, so long may it continue to flourish.
David Reed's book Steam Railways: Final Operations in the Southern Region and the Early Preservation Years is available for purchase now.