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Tag Archives: 1970s

  • Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s by Colin Alexander

    When my mate David, now exiled in France, made me custodian of his collection of railway photos from the early 1980s it sparked the idea of compiling a book recalling our teenage years, misspent bunking BR diesel depots.

    Unidentified Class 31/1 on 31 July 1982. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    Wishing to include as much variety as possible I decided the book would encompass two decades, from 1970 to 1989. In 1970 I was six years old and my Dad was taking me to ‘watch the trains’. On these trips I can clearly remember seeing Clayton Type 1s dumped at the back of Tyne Yard.

    It wasn’t until 1978, aged fourteen, that I was allowed to go independently to Newcastle Central station. The cost of a return from Tynemouth and a platform ticket was less than 10p.  I quickly made friends with other ‘platform-enders’, forming lifelong friendships. Forty years later, we still go on rail-tours and to preserved diesel galas together.

    The west end of Central station provided a tantalising glimpse across the Tyne to Gateshead depot. A walk across Robert Stephenson's High Level Bridge led us via the old NER Greenesfield Works to the shed foreman's office door where we made the mistake of knocking and asking permission to look around. Having been chased off, next time we knew better and just sneaked in up the bank beside the King Edward VII Bridge and through a hole in the fence, to the sidings known as the ‘ash-heaps’.

    We soon progressed to travelling, usually with the excellent £2.60 weekly Northumbrian Ranger ticket. We mostly ‘bashed’ Deltics between Berwick and York but always made time to visit Carlisle’s Kingmoor shed. On all but one occasion we were flatly refused entry by the ‘gadgie’ in the office so we’d trudge back over the bridge, forced to view the locos across the main line from rusty sidings which often contained withdrawn locomotives awaiting disposal. They led to one of our favourite vantage points, the Waverley route bridge and its view of the secondary shed in the marshalling yard.

    The exterior of Inverness shed featured these bodly striped doors, outside which No. 27203 is stabled on 27 March 1982. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    We began to travel further afield in our quest for diesel exotica, and found Scottish shed foremen far more amenable to scruffy youths wandering about than their Gateshead and Kingmoor counterparts.

    The Ian Allan Locoshed books became indispensable, providing directions through the dodgiest parts of Britain's towns and cities to depots. My friend Tim and I, then aged 12 and 14 respectively, had been taken by his parents to Glasgow for the day. The grown-ups set off shopping, leaving us kids to visit Eastfield shed. Like many depots it was surrounded by run-down estates and we soon became aware we were being followed. Turning, I saw a boy about our age, but looking much ‘harder’ than us (not difficult), accompanied by a much older lad who looked even scarier. What caught our eye was that one wielded a half-brick while the other carried a bike chain. We ran as fast as we could but Tim’s legs could not carry him fast enough. I made it to the security gates of The Metal Box factory and got the guards there to rescue Tim. Our assailants scarpered but not before robbing Tim of what little cash he was carrying.

    One of the less numerous first-generation DMU types was the Class 100, built by the Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Co. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    The police were called and soon we found ourselves in a scene from “Rab C Nesbitt”, riding the tenement streets in a ‘jam sandwich’ squad car on the lookout for the baddies. Our description of the older of the two matched that of one of their most wanted, and soon enough we spotted them. He and his younger sidekick were hauled into the back seat and the former was literally sat on by the arresting officer for the journey to the ‘nick’, six of us jammed into a five-seater car! Their pockets were emptied, the contents given to us and we were sent on our way. A tidy profit was made and nothing was said to my friend’s parents.

    On another occasion, having used Merseyrail under the river to get to the sheds in Birkenhead, I lost my ticket and had no cash, and had no means of boarding a train back to Liverpool. Imagine the look on the ticket vendor’s face when I asked where the nearest bridge was, thinking I could simply walk back over the river. I now know that it is approximately a 25-mile walk to the bridge at Runcorn. Fortunately he took pity and let me fare-dodge back under the Mersey.

    With her headcode panel intact in 1982, Class 81 electric locomotive No. 81007 is captured at the buffer-stops outside Kingmoor. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    Whole weekends would be planned around shed-bunks. Just after my sixteenth birthday six of us travelled overnight from Newcastle to London. Three of us travelled in style behind Deltic 55012 CREPELLO to York then 55009 ALYCIDON the rest of the way to the capital, arriving in the early hours of Saturday morning. The other three lads were not so well-off so they met us at Victoria off the overnight National Express coach.

    We visited Clapham Junction, Selhurst and Hither Green with their Class 73 electro-diesels.  Then followed the trainspotters’ mecca of Stratford to see the last remaining Class 31/0s. The North London line took us to Willesden where AC electrics awaited, then trudged down the road to Old Oak Common to see Class 50s. Our trip was concluded with more Deltic haulage behind 55014 THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON’S REGIMENT overnight from King’s Cross, with diversions via Lincoln and the Leamside line, while our mates suffered another night on the M1 and A1. We all got home early next morning, tired, filthy and happy.

    If the varied contents of BR’s sheds were not interesting enough, it was even more exciting to visit the workshops of British Railways Engineering Ltd, normally accessible only on open days. Dad came up trumps, taking me to open days at Doncaster in 1978 and Crewe in 1979.  These events introduced me to the unforgettable smell of the paint-shops and the fascinating sight of locomotives being built, overhauled or scrapped.

    My only visit to Laira was on an open day, on 25 April 1982. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    The most memorable open day was the “Deltic D-Day” at Doncaster, in February 1982. Thousands of enthusiasts converged on the town to pay their last respects to the survivors of the class, all having been withdrawn from service and several having already been cut up.

    Open days were fine but their very legitimacy meant they weren’t a patch on blagging our way into a location where we shouldn't be!

    Perils associated with shed visits were unlit inspection pits, oily puddles, tripping hazards and moving trains. Southern Region depots offered a 750vDC third rail as an additional danger, but we are all still here. It is difficult to imagine in today’s era of health and safety that enthusiasts were ever allowed to access such facilities!

    In this book I have assembled a collection of photographs that show the widest possible variety of traction in the principal depots and works all over the network, along with many of the lesser installations.

    Colin Alexander's new book Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s is available for purchase.

  • British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s by Stephen Dowle

    Few dissent from the view that Harrington Grenadier was one of the best coach bodies of its era. This example, on an AEC Reliance 2U3RA chassis, was one of a batch of five new to Bowen's of Birmingham in 1965. (British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s, Amberley Publishing)

    "Transitional" is, I suppose, the word to describe the bus industry’s situation in the second half of the 1970s. The transition was from two-man "crew" operation – universal on all but the most unfrequented services ten years earlier – to "OMO", or One-Man Operation, to employ the diabolical gender-specific term used in those far-off, unenlightened times. For us in the industry it was a "soft" revolution: I never heard of anyone being compulsorily made redundant as a consequence of OMO. I was one of many conductors who were re-trained as drivers, and the usual high turnover of staff made it possible to manage the changeover on the basis of natural wastage, retirements and so on. Once the dust had settled the man behind the wheel found himself doing what had, until recently, been two jobs. Much of the camaraderie disappeared and bus driving became a solitary, slightly sadder occupation. Of course, operators were in the business of running bus services, not social clubs.

    OMO was a response to decline. The industry's prosperity had peaked in the decade after the war. It was said that operators typically employed 2.4 people for every bus owned and all bus undertakings eagerly embraced OMO as a means of reducing their wages bill. Many ill-informed theories were advanced to explain the decline. Passengers were especially vocal on the topic and blamed the ever-falling fortunes of their local bus operator on the disincentive effect of higher fares and deteriorating standards of service. This was to put the cart before the horse. It was the age of "affluence", full employment and inflation. At a time when local newspapers were plump and heavy with the weight of Situations Vacant advertising, it is said that you could walk out of a job in the morning and start another in the afternoon, people rejected the shifts, split turns, early starts and low pay of bus work. Many buses were pulled from services because it was impossible to provide crews for them. Attempts to make the job more attractive mostly took the form of pay rises, which had to then be paid for in higher fares. To keep fare increases below the level at which passengers were deterred from travelling was a delicate balancing act. To me it was plain that the industry's reduced circumstances could be attributed mainly to the great increase in car ownership. Once they could afford to, people naturally preferred to travel in their own cars, door-to-door, at times of their own choosing. This led not only to a fall in the number of passengers, but to an increased problem of traffic congestion. Another factor was that people now stayed indoors watching television where once they would have gone out in search of recreation. The decline of public transport was a natural consequence of increased prosperity.

    The moulded 'St Helens front' was supplied with many Leyland Titan chassis when traditional exposed radiators passed out of favour. Colchester's 43 (OVX 143D) had beennew in 1966 and carried bodywork by Massey. (British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s, Amberley Publishing)

    The industry's adaptation to its reduced circumstances took place against a background of stability. The Transport Act of 1968 and the 1974 reforms of local government had brought in changes of organisation, but these were now well established; the greater upheaval of privatisation and deregulation would not come until the mid-1980s. For the period covered by the book it was "steady as she goes". As far as the vehicles were concerned, the introduction of OMO had presented ticklish problems of re-design. If the driver was to take his passengers' fares, the engine would have to be removed from its natural place at the front to a more hostile environment further back. In the case of double-deckers this meant the vertical rear transverse position, never very satisfactory from an engineering point of view, and in single-deckers a mid or rear horizontal underfloor configuration. This made room for a spacious platform and cab ahead of the front axle. The noble front-engined half-cab bus, a familiar and uniquely British vehicle, was doomed, and its slab-fronted, box-on-wheels, one-man successor was taking over. The normal pace of fleet renewal meant that the last front-engined buses, built towards the end of the 1960s, would reach the end of their lives in the early 1980s. So it proved. The photographs in the book were taken between 1975 and 1980, by which time OMO was almost universal. The few remaining pockets of "crew" operation disappeared during the first years of the new decade.

    This unusual Leyland Titan PD3/2 with Alexander body was fitted from new with an experimental fibreglass front made by Holmes (Homalloy) of Preston. (British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s, Amberley Publishing)

    I have spoken of "the bus industry". The coach sector, being for the most part in private hands, was proof against government interference and went its own way. Most large operators, however, had a "coaching side" that formed a minor part of their activities; most subsidiaries of the National Bus Company (NBC) contributed white-liveried vehicles to the National Express coach pool. The NBC, my employers, had incurred my displeasure by imposing a particularly insipid "corporate identity", which had led to the disappearance, one might almost say suppression, of previous company identities, liveries and lettering styles. Much the same had happened in the large cities, where the previous corporation undertakings had been absorbed into Passenger Transport Executives, each hell-bent on promoting an up-to-the-minute, go-ahead "image". In the book's introduction I give an account of how pleased I was, on first travelling to Scotland in 1976, to find the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh thronged with the vehicles of the Scottish Bus Group, still wearing the exquisite liveries and fleetnames of its separate companies. Remote from modish influences, old ways endured in Scotland, for the time being.

    Hurrying around the country by train with my camera to chronicle these developments became a favourite recreation. The matter became increasingly urgent as aged survivors of the pre-OMO epoch, each in its due time, joined the inevitable procession that led to the breaker's yard. Although I was not keen on the direction events were taking, for students of the industry they were undoubtedly interesting times. There was still much variety and what was old was markedly different from what was new: today, I would suggest, the oldest vehicles in service are not fundamentally unlike their newer replacements. Another important difference between then and now is that foreign builders had yet to get their feet under the table of the British market. Fleets were still dominated by the big names among domestic builders, notably Leyland, AEC, Bristol, Daimler and Bedford. Looking back, through the wrong end of a telescope and wearing, as usual, my rose-tinted spectacles, the era seems a miniature golden age. It is a characteristic of golden ages that they never last.

    Stephen Dowle's new book British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s is available for purchase now.

  • The Southern Region in the 1970s and 1980s by Andy Gibbs

    At Shakespeare Cliff, with the English Channel alongside, we find solitary 4CEP unit No. 1531 en route to Charing Cross in August 1982. (The Southern Region in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    Transport and Photography are always going to be close bedfellows and if like me your first word was Bus and all your early childhood holidays were by train, you had no chance of avoiding the two as hobbies!

    I vaguely remember seeing steam engines at Bournemouth en route to a holiday but whilst they held a fascination it was those big blue diesels and electrics that held my attention for longer. With my Dad working for the Brighton Hove & District bus company I ended up with an interest in buses too. In fact more or less anything that has an engine. I maybe a rail enthusiast but I like Top Gear too!

    A series of hand-me-down cameras, a Kodak Brownie followed by an Agfa 35mm compact, led me towards a weight-lifting present for my 18th birthday, a Zenit EM SLR which weighed a ton. A telephoto lens and a 2x converter were soon added to my arsenal. It’s a wonder I didn't end up as a body builder, the Zenit and telephoto lend weighed over a kilo between them. My current Sony A77 Mk2 DSLR weighs but a fraction of that.

    The Zenit did teach you how to use the non through the lens meter quickly and to brace yourself to avoid too may shaky photos.

    Many of my early photos were rubbish but photographic lessons at school along with lessons in the darkroom soon taught me about composition, developing and printing.

    If you were lucky a couple of 36 exposure slide films might see you through the summer, then popped in the envelope and off to the developers. A week or so later, more like two in the height of the summer, you got the film back. Hopefully not a complete waste or the wrong persons’ film… had that a few times.

     

    It's a beautiful day in Hampshire as No. 33043 skirts the River Test at Redbridge with 1V8, the 18.10 Portsmouth Harbour to Bristol Temple Meads, on 7 May 1987. (C. P.Barber, The Southern Region in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    Trips out on the train got further and further away from home to exotic locations such as Reading or Westbury, Peterborough or Stratford! This was in the 1970's when British Rail was a sea of Blue and Grey and quite a grubby environment. Lunches out if I hadn't taken sandwiches would be from the Travellers Fare station buffet. I can honestly say I never remembered seeing the dried up curly sandwich frequently joked about. How could Mothers Pride sliced white ever be dry? Okay a smear of butter and plain cheese in it didn't help. It was usually Smiths Crisps or the slightly risqué Big D Peanuts as a side order. You always hoped your packet of peanuts would reveal a bit more of the scantily clad female models cleavage on the backing card. Railway tea was legendry. It could be anything between warm flavoured milk and strong enough to stand your spoon up in. It wasn’t any different when I went to work for British Rail. I've seen a whole packet of loose tea tipped into the pot, with just more boiling water added as the day went on.

    If you had room for cake it was often a Lyons fruit pie, usually Apple although I do remember having Blackberry and Apple and I think Apricot too! Exotic times.

    This leads me back to my first book Southern Region in the 1970's and 1980's. I hope it will remind you of a time that although it doesn't seem that long ago is in fact two generations back. Things change, nothing ever stands still but if you fancy standing still for a while it's well worth a look.

    Andy Gibbs' new book The Southern Region in the 1970s and 1980s is available for purchase now.

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