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  • Royal Dragoon Guards by Anthony Dawson

    The Royal Dragoon Guards are one of the oldest, and most prestigious, regiments in the British Army. Although the modern-day regiment was formed in 1992, its antecedents can trace their history back to the 1660s, representing over 350 years of continuous service.

    The charge of the Inniskillings at Le Cateau. (Royal Dragoon Guards, Amberley Publishing)

    Those regiments which make up the regiment were the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards; 5th (Princess Charlotte of Wales’s) Dragoon Guards; 7th (The Princess Royal’s) Dragoon Guards and the Inniskilling Dragoons. They have a proud lineage – battle honours including Blenheim; Dettingen; Peninsular; Waterloo (where Corporal Penfold of the Inniskillings claimed to have captured a French Eagle); Balaklava (the more successful Charge of the Heavy Brigade) and Mons.

    Amongst those who have served are Robert Baden Powell, the ‘father’ of the Boy Scouts who was the youngest colonel in the British Army when he assumed command of the 5th Dragoon Guards, and Captain Lawrence Oates of the Inniskilling Dragoons who took part in Captain Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic Expedition in 1912.

    But, after 250 years of independent service, reductions following the Great War in 1922 saw the 4th and 7th Dragoon Guards amalgamated to create a new regiment with its own traditions the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards. The Inniskillings and 5th Dragoon Guards were also amalgamated to become the 5th/6th Dragoons in the same year, and in 1935 gained the accolade 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards.

    With such a long history, The Royal Dragoon Guards have amassed one of the finest regimental collections in the country, housed in York Army Museum, in the shadow of the Clifford’s Tower in the centre of York. The museum curates collections not only from the Royal Dragoon Guards but also The Yorkshire Regiment, caring for and celebrating the history and special connection between the people of Yorkshire and the army, serving on every continent on the globe. The service of the Inniskilling Dragoons, together with that of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, is remembered in Ireland at Enniskillen Castle. Both museums are well worth a visit, with knowledgeable and helpful staff, and interesting temporary exhibitions.

    Anthony Dawson's new book Royal Dragoon Guards is available for purchase now.

  • A Day in the Life of an Engine Driver by Anthony Dawson

    For over 130 years the steam locomotive dominated Britain’s mainline railways. It seemed that almost every little boy (and some little girls, too) wanted to be an engine driver. Thanks to the railway preservation movement (thanks to the efforts at Tal-Y-Llyn in Wales and Middleton in Yorkshire) the dream of being an engine driver can be fulfilled by anyone with an aptitude for the hard, mucky, work on the footplate of a steam locomotive.

    At Bridgnorth Motive Power Depot, GWR heavy freight locomotive No. 2857 and Bulleid 'West Country' No. 34027 Taw Valley bask in the sun. (A Day in the Life of an Engine Driver, Amberley Publishing)

    My own fascination with railways stems from my mum: my parents were part of a locomotive owning-group (I think it was an 8F) which sat for years in the coal yard on Cross Lane in Wakefield. There is a family link to the railways too with one ancestor being Station Master at Snaith in East Yorkshire. Mum had an N-gauge layout and regular pilgrimages were made to the NRM in York; to the Worth Valley, and to the Yorkshire Moors. The dog came too, of course. I think the first steam hauled train I ever travelled on was headed by City of Wells at Keighley.

    Fast-forward 30 years and I started at the Museum of Science & Industry as a Railway Volunteer in summer 2015. I’m fascinated by the early railways (and indeed, have lectured on them) so getting a chance to work with a replica of Planet – the world’s first express passenger locomotive – was the perfect opportunity. Learning how to clean, then fire and drive a steam locomotive. Talk about fulfilling a boy-hood ambition! The learning curve was almost vertical, but thanks to expert tuition, rapid. Firing a locomotive is something you either ‘get’ or don’t, and you discover that pretty quickly.

     

    It is a cliché to suggest that the Steam Locomotive is the closest thing we have yet made which comes close to artificial life. But it is probably true – every locomotive is different, has different ‘moods’, will perform differently every day: one day she (and they are all ‘she’) can be an absolute dream, but another will be the most frustrating thing on earth, and get called a wide variety of rude names. It is physical, filthy work, with long hours. But it’s fun with a massive sense of pride and fulfilment. You’re continuing a tradition which stretches right back to George Stephenson, getting a glimpse of a now-vanished way of life but one which, thanks to Railway Preservation, can still be enjoyed by both visitors, and those who volunteer their time at drivers, firemen, cleaners, guards, or in the signal box. And, unlike in the days of steam when the railways were pretty much a boys’ only club, these careers are open to anyone with the aptitude for the job.

    Building up the fire before departure. (A Day in the Life of an Engine Driver, Amberley Publishing)

    We do what we do on the footplate because we enjoy it: there is a strong sense of camaraderie, of being all Railwaymen together (even though there is the traditional ‘ribbing’ between the Locomotive Department and the Traffic Department); and we do it not just for ourselves but for the visitors to preserved lines. They get a glimpse into the life of the railway, a glimpse to their youth perhaps when all trains were steam trains, and hopefully to encourage the next generation onto the footplate or guards van to keep the skills of the steam railway alive. The excitement on the faces of young kids who can see and travel behind a ‘steam train’ is unbelievable. Steam trains make you smile. I don’t remember mainline steam and the number who do – and worked on steam – is in decline, but the skills and experiences gained nearly a lifetime ago are eagerly passed on to the new generation of steam crews. And as my friend and colleague Adrian Bailey remembers from his 40 year career on the railways, you really were part of a railway family and skills and experiences really do last a lifetime.

    A Day in the Life of an Engine Driver is a peek into the world of coal and steam, of oily rags and paraffin. The basics of how the locomotive works; of making a fire and checking there’s enough water; the noise and excitement of the footplate. The one thing it can’t do is communicate the warmth of the cab, or indeed that extra special smell of a steam locomotive – of burning coal; steam; hot oil and hot metal.

    Anthony Dawson's new book A Day in the Life of an Engine Driver is available for purchase now.

  • The Rainhill Trials by Anthony Dawson

    Unravelling the myths

    Rocket, Sans Pareil and Novelty as depicted (to the same scale) by the Mechanics' Magazine in October 1829. (The Rainhill Trials, Amberley Publishing)

    As Anthony Coulls has written in the foreword, the story of the Rainhill Trials is rather like the story of Genesis in the Bible. A familiar tale, one that has often been told, but perhaps never as well understood as it should be. So why write a book on Rainhill if the story is so well known? The impetus to write about Rainhill was several fold: the building in 2010 of a more faithful replica of Robert Stephenson’s and Henry Booth’s Rocket (the 1979 replica had many features which were not present on the original locomotive of 1829) and the lessons learned from that; the results of a full-scale re-enactment of the Ranihill Trials in 2002; a gathering of all three replica locomotives at SIM, Manchester in 2005; and continued frustration with the many myths which had accrued around Rainhill. That George Stephenson had built Rocket (and that it was the first railway locomotive) and had conducted industrial sabotage against his former colleague Timothy Hackworth. Walking past the 1928 replica of Novelty (which incorporates the original wheels, parts of the valve gear and one cylinder) on a daily basis aroused interest in Braithwaithe and Ericsson. The return of Rocket to the Newcastle for the first time since the 1850s and Manchester since 1836 gave further incentive to start researching and writing.

    The original Sans Pareil as preserved at Locomotion, the NRM out-station at Shildon, a stone's throw from where she was built in 1829. (c. Lauren Jaye Gradwell, The Rainhill Trials, Amberley Publishing)

    Unravelling many of the myths surrounding Rainhill was akin to jumping down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, not knowing where it would take me. The first port of call were the notebooks of two of the Judges, John Urpeth Rastrick and Nicholas Wood, as well as the minutes of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway which organised the Rainhill Trials. Analysis of the notebooks provided similar times for each of the runs by Rocket, Novelty and Sans Pareil as well as showing that Rocket – despite the later claim of Nicholas Wood – didn’t achieve a speed of 29mph. Wood simply got his maths wrong. Whilst it is well-known that both Sans Pareil and Novelty suffered from technical problems, the actual details of these failures was both sketchy and contradictory. Contemporary press reportage, especially by the likes of the oft-quoted Mechanics’ Magazine, was biased against the Stephensons, and a vocal champion of the ‘London Engine’ of Braithwaite and Ericsson.  The Stephensons (père et fil) and Hackworth were simply ‘not the right sort of people’ for the editor, and readers, of the London-based Mechanics’ Magazine. They were the same London experts who derided George Stephensons safety lamp and that he would never cross Chat Moss. Thus, reports from pro- and anti-Stephenson sources were needed to create a balanced picture; so too accounts of Rainhill from France and the USA.  In presenting each locomotive, I endeavoured to remain as neutral as possible, and let the data speak for itself.

    Neither Sans Pareil or Novelty has had much in the way of a detailed study, usually being dismissed as ‘also rans’, with the victory of Rocket being a foregone conclusion. In fact, I could have written this book twice over with the amount of data, and human interest, the research gathered about each of the engines and their builders. Analysis by two of the leading experts on early railway locomotives, Peter Davidson and Dr. John Glithero, showed that of the three contenders Novelty was theoretically brilliant, but hamstrung through never having had running-in trials, hence several mechanical problems only being discovered at Rainhill. Furthermore, the bellows needed to provide the draught for the fire used more energy than the cylinders could deliver!

    The replica certainly confirms John Dixon's observation that Novelty had a 'parlour-like appearance', all polished copper and bress like a new tea-kettle. (c. David Boydell, The Rainhill Trials, Amberley Publishing)

    Sans Pareil was even more controversial: since the 1850s, largely thanks to the bitter writing of Timothy Hackworth’s son, John Wesley Hackworth, who claimed that the Stephensons had deliberately sabotaged his father’s entry. Going through Timothy’s letters at the National Railway Museum showed that Timothy and George were on good terms (far from the bitter enemies the myth would have us believe), but also confirmed the observation that Sans Pareil had a cracked cylinder. Experience from casting cylinders for the replicas of Rocket and Sans Pareil 1979-1980 showed that the cylinder design was poor, using ‘floating cores’ which could shift during casting, leading to a flaw which could not be detected. Sans Pareil’s boiler also leaked, again something traditionally blamed on the Stephensons and their Ally, Michael Longridge, who made it. Discussing the matter with an experienced boilersmith suggests that the boiler was damaged either on the road or more likely during its testing to three times it working pressure (Rocket’s boiler underwent the same test and also showed signs of leaking, requiring the addition of stays).  Furthermore, Timothy Hackworth’s frantic efforts to seal up leaky joints in the boiler probably made matters worse. Local pride in Darlington and Shildon would suggest that ‘Hackworth was robbed’ of victory at Rainhill, and that Sans Pareil was as good as Rocket. Once again, analysis by Davidson and Glithero show that Sans Pareil was really the last-gasp of old technology and of the three contenders it was only Rocket – thanks to her revolutionary multi-tubular boiler designed by Henry Booth – that not only stayed the course but was the only locomotive which would have been able to work a regular, time-tabled passenger service between Liverpool and Manchester.

    The 2010 replica of Rocket standing at the historic Liverpool Road Station during her visit to mark the 180th anniversary of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. (c. Matthew Jackson, The Rainhill Trials, Amberley Publishing)

    Such was the rate of technological development (like phones and other personal devices), Rocket was obsolete within six months; first by further Rocket-type locomotives which sported several improvements from the Rainhill design, but culminating in the delivery of Planet in October 1830: the first mainline express passenger locomotive.

    Rocket only had a brief working life of about two years before being laid up; she was used as the test-bed of a rotary steam engine invented by Lord Dundonald in 1833, and then stored until being sold in 1836 to work on a colliery railway. Out of service again by 1840, Rocket was thankfully preserved, and although missing many of her non-ferrous fittings, was eventually presented to what is now the Science Museum in 1862.

    Sans Pareil, after a far longer working life on the Bolton & Leigh Railway ended her days as a stationary engine in a colliery before she too was given to what is now the Science Museum. You can see her, and the 1979 replica, on display at Locomotion, Shildon. Novelty languished unused until 1833 when she was rebuilt with a multi-tubular boiler and set to work on the St Helens & Runcorn Gap Railway; her original wheels and cylinders passed to John Melling, the Liverpool & Manchester Railway Locomotive Superintendent. Four wheels and a cylinder were incorporated in a static replica now on display at SIM, Manchester, and the second cylinder is on display at Rainhill library. With the 190th Anniversary of Rainhill coming next year, it would be fantastic to see all three original contestants reunited.

    Anthony Dawson's new book The Rainhill Trials is available for purchase now.

  • The Early Railways of Leeds by Anthony Dawson

    Scale drawing of Salamanca - note the wooden silencer atop the boiler and the feed-water tank at the front end. (The Early Railways of Leeds, Amberley Publishing)

    The City of Leeds (and surrounding area) has a long and fascinating railway history, including the first public railway (the Lake Lock Rail Road of 1796 near Wakefield) and perhaps the earliest Railway viaduct, built near Flockton in 1758. Indeed, Leeds was once home to the highest concentration of locomotive builders in England; famous names such as Kitson, Manning Wardle, Fowler, Hunslet, Robert Hudson, Hudswell Clarke all had their works here. It was also in Leeds that Lion – aka Titfield Thunderbolt – was built in 1838, in the ground floor of a converted mill in Hunslet by Todd, Kitson & Laird.

    Leeds has three internationally important claims on railway history, thanks to the pioneering Middleton Railway.

    It was here that in 1758 that Charles Brandling obtained the first Act of Parliament for a railway. Brandling, owner of the Middleton Estate and its collieries, ordered to secure various wayleaves and legal agreements for his embryonic Middleton Railway which was to carry his coals from his pits to staithes on the River Aire near Leeds Bridge. This was the result of ‘cut throat’ competition between the three major colliery owners in Leeds: Brandling (Middleton), William Fenton (Rothwell) and Joshua Wilkes (Beeston), with each trying to undercut the other as to the price of coal in Leeds. Brandling’s Act of 1758 stated he would supply coal at 4¾d per corf (a corf being an old measure of coal, approximately 210lbs) for a period of sixty years – the best his rival Fenton could do was 6d per corf for a period seventy years. Under his Act, Brandling was to supply no less than 22,500 tons of coal per year and the first waggon load of coals was brought down the Middleton Railway in September 1758; the local Press referring to the railway as being ‘of such general Utility … beneficial to every Individual within this Town.’

    Leeds Hunslet Lane in LMS days. (David Joy Collection, The Early Railways of Leeds, Amberley Publishing)

    But the story of the Middleton ‘firsts’ does not end there: in 1808 the Brandlings appointed John Blenkinsop as their manager at Middleton, and around 1810 he experimented with a low-pressure condensing single-cylinder steam locomotive but it was not a conspicuous success. In 1811, believing plain iron wheels on iron rails would not have sufficient adhesion for a locomotive to be able to move itself he took out a patent for a rack-and-pinion system of railway and in the following year introduced the world’s first commercially successful steam locomotive. These two engines had been built by Matthew Murray of the Round Foundry in Leeds and were named Prince Regent and Salamanca. The pair started work in June 1812, one of them hauling the first train load of coals from Middleton pits to Leeds in twenty-three minutes. Two more locomotives were built for the Middleton Railway, attracting international interests with visitors from France (Monsieur Andrieux), Prussia (Dr S. H. Spiker, Librarian to the King of Prussia), and even the future Tsar Nicholas I of Russia who travelled to Leeds to carry out an inspection. Blenkinsop’s engines – despite two of them blowing up – remained in use for nearly twenty years.

    No. 2593, a Midland Railway Class 2 4-4-0, prepares to depart Leeds Wellington, c. 1910. (The Early Railways of Leeds, Amberley Publishing)

    Not only was the Middleton the first railway to be built under an Act of Parliament and the first to commercially use steam traction, it was also the first standard-gauge railway to be preserved. The Middleton had been nationalised in 1947 as part of the National Coal Board, but despite it being the railway’s bicentenary year, the NCB announced it would be going over to road haulage in February 1958. Although the future seemed bleak for the little railway, a special train was organised in June, carrying 300 passengers on a bicentenary trip in cleaned up coal wagons. But, by August 1959 coal was leaving the Middleton pits by road, and by 1967 the coal traffic over the line had all but dried up. This is where the enterprising students of the Leeds University Union Railway Society became involved. Under the leadership of Dr Fred Youell, the society had the idea of acquiring a short stretch of railway line as a museum on which to display preserved artefacts, and the Middleton Railway was suggested – but the Leeds University Union had other ideas and did not approve of one of its societies running a railway. Thus in December 1959 the LUURS formed the Middleton Railway Preservation Society, and entered into negotiations for the use of the line. During Rag Week 1960 it operated its first train, comprising of a Swansea & Mumbles tramcar hauled by a Hunslet Diesel and driven by Dr Youell wearing Leeds Academic Regalia. During the week over 7,000 passengers were carried, and what had started as a [temporary] passenger service gave rise to another, even more radical idea: why not run a goods service? And so it was that a group of volunteer railwaymen commenced running a commercial goods train in September 1960, carrying scrap metal, thus becoming the first standard-gauge railway in the world to be preserved and run by volunteers.

    Although mainline steam in Leeds ended in 1968 – Leeds Central and Leeds Wellington stations had closed 1966-1967 – and the last steam locomotive for industry was turned out from Hunslet’s Jack Lane works in 1971 for export to Indonesia, steam still survives in Leeds where it began in 1812. For over fifty years the preserved Middleton Railway has carried happy passengers from its Moor Road terminus to Middleton Park and is home to a flourishing collection of locomotives which once bore ‘Leeds’ on their works plates.

    Anthony Dawson's new book The Early Railways of Leeds is avialable for purchase now.

  • Working on the Victorian Railway by Anthony Dawson

    A mid-Victorian photograph of an LNWR locomotive crew, giving a good impression of the clothing and working conditions of early loco crews. (Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Driving and firing, locomotives like Planet or Lion on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway was not too dissimilar from a BR ‘Standard’ or even Flying Scotsman. In fact, ever since Richard Trevithick had invented the first self-propelled steam engine on rails in 1803 the basics haven’t changed.

    Firstly, the fireman is responsible for the safe management of the boiler: he has to make sure there is sufficient water in the boiler, and that there is always enough steam. Early locomotives were remarkable efficient, Planet only requiring 18lbs (about 8kg) of coke per mile; Lion uses about double the amount. Unlike Flying Scotsman which has something called an injector (invented by the Frenchman Henri Giffard in 1851) to put water back in the boiler, Planet and Lion had to rely on pumps which only worked when the engine was moving. This made it particularly important that the boiler was re-filled towards the end of the working day as there was no means of getting water back into the boiler when the engine had stopped working. As an aside, there is absolutely no primary evidence whatsoever that these early engines were run up to a buffer-stop, oil liberally poured over the rails and the engine set running in order to get the pumps to work. Whilst Lion still has two pumps, the 1992-built replica of Planet has both a pump and an injector. In order to ascertain how much water is in the boiler, a thick glass tube called a gauge class is fixed to the back of the firebox, straddling the water line. Valves at the top and bottom control admission of steam (top) and water (bottom) and there is also a drain so that the gauge might be ‘blown through’ to get rid of any blockages which could cause a dangerous false reading.

    Cross-section of a typical 1840s locomotive. (Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    The boiler had to be kept full in order to keep the top of the firebox covered with water; early fireboxes were usually made from iron but from the mid-1830s onwards they were made from copper. Copper melts at about 1,000ºC, whilst the fire in the firebox can be as much as 1,500! The firebox must be surrounded with water – and free from any scale which acts as a good insulator – in order to stop it from overheating and melting. If it does overheat, the fusible plug (a bronze bush with a lead core screwed into the top of the firebox) melts: the lead running out, jetting hot water and steam into the firebox as an early warning system to tell the crew to put the pumps on (and take the fire out if safe to do so).

    The foorplate and controls of Planet. (Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    In order to drive Planet, there are a pair of polished steel levers on the left hand side of the footplate. These drive the valves which admit or exhaust steam from the cylinders. Because these handles are directly connected to the valves, it means the engine can be driven ‘on the levers’ with the driver setting the valve timing by hand to get the locomotive moving. But this would be very tiring for a thirty-mile trip to Liverpool. So to get the locomotive to run on its own, the valves are worked via an eccentric on the driving axle. An eccentric works like a crank, turning rotary motion (round and round) into reciprocating motion (backwards and forwards). On Planet, the eccentrics were sandwiched between a pair of collars and are free to move laterally (side to side) between a pair of ‘driving dogs’ clamped to the crank axle. These ‘driving dogs’ are set 90º apart, providing fore- and back-gear. Each dog corresponds with a slot in the collar, into which it engages as appropriate. A pedal on the footplate shifts the eccentrics to the left or right so that the driver can select the direction of travel. Fastened to the eccentrics are ‘eccentric rods’. These pass to the front of the engine and work a rocking shaft. The eccentric rods end in a drop-hook called a ‘gab’ which can be locked or unlocked from the rocking shat. With the hooks unlocked, the valves can be worked by hand; with them locked in place, the valves are worked by the eccentrics. It all sounds very complicated, but it is in fact quite simple – when you know how!

    A id-Victorian photograph of a Furness Railway Bury-type locomotive of the 1840s. (Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    If starting, and getting the engine moving was one problem, then stopping it was quite another. For a start, there were no brakes on the engine, merely a hand-brake on the tender (the parking brake) which could be used in emergencies. Guards, sitting on the roofs of the carriages each controlled a hand brake, and if the driver wanted the train brakes putting on, he blew his whistle three times in quick succession. If he wanted them off, three times in longer beats. In order to slow down and stop the engine, it has to be put into reverse.  This often conjures up images of Casey Jones, throwing his engine into reverse, the wheels spinning round backwards, sparks flying. But nothing could be further from reality – it’s really quite gentle. The driver closes the regulator, shutting off steam to the pistons and the locomotive slows down, still moving forward under its own momentum. At about 5mph he can release his foot pedal, shifting the eccentrics over, putting the engine into reverse. After a revolution of the wheel (so the ‘driving dog’ engages into its slot on the eccentric cheek) reverse is engaged and the regulator slowly opened, putting steam back into the cylinders, but in reverse. So instead of pushing the engine forward, the pressure of the steam in the cylinders – because the engine is still going forward – cushions the piston, acting as a brake, bringing the engine slowly to a halt, and, with practice and skill, can be used to keep the engine stationary. Even though the replica Planet is fitted with a modern air-brake system, many drivers prefer to stop her 1830s style.

    Planet with a mixed train (first- and second-class) standing in front of the 1830 Railway Warehouse at Liverpool Road Station, now part of the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester. (Photo: Matthew Jackson, Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Enginemen of the 1830s were a hardy lot: neither Planet nor Lion have cabs, and only an ornamental railing to stop you falling over the side. On a bright summer’s day, chuffing along at about 20mph can be very pleasant indeed, but in the cold, wet, or wind it can be a harrowing experience.  Nor were the crews allowed to sit down to take a breather (at least officially); they were to stand up at all times and keep a sharp look-out. A billy can of hot tea could be kept warm by standing it close to the firebox and food kept in one of the lockers on the tender. Relief of another kind was a different matter entirely: there were no toilets at any of the stations so many enginemen must have, in emergencies relieved themselves onto their coal or over the side – in fact the Leeds & Selby Railway passed an order preventing enginemen ‘making water over the side of their engines’. They couldn’t even sit down and have a sandwich at the station: the Lancashire & Yorkshire prohibited loco crews from using any public bench or seat or refreshment room – presumably because they didn’t want dirty footprints all over.

    Drawing from practical experience of operating the replica Planet locomotive, Working on the Victorian Railway explores how drivers and firemen of the 1830s and 1840s were trained – or not! – their pay, working conditions and responsibilities and shows how there is very little difference between the first mainline express steam locomotive, Planet of 1830 and the most recent, Tornado (2008).

    Anthony Dawson's new book Working on the Victorian Railway is available for purchase now.

  • Planet Locomotive - A Fireman’s Life for me by Anthony Dawson

    Planet Locomotive 1 The 1992-built replica Planet coupled to the original ‘Manchester & Birmingham’ first-class coach, 5 January 2016. (c. The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    The life and day-to-day tasks of a locomotive fireman has not changed since Richard Trevithick invented his self-propelled kettle in 1803. As a Railway Volunteer at the Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester – on part of the site of the Liverpool Road terminus of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, opened in 1830 –  I have the privilege to work with the replica Planet locomotive. The replica was built by the Friends of the Museum between 1986 and 1992. The original Planet, built by Robert Stephenson & Co. in Newcastle was delivered only thirteen months after Stephenson and Booth’s prize-winning Rainhill Trials entry, Rocket. Planet incorporates all the features of a ‘mature’ steam locomotive, features which would not really change for the next 140 years: a multi-tubular boiler (adopted by Henry Booth from a French design by Marc Séguin) with a smokebox at one end containing the blast pipe (invention of Mr Trevithick) with a separate firebox within the boiler shell at the opposite end. Over forty Planet locomotives – or the 0-4-0 Samson derivatives – were built by Stephenson & Co for use at home and abroad: the first locomotives to run in Germany and Austria were Planets. The titular member of the class was the first locomotive to run between Liverpool and Manchester in an hour and also hauled the first load of American cotton into ‘Cottonopolis.’

    In order to prepare Planet, driver and fireman will probably have been up since 06.00 and get to the Museum in order to sign in at 08.00. They don’t leave until around 17.00. Before the fire is lit, the most important task is to ensure the boiler is full. The gauge glasses are de-isolated by moving the top and bottom levers to a vertical position and the water level should rise in the glass. If it doesn’t there’s a blockage. The drain is briefly opened to wash out any detritus. Satisfied that the boiler is full, with ¾ of a glass showing, any leaks have to be checked. The fireman has to check if wash-out plugs and mud-hole doors are leaking; then inspects the interior of the firebox to make sure that the tubes (which run the length of the boiler and carry the hot gasses) are not leaking, and nor are the stays which support the inner firebox or any of the seams. The firebars should be clean and free from clinker. Satisfied that it is safe to light up, welsh steam coal (the original Planets burned coke in the 1830s) is scattered across the grate. Next broken pieces of dry timber are built up on top of this bed, and finally a bucket of oily rags is doused with diesel; a handful of rags is placed on the shovel and set alight - matches or a cigarette lighter  (or tinder box and flint in the 1830s) are essential tools of the trade for a fireman. Young visitors to the Museum are often confused about coal and also because to them, a fireman is someone who puts a fire out rather than being a travelling pyromaniac with a shovel who starts the fire.

    Planet Locomotive 2 Old meets new: the 1992-built replica of Planet side by side with the sole surviving original Liverpool & Manchester Railway locomotive, Lion of 1838. They are photographed near Water Street Bridge. (Paul Dore, The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Planet can now be shunted over the inspection pit, so that the driver (the only person trusted to do so) can inspect the motion underneath and lubricate it. Whilst this is going on, the fireman sporadically checks his fire, and when the wood is starting to burn through, rounds of coal can be put on. Whilst steam is being raised – full pressure usually takes two and a half hours – the engine is cleaned. When sufficient pressure is raised, the fireman can test the injector –a vital piece of equipment, which injects water back into the boiler to replace that which as been boiled into steam. It was invented in 1852 by a Frenchman, Hénri Giffard, for his steam-powered Zeppelin. Before the invention of the injector, water could only be pumped into the boiler when the engine was moving using an axle-driven force pump. Satisfied that everything is OK, one by one the train crew take it in shifts to wash and brush up and put on their ‘whites.’ We are frequently asked by the public ‘Would they have worn white then?’ or ‘I bet that’s hard to keep clean.’ The answer is ‘yes’, the enginemen of the 1830s did wear white, or at least unbleached, un-dyed cloth. Why? Because it was cheap and easily boil-washed.

    Before Planet can pull her first service train, a test run is made to ensure that the locomotive and train are in full working order. Throughout the day the fireman has one essential job: the safe management of the boiler. He has to regularly check that there is sufficient water in the boiler, so that the tubes and the top of the firebox (called the crown) are to kept covered with water. If the crown is uncovered, then the firebox might start to collapse. A special lead plug called a ‘fusible plug’ will melt (lead has a lower melting point than the steel firebox) and this lets steam and water into the firebox, alerting the crew to the dangerously low water level. Putting coal on the fire is done ‘little and often’ to keep the steam pressure just below ‘blowing off point’ so that the safety valves do not lift. ‘Blowing off’ can waste two to three gallons of water a minute, yet back in the 1830s a fireman was thought not to be doing his job properly if the engine wasn’t blowing off all the time! The fireman has to check the colour of the smoke from the chimney to make sure there is enough air for the coal to burn properly. No smoke suggests there is too much air; black not enough; light grey just enough. Planet has no cab or any protection whatsoever from the elements: on a nice summer’s day it can be very pleasant indeed, but when it’s cold, or wet, it can be a truly horrible, miserable experience.

    Planet Locomotive 3 Robert Stephenson’s patent locomotive of 1834; the carrying-wheels behind the firebox made the locomotive more stable at high speed (around 30 mph) than the Planet type. (Author’s Collection, The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    At the end of the day, the fire is allowed to gradually burn down, but not too much as there needs to be sufficient boiler pressure to go forward to disposal and to operate the injectors to refill the boiler until the injector knocks off. In the 1830s there had to be enough pressure to shunt the engine up down, working the axle-driven water pump to get water into the boiler. At disposal, the fireman and trainee rake out the fire: one in the cab, using the fire irons to riddle the fire through the firebars into the ash-pan, whilst the other rakes out the ash pan on the ballast. Engines in the 1830 had no ash pan, which was often the cause of line-side fires. A hose pipe is used to dampen down the hot ashes and to reduce the dust. With the fire out and boiler full,  Planet can be shunted back into the shed ready for her next turn of duty. It’s probably around 16.30. Now its time to complete the running log, note any faults, get washed, do any washing up, sign out and head to the pub.

    9781445661889

    Anthony Dawson's book The Liverpool & Manchester Railway is available for purchase now.

  • The Early Railways of Manchester by Anthony Dawson

    The Early Railways of Manchester 1 Map of Manchester's railways c.1855 (Andy Mason, The Early Railways of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

    The construction of the controversial Ordsall Chord in Manchester, enabling through-running between Piccadilly Station and Victoria, is the result of how the first railways came to Manchester in the 1830s and 1840s. It is rather ironic that, whilst the Liverpool & Manchester Railway was the world’s first inter-city passenger railway, its taciturn reluctance to work with other companies left Manchester with several isolated mainline stations.

    Manchester’s first mainline passenger station was built at Liverpool Road (now the home of the Museum of Science & Industry) by the Liverpool & Manchester Railway Company. In fact it was Manchester’s only railway station until 1838, when, what is now Salford Central (for the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Railway), and the now defunct Oldham Road station (Manchester & Leeds Railway) were opened. But none of these stations were connected by rail: they were built by fiercely independent railway companies, who viewed any form of connection or through-running as a challenge to their traffic, revenue, and status.

    The Early Railways of Manchester 3 Victoria Station c.1890; the original 1844 building on the left. The other ranges date from the 1860s expansion (Author's collection, The Early Railways of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

    Next on the scene was the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne & Manchester, and the Manchester & Birmingham companies, who opened a joint station, which today is Manchester Piccadilly – one of the busiest railway stations in Britain, with trains arriving or departing every eight seconds. The Sheffield company, as early as 1836, had wanted to form a junction with the Liverpool & Manchester, enabling trains to run all the way from Liverpool to Sheffield via Manchester, and vice versa. A logical move, but the Liverpool & Manchester Company was opposed, fearing lost revenue, and blocked the move. The Liverpool & Manchester Company was also opposed to the building of a junction and line from Ordsall Lane (on the Liverpool & Manchester) to Manchester Victoria Station. The Manchester & Leeds Railway had found their Oldham Road station too out of the way, and in a far from salubrious area, and so built a new station at Hunt’s Bank, close to Manchester Cathedral, and Chetham’s College. Naturally, the Church Authorities were not happy with this new interloper. Victoria was to be approached by an inclined plane, and trains were to be worked in and out via winding engines at the Summit at Miles Platting, where locomotives were coupled on to continue their journey to Leeds. The Manchester & Leeds had already raised the question of a junction with the Liverpool & Manchester in 1835, which had been flatly refused. Three years later, the idea resurfaced, to enable trains to work through from Liverpool to Leeds, and an Act of Parliament was obtained in 1839. But then the Liverpool & Manchester got ‘cold feet’, and instead promoted a rival line, running along Whitworth Street, to join with the Sheffield people at London Road. This would become the Manchester South Junction & Altrincham Railway, opened in 1848. Meanwhile, the northern link to Victoria had stalled. The Liverpool & Manchester refused to act, fearing loss of traffic. The Manchester & Leeds replied by threatening to build a rival line all the way to Liverpool, and a canal and warehouses to enable transhipment of goods from the quays, and wharfs on New Quay Street (near to Liverpool Road Station) to their new station at Victoria. Even the Manchester public were losing patience with the petty territorialism of the Liverpool & Manchester Company, its dilatoriness over the link to Victoria generating much bad publicity. Victoria station opened in May 1844, but the linking line from the Liverpool & Manchester mainline was not finally complete until several months later. There was, in the words of the Manchester Guardian, now ‘one continuous line of Railway Communication across the country from Hull to Liverpool, and the Irish Channel.’ Once the Manchester South Junction line opened, there was the possibility of trains – or at least traffic – being able to run from Liverpool to Sheffield, Liverpool to Leeds, and via the Grand Junction (which joined the Liverpool & Manchester at Newton) to Birmingham, and thence London, all via Manchester, linking the great industrial centres to the major ports.

    The Early Railways of Manchester 2 Galloway's unsuccessful locomotive Manchester - 'the first built in Manchester'. (Author's collection, The Early Railways of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

    By the middle of the 1840s, Manchester’s railway scene had developed from a single, isolated station at London Road, to one that is recognisable today, centred on London Road/Piccadilly, Victoria, Salford Central. What there wasn’t was any connection between the two principal stations at London Road and Victoria; whilst the two were rail connected via the junction at Ordsall Lane, trains had to reverse to enter either station.  This problem was partially overcome with the opening of the ‘Windsor Link’ in the 1980s, but the lack of through-running from Piccadilly to Victoria, a product of the fierce rivalry between these early railway companies from over 170 years ago, will only be finally solved in December 2017.

    9781445665184

    Anthony Dawson's new book The Early Railways of Manchester is available for purchase now.

  • The Woodhead Route by Anthony Dawson

    During a summer’s walk along the idyllic Longdendale today, the loudest noise you will probably hear will be bird song, the barking of a pet dog or happy children. Thirty-six years ago, it would have been very different: the foot path you are walking or cycling along was once part of the first railway line linking Manchester and Sheffield. The famous Woodhead Route. Silent for nearly four decades, the Woodhead Tunnels resounded to the rattle and hum of Class 76 and 77 electric locomotives, speeding passengers and goods on their way between the two cities – and all stops in between.

    The Woodhead Route 1 Woodhead station (built 1861) and the western portals of the Tunnel, c. 1900. (c. The Woodhead Route, Amberley Publishing)

    The Woodhead Route was conceived in 1830 by industrialists in Lancashire and Yorkshire, who engaged the famous George Stephenson to plan the route of their new railway. Despite the failure of the first scheme (1830-1831), a second scheme, with the backing of the influential Lord Wharncliffe and engineered by Stephenson’s rival Charles Blacker Vignoles was ultimately successful. Three miles long, and driven some 600 feet below ground level, the iconic Woodhead Tunnel took eight years to blast through solid millstone grit and shale – not helped by Vignoles being sacked as chief engineer and being replaced by Joseph Locke, a one time pupil of Stephenson. Finally opening in 1845 it was hailed as a wonder of the age. No sooner was the first one finished, when the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway ordered the construction of a second, parallel, bore to ease the bottle-neck caused by the original single-track tunnel. Working conditions for the navvies were deplorable; social reformer Edwin Chadwick estimating more men died or were wounded working on the tunnels than during one of Wellington’s battles in the Peninsular War! To enable electric trains to run through to Sheffield, British Railways blasted a third tunnel through the Pennine ridge. Silent now, the Woodhead Tunnels were once the scene of incredible noise and bustle as steam trains, and later electric locomotives on ‘merry go round’ coal trains slogged their way up Longdendale and through the tunnel.

    The Woodhead Route 2 A double-headed Sheffield-bound express plunges into the darkness of Woodhead 2 as it crosses a Manchester express exiting Woodhead 1. (c. The Woodhead Route, Amberley Publishing)

    It is not just the rugged, dramatic scenery of the Woodhead Route which continues to attract enthusiasts:  it was worked by unique 1.5KV DC electric locomotives, the EM1 and EM2. Designed by no lesser personage than Sir Nigel Gresley of the LNER, the prototype EMI ‘Tommy’ was built in 1941. Loaned to the Dutch Railways 1947-1952, where she gained her name, ‘Tommy’ was followed by a further 57 examples, only one of which made it to preservation as part of the National Collection at York.    To handle express passenger services, seven Co-Co EM2 locomotives were built, each one named after a figure in Greek mythology: Electra, Ariadne, Aurora, Diana, Juno, Minerva, Pandora. Names which will once again adorn the railway network; Direct Rail Services naming their new Class 88 bi-mode electro-diesel locomotives after three of the Woodhead Goddesses, Ariadne, Minerva and Pandora.  Of these three, only EM2 27001 Ariadne was preserved after service in the Netherlands and currently resides at the Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester. Wouldn’t it be nice for the two Ariadne’s to meet? I wonder what they’d talk about?

    9781445663944

    Anthony Dawson's new book The Woodhead Route is available for purchase now.

  • The Liverpool & Manchester Railway by Anthony Dawson

    the-l-m-r-1 A first-class coach, as depicted by Isaac Shaw in 1831. (Author's collection, The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Friday, 17 September 1830. James Scott, Station Superintendent, resplendent in top hat, dark blue frock coat (with gilt ‘company buttons’) and white trousers checks his pocket watch.  Ten minutes to seven o’clock. All was bustle around him as passengers - all of them of the first class – clambered up into the primrose-yellow coaches, which sat waiting for them. Glancing along the train of four coaches; resplendent with the exciting names of Experience, Traveller, Despatch, and Victory. Fussing around are the porters, heaving heavy trunks and portmanteaus onto the roofs of the carriage. Seated on top, wrapped up from the elements in their watch coats are Johns and Hargreaves, the guards. It is their job to keep a good look-out for any dangers and to apply the brakes on the coaches upon which they are sat. Hargeaves, more senior of the pair, takes his place on the rearmost carriage facing forward and puts on his special wire-mesh spectacles to guard against any soot getting in his eyes. Johns takes his seat on the front carriage, but facing backward so as to be in visual communication with Hargreaves. In case of danger they each have a red, a green and a white flag.

    Some of the more curious gentlemen are dallying around North Star, the iron horse at the head of the string of coaches. Painted olive green with black lining-out she presents a compact, purposeful, look with her pair of large five-foot diameter driving wheels and powerful cylinders, set nearly horizontally, alongside the firebox. On her footplate are Thomas George and his mate John Wakefield. Suddenly the safety valve lifts with a whoosh, scattering inquisitive pigeons and passengers alike.

    the-l-m-r-2 Interior of the replica first-class coach, which sat six persons almost knee to knee: 'upholstered in French grey cloth with buttons and lace to match ... the upholstery is carried to a considerable height above the seats, padded head rests being included'. (Lauren Jaye Gradwell, 2016, The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    At five minutes to seven, Scott instructs the large brass bell on the platform to be rung, to inform passengers still dawdling in the waiting room to hurry up, that their train will be leaving at seven o’clock sharp and there would be only a 50% refund on the cost of their 7s (about £10 in 2016) tickets. If any passengers had a complaint, they could write it in the ‘Passenger’s Diary’ found below in the booking hall. The tickets themselves are oblong slips of bright pink paper and had to be purchased the day before, and included the name, address, details of any next of kin, and the reason for travelling. Once booked, a passenger was assigned a numbered seat in a named coach. Each of the coaches sat eighteen in three sumptuous compartments, lined with French grey cloth; the seats stuffed with horse-hair and provided with arm - and head - rests; carpeted throughout and as plush as any drawing room of the best sort. It was a tiny padded cell of luxury.

    One minute to seven. Scott nods to the bugler stood to attention at the head of the train. All the train doors are closed. The luggage is secure. The guards are in their seats. With a twitch of his gloved hand, Scott signals to the bugler; he puts his instrument to his lips and sends off the train with the opening strains of ‘I’d be a butterfly’. Wakefield responds with a brief toot on his own bugle; Thomas George eases open the regulator and for a few moments North Star is lost in a cloud of steam from her open drain cocks. With a barely perceptible whoof, she begins to slowly move away, the polished steel valve levers beginning their hypnotic dance as she clatters over the Water Street Bridge and on to Liverpool, where they would arrive 90 minutes later.

    the-l-m-r-3 The precarious position of the guard, perched on the coach roof, is readily demonstrated: it is easy to see how they could freeze to death on a cold winter's night. (Matthew Jackson, The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Such, perhaps, was the scene at Liverpool Road Station, Manchester on the first day of operation of what was the world’s first inter-city railway 186 years ago. Whilst not the first public railway (that was the Lake Lock Railroad in Yorkshire (opened in 1796)) nor the first to exclusively use steam traction (that was the Middleton Railway, Leeds, in 1812) it was the first double-track mainline inter-city railway; the first to have a working timetable; a written set of rules and regulations; and the first to develop a code of signalling and safety instructions. The Liverpool & Manchester, despite various false starts and the tragedy of the formal opening (15 September 1830) changed the world, not only in how people travel, but in what they wore, and what they ate.

    Henry Booth, the Secretary and Treasurer wrote:

    The most striking result produced by the completion of this Railway, is the sudden and marvellous change which has been effected in our ideas of time and space. What was quick is now slow; what was distant is now near.

    9781445661889

    Anthony Dawson's new book The Liverpool & Manchester Railway is available for purchase now.

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