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  • 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trudge back over the bridge, forced to view the locos across the main line from rusty sidings which often contained withdrawn locomotives awaiting disposal.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.

  • The Stephenson Railway Legacy by Colin Alexander

    In the words of Captain J. M. Laws, speaking before the Gauge Commission in 1845 “We owe all our railways to the collieries in the North; and the difficulties which their industry overcame taught us to make railways and to make locomotives to work them”. Many of the difficulties of which he spoke were overcome by that legendary son of Northumberland, George Stephenson, and subsequently by his son, Robert.

    The Stephenson Railway Museum, in the former Metro Test Track depot in North Shields, has a unique collection. Its most important exhibit is Billy, used at Killingworth and one of five surviving locomotives that predate Rocket. (c. Colin Alexander, The Stephenson Railway Legacy, Amberley Publishing)

    Growing up as I did on the banks of the Tyne, it was impossible to escape the influence of the Stephensons. I share my birthplace with Robert. My mother went to the Stephenson Memorial School and I completed my main teaching practice at George Stephenson High School. Stephenson Streets abound on Tyneside, as well as the Stephenson Railway Museum (where visitors can admire the oldest surviving Stephenson locomotive, Billy of 1816), the cottage where George was born and another where they lived during their most formative time.

    While Robert Stephenson himself acknowledged that “the locomotive is not the invention of one man but of a nation of mechanical engineers”, the Stephensons’ biographer Smiles wrote “in no quarter of England have greater changes been wrought by the successive advances made in the practical science of engineering than in the extensive colliery districts of the North, of which Newcastle-upon-Tyne is the centre and the capital”. Among the many pioneers to emanate from that region, George and Robert Stephenson deservedly achieved a worldwide fame beyond all others.

    As early as 1798, George was put in charge of steam power for the first time in the form of a pumping engine at a pit west of Newcastle. This event would change not only George’s life, but would ultimately change the whole world. The first locomotives, by Trevithick, Blenkinsopp and Hedley and others were not entirely successful but in the words of Smiles, through “application, industry and perseverance, (George Stephenson) carried into effect one of the most remarkable but peaceful revolutions”.

    His first locomotive Blucher was financed by colliery owner Lord Ravensworth, who had been impressed by Stephenson’s improvements to his stationary engines. Blucher steamed in 1814, a steady 5mph plodder of a coal-hauler. Although she boasted some refinements compared to earlier engines she shared their vertical motion with its hammer-blow effect on brittle rails. Within fifteen years, the father-and-son team of George and Robert Stephenson would produce the fastest machine yet built, with smooth motion, mechanical efficiency and economy, capable of well over 30mph! Her name was, of course, the Rocket.

    Robert Stephenson's Newcastle factory turned out several 7 foot 1/4 inch gauge locomotives for Brunel's Great Western Railway. Among them was 2-2-2 North Star, a full-sized replica of which is at Swindon's Steam Museum. (c. Alon Siton collection, The Stephenson Railway Legacy, Amberley Publishing)

    George Stephenson’s fame derived from his willingness to experiment, along with confidence, perseverance and ingenuity that took the world into an exciting new Railway Age. His experiments saved lives too, for he famously invented the Stephenson miners’ safety lamp, predating the more widely-known Davy lamp.

    His greatest achievements were arguably his victories in Parliament, where the uneducated Northumbrian was repeatedly and unfairly abused and ridiculed for his assertions. He faced opposition from powerful land-owners and canal operators who hired hard-hitting advocates to argue against the building of new railways. These vocal adversaries made ludicrous, unfounded assertions, including that in gale force winds it would be impossible for a steam train to move!

    Stephenson’s common sense and determination saw him through, resulting in the building of the world’s first successful steam railway, the Stockton and Darlington, with rails laid at a gauge of 4’8½”. This would of course be adopted as ‘Standard Gauge’ across much of the world. The S&D’s first locomotives were built at the world’s first locomotive factory, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne under the name of Robert Stephenson & Company.

    Back in Egypt, one of Stephenson's more unusual orders was this 1859 contraption for the Pasha of Egypt. (c. Alon Siton collection, The Stephenson Railway Legacy, Amberley Publishing)

    Then followed the building of the world’s first ‘Inter-City’ line, the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, which would bring George and Robert lasting fame.

    They would also go on to engineer much of Europe’s early railway network, including unprecedented individual feats of engineering in the form of tunnels and bridges.

    George Stephenson died in 1848, aged 67, at his mansion near Chesterfield, a far cry from the family’s one room by the wagonway at Wylam.

    His friend Nicholas Wood described him as “the most extraordinary man of the age, or indeed of any age”.

    Statues were erected in Liverpool, Newcastle, London, Chesterfield and Budapest, demonstrating that his influence extended well beyond these shores.

    Robert Stephenson died in 1859 aged only 56, as the world’s first engineering millionaire.  He was buried in Westminster Abbey and was described as “the greatest engineer of the present century”.

    During his lifetime, Robert Stephenson received many more honours than his father ever did, such was the esteem in which the profession of railway engineering came to be held. These included the Swedish Cross of the Order of St Olaf, the French Legion D’Honneur and like his father before him, Knight of the Order of Leopold for his locomotive improvements that had revolutionised Belgium’s railways. Incidentally, both George and Robert had been offered knighthoods, and both declined.

    RSH No.8136 of 1960 was one of twenty English Electric Type 4s built at Darlington for BR, the rest coming from Vulcan Foundry. Originally numbered D306, No.40106 became a celebrity as the last to retain green livery, taking part in the Rainhill 150th anniversary cavalcade of 1980. (c. Colin Alexander, The Stephenson Railway Legacy, Amberley Publishing)

    Although there was a great sense of loss over the death of Robert, the company that carried his name went from strength to strength exporting locomotives all over the world.

    The original Stephenson works in Newcastle closed its doors in 1960 after 137 years of production. The name lived on a while longer in the later Stephenson Works in Darlington, which manufactured main-line diesel locomotives for British Railways, but the last one left the works in 1964, marking the end of the most famous name in railway manufacturing history.

    Meanwhile, there is much to be seen of the Stephensons’ legacy today. There are complete railways still in regular use that were engineered by the indomitable father and son. High-speed electric trains hurtle through Kilsby Tunnel daily. Every day, trains cross the High Level, Royal Border, Sankey and Britannia bridges.

    On a broader scale though, surely the Stephensons’ greatest legacy is the railway network that they made practical and popular against all the odds. What was subsequently achieved all over the world in industry and commerce by the coming of the railways is immeasurable.

    At the cutting of the first sod for the construction of the Eden Valley Railway in 1858, Lord Brougham said “To the public at large, to the community, the introduction of the railway has been of the greatest possible advantage, the prime blessing of the time. I take George Stephenson as the main cause of that success”.

    Colin Alexander and Alon Siton's new book The Stephenson Railway Legacy is available for purchase now.

  • The North British Locomotive Company by Colin Alexander

    Urie's London & South Western Railway Class N15 express 4-6-0 was perpetuated by the Southern Railway after the Grouping. (Author's collection, The North British Locomotive Company, Amberley Publishing)

    In July 1980, aged 16, during a family holiday in the Cotswolds I made the pilgrimage to South Wales and the legendary Woodham’s scrapyard on Barry Island. As well as wishing to photograph the rusting hulks of over a hundred ex-British Railways steam locomotives which had languished there since the 1960s, there were two other items of interest that I was keen to see. They were the last two remaining ex-BR main line diesel locomotives built at the North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow.

    One was D601, once the pride of BR Western Region, and previously carrying the name ARK ROYAL. She was one of five 2000hp ‘Warship’ class diesel-hydraulics ordered as part of BR’s Pilot Scheme. Delivered in 1958 she and her sisters would last in service only until 1967, when withdrawn due to their non-standard status. They had never been the most reliable locomotives and after initial use on glamorous services like the ‘Cornish Riviera Express’ they were quickly demoted to secondary duties. Upon withdrawal, D602-D604, named BULLDOG, CONQUEST and COSSACK respectively, were quietly cut up at Cashmore’s scrapyard in Newport. D600 ACTIVE and D601 however made it to Barry.

    Of almost 300 BR locomotives consigned to the legendary Dai Woodham's scrapyard at Barry in South Wales, only one was an ex-LNER engine. Thompson Class BI 4-6-0 No. 61264 arrived there after departmental service and was fortunate enough to be one of the 213 locomotives to be rescued from Barry for preservation. (Author's collection, The North British Locomotive Company, Amberley Publishing)

    Dai Woodham famously tried to avoid cutting up locomotives, as he knew that the preservation movement would salvage most of them for posterity so as much as possible his workers concentrated on cutting up redundant mineral wagons and the like. Indeed all but two of the steam locomotives I saw that July 1980 day would escape to preservation, and many have since steamed.

    ACTIVE, proudly wearing the new BR Blue livery she wore in service for a few short months was dispatched after a few years in the open air of Barry Island but ARK ROYAL hung on until 1980.

    Meanwhile back in the 1950s, North British had also built a much more numerous class of fifty-eight diesel-electric locomotives numbered D6100 and D6157. They were of 1100hp and found work on the Eastern and Scottish Regions, although before long all were concentrated north of the border.

    They were just as unreliable as their illustrious named Warship cousins and despite twenty of them being re-engined to extend their lives, all were gone by 1972. All that is except for D6122. Following withdrawal in Scotland she found herself dumped at Hither Green in Kent and there she suffered the indignity of being used for re-railing practice. She ended up at Barry with D600 and D601 and like ARK ROYAL she lasted there until 1980.

    A rare NBL diesel success came with the 3 ft 6 in. gauge diesel-hydraulic 0-8-0 for East African Railways & Harbours. (Author's collection, The North British Locomotive Company, Amberley Publishing)

    Unfortunately for me, when I got there, the cutters had beaten me to it and all I could find was one solitary rusty NBL/MAN diesel engine on the ground. It could have been D6122’s or it could have been one of the pair of identical units from D601. I will never know. I had missed them by a matter of weeks. There ended the story of BR’s NBL main line diesels.

    NBL was formed in 1903 by the merger of three established Victorian Scottish locomotive manufacturers, and it became the largest such concern outside of the USA. It gained an excellent reputation through the export of countless dependable locomotives all over the world and for many domestic railway companies. That reputation was shattered when NBL’s BR diesels began to fail and the company closed down due to the cost of repairing its errant products under warranty.

    Many North British steam locomotives survive globally as a living testimony to the company’s success and influence, but the burgeoning diesel preservation movement in the UK came too late to save D601 and D6122, just as I arrived too late to take their photographs.

    Read more about the North British Locomotive Company story in my new book The North British Locomotive Company, published in May 2018. You can still purchase a copy of my other book The British Railways Pilot Scheme Diesel Locomotives. Proceeds from sales of this title contribute directly to two related heritage diesel projects. They are the restoration of a true diesel ‘dinosaur’, the unique surviving Metropolitan Vickers Co-Bo D5705 at the East Lancashire Railway; and the recreation of another extinct class, a Napier Deltic engined English Electric Type 2, being built by the Baby Deltic Project at Barrow Hill Roundhouse.

    Colin Alexander's new book The North British Locomotive Company is available for purchase now.

  • Defensive Northumberland by Colin Alexander

    A fine stretch of Hadrian's Wall looking west over Hotbank and Crag Lough. (Defensive Northumberland, Amberley Publishing)

    I was born in Northumberland, at the end of the Roman Wall, and grew up in a coastal village whose clifftops are crowned with evocative mediaeval ruins. Little wonder then, that I shared an interest in local history with my father.

    Northumbrians are very aware that their land has always been frontier territory, a county of contrasts, with Iron Age hill-forts scattered all over the north, and the rich Roman heritage in the south. Dramatic castles and pele towers can be found throughout, making it a fascinating area to explore.

    Before the Roman invasion, what is now southern Scotland and northern England was a land of small-scale skirmishes between rival tribes and clans. For hundreds of years subsequently, the position of the border changed repeatedly, either the cause or the effect of large-scale conflicts. Eventually the Union of England and Scotland made the border an administrative line on the map.

    The ancient St Oswald's Gate at the north-west corner of Bamburgh Castle. (Defensive Northumberland, Amberley Publishing)

    In addition to border warfare, Northumbrians have, from the time of the Vikings until World War Two, lived with a constant threat from hostile nations across the North Sea. We appreciate the county’s place geographically and historically, acting for centuries as a buffer-zone between Scotland and England, much closer to Edinburgh than far-off Westminster. Two-thousand years of turmoil and threat have left a fascinating legacy on the unique landscape of this remote corner of England, combining hilltop Iron Age settlements and the great Roman infrastructure with many centuries’ worth of later fortifications of all types and sizes. These include humble fortified farm dwellings, massive castles, town walls and Berwick’s incredible Elizabethan ramparts.

    Northumberland’s ancient hill-forts and mediaeval castles were regular destinations for family outings and school trips for as long as I can remember, and with my two sons I have walked the length of its greatest defensive monument – Hadrian’s Wall. I am fortunate that I was able to spend much of my childhood exploring the steep grass banks and ruins of Tynemouth Castle, a place to fire the imagination with its centuries of military history intertwined with a fiery monastic past.

    Berwick ramparts, looking down into one of the positions for cross-firing artillery. (Defensive Northumberland, Amberley Publishing)

    For purposes of this book, ‘Northumberland’ refers to the historic county as it existed for centuries before 1974 when its populous south-east corner was grafted onto part of County Durham to form the faceless and short-lived political entity of Tyne & Wear.

    This book attempts to show some of the variety in Northumberland’s rich legacy of defensive structures from prehistory to modern times. Tales of Border Reivers, ancient tribes, great battles, sieges, Zeppelin raids bring to life the story of our great fortifications.

    Taking the photographs for the book was an adventure in itself. I spent many happy days walking some of England’s least-frequented landscapes in search of the past. Hills were climbed and the remains of Iron Age settlements photographed. I realised early into the writing that ground-level photography would not do justice to these hill-forts. I contacted a gentleman who had some impressive aerial photos of these locations, seeking his permission to use some of them in the book. He replied that he could do better than that, and took me up in his light aircraft with my camera. A couple of the spectacular results appear in the book. I could easily have filled a book double this size and still not exhausted this topic, and was a little sorry when I was finished, so enjoyable was its making.

    Colin Alexander's new book Defensive Northumberland is available for purchase now.

  • Class 55 Deltics by Colin Alexander

    When first approached by Amberley in December 2015, I could scarcely have believed that nine months later I would have two books in print and on sale, with another two almost ready to go.  Amberley had spotted my Flickr photostream account and I was flattered when they asked me if I would fancy putting together a book on my favourite subject, namely the British Rail Class 55 ‘Deltics’.  How did this all begin?

    PHOTO 1 Here is a photo of Harry, after retirement, beside his last ‘box’, Howdon-on-Tyne, about 1970.

    My Dad had always been interested in railways and used to visit his uncle, my Great Uncle Harry, at work as a signalman at places like Heaton Junction, Newcastle.

    When I was only about two or three, Dad had built for me my first model railway, including a Triang Freightmaster set. I can clearly remember aged between about four to six years old, being taken up to the top of Newcastle’s Castle Keep, and to the old cattle market, both of which were great vantage points over Newcastle Central station, to see steam specials hauled by “Flying Scotsman”, “Sir Nigel Gresley” and “Clun Castle”.  There were also some interesting diesels such as the big yellow HS4000 “Kestrel” prototype, Clayton Class 17s with their centre cabs, and of course, the ‘Deltics’.

    Every summer holiday, always in Britain, would just happen to be near a preserved steam railway, and my mother was very tolerant, being dragged around corrugated iron sheds full of muck and rust to see a locomotive being restored from scrapyard condition to its former glory.

    PHOTO 3 My brother wasn’t as keen, but here he is posing with me at Plymouth with D1054 “Western Governor”.

    Some holidays revolved around the railway entirely, such as when we had two weeks in Cornwall in 1976, the long hot summer, and travelled from Tyneside to St. Ives by train and were able to enjoy the last summer of the ‘Western’ diesel-hydraulics, travelling to Newquay, St. Austell, Plymouth and Penzance.

    We attended the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Stockton and Darlington Railway at Shildon in 1975, even talking my 79 year old grandmother along.  A twice-weekly fixture for Dad and I was the Newcastle and District Model Railway Society where many friends were made and great fun was had every November setting up and taking down the annual model railway exhibition.

    By 1978, aged 14, I was deemed old enough to venture out on the railway on my own and quickly developed friendships on the platforms of Newcastle Central that have lasted to this day.  For the princely sum of £2.60 a Northumbrian Ranger ticket could be bought which gave a week of unlimited travel between York and Berwick, and across to Carlisle.

    My only regret from these days was that I did not possess a decent camera.  I made do with a Kodak Instamatic until 1981 when I inherited my Dad’s ancient Agfa 35mm camera.  Its fastest shutter speed was 1/200th of a second, which meant it was only good for static objects in bright daylight.  Needless to say about 95% of my early railway photographs were either too dark, too bright, too blurred or off target due to parallax error.  The other 5% were simply unusable.

    PHOTO 4 In lunch hours I could race across to the footbridge on Leeman Road and watch ‘Deltics’ in their last months of service.

    While Dad was an engineering draughtsman on the Tyne & Wear Metro, when I left school I managed to get myself a trainee position in a similar line of work in BR’s Signalling and Telecommunications Dept at Forth Banks, Newcastle, starting July 1981.  This was an interesting time as there was still a lot of mechanical signalling about, and a lot of freight-only branch lines.  I was involved in the replacing of giant 1950s relays in the control room above the ‘wallside’ sidings at Newcastle Central, and also worked at Pelaw, Blaydon, Morpeth and Hendon in Sunderland.  Trainee induction was at Hudson House, York, on the site of the original York station.

    The second half of 1981 was notable for the number of ‘Deltic’ hauled railtours that were run, and I was able to travel behind these machines to Whitby, Hull, Bradford, Harrogate, Liverpool, Carnforth, Inverkeithing, over the Settle to Carlisle line, Aberdeen, Portsmouth and Bournemouth among other places.

    Class 55 pic 1 No. 55013 The Black Watch erupts into life in the centre road at York on 17 April 1981 (c. Class 55 Deltics, Amberley Publishing)

    By then I had become an active member of the Deltic Preservation Society which aimed to raise funds to save one of the locomotives from scrap.  I organised local events and delivered newsletters, and for my efforts was rewarded with an invitation to Doncaster Works in August 1982 to attend the ceremony when two Deltics were handed over from BR to the DPS.  The following day I was travelling behind them on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

    By then I had left my job on BR, realising that a life of dodging high-speed trains was not for me.  I was not too concerned because I had begun a love-affair with the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and the DPS’s two Deltics that were based there.  A few of my mates and I found ourselves volunteering both for the DPS and the NYMR.  We were signed up trainee firemen and as such would be rostered to a steam locomotive, which we had to clean and light-up to raise steam, at about 5am, in preparation for the driver and fireman arriving later.  We then got to spend the day riding on the footplate, learning how everything worked; and even shovelling coal in the firebox from time to time.

    By the time I had got myself a decent 35mm SLR camera in the mid-80s, I had gone off to Cornwall College to be a student of Graphic Design, and so my interest in railways took a bit of a back seat.

    9781445656953

    Colin Alexander's book Class 55 Deltics is available for purchase now.

  • Tyneside Railways: The 1970s and 1980s by Colin Alexander

    I was six years old when the 1960s gave way to the 70s.  Man had landed on the Moon the year before, an event I remember watching on our old grainy black and white television.  Although steam had ended on British Railways in 1968, my Dad would take me to see any steam ‘special’ that visited Newcastle, and many of the local industrial railways still relied on steam power.

    Tyneside Railways 1 HS4000 Kestrel was a 4,000 hp prototype built by Hawker-Siddeley and is seen here leaving for King's Cross on 20 October 1969. (c. Tyneside Railways, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1970, most of Tyneside was black.  Buildings were black, the river was black.  There was industry of all kinds lining both banks of the river, stretching from the west of Newcastle and Gateshead almost to the river mouth.  Shipyards, power stations, coal staithes, docks, chemical works, warehouses and coking plants competed for river frontage, and in the hinterlands, there were colliery headstocks as far as the eye could see.

    By 1990, a complete transformation had taken place.  Virtually all traces of all those industries were gone and the smoke-blackened buildings were cleaned up.  The steam-age railway with its semi-derelict stations had given way to an electrified main line and a smart new underground Metro.

    Tyneside Railways 2 Fenwick pit, east of Backworth, also in 1973 with NCB No. 16, built by Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn as late as 1957. (c. Tyneside Railways, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

     

     

    Anyone who’d left Tyneside in the 1960s and returned for the first time in the 1990s would scarcely have recognised the place; such was the magnitude of the change.

    Tyneside Railways: the 1970s and 1980s is intended to illustrate the many changes that took place on the railways and in the North East in general during a tumultuous twenty years both for me, and for Tyneside.

    Tyneside was widely acknowledged as being at the epicentre of the birth of the railway.  Long before railway mania gripped the rest of Victorian Britain, pioneering engineers on both sides of the Tyne were connecting collieries to the river by primitive wagonways to facilitate the export of coal.  Prior to this, it was only economic to extract coal close to navigable water, but the wooden wagonways of the 1700s allowed much more of the coalfield to be exploited.  While other areas of industrial Britain were digging canals, the wagonways of Northumberland and Durham would evolve into the ‘iron road’.  North-East men like William Hedley, William Chapman, Timothy Hackworth and of course George and Robert Stephenson were instrumental in replacing horse power through the steam revolution that would shrink nations and continents across the world.

    Tyneside Railways 3 On 19 August 1977, a Metro Cammell DMU is on its way around the North Tyne loop from Newcastle via Wallsend and Benton back to Newcastle again. (c. Tyneside Railways, Amberley Publishing)

    While the region always had its glamorous Anglo-Scottish express passenger trains, the railways in the North-East were dominated by freight services, and the North Eastern Railway had a virtual monopoly from the Humber to the Scottish Border on the transport of vast amounts of coal, iron ore, steel, fish and other goods traffic for decades.  This traffic continued after 1923 under the London & North Eastern Railway and into the early days of post-war nationalisation in British Railways’ North Eastern Region.  That freight traffic was to go into terminal decline through the 1970s and 80s as industries disappeared.

    The book includes many locations beyond the obvious Newcastle and Gateshead, visiting the suburbs to the east, the beautiful Tyne Valley to the west, as well as going slightly further afield to locations in the South-East Northumberland coalfield and almost to Wearside.

     

     

     

    Tyneside Railways 4 Along the River Tyne at Blaydon on 7 April 1984, pioneer Class 40 No. 40122/D200 with green livery restored is in charge of IZ69 the Knotty Circular Rambler that has travelled from Stafford to Carlisle and will return via Newcastle and Leeds. (c. Tyneside Railways, Amberley Publishing)

    I have tried to show a wide variety of motive power in the book, including preserved steam and BR diesel traction; steam, diesel and electric-powered industrial locomotives; Tyne & Wear Metro stock and even the ill-fated Advanced Passenger Train makes an unlikely appearance.

    Recently, much of the North-East's rich railway heritage has seen a renaissance with some beautifully restored stations and bridges, and the region can boast some of the preservation movement's most precious relics.

    9781445662305

    Colin Alexander's new book Tyneside Railways: The 1970s and 1980s is available for purchase now.

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