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Tag Archives: Steam Trains

  • Holiday Trains by Greg Morse

    I’m on a train, a train heading in the wrong direction. It’s heading in the wrong direction because it’s taking me to work. I got on at Swindon with the same faces I see every day – plus a few new ones (who, as all commuters know, have no right to be there – at least not in ‘your’ seat) – and now I’m trying to write to you. I’m doing it the old-fashioned way, and my pen is bouncing all over the page as the wheels bounce over points and joints and goodness knows what. My fellow travellers tuck in to muffins and pastries, sip their lattes, read their papers and prod their phones. It’s February, and it’s quieter this morning as many are joining their children on their half-term holidays. Their absences mean the cloud of yoghurt-breath, BO and flatulence is smaller than on some days, the chances of being trampled or tripped up just a little bit less. These peccadillos matter far more than they should, but it is alas the way of things when using trains to facilitate the daily grind.

    GWR families wait in line at Swindon to board the trains for Trip Week, c. 1910. Destinations included Weymouth, Weston-Super-Mare and Cornwall. (Holiday Trains, Amberley Publishing)

    As my train powers on to Paddington, I start to think about my return this evening, but muse more on the prospect of heading the ‘right way’ in the mornings too. Not to Bath or Bristol, but a little bit further to Weston-Super-Mare – a seaside town, and well known and loved by me since childhood. During that wonderful Whitsun week, there would be endless ice creams on the Grand Pier, endless sandcastles, countless visits to the old Model Railway. There would often be a train ride too – a day trip to Bristol behind a chugging diesel (a Class 33, for those – like me – who like to know such things). How wonderful it all was! But how wonderful too it must have been to have gone to Weston in the days of steam, waiting on the platform with raincoats over suitcases, buckets, spades and all the paraphernalia of the traditional British holiday. It’s a tradition that goes back a long way: when Swindon had a railway works, Weston – along with Tenby, Torquay, St Ives, Weymouth – was a favourite choice during ‘trip week’, during which thousands would down tools and leave the town virtually empty as trains took them away from it all for a short precious while.

    The prized destination for many once the railways had come: Anchor Head, in Weston-Super-Mare, c. 1910. (Holiday Trains, Amberley Publishing)

    Weston’s origins can be traced back to the Neolithic period, but it was the fashion for sea bathing – sampled by George III at Weymouth in 1789 – that set it on a course away from farming and fishing. Many of the first visitors came by coach from Bath and Bristol in numbers soon sufficient to warrant a hotel, Weston’s first opening in 1810.

    As with Brighton, at first there were objections, local landowners being somewhat wary of this still-new technology; so much so, that when Parliament granted the Bristol & Exeter Railway powers to build a line between those two cities on 19 May 1836, Brunel – the company’s engineer – was obliged to bypass the town some 1½ miles to the south. As work progressed on this important broad gauge route, however, there was a change of heart (although fears about ‘noisy’, ‘smelly’ steam engines were such that when the first train arrived in the town on 14 June 1841, it was hauled by a team of horses).

    Brunel’s original station was a small affair in Regent Street, but when the branch was doubled in 1866, a new facility was opened on the other side of the road – conveniently doing away with a decidedly inconvenient level crossing. Though modified for mixed-gauge working in 1875, it was also in this year that powers were acquired to lay a four-mile standard-gauge loop into the town, allowing a Weston stop to be added to certain through services. By the time it opened on 1 March 1884, branches had been built to serve 14 more seaside resorts, including Blackpool (1846), Southport (1848), Eastbourne (1849) and Torquay (1859). The railways were starting to become a key part of the nation’s holiday-making. Holiday Trains explains how that situation developed.

    Greg Morse's new book Holiday Trains is available for purchase now.

  • Steam in the British Coalfields by Mick Pope

    Trainspotter, a description that has somehow become a term of ridicule, conjuring up an image of some bespectacled nerd who is unable to function in normal society and definitely won’t have any dress sense, wife or girlfriend. Funny how this has come about as an interest in railways in general as the second most popular hobby among men in the United Kingdom after angling. I did wear glasses as a young lad and so I was part way there already!

    Joseph climbs away from the screens at Bold Colliery with loaded 21-ton hopper wagons, probably destined for Fiddlers Ferry Power Station. August 1981. (Steam in the British Coalfields, Amberley Publishing)

    I must admit that my father was the first to encourage me to take an interest in the model variety of trains, having himself grown up as a collector of the old fashioned clockwork, tinplate Hornby ‘O’ gauge ones. I suspect his encouragement was merely to give legitimacy to him continuing his own passion as I had only a passing interest at that time. Then one day I was rebuffed by a school friend when I asked him what we would do over the coming weekend. After a hushed conversation with another friend he declared that he was going to Chester station to collect train numbers. It seemed a bit pointless to me but I tagged along anyway out of curiosity. I was advised to buy a ‘locoshed book’ published by the Ian Allen company as this contained the number of every locomotive working for British Railways, as it was then, plus the place where they normally were based. I was told that I also needed a notebook and that I should write down the number of every locomotive seen and then underline that number in the locoshed book when I got home. It all seemed a bit boring although it had an element of acquisitiveness that is present in most kids. One day and I was hooked! There was just something about the big powerful machines that seemed alive. I didn’t know what I was looking at in any detail but noted that some locomotives had names, that some were green, most were black and some very special ones were a kind of red and these got a special cheer from the assembled spotters. I needed more information and so bought more detailed pocket sized books with photographs and technical details. I learned fast.

    Warrior with a rake of 16-ton mineral wagons. The snow manages to cover what was normally a very muddy environment! (Steam in the British Coalfields, Amberley Publishing)

    With my friends we travelled further afield. Holidays on the south coast, and with relatives in Somerset, introduced me to new kinds of locomotives. We revived a moribund railway society at our grammar school, really just an excuse to obtain permits from British Railways to visit their locomotive depots, although we frequently ‘bunked’ these places, i.e. sneaked in without permission. Being well over six feet tall at age sixteen I could pass as an adult and, telling that little white lie, was allowed to obtain the required permits.

    Eventually, as with many childhood fads or hobbies, many of my friends gradually dropped out. By this stage I had also developed an interest in photography and, again encouraged by my father, owned a reasonably effective camera rather than the Kodak ‘Instamatic’ used by most of my fellow enthusiasts. By this time British Railways was rapidly disposing of its steam locomotives and collecting their numbers had become a bit pointless, you could never see them all which had been the original aim, and so taking photographs of what was disappearing seemed a sensible thing to do.

    Around this time I got a place at Nottingham University and, as bad luck would have it, this was an area where steam power had already been eliminated. Studies in Nottingham and a girlfriend back home took up most of my time and money. One day in 1968, the year steam locomotives were eliminated on British Railways, I was sat in the Social Science library at the university pondering a life without steam locomotives when I spotted a column of steam moving about in the distance. This puzzled me as it was unlikely that anything had strayed from the last stronghold in the North West. Studying an Ordnance Survey map that evening I guessed that the steam was coming from Clifton Colliery. I checked this out and sure enough they had a small steam locomotive. I knew from my GCE ‘O’ level Geography that there were lots of coal mines around Nottingham and therefore there might be other places with steam power. Further research discovered that there was actually a national society for those interested in industrial locomotives and that they published books recording every location and what could be found there. My studies took a downward turn and I was out and about, ironically photographing not the coalmining locations, few had steam power working by then, but the ironstone quarries in Lincolnshire, Rutland as was, and Northamptonshire.

    Descending from the colliery, a loaded train passes the mangled remains of a recent load that ran away on the steep gradient and derailed. (Steam in the British Coalfields, Amberley Publishing)

    Returning home to Liverpool once I graduated – with a very moderate degree – I found that the coal mines of Lancashire were still home to many steam locomotives as were those a little further afield in Cumbria. By the early 1970s my younger brother had also become something of an industrial steam nerd by this time, being handy for the last strongholds in North Wales, and so we went on expeditions together.

    Sadly even this means of satisfying our appetite was diminishing and in 1975 I made my first trip abroad to photograph steam locomotives in East Germany, Poland and, with my wife to be in tow, Spain and Portugal. By the end of the 1980s I had added, with several visits, India, China, South Africa, Turkey and Zimbabwe to the list, photographing both steam trains on the national lines of those countries but also industrial sites. When asked if I had seen the ‘Terracotta Army’ on a trip to China I had to answer ‘No but I did go to the steelworks at Anshan and the forestry line at Langxiang’ [where we taught the local workers how to play musical chairs at a social evening]!

    I had many adventures on these trips, some printable, some not! I also have a cupboard full of negatives and colour slides that I need to transfer into digital format before they fade away. So call me a nerd if you must but I have seen far more of the world than most and don’t regret it one bit. See my photos and judge for yourself!

    Mick Pope's new book Steam in the British Coalfields 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.

  • 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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