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  • 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 Stephenson’s, and a vocal champion of the ‘London Engine’ of Braithwaite and Ericsson.  The Stephenson’s (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 Stephenson’s 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 Stephenson’s 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 Stephenson’s 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 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 Southern Region in the 1970s and 1980s by Andy Gibbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

  • Midland Railway Stations by Allen Jackson

    The Midland Railway was a latecomer to London, so some statement as to power and wealth had to be made. November 2017. (Midland Railway Stations, Amberley Publishing)

    A Journey - Episode 1

    The starting point of the journey is the iconic and recently restored and extended St. Pancras station which sits cheek by jowl with the understated Kings Cross in an area of London that had a reputation for ‘ladies of the night’ in the nineteenth century but which has now expanded its late night seediness to include the peddling of class A drugs. London main line termini have usually attracted negative comment and Waterloo is often held up as a centre for the homeless and rough sleepers.

    St. Pancras though has a new sophistication with a champagne bar that seems a world away from the Burton’s brewery trains that used to enter Midland Railway St. Pancras underground as if the worker’s tipple should be not only not seen but not heard.

    Of course beer was not the only import from the Midlands and the bricks from which the station was built were brought there by train for the first time.

    The Eurostar terminal underlines this new up-market image and ordinary travellers are segregated from the supposed international elite by a glass security fence. This simply seems to echo the past in the 19th century provision of 1st, 2nd and 3rd class waiting rooms except that in modern times the concern is more to do with international terrorism than the class war.

    Leicester, Rutland, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and London. (Midland Railway Stations, Amberley Publishing)

    We start our journey on the poorer side of the tracks and soon head north through the London borough of Campden and the restored Roundhouse theatre which had been the Midland Railway’s Campden engine sheds bustling with Royal Scot and Jubilee locomotives to haul the crack steam expresses.

    Kentish Town with its large Irish population, founded from the people who built the Midland Railway into the capital also had a steam era engine shed mainly for freight locos. The area has acquired a new gentrification although described as ‘edgy’.

    Cricklewood is the next slice of the metropolis and there were the MR marshalling yards and engine sheds for the freight trains that kept part of London supplied with fuel in the shape of coal and pollution in the shape of smog. The coal trains ran day and night and seemingly ever larger engines would be produced to haul them from the LMS Beyer Garratt to the British Railways 9F 2-10-0 and the windcutter trains of the 1950s.

    Out past Hendon and Edgware and further north and into Hertfordshire now, but still in commuter land, the station of Elstree and Borehamwood is convenient for the film and television studios, a sort of Home Counties Hollywood. It has seen the likes of the original Stars Wars film and the current BBC TV success Strictly Come Dancing.

    North of Radlett station the line is crossed by the M25 motorway and this was the site of Radlett aerodrome and the Handley Page aircraft company who manufactured Cold War nuclear bombers in the shape of the crescent winged Victor of the V force.

    The city of St. Albans had connections with the rival London and North Western Railway, on the West Coast Main Line, it even named one of its Duchess Class Pacific locomotives after the place.

    But the city was also home to the MR at its City station where the former goods yard, where an LMS 4F freight engine shunting coal wagons could be found is now the station’s car park. The station is now part of the Thameslink network.

    To be continued next week via our Amberley Facebook page…..]

    Allen Jackson's new book Midland Railway Stations is available for purchase now.

  • Cornish Traction by Stephen Heginbotham

    Number 45059 (formerly D88) Royal Engineer stands at the blocks at Platform 2 in Penzance station after arrival with the Down Cornishman on Monday 21 February 1977. Penzance Station has changed little in the intervening years since this iconic picture was taken. But the type of traction regularly in use throughout Cornwall certainly has changed. (Cornish Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    Well, after nearly forty years of getting up at 04:50, or sometimes earlier, and arriving home at any time around midnight off a late shift or being called out in the middle of the night, I thought retirement might bring some rest and leisurely days, but alas dear reader, that appears to not be the case.  Compiling and writing a book of any size or layout, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, is not something that throws itself together overnight.

    However, when the subject is close to my heart and beliefs, the task at hand becomes so much easier.

    I have a lifelong interest in all things transport, including many years studying railway accidents and incidents that have led to the signalling systems and rules we use today.

    I have also been very fortunate to work in an industry which is both my hobby and my career, and for the most part it has been an absolute pleasure to go to work every day, even though that meant thirty-eight years of unsociable shifts, early starts and late finishes, though a quarter century of working in Cornwall and Devon as both Signalman and Supervisor was a privilege.

    I do feel though that changes in recent years within the industry have fragmented the ‘big family’ that was once BR.

    Born in an age of steam, I well remember the transition from steam to diesel and electric and was fortunate enough to see steam to its demise in August 1968, Stockport Edgeley (9B) being one of the very last steam sheds.  As a child I watched named trains, with named locos, thunder past my school, and at weekends or school holidays I watched the Woodhead Electrics at Reddish, the trolleybuses in Manchester, or Pacific’s on the West Coast or Crewe, making the journey there by either steam train or pre-war bus.

    Ironically, travel seemed easier in those distant days from our past, several decades ago. Aside from there being more trains to more locations, the lack of restriction of travelling alone in one’s younger days did not impinge on the more adventurous of us that struck out to locations that could only be dreamed of now by anyone of a similar age. I say ironically, because unlike today, with our modern communications, when one left home for an adventure in the 1960s, even as a twelve or thirteen-year-old, you had little chance of contacting your parents unless you used a public phone box, and assuming home actually possessed a telephone.

    An HST power car from set 253001 is connected up to the mains in Ponsandane Yard at Penzance during the HST crew training period in Cornwall. Friday 3 November 1978. Ironically, this livery has been reprised recently in a nostalgic nod to a train that helped save both BR and express services to and from the West Country. (Cornish Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    This collection of photographs depicts many of the traction types that were seen in their daily duties around the West Country during the 1970s and 1980s. Of course, at the time, they were common traction types and not thought of as anything unusual, but, like all things in everyday life, complacency creeps in and one just never thinks that this status quo of things is one day not going to be there. I can recall the same feelings about seeing Black-Fives, 8Fs, and WD locos in the 1960s, and just sitting waiting for a Jubilee, or Royal Scot, or Patriot, or Britannia, to name but a few. To be fair, when the ‘Peaks’ arrived along with the English Electrics (class 40) and names started to appear on some of them, they became nearly as exciting to ‘cop’ as a steamer. Of course, in those days, the names were as interesting as the locomotives, and the management of the time put a great deal of thought into the naming process. This generally still applied in the 1980s and it was only when privatisation got a grip did we start to see names that were both dubious and uninteresting, much like the monotonous and boring liveries that assault our senses daily.

    Whilst I accept that modernisation was desperately needed throughout the network, it has not happened everywhere and it is very much a post-code lottery of investment in technology and innovation, and many routes are still in the pre-BR era of rolling stock, signalling and infrastructure. At least the era covered by this book shows some variety of livery as opposed to BR corporate blue and the yet to come liveries of the private sector, but it is more about remembering the variety of traction still around in in the West Country during that period, and with it sometimes the audible cacophony accompaniment.

    People used to vilify BR, for its service, but having worked for BR, I can tell you that the service delivery shortfalls of BR pales into insignificance when compared to the abysmal service of the shambolic British railway we have today. In my day working as a Signalman and later as a Signalling Inspector and MOM, I can assure you that cancelling a train was a very last resort.  In general, the duty of all railway staff in those BR days was that the service will run if at all possible. It was considered a disservice to the public not to run a service and if a service was run late. Drivers and Signalmen in particular took pride in trying to get services back on time where possible.

    The photos in this book are not arranged in any particular order, so dates and locations are randomly arranged to try and keep the reader interested. David in particular, being a Cornishman, spent many days, weeks, months and years photographing trains within the Duchy.

    So, having said all that, here is my third book on Cornwall’s Railways.  After much tapping of keys, extensive research, photo preparation and hundreds of hours writing and compiling the book, I hope you find it enjoyable, and that there aren’t too many mistakes.

    Stephen Heginbotham's new book Cornish Traction is available for purchase now.

  • Bulleid Pacifics by Nigel Kendall

    My favourite Merchant Navy, No. 35008 Orient Line, rockets past the New Milton goods yard with the eastbound 'Bournemouth Belle' on 13 May 1966. I was travelling behind No. 35008 when it broke the record for fastest run between Southampton and Waterloo without exceeding the 85 mph speed limit. (Bulleid Pacifics, Amberley Publishing)

    Before my introduction to Bulleid Pacifics in 1960 my memory of an early growing interest in railways was when as a boy in New Zealand I would travel to school by train. I lived on the slopes of the Waitakere Hills, west of Auckland, and so the process of getting to my destination near the centre of the city tended to be a complicated affair.

    My daily commute started on a rickety old bike, which carried me the three miles downhill to New Lynn Station on an awful unsurfaced road, coasting practically all the way. Then, throwing the unfortunate machine onto the pile of other bikes in the station yard, I would dash onto the station platform and join my school mates as a big oil-burning ‘Ja’ 4-8-2 rolled into the station with the 8am school train.

    The homebound trip entailed a similar routine, except that my bike ride was an uphill slog that I always hated.

    So eight years later, having moved to England, the weekly journeying between southwest Hampshire and Waterloo behind Bulleid Pacifics seemed a natural progression from my daily travels behind NZ steam. But the biggest difference, of course, was that within the intervening years my interest in railways had turned into a strong passion for all steam locomotives, and it’s a passion that lives with me to this day.

    I was so lucky that my new home in New Milton, Hampshire, was just 5 minutes’ walk from the station, which served the Waterloo to Weymouth main line, mainly with its large stud of Bulleid Pacifics. Apart from being able to nip down to the station whenever I had a spare 15 minutes, it also meant I got to know the station staff very well. Bob and Len, the signalmen, were particularly useful when I started to use my camera, and gave me the freedom of the lineside within their vision provided I never ventured onto the actual track.

    Driver Alf Boston of Bournemouth waits for the guard's green flag at New Milton on 27 December 1964. Battle of Britain No. 34085 501 Squadron was a Bournemouth 'good'un' during the 1960s. It was frequently seen hauling the 'Pines Express' following re-routing in 1963. The loco was introduced in November 1948 and rebuilt in June 1960. It was withdrawn in September 1965. (Bulleid Pacifics, Amberley Publishing)

    On my frequent London trips I would often catch a local train from New Milton to Southampton and connect with the 7.30am from Bournemouth Central. It was a well-patronized service headed by the usual Merchant Navy and loaded to 12 coaches including a restaurant car. Apart from a stop at Winchester it was non-stop to Waterloo, timed to arrive at the tail end of the rush hour – not an easy task for the crew.

    With all this railway travelling to London it wasn’t long before I got quite familiar with the Merchant Navies, West Countries, and Battle of Britain’s shedded at either Eastleigh, Bournemouth or Weymouth. Names that spring to mind are ‘Orient Line’, ‘New Zealand Line’, ‘Royal Mail’, ‘Swanage’, ‘Lapford’, ‘Combe Martin’, ‘Ottery St Mary’, ‘Dorchester’, and ‘501 Squadron’ or ‘Fighter Command’ with its Giesl Ejector. I travelled behind most of these locos, and more.

    Bulleid didn’t worry too much about coal consumption – he just wanted locomotives that would do all that was asked of it, and more when necessary. This philosophy brought about arguably the finest locomotive boilers ever produced in Britain. The fact that in the final months of Southern steam theoretically run-down Pacifics were achieving some of the finest performances of their careers was ample testimony to the concepts Oliver Bulleid laid down at the start of his reign as the Southern CME during the Second World War.

    It therefore goes without saying that I arranged my 1967 summer holiday to coincide with the end of Southern Steam on 9 July. In the last fortnight l travelled on as many Bulleid Pacific-hauled trains as I could – the cost was enormous! But I would not have missed it for the world.

    Within a week of the withdrawal of Southern Steam I logged two of the best runs I have ever experienced. It has to be said that a degree of irresponsibility was displayed in the quest for a 'ton' in those final days, however, who am I to stand in the judgement on the passing of an era.

    Nigel Kendall's new book Bulleid Pacifics 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.

  • Anglo-Scottish Sleepers by David Meara

    The Northbound London-Fort William Sleeper approaching the Cruach Snowshed between Rannoch and Corrour stations on the morning of 7 January 2010, running an hour late due to iced points. (Norman McNab, Anglo-Scottish Sleepers, Amberley Publishing)

    Paul Theroux’s amusing quotation, from his book The Great Railway Bazaar, sums up the sense of anticipation that a long railway journey encourages. I remember very well that sense of excitement when as a twelve year old boy I boarded the Royal Highlander at Euston Station to travel north to Inverness at the beginning of our summer holidays. It is an excitement that I was keen to recapture when I began writing my book on the Anglo-Scottish sleeper trains about two years ago. I knew that Serco, the new operator of the Caledonian Sleeper, was committed to improving the service, and together with the Scottish Government were investing £100 million into an enhanced experience and brand new rolling stock, and it occurred to me that no attractive and accessible history of the sleeper service existed. Having spotted a gap in the market I decided to do some research and see what I could find.

     

     

    Sleeping cars waiting for their passengers on Platform 1 at Euston station. (Author's Collection, Anglo-Scottish Sleepers, Amberley Publishing)

    The National Railway Museum was my first port of call, as they hold a big archive of books, leaflets and posters, of all of which I made good use of. Much of the detailed history is to be found in specialist railway magazines and books on the rolling stock of the individual railway companies that existed before nationalisation. There are also a few preserved sleeper carriages, both at the National Railway Museum and elsewhere. I wanted to write a social, rather than a technical history, and the atmosphere and style of the heyday of sleeper travel is best captured in period photographs and the wonderful posters which the ‘Big Four’ companies commissioned, often from well-known artists, to advertise and promote their services. The National Railway Museum holds a comprehensive collection of railway posters, and thanks to the help of Philip I have made good use of these in my book.

    I also wanted to describe travelling on each of the Highland Sleeper routes, to Fort William, Inverness and Aberdeen. So I booked myself onto the sleeper and did a round trip, travelling north to Aberdeen, across by train to Inverness, and on by bus to Fort William, from where I took the southbound sleeper back to London Euston. There is nothing on our railway network quite like settling into the sleeper lounge car, with a glass of malt whisky beside you, haggis, neeps and tatties being prepared in the galley, and the glorious expanse of Rannoch Moor unfolding before you in the evening sunshine.

    The northbound London to Fort William Sleeper passing through the remote Gorton loop on 1 May 2015 at 8.28 a.m., pulled by a Class 67 locomotive, Cairn Gorm, in the new Serco Midnight Teal livery. (Norman McNab, Anglo-Scottish Sleepers, Amberley Publishing)

    But one element was missing, and that was a selection of stories from the many thousands of people who have used the sleeper over the years. Their experiences would bring a book like this to life as well as providing valuable insights into the experience of the sleeper operation.  Happily a letter to ‘The Times’ helped to solve that problem, and thanks to a friendly ‘Times’ columnist I was inundated with all kinds of stories and anecdotes, funny, saucy, romantic and peculiar, which brings the story of the Anglo-Scottish Sleeper service to life, and reveal the great affection people have for the service.  From being the exclusive preserve of the grouse shooting gentry it has evolved over the years into a wonderfully democratic community of travellers, from business people to backpackers, and just occasionally the sportsman off to his Highland estate to escape the rigours of City life. The lounge car remains the social centre of the train, and has been the setting for many convivial gatherings, late night conversations, even an impromptu ceilidh or two. Hopefully the impressive improvements which Serco are introducing will not spoil this special feeling of being both on a working train and on a journey with a real sense of occasion and excitement about it.

    David Meara's new book Anglo-Scottish Sleepers is available for purchase now.

  • East Anglian Traction by John Jackson

    Lowestoft has also enjoyed its fair share of locomotive-hauled passenger services in 2017. On 20 July, No. 68005 Defiant sits at the buffer stops having arrived with the 12.05 departure of Norwich. (East Anglian Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    My wife, Jenny, and I have been privileged to have travelled to many far-flung corners of the world. Yet it was Amberley Publishing who coaxed me to come out of copy writing ‘retirement’ to produce a range of railway titles on subjects much closer to home. Nothing could evoke stronger memories of my lifelong love affair with this country’s railways than writing ‘East Anglian Traction’.

    Although I was born and brought up in Northampton, it was the trips back to my parental roots that sparked this railway enthusiasm that was to last a lifetime. You see, both my parents, and several generations before them, came from a little corner of Essex, close to the Suffolk border.

    For many years our family made use of the long-closed station at Haverhill in order to return to our family roots. The railway line may have closed half a century ago but the memories of family outings around East Anglia by train will remain with me forever. Sadly, I did not possess a camera in those days – and, hence, have no photos of steam hauled passenger trains on the area’s branch lines. Despite the traction change from steam to diesel multiple units, the axe fell on this Stour Valley line in March 1967.

    The Freightliner stabling point at Ipswich still receives its fuel by rail. The tanks are worked to Ipswich from Lindsey on Humberside. On 5 October 2015, No. 66556 is seen shunting a short rake of fuel tanks at the stabling point. (East Anglian Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    It is ironic that it has taken half a century for the politicians and decision makers in this country to realise that there is a demand for connections that are east to west. Historically, those lines from north to south (i.e. to and from London) have seemed to be the priority. I say, bring on the East West Rail Link ASAP. This should see the reinstatement of direct services between our two major university cities of Cambridge and Oxford.

    Meanwhile, I have spent those intervening fifty years travelling the railway lines of East Anglia that have survived. What’s more, in recent years, my wife persuaded me to make sure that my camera is our constant companion. The photographic fruits of these extensive travels have been on display on the internet for many years now.

    That said, Amberley coaxing me to produce a modern record of East Anglian Traction has been one of my most enjoyable projects.

    At the opposite end of the traction spectrum can be found a small fleet of GA's one, two or three-car diesel multiple units. These can be found across the region's non-electrified lines. A typical East Anglian scene on 4 May 2014 sees a single-car unit, No. 153309, calling at Hoveton & Wroxham while working a Sheringham to Norwich local service. (East Anglian Traction, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

     

    You see, for me the region is an area of railway contrasts and setting foot on today’s platforms at many stations in East Anglia is like stepping back in time by a couple of generations. If those who run today’s railway are to be believed, much change is, however, in the offing. There is a promise by today’s passenger operator of the areas franchise that virtually all its rolling stock will be replaced in the next few years. We shall see.

    As I write this, the last remaining semaphore signals in the Yarmouth and Lowestoft areas are being replaced.

    Meantime, we have enjoyed our adventures in this lovely part of the world. Our aim was to compile a record of rail operations in the area in the second decade of the 21st century – before future changes are delivered and the railway we know today is consigned to history.

    It just remains for me to say thank you to Amberley for giving me the opportunity to once again re-visit my roots. I also hope that the reader gleans a sense of my enthusiasm and enjoys browsing the books pages.

    John Jackson's new book East Anglian Traction 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.

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