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  • A149 Landmarks by Edward Couzens-Lake

    An Alternative Road Trip

    Castle Rising Castle, Castle Rising. Twelfth-century medieval fortification once owned by Queen Isabella of France. (c. Nigel Nudds, A149 Landmarks, Amberley Publishing)

    The road trip.

    Romance on the road. You, your car, the open road. A discovery waiting to happen, revelations that lie over the crest of the next hill.

    Jack Kerouac wrote of his own road trip as he travelled across the United States from east to west by bus, car and, when the latter two options weren’t available, via his own well-worn feet.

    If only we souls that hunger for adventure and the opportunity to spend every day driving into the sunset had the time and money for such an extravagance.

    But you don’t have to cross the Atlantic in order to hit the open road and, in doing so, find yourself.

    There are plenty of options to do so in England.

    England is a nation rich in road history. There are journeys to be made here and tales to tell that can be done over a weekend and on a budget.

    You can be your very own Jack Kerouac.

    St Mary's Church, Snettisham. (c. Nigel Nudds, A149 Landmarks, Amberley Publishing)

    Take the Peddars Way in Norfolk for example. It’s a 46-mile-long remnant of an old Roman road that some have suggested was ancient even before their sandalled feet first marched along its route. Then there’s Watling Street, the name given to the route travelled by the ancient Britons between Canterbury and St Albans. Another timeless route is the Icknield Way which links Norfolk to Wiltshire, following, as it does, high ground that includes the chalk escarpment that makes up the Berkshire Downs and Chiltern Hills.

    The sacred journey is as part of us as the air we breathe and countless atoms that make up our curious and ever exploring bodies. We are never still, we can never tarry a while at a given point A when our very being demands that we then seek out points B, C, D and many more beyond that.

    We cannot stand still. To take a journey is in our nature; it is at the core of our very essence.

    There is a romance to travel and a romance for the open road. Walt Whitman wrote of how he would, “…inhale great draughts of space; the east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine” in his poem The Song Of The Open Road.

    He knew. He felt it.

    And so have I. Always.

     

     

    Old Hunstanton Lighthouse and Ruins of St Edmund's Shapel, Hunstanton. (c. Nigel Nudds, A149 Landmarks, Amberley Publishing)

    The open road that beguiled me from an early age is a sinuous one that winds its way along the North Norfolk coast from Kings Lynn to Great Yarmouth. It is only 85 miles long, yet, for me, is one full of magic and wonder; of history ancient and modern and, above all, one that always leaves you wanting just a little bit more. A memorable journey indeed, one that will forever tempt you to keep going, on and on, negotiating its narrow straits, admiring abundant pretty villages and numerous views just so you can carry on turning the page in order to see what comes next.

    To the people that have long lived in the area, it is referred to, simply, as ‘The coast road’ whilst, to the suits and bland planners of Highways, it is referred to as the A149.

    Fetch a map. Let your eyes rest upon the very top of Norfolk, that stretch of coast where, if you travel due north from any of its wide-open beaches, you won’t hit landfall again until the frigid shores of the Arctic appear on the horizon.

    A wintry blast of cold air in the Arctic and one encountered in Norfolk are pretty much the same thing.

    Atop that part of the coast, the A149 wends its not particularly hurried way from one end of the county to another. We’ll travel it in a west to east direction, starting in King’s Lynn, formally Bishop’s Lynn but given the greater and grander title after it was ceded to the King from Bishop and Church in 1537.

    Harbour, Brancaster Staithe. Popular harbour with the sailing fraternity that also sustains a local fishing industry. (c. Nigel Nudds, A149 Landmarks, Amberley Publishing)

    A port that was once a member of the Hanseatic League and comparable, in importance, to Hamburg, Stockholm and Danzig.

    Where can we call upon the way?

    How about an ancient castle that once saw Isabella, the ‘she-wolf’ of France live within its mighty keep. Or via the railway station that once regarded European royal families and heads of state as regular visitors. Failing that, how about the lonely beach where a timber circle, as significant and ancient as Stonehenge was recently exposed and explored or maybe the nondescript meadow that was once home to a Roman fort, one which gives, according to those who know, “unparalleled insights” into the lives of Roman communities in Britain.

    “Unparalleled insights”. And in a nation that boasts of fine Roman settlements towns and cities as London, Bath and Winchester.

    All to be found on this one stretch of road. And all within the first twenty miles or so of its journey.

    You want more?

    Pier, Cromer. Grade II listed seaside pier. (c. Simon Moston, A149 Landmarks, Amberley Publishing)

    A landmark that was bequeathed by the last great ice sheet to cover this country. A church whose mighty 180-foot tower collapsed as the result of some over zealous bell ringing. Another church whose construction was abandoned due to the demands ladelled upon stone masons in the seventeenth century and which wasn’t completed until some 300 years later.

    Or the village that gave its name to one of the most famous cloths in the world, a distant home to the very finest weavers of Flanders came to call their own.

    All of the above. And so much more. A journey that takes the curious traveller through times and places a ’plenty that have made their mark on national or even world history. And all compressed into 85 miles of highway, a journey of discovery that Kerouac would have been proud to make.

    You can’t yet wear its t-shirt. But you can at least read the book. Be like Whitman. Travel this road and make both its east and its west you own.

    Explore. And prepare for delights.

    Edward Couzens-Lake's book A149 Landmarks is available for purchase now.

  • East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century by Malcolm Batten

    FORTY YEARS LATER

    RTs at Barking garage in 1976. (Author's collection, East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1969, when I started photographing London buses, the AEC RT type double-decker was a major part of the fleet. First introduced in 1939, only 151 were built before manufacturing ceased in favour of military vehicles. Production restarted after the war and eventually 4,825 would be built, along with 1,631 of the similar looking Leyland RTL type and 500 RTWs – Leylands with 8ft wide bodies rather than 7ft 6in. Between them, these replaced the trams and all the pre-war and wartime buses. Withdrawals started with service cuts in 1958, and the Leylands had all gone by 1970, but there were still some 2,500 red RTs with London Transport in 1971. Nearly 500 green examples had passed to London Country Bus Services when that company was formed in 1970.  However, the last examples were withdrawn on 7 April 1979. Their final route was the 62, worked by Barking garage in east London.

     

     

    RTs lined up again at Barking garage 30.3.19. The nearest RT is one that has been repatriated from Canada. (Author's collection, East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century, Amberley Publishing)

    It seems fitting that having just completed the final part of my East London Buses trilogy East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century, we have just celebrated forty years since the end of these iconic buses – the predecessors of the equally famous Routemasters. On Saturday 30 March an Open Day was held at Barking garage, now owned by Stagecoach East London. Preserved RT types ran over the former 62 route and the erstwhile 23C to the (now demolished) Creekmouth Power Station. There were others on display at the garage and at the Go-Ahead London garage in River Road. Nearly fifty RT types were on display. Some of these had been exported to Canada for sightseeing work after withdrawal and have now been repatriated. At 4.00pm a parade, led by the prototype RT1 ran from Barking garage to the town centre and back. Some buses displayed the same last day blinds that were carried back in 1979.

    It was a fitting tribute to a class that served London so well and the Open Day was well patronised by enthusiasts and the general public. It was particularly poignant for me as I missed the last day forty years ago as I had to work on Saturdays in those days – retirement brings some benefits!

    Malcolm Batten's new book East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century is available for purchase now.

  • 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.

  • Bristol Traction by Hugh Llewelyn

    English Electric Class 37/6 No.37 685, later named Loch Arkaig, and No.37 676 Loch Rannoch of West Coast Railway Co. approach Abbey Wood on the Weston super Mare - Manchester Victoria ‘Holy Oakes’ on 26 March 2011. (Bristol Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    Growing up in South Wales, I first began to visit Bristol in the very early 60’s because family relations lived there. Later, as a teenager, I travelled ‘over the channel’ to open days at Bristol Bath Road diesel depot or simply to ‘trainspot’ at the end of the platforms of Bristol Temple Meads. Even then, with my very limited knowledge of railway architecture, Temple Meads did indeed strike me as a temple – far more impressive than Neath General, my local main line station! However, I never spotted any meads.

    I moved to Sussex and then London in the early 1970’s, but in 1976 my career resulted in a move to Bristol and I have lived in or around the city ever since. Fortunately near stations on the main line, namely Nailsea and Backwell, Stapleton Road and now Keynsham. Although a busy career and raising a family resulted in quite long periods where the chances to photograph trains were limited, nevertheless I took the opportunity to get out and follow my hobby when I could.

    Preserved but main line registered BR (Swindon) Class 52 ‘Western’ diesel-hydraulic No.D1015 Western Champion running as classmate No.D1005 Western Adventurer pulls away from Temple Meads in a typical cloud of Maybach smoke on the Bristol - Kingswear ‘Dartmouth Arrow’ on 30 August 2008. (Bristol Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    Although not presenting the huge choice of traction that London had, nonetheless Bristol offered a good variety of diesel locomotives and multiple units with, of course, the spectacular architecture of Temple Meads as a backdrop. My book is perhaps tilted towards photographs taken there, but in pursuing my hobby I had no thought that my pictures would ever appear in a book and often that was the most convenient place to visit.

    My earliest photographs in this book were taken with a Halina 35X Super (though it wasn’t very ‘super’) but eventually I graduated to various SLR’s and DLSR’s. What I have found most astonishing, however, is that a relatively inexpensive mobile phone can now take photographs of surprising quality and enables snatched photographs at times I do not have my DLSR with me. So there are even one or two photographs in this book taken with my phone – something that would have been unimaginable to me just a few years ago.

    When Cross Country refurbished their Class 43’s they chose the MTU engine and the Class 43/2 nomenclature. Approaching a public footpath crossing between Nailsea & Backwell and Yatton is Class 43/2 No.43 357 (formerly No.43 157 HMS Penzance and originally Yorkshire Evening Post) in Cross Country’s distinctive livery on a Plymouth-bound service, 18 April 2014. (Bristol Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    I moved to Bristol just too late for the diesel-hydraulic era but variety of ‘classic’ diesel-electrics there was aplenty – Class 20, 25, 33, 37, 45, 46, 47, 50 and 56 locomotives and various classes DMU’s. But the era of the HST soon dawned and displaced the Type 4’s on passenger duties whilst second generation DMU’s. Displaced not just the older DMU’s but the loco-hauled cross-country and local passenger services. Freights, on the other hand, fell to the last British-built diesel locomotives – the Class 60’s – and imported Class 59’s, 66’s and 70’s from North America and Class 68’s from Spain. Nonetheless, ‘classic’ diesel locomotives can still be seen on excursions and specials, most notably Class 47’s and the re-engined Class 57 version.

    The Class 159’s were built as BR Regional Railways Class 158’s but converted to the specification of Network South East for Waterloo – Exeter services, replacing coaches hauled by Class 50’s which were becoming increasingly unreliable and unsuited to the service. (Bristol Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    Now even the era of the HST is rapidly drawing to a close as the Hitachi Class 800’s are being introduced on more and more services. Although I mourned the loss of loco-hauled expresses to HST’s, now I am mourning the loss of the iconic HST’s to the sleek but rather bland Hitachi’s.

    My book illustrates this changing traction in Bristol and the former county of Avon over the decades and, unfortunately, the loss in variety that has resulted. Luckily, the Avon Valley Railway adds interest to the local scene and a few photographs of diesels on this heritage railway are included.

    Hugh Llewelyn's new book Bristol Traction is available for purchase now.

  • Locomotives of the Eastern United States by Christopher Esposito

    When I was asked to put together this book for Amberley, I knew it was going to be a challenge. After all, how does one comb through over 10,000 photos of trains and select the best images to present to readers? What lines to pick? What engine models?

    NS ES44DC 7716 leads 13R over the Potomac River as it crosses from Maryland into West Virginia on the H Line. Shepherdstown, WV. Taken on 26 October 2018. (Locomotives of the Eastern United States, Amberley Publishing)

    In this blog post, I’m going to give a behind-the-scenes look at how I arrived at the selection process for the images used in this book.

    The first thing I looked at was variety. Since the topic of the book is locomotives, I wanted to include as many different locomotive types as possible. With the monotony of modern diesel power in the form of EMD SD70 variants and GE GEVO models, this was no easy task. While I did not include EVERY type of engine currently in use, I feel the book presents a realistic look at what is currently used by the major railroads.

    The second criteria I used was scenery. The Eastern region of the United States can range from vast mountain regions around Pennsylvania and Virginia to virtually flat plains of red clay in the Carolinas. In my selections, I used shots I felt captured the flavor of each region:  the quaint countryside dotted with family farms in eastern Pennsylvania, the mountainous and gritty coal country of West Virginia, the dense and populated commuter towns in New Jersey, the urban setting of downtown Atlanta. It was key for me to not just show you, the reader an image of an EMD SD70ACe for instance, but to show it as part of the bigger picture. Too often, rail photographers will focus on the train and ignore the greater surrounding scenery.  By doing that, you tend to lose the feeling of the area in which you are shooting.

    Union Pacific GE AC44CW No. 6588 leads eastbound intermodal No. 234 through Waburn, VA on the ex-N&W main line as a light dusting of snow covers the ground. Taken on 13 March 2018. (Locomotives of the Eastern United States, Amberley Publishing)

    The third condition on my list was consistency. While I did make a few exceptions by including older photographs, I made a conscious decision to use only photographs taken with my current model of camera – the Nikon D4S. The quality of the image produced by the D4S really jumps out at you, and I wanted to use the best quality shots for this publication.

    My final point was to try and include an assortment of railroads that run on the east coast. Due to traffic density, line proximity and fitting in trackside time, the photos used in the book tend to favor the Norfolk Southern railroad. While the black and white scheme used on the NS diesels is nothing to write home about, I feel the settings in which the trains operate make up for the lack of color on the engines.

    I hope as you page through the photos in this book, it gives you a sense of not only the engines in use on today’s railroads, but also a glimpse into the regions of America these trains traverse and the industries they serve.

    Christopher Esposito's new book Locomotives of the Eastern United States is available for purchase now.

  • Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham by Roger Mason

    My recently-published book is not a technical study of the Chiltern Line from Marylebone Station in London to Snow Hill Station in Birmingham. It features thirty-eight fascinating buildings, monuments, historical sites etc that can be seen from the window of a train making the journey. Although the book is not long out some interesting things have since happened.

    Wembley Stadium. (Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham, Amberley Publishing)

    Wembley Stadium

    Wembley Stadium may be termed the jewel in the Football Association’s crown, and there have been advanced plans for it to be sold to Mr Shahid Khan who is the owner of Fulham Football Club. The proposed sale was strongly resisted by some and it was even termed scandalous. Partly due to the controversy and ill-feeling Mr Khan has withdrawn his offer.  The stadium will continue to be owned by the Football Association.

    The stadium has tightened its procedures on checking bags that are brought inside. All items carried by ticket holders and staff will be tightly checked and there may be personal wanding or pat down. Spectators will only be permitted to bring in one bag which must not be bigger than A4 size. Match day purchases will be supplied in sealed plastic bags. They may be brought into the stadium so long as the seal is not broken. The extra security measures are probably necessary but it is very sad.

    The state of Wembley’s pitch has been very heavily criticised in the late autumn of 2018. In fact it has been termed awful. The reason is that it has been over-used. There have been the usual England international football matches, and in addition Tottenham Hotspur have played all their home games there. This is because their new stadium at White Hart Lane is not ready and probably will not be ready before the end of the 2018/19 season. There have been three NFL American Football games in quick succession, and it has been the venue for Anthony Joshua’s successful world heavyweight title boxing defence against Alexander Povetkin. The groundsmen have had and are having a tough job.

    A red Kite. (Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham, Amberley Publishing)

    Red Kites

    Chapter 15 tells the story of these magnificent birds. They are large, having a length slightly more than two feet, and they frequently twist and turn in soaring flight. Their tails are deeply forked, which helps identify them. By 1879 there were none left in England and Scotland, but a handful clung on in mid Wales.

    A joint project by RSPB and English Nature (now Natural England) reintroduced them in several areas. The venture succeeded, especially in the Chilterns and breeding pairs have spread out from their places of introduction. A particularly good point to see them is close to the railway line mid way between High Wycombe and Princes Risborough. This is the position featured in the book.

    For obvious reasons it is not possible to count the birds, but when the book was written RSPB’s latest estimate for England was 1,860 breeding pairs, plus further juvenile and non-breeding ones. I suspect that this is an under-estimate. I recently drove past the area mentioned and I counted seven soaring overhead. I was on my way to watch Wycombe Wanderers play at Adams Park on the western edge of High Wycombe. There were two more red kites circling the stadium.

    Chapter 12 in the book is about High Wycombe and this includes something about Wycombe Wanderers and Adams Park. In case you are interested Wycombe beat Shrewsbury 3-2 and they have an outside chance of promotion from Division 1 into the Championship.

    Chesterton Windmill. (Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham, Amberley Publishing)

    Chesterton Windmill

    Had I been able to consult Jane Austen she might well have told me that it is a truth universally acknowledged that a book such as this must be in want of a good windmill.  Chesterton Windmill is a particularly fine example and it is located on a bleak hillside three miles short of Leamington Spa.

    During my visit I was puzzled to see that two bunches of flowers had been laid at the foot of the structure. They were fresh and wrapped in cellophane, but there were no cards or other indications of their purpose. They reminded me of the sad tributes sometimes laid at the scene of a fatal road accident. I reconciled myself to not ever knowing the reason why they were there.

    I now feel that I do know the reason and it is a very sad one. A friend who lives a few miles away told me that some years ago there was a murder and that the body was found a short distance from the windmill. It happened in the winter at about the time of year that I made my visit. This must surely be the explanation.

    Roger Mason's new book Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham is available for purchase now.

  • US Air Force Bases in the UK by Paul Bingley

    When it was suggested that I write a book about US Air Force bases in the UK, I jumped at the chance. After all, as the chairman of a museum dedicated to one base in particular, I knew I had a solid foundation on which to build. Shortly afterwards, though, I began to wonder if I had the tools for the job.

    The 'Stars and Stripes' are raised at RAF Burtonwood on 22 October 1943. (Author's collection, US Air Force Bases in the UK, Amberley Publishing)

    My first task was to determine exactly how many US Air Force (USAF) bases there had been. This was no easy task, especially considering that the USAF and its antecedents – the US Army Air Corps and US Army Air Forces – had been in the UK since 1942. After some time, I concluded that there had been approximately 186 airfields used by the Americans at one time or another. This was not counting those that were allocated to them by the British and never actually used (probably another 40 or so); nor their support and non-flying facilities, which numbered around 300. Even a lengthy USAF report compiled in 1985 failed to fully determine the actual number of wartime American installations in the UK. So how to write about such a huge, undefined subject with a limited word count? My foundations were looking decidedly weak.

    With so many disused bases around the country, it would have been easy just to list each one and give a brief description of its current condition. However, for a reader with scant knowledge of the story behind the USAF’s presence in the UK, it would have failed to answer two very important questions: why was a particular airfield given over to the Americans, and why was it built where it was?

    A Douglas C-54 Skymaster lifts off from RAF Prestwick loaded with wounded GIs bound for the US. (Author's collection, US Air Force Bases in the UK, Amberley Publishing)

    The most logical way of answering these questions was to build a chronological picture of airfield construction and use. Starting with the earliest American air force arrivals (but always bearing in mind those airfields that are still in use with today’s USAF), I began compiling a timeline of events running from January 1939 to the present day. Using this as the basis for a narrative, I then decided to ‘thread’ the story of present-day USAF facilities throughout, whilst highlighting other wartime airfields that had either continued to be used by the USAF post-war, or had particularly interesting back stories, i.e. emergency and advanced landing grounds, and those built by the Americans themselves.

    It must be said that my research was the easy part. Having a passion for a subject that I had a basic knowledge of meant that I knew roughly where to look. Putting it into words, however, was much more difficult. Using the timeline as my guide, I quickly realised that the restricted word count would mean that I could only focus on a limited number of bases. As a result, I decided to select 50 airfields and other facilities, including those still in use today. But this presented me with another challenge.

    The scale of RAF Burtonwood can be seen from this aerial image taken in August 1945. (Author's collection, US Air Force Bases in the UK, Amberley Publishing)

    Throughout the writing process, I was mindful of those who share my passion. Like me, many enthusiasts are devoted to particular airfields (in my case, the former RAF Ridgewell). I soon realised that by not touching on over 100 other American bases, I was risking the wrath of many in the airfield history community. Unfortunately, it was something that could not be helped, so I added a caveat to the preface and concentrated on the wider picture. Again, writing a limited number of words on such a sizeable subject was the most hindering aspect.

    Next, came the images. I already possessed a large collection of historical photographs, but I required some up-to-date shots of the bases as they are today. Thankfully, a very good friend and airfield aficionado came to the rescue. Richard E. Flagg has been on a mission to photograph airfields all over the UK. Moderator of various Facebook groups and content creator of the website, ukairfields.org.uk, Richard owns a fantastic library that he kindly gave me access to. The bulk of the images used in US Air Force Bases in the UK came through the lens of Richard.

    An F-15 Strike Eagle of the 48th FW ('Liberty Wing') outside its Hardened Aircraft Shelter at Lakenheath. (Richard E. Flagg, US Air Force Bases in the UK, Amberley Publishing)

    Finally, I began seeking a foreword written by someone highly regarded in the field of military history. I had given a small amount of assistance to the Battle of Britain historian, James Holland, for his most recent book, Big Week. To say I was overjoyed when he agreed to write my foreword is an understatement.

    Shortly after US Air Force Bases in the UK was released, I was invited to attend a book-signing event at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. This was a huge moment for me, having been a volunteer tour guide in its AirSpace gallery for over five years. To see my book on the gift shop’s shelf (rather appropriately, below James Holland’s Big Week) was certainly a proud moment. But to sign it for other enthusiasts was the most humbling experience. Needless to say, when someone asked me if ‘their’ airfield was included, I was greeted with a look of despondency when I announced that it wasn’t. I guess this is the life of a writer – risking reputations to help educate others. One thing’s for sure, though – I now know I have the tools to build on something special.

    Paul Bingley's new book US Air Force Bases in the UK is available for purchase now.

  • 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.

  • Railways of Wales in the 1960s by John Evans

    In 1966, a youthful visitor manages to hitch a ride on the Welshpool and Llnafair Railway’s neat little tank engine ‘Countess’’, which is still busy on the line today. (Author's collection, Railways of Wales in the 1960s, Amberley Publishing)

    A gap of just over sixty years separates my two visits to the delightful little Welshpool and Llanfair Railway. Today it is an important and successful tourist attraction; back in the 1960s it was a fledgling heritage railway short on money and equipment, but long on enthusiasm and ambition. Like many old lines, British Railways finally gave it the axe in the mid-1950s, mothballing the two little engines and allowing the route to succumb to nature.

    But as with so many old railways, especially narrow gauge lines in Wales, there always seems to be someone out there with a Grand Plan. In this case a group of volunteers gamely revived about half the line and it was in this pioneering state when I went for a ride. Compare that with today’s prosperous situation. There is a generous sized booking hall and bookshop (lots of Amberley books – ‘Would you sign some for us please?’). I duly obliged. The engines and coaches are immaculate. At the end of the line I chatted with the driver and showed him some pictures on my phone from my forthcoming book The Railways on Wales in the 1960s. He gazed at them, identifying some of the early personalities who had been at the forefront of getting things going again in the 1960s. When the book appeared a short while ago I was delighted to send him a copy – and the bookshop manager assured me it would be a regular stock item for the railway.

    The Talyllyn Railway’s terminus at Towyn in the early 1960s, a far cry from the much bigger and busier station of today. (c. Ron Fisher, Railways of Wales in the 1960s, Amberley Publishing)

    Going back to somewhere special after many years can be a mistake. It’s all too easy to rewind the clock with dewy eyes and overlook the negatives. In the case of the railways in Wales, they are different today, but just as good. Better actually, as they are mature and vibrant parts of the Welsh tourist industry. When I visited the Vale of Rheidol Railway in 1966 it was still run by British Railways. We drove there in my little cream Fiat 600. The crews did their best, but a clean engine was interpreted very differently on the Vale of Rheidol from enthusiast-operated lines like the Ffestiniog and Talyllyn. Today the Rheidol railway is also run by enthusiasts, and if a spot of oil appears somewhere on the engine, it is immediately wiped away to keep everything pristine. All this is wonderful for the average visitor, but dare I say I quite liked the old British Railways line with its driver in grubby overalls getting paid for doing an honest day’s endeavor.

    Getting ready for the day’s work on the Vale of Rheidol Railway in 1967. The engine is receiving the most superficial effort with the cleaning rag, but it ran beautifully. (Author's collection, Railways of Wales in the 1960s, Amberley Publishing)

    One of the pleasures of writing what I call ‘living history’ – putting a personal touch on events from years ago – is the letters and comments received about subjects being recalled. Of course it would be nice to have had some of these before the book was written! But you meet some wonderful people when researching your narrative. A young volunteer at the Ffestiniog Railway was peering at some pictures in my book and could hardly believe how ‘small and amateurish’ everything looked. Today the Ffestiniog is a big business, but – like other Welsh railways – it retains the intrinsic charm of the old days. In 1966, you could wander around workshops and possibly get a ride on the footplate if you asked nicely. These days, health and safety has reared its head and no doubt you would need a hard hat, training course and hi-vis jacket to do anything remotely like the escapades we got up to. But flicking through the pages of my book with an old friend who accompanied me on my railway adventures back in the 1960s was enough to prompt us into action. We’ve booked a cottage in Wales next summer and – now as a foursome – will relive our youth. Anyone know where I can rent a little Fiat?

    John Evans' new book Railways of Wales in the 1960s is available for purchase now.

  • Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint by Kevin Warrington

    For as far back in history as I can discover, my family’s heritage has had some connection with transport; originally with horses and for the last one hundred years, what is now usually called “The Motor Trade”. Even though my own career choice took me into the high tech realms of computers, I’ve always had an interest in motor vehicles that seems to have stalled with the models from my youth and which are now cherished classic cars. Passing my driving test in 1974 at the first attempt and almost the earliest opportunity, my choice of transport was limited to the banger end of the market, but my attention was quickly drawn to some of my more affluent friends who were running models produced by Triumph. This was to be the beginnings of an enthusiasm that has now lasted for over forty years.

    The front quater view of the 1300 shows the family resemblance with the larger 2000. (Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint, Amberley Publishing)

    With the aid of Hire Purchase, I stretched my apprentice’s wage to buy myself a slightly used Triumph 1300; somewhat more prestigious than the cars driven by my friends. Of course, I couldn’t afford it so the car stayed in my ownership for a very short period, but the seeds of enthusiasm for the products from Triumph were sown. Along the way, I have owned a couple of classic Triumphs from the 1970s and found myself editing club magazines which led to an approach from Amberley initially to create a book on the Triumph “big saloon” – the 2000 / 2500 (Triumph 2000 – Defining the Sporting Saloon). Clearly, Amberley were happy with the result as they were quickly back asking me for a further title. It would be a second Triumph model range and the one that had always fascinated me was the middle market 1300 which morphed into the Toledo and Dolomite, staying in production for far longer than the planners could ever have considered.

     

    With substantially more power, the Vitesse filled the market requirement for a quality two-door car, thus allowing the 1300 to focus on the four-door market. (Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint, Amberley Publishing)

    Triumph as a brand and company itself is a fascinating story of sequentially grasping success from the jaws of failure and clever engineering innovation developed on a shoestring. The first iteration of the company went out of business in 1939, was rescued by the Standard Motor Co. in 1945, it nearly went bust again at the beginning of the 1960s and was rescued by Leyland Motors who were later encouraged into a mega merger with BMC to create British Leyland. And we all know how that ended.

    But the 1300 was a success story that deserves to be told. Taking a different approach to the mechanical layout for front wheel drive as defined by Alec Issigonis with his Mini and 1100 designs for Austin and Morris, Triumph employed the leading Italian stylist Giovanni Michelotti for the overall design of the car which resulted in an attractive package that sold at a premium in the market for medium sized family cars. A larger engined model was soon offered and then something most unusual happened. With the market heading towards front wheel drive, Triumph converted their car to rear wheel drive with the launch of the Toledo model.

    The convertible option was always popular. (Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint, Amberley Publishing)

    In parallel, development work was taking place on a new range of engines to power Triumph models into the future. One of these was a modular four-cylinder engine that was, in essence, half of the engine that provided power for Triumph’s flagship model, the Stag. This engine was first used by Triumph in a revision of the 1300 / Toledo model range that was launched with a model name that was borrowed from Triumph’s heyday in the 1930s – Dolomite. In the background, the business was in turmoil following the British Leyland formation with Triumph managers being moved to the volume Austin – Morris division and senior staff from the former rival Rover Company taking control at Triumph. The designers knew that the new engine had the capability to develop more power and investigated ways in which to achieve this. Multiple inlet and exhaust valves had been used by other car makers to extract more power, but such installations were expensive to implement and in the case of the Triumph engine would have required extensive redesign. Instead, an ingenious solution was adopted by Triumph in the engine that would power the famed Dolomite “Sprint” model and an explanation of how this was achieved is contained in the book.

    With the model range having now long exceeded its original design life, some commentators thought the car was looking decidedly old fashioned but it continued to sell in volumes acceptable to the management. Despite a series of aborted attempts, there was no funding to provide a replacement model with the Dolomite range soldiering on to remain as one of the last Triumph designed models to be built.

    The first 2000 Dolomite Sprint cars were finished in Mimosa Yellow, a colour more usually associated with Triumph's sports car range. (Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint, Amberley Publishing)

    Triumph as a brand name suggests sporting success and while one might normally consider the more overtly sporting models such as the TR or Spitfire to take the honours in this arena, the original 1300 had great success, although only for a short time, in the new sport of Rallycross but it was the Dolomite that was to gain sporting honours for Triumph both in rallying and saloon car racing.

    Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint tells the whole story from a brief background on the origin of the business, the route from rescue in 1945 to the introduction of the 1300 model and the full story of the evolution into the final “Dolly Sprint” models. Lightly interwoven within the model evolution is the inevitable business politics that help to understand with hindsight the issues that confronted the British car industry during the 60s and 70s. We look at the abandoned plans to replace the model and conclude with a section on the success of the cars in motor sport. Each model type is illustrated with photographs of cars on display at various shows across the country and interspersed with reproductions of Triumph’s original press and marketing material, the motor sport section also includes a selection of images from the collection of former Triumph works driver, Brian Culcheth.

    Kevin Warrington's new book Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint is available for purchase now.

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