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  • The Merlin EH(AW) 101 by Rich Pittman

    A pre-production EH101 at an early stage of assembly. (Photo: Leonardo Helicopters, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    Yeovil’s Helicopter Town - If Westland sneezes, Yeovil catches a cold!

    If you live In Yeovil Today your lifestyle is never very far away from helicopters and aircraft, with Westland now part of the Leonardo Company, being the local largest employer. A close family bond with aviation in the town that now extends over 100 years with aircraft manufacturing starting in 1915.

    Where it all started

    The Westland aircraft works were built during the First World War due to the need for naval aircraft. The first aircraft to be built, a Short 184 seaplane, left in early January 1916 by horse and cart. The fourth production aircraft built at Westland, took part in the Battle of Jutland. It was piloted by Frederick Rutland from Weymouth ‘Rutland of Jutland’ and the aircraft successfully reported by radio the movements of the German Fleet.

    Over 6000 fixed wing aircraft were built at Yeovil between 1915 and 1955. With the end of the 2nd World war, the large aircraft industry would have to adapt to peacetime needs. The board of Westland aircraft decided that the future would be with a totally different form of flying machine, the helicopter.

    A busy flight shed, filled with pre-production and future EH101s for the Royal Navy. (Photo: Leonardo Helicopters, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    Several Westland aircraft including the Westland Wapiti in 1927, Westland Dragonfly in 1948, Westland Whirlwind in 1952, Westland Scout in 1960, Westland Sea King in 1969, Westland Lynx in 1971 and the EH (AW) 101 Merlin in 1987 have been built in Yeovil.

    The last few Decades

    During the mid-1980s Westland went through a decline in production. The company needed a partner to help sustain it, until new products could be brought online. At the same time the company was making considerable investment in composite blade technology and design of a replacement for the Sea King.

    Westland entered an agreement with the Italian firm Agusta, collaborating in the design, development and production of a new large helicopter. The two companies amalgamated forming EH Industries, specifically to produce the EH101, a multi-role helicopter designed to meet naval, military utility and civil requirements.

    A view from above. A Merlin HM.2 during an Air2Air photo flight. (Photo: Ian Harding, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    In recent years the Yeovil Westland site has expanded its involvement in commercial helicopter programmes, in particular with the AW Family of new generation helicopters, which comprise the AW139, AW169 and AW189. The AW189 is the first civil aircraft to be built in Yeovil since the mid-1980s, whilst rotor blades and transmission systems are also manufactured for all three members of the AW Family of helicopters in Yeovil.

    The EH (AW) 101 Merlin

    The threat of an attack by Soviet missile submarines was judged as a serious threat during the 1970s and 1980s. During 1977, the UK Ministry of Defence issued a requirement for a new type of helicopter to be developed to counter the issue. Initially the Westland WG-34 was proposed to be the replacement for the WS-61 Sea King. It was planned to be a three engine helicopter of similar proportions to the Sea King, but the WG-34 was to feature more space in the cabin and have a greater range than its predecessor.

    At the same time, the Italian Navy was also considering a successor for its fleet of SH-3D Sea Kings, which had been manufactured by the Italian company Agusta. Westland and Agusta entered into talks regarding a joint development of a future helicopter.

    G-17-510, in US101 markings, flies over Yeovil. (Photo: Leonardo Helicopters, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    After the companies finalised the agreement to work on the project together, a jointly owned company, EH Industries Limited (EHI), was formed for the development and marketing of a new helicopter to potential customers. The EHI-01 emerged as the collaborated design, but a clerical error in retyping hand written notes during early draft stages, renamed the helicopter by accident to EH-101 and the name stood.

    On the 12th of June 1981, the UK government confirmed its participation in the project and initially allocated £20 million for the development of the program. In 1984 a key agreement followed, which was signed by the British and Italian governments. This secured funding the majority of the EH101's development.

    An international marketing survey highlighted a requirement for a 30 seat helicopter. Following the early concept as a naval replacement anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft, EHI decided to develop the EH-101 into a multirole platform. As a medium-lift helicopter, the aircraft would be able to meet the demands of utility, government and civilian corporations of the 1990's. An initial 9 pre-production (PP) models were produced to demonstrate these potential configurations to the worldwide market.

    Originally part of a larger order for VVIP replacements in Indonesia, it is unclear what internal configuration was fitter to this AW101 at delivery. 17 January 2017. (The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    The AW101 today combines the most advanced technologies, safety by design, mission systems and leading-edge manufacturing to provide a proven platform for long-range Search and Rescue (SAR) operations in certain countries. With a typical range of 750 nm (over 1,300 km) in standard configuration, the AW101 is the most capable SAR helicopter in the world today. Other roles include transportation for Heads of State and VVIP operators; Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR); Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO); Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW); Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC); Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM); troop transport; utility support, CASEVAC/MEDEVAC; and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR).

    My Father started working at Westland in 1980. This brought my family to Yeovil and why I have an interest in aviation and particularly the AW101. It has been fascinating to see the Merlin’s progression from pre production testing right through to today's exports to many foreign Nations.

    The Westland facility with all the sub departments along with the nearby RNAS Yeovilton keep the Town and surrounding area thriving.

    The Merlin EH (AW)101  From Design to Front Line book has been written to look back and celebrate some of the Merlin's history over the last 30 Years.

    Rich Pittman's new book The Merlin EH(AW) 101: From Design to Front Line is available for purchase now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    9781445661889

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

  • The Woodhead Route by Anthony Dawson

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

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

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

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

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

    9781445663944

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

  • The Sixties Railway by Greg Morse

    For the public at large, ‘the Sixties’ were all about the pill, Profumo, the Beatles, the Summer of Love, student unrest, LSD and Vietnam. Though the railway was an inherent part of that society, its own list would probably include Beeching, line closures, electrification, modernisation, Inter-City and the end of steam.

    The Sixties Railway 1 Delivered to BR in 1959 and put into service on the Western and London Midland Regions over the next two years, the Blue Pullmans - though luxurious and beautiful - were also prone to poor riding at speed. (The Sixties Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    These are the markers of history, and The Sixties Railway takes a look at them all. But what was it actually like to be a passenger back then? Maybe you’d be a commuter, squeezed into a fusty carriage, bumping over the points into Liverpool Street. Maybe you’d find yourself travelling from Paddington to Bristol on the beautiful Blue Pullman, enjoying bacon and eggs as Berks became Wilts. Imagine instead catching a train from London to Glasgow. It’s a crisp January morning in 1960 and you step out of a black cab onto the cold surface of Drummond Street. You walk beneath the Doric Arch, so beloved of John Betjeman, cross the courtyard and enter the cathedral-like Great Hall. The place is packed, but once you made your way to the platforms, a smoky gloominess falls like a pall.

    On the platform, young boys note the numbers of the great locomotives – the ‘Coronations’, the ‘Scots’, the ‘Princess Royals’. You board your maroon Mark I, and make your way down the corridor, hoping for an empty compartment. Your luck’s in – at least for now – and you settle yourself, dropping the blind, turning up the heat, opening the toplight a touch. You feel warm and comfortable as you sit back in the soft, inviting upholstery.

    Departure time comes and you hear the guard’s whistle blow. The engine breathes low and the climb up Camden Bank begins...

    The Sixties Railway 2 Modernisation could mean destruction. From some, this was typified by the demolition of the Doric Arch at Euston from the end of 1961. (The Sixties Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Within two years, the Doric Arch had been demolished; within ten steam had gone from Euston – from everywhere – and electrification meant you could travel in smooth, sleek silence from the capital to Manchester and the north-west.

    To some – like John Betjeman – the new Euston that went with the New Railway was a cold place that seemed to ignore passengers. To others – like BR itself – it was the flagship station on a flagship modern main line.

    Pulling up in a cab in 1969, you’d find yourself below ground, seeking the escalators to raise you from the exhaust fumes of the basement to the bright, airy concourse above. Your next stop is the shiny Travel Centre for a ticket, after which you glance up at the huge departures board, before heading for the Sprig Buffet. Sitting at a table, you sip at a coffee, light up another Embassy and meditate on the sculpture of Britannia that used to be in the old Great Hall. Does it make you sad? Or do you think she looks more at home here against the rich green felt?

    On the platform, boys still survey the scene, though the older ones recall the majesty of steam and can’t feel impressed by the rhythmless electrics that now hold court.

    You show your ticket and head down the concrete slope to the platform. Stepping into open-plan comfort, you find a window seat and settle down to your newspaper.

    Departure time comes and you hear the guard’s whistle blow. The locomotive wails into life and the train sails up Camden Bank. It feels like flying...

    9781445665764

    Greg Morse's new book The Sixties Railway is available for purchase now.

  • The National Bus Company by Stephen Dowle

    The National Bus Company (14) Eastern National's no. 3019 (SMS 45H), new to Alexander Midland and registered in far-off Stirling, was snapped in Chelmsford on Tuesday 15 March 1977. (c. The National Bus Company, Amberley Publishing)

    The modern bus industry is, to me, a foreign country where they do things differently. 'What on earth must it be like now?' is a question that occurs to me often as, dodging Big Issue sellers and drifting, inattentive pedestrians absorbed with their mobile phones, I observe the outlandish vehicles of today's bus operators, whose names are mostly unfamiliar to me. The vehicles themselves seem to look and sound all alike and their poor drivers, sitting in high-vis jackets behind vast expanses of windscreen glass, have a hangdog look.  I would guess that there is little of 'job satisfaction' to be had.

    The National Bus Company (133) In standard poppy red, but with mudguards in what appears to be Western Welsh's pre-NBC colour, that company's no. H1563 (904 DBO) waits at its stand in Cardiff bus station on Riday 7 January 1977. (c. The National Bus Company, Amberley Publishing)

    The modern set-up really dates from 1986, when the state-owned part of the bus industry was dismantled, deregulated and sold piecemeal into private ownership. With hindsight one can see that preparations were being made from about 1980 onwards. My knowledge of the industry is out of date but good of its period, and that watershed year of 1980 fell at precisely the mid-way point of my twenty-year stint 'on the buses' – the first six as a conductor and the remainder as a driver. Until that date, although certain innovations – notably one-man operation – had crept in, the industry was still grounded in methods that could be traced back to the very earliest years of the motor-bus. Afterwards everything changed.

    The National Bus Company (170) Standing on the setts on Saturday 14 October 1978 was Devon General's no. 1337 (JFJ 502N), a 1975 Bristol LH with Plaxton 7-foot, 6-inch body, made for sunken lanes and tours of Dartmoor. (c. The National Bus Company, Amberley Publishing)

    The National Bus Company had come into existence on 1st January 1969. It had a complicated gestation, but was essentially a merger of the Tilling and British Electric Traction groups under the Labour government of Harold Wilson and its Minister of Transport, the auburn-haired she-devil Barbara Castle. Early on there was a certain amount of 'rationalisation' and territorial redistribution as some of the lesser companies were merged and anomalous small subsidiaries were absorbed by their larger neighbours. The old company identities had disappeared as a standard livery, in its red or green variants, with a new lettering style and staff uniform had been established in the interest of 'corporate identity'. My book The National Bus Company: The Middle Years looks at the settled period that followed and takes us up to the eve of the great upheavals that followed in the first half of the eighties. These, the mature years of the NBC, afford us a poignant backwards glance at the 'old days' of the industry, or at least the state-owned part of it, when there was still a substantial amount of two-man 'crew' operation and alongside new, standardised, types – notably the Leyland National – older buses of Tilling and BET provenance were still a familiar sight. Viewed from the present day, through the wrong end of a telescope, it seems a golden age of variety and interest.

    The former Tilling fleets were overwhelmingly of Bristol-ECW manufacture; BET, largely the legatee of tram and trolleybus operators in the more urbanised parts of the country, had more varied fleets dominated by Leyland and AEC chassis. There was a score of body builders from which to choose, and operators often felt bound by a duty to patronise the local firm. The innumerable permutations of chassis, body, engine and company spec made the study of buses endlessly fascinating. Almost all these home-grown builders have disappeared in the years since and with them much of the appeal of the subject. I hope the book will provide an enjoyable nostalgia fix to those who remember the period and give younger readers a savour of that most tantalising era, the one that immediately preceded your own.

    9781445664842

    Stephen Dowle's new book The National Bus Company: The Middle Years is available for purchase now.

  • SMJ Railway by John Evans

    To call the dear old SMJ railway ‘enigmatic’ would be rather excelling its virtues. It was created in 1908 from a jumble of lines that linked Olney, a small market town in Buckinghamshire, with Stratford-upon-Avon, a total length of just 79 miles. Its full name was the Stratford-upon-Avon and Midland Junction Railway, a word you’ll notice, for every ten miles of its track. To say it ran from nowhere to nowhere might be stretching things a little, but you can get the measure of the operation by knowing that one of the components of this amalgamation in 1908 was called the Northampton and Banbury Junction Railway, whose rails somehow failed to reach either of these towns. Ambitiously, much of the SMJ was engineered for double track, but the huge twin-arched bridges were destined to see just one line, and a rather rusty one at that, pass beneath them.

    Last Rites 1 The huge bridge built to carry the M1 motorway over the SMJ near Roade. It was a waste of money as trains never ran beneath it. 29 April 1966. (c. Last Rites: From the Track to the Scrapyard, Amberley Publishing)

    Primarily it was built as part of a series of lines to transport high quality iron ore from the East Midlands to South Wales for smelting. But it was only ever a bit player in this business and the line’s historian, J.M. Dunn, once described the SMJ as a ‘poor and struggling railway' with ‘an unprosperous history.’ He added, with a nice turn of phrase, that it was a case of ‘the survival of the unfit.’

    To locals, it was known as the ‘Slow and Muddle Junction’ and regarded with some affection. After it became part of the mighty London Midland and Scottish Railway in 1923, things carried on as normal. One coach trains rumbled through delightful countryside with a handful of passengers. But the line was much more important for freight, some of them using the route to make a rather circuitous journey from Bristol to London. Of course, it couldn’t last. When British Railways was created as a new nationalised industry in 1948, someone clearly found a piece of paper at the bottom of a filing cabinet saying a bizarre little network of lines through Northamptonshire and Warwickshire existed, and decided to take a look.

    Last Rites 2 Blisworth SMJ station on 5 April 1966, with some very nice looking Northamptonshire ironstone from Blisworth quarry awaiting movement. (c. Last Rites: From the Track to the Scrapyard, Amberley Publishing)

    No doubt he was impressed by the relaxed way of life on the line (trains sometimes stopped so the engine crew could shoot rabbits to take home for dinner); but the fact that there were hardly any passengers may not have been quite so comforting. In 1951 and 1952 all passenger trains were withdrawn, years before Dr Beeching wielded his axe. This could have been the beginning of the end, but it was then agreed to divert some heavy freight trains along the western section of the route, and the SMJ enjoyed something of an Indian summer. Alas, it was not to last. The freight trains were sent elsewhere, the little ironstone quarries that provided business for the route closed and by the end of the sixties, the SMJ was but a fast-fading memory.

    Today you see its scar across the countryside, but as bridges are removed, farmers get to work ploughing and towns and villages undergo development the trail of the SMJ is looking very thin indeed. Just old goods shed here and there – an odd bridge appearing to stand in a field and some neat little houses in Blisworth labelled ‘SMJ’ (built for local employees) are among the more significant remains.

    Last Rites 3 Kineton Ministry of Defence depot on 23 June 1966, scene of our arrest while walking the SMJ. Who said being a railway enthusiast was boring? A small mishap is being cleared up. (c. Last Rites: From the Track to the Scrapyard, Amberley Publishing)

    Its memory is treasured, however, in lots of ways. For a start there is a society devoted to it. There are also lots of photographs. A friend, Bryan Jeyes, and myself, added to the stock of pictures in the mid-1960s when we walked the whole of the route, taking colour photos. (We also managed to get arrested at Kineton Ministry of Defence camp, which backs on to the railway, a story related in my Amberley book, Last Rites).  But apart from this bit of fun, we can proudly claim to be the last people to travel over the whole of the SMJ, even if it was on foot and not as the line’s founders intended.

    Much more exciting is the news that Towcester Museum, situated in a Northamptonshire town that was a major junction on the route, is to hold an exhibition for six months starting in late August. They have gathered together old signs, artefacts, photos, memorabilia and other reminders of the line, to mark 150 years since the first section, from Blisworth to Towcester, opened. There are many new folk living in the town whom will no doubt discover for the first time that their community once boasted a rather impressive railway station, right where Tesco now have a supermarket.

    To those of us who are old enough to recall the SMJ in action, the most significant – and apposite – survivor is the old station at Stoke Bruerne. True to form, this is nowhere near the village it purported to serve. It was opened in December 1892, one of two massively-built stations on the section from Towcester to Olney. Business wasn’t good, however, and just four months later the passenger service was withdrawn, never to be restored. Some trains had no passengers at all.

    Still, it has made a very fine house for many years and no doubt will continue to do so.

    9781445655024 9781445654980

    John Evans books Workhorses of the Big Four and Last Rites: From the Track to the Scrapyard and available for purchase now.

  • Pirates: Truth and Tale by Helen Hollick

    Pirates. The word conjures a promise of exciting adventure, Caribbean islands, hot sun, blue sea, the Jolly Roger flag, a parrot or two, chests of treasure and a chap with a wooden leg, a patch over one eye and a gold hoop in his ear. Go on, admit it, you were tempted to utter a resounding ‘Arrr!’ weren’t you?

    The truth is, the pirates of the Golden Age, the early 1700s, were very far from our romantic Hollywood image. The truth of piracy is very far from the fictional tales.

    Pirates B) canstockphoto3695931 The common perception of a pirate. (c. jgroup, Pirates: Truth and Tale, Amberley Publishing)

    When Amberley approached me to write a book about pirates I was initially inclined to say no. There are dozens of books and internet blogs about pirates. What could I write that was different? Then I had an idea. I could look at pirates from the factual and the fictional side. I knew many facts because I write my own fictional series about a pirate, written for adults with a lot of swashbuckling adventure and a touch of fantasy (think Pirates of the Caribbean, Hornblower, Sharpe, James Bond and Indiana Jones all rolled into one). Would it be fun to explore these two different angles, using known characters such as Blackbeard, Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny alongside Errol Flynn, Jack Sparrow and Captain Hook, as well as my own creation of Captain Jesamiah Acorne?

    As a writer, once the idea had been conceived I just had to follow it through. The result is Pirates: Truth and Tales.

    Pirates were sea-based robbers, terrorists of the seas. Unkempt, untrustworthy rogues, with most of them ending up on the gallows. Most were originally sailors, either merchant seamen or Royal Navy. Some became pirates because other pirates attacked their ships and forced their victims to join them – especially those with a skill such as carpentry, navigation or best of all, medical knowledge. A surgeon was an enormous prize. Others turned to piracy out of desperation to survive, a wish to get rich quick, or because of plain boredom. One pirate, however, bought a ship, gathered a crew and went off ‘On the Account’ for no other reason than to escape his nagging wife. His name was Stede Bonnet, and he ended up dancing the hempen jig on the gallows. Divorce would have been easier.

    The word pirate comes from the Greek verb, peiran, which means to attack. In Ancient Greek culture pirates were looked upon as heroes, on a par with warriors. By Roman times they were less tolerated, and come the 15-1600s were either encouraged or loathed depending which country you were from and which war was being fought at the time.

    Pirates Map-Sea-Witch3-finalPrivateering was nothing more than legal piracy, but government and monarch sponsored. It all started with Sir Francis Drake and the war between England and Spain. There was nothing wrong, so thought Elizabeth I, with plundering Spanish ships. By the mid-to-late 1600s doing so was actively encouraged because Spain was still the enemy and Spanish galleons were carrying vast amounts of treasure from the Americas back home to Cádiz. That is, if they were not intercepted by the likes of Captain Henry Morgan (he of the rum-brand fame). But when a treaty of peace was signed, vessels were left to rot while sailors kicked their heels in various ports with nothing to do except drink and find ‘entertainment’ with the ladies.

    And then a Spanish treasure fleet was destroyed by a hurricane. At least eleven ships went down just off the coast of Florida, hundreds of men were drowned and the Spanish had a mad scramble to salvage what they could. As did dozens of others who realised there were easy pickings to be found in the shallows. The 1700s equivalent of a lottery win.

     

    Pirates ship A pirate's most important asset: his ship. The Lady Washington, better known as HMS Interceptor in the movie Pirates of the Carriddean: Curse of the Black Pearl. (c. Ifistand, Pirates: Truth and Tale, Amberley Publishing)

    The Caribbean trade routes were just starting to flourish. Tobacco, sugar cane and its by-product of rum had to be shipped from the American colonies to England. With little to no defence the ships were easy prey. By 1717 the rich merchants back in England were beginning to feel the pinch, and piracy had to be stopped. The law cracked down, all pirates were to be hanged if caught, and Woodes Rogers, a noted privateer in his own right was sent to be Governor of the Bahamas, based in the pirate haven of Nassau. Using his wits he offered a King’s Amnesty, which most pirates took, and adhered to. Those who did not, Charles Vane, Edward Teach (Blackbeard), Jack Rackham, Edward Low and a few other notables, thumbed their noses and returned to the sea. By 1720 they, and most of the well-known ones, were dead.

    The movies, TV shows, fiction, all depict pirates as heroes, charmers with a touch of redeemable rogue about them. Handsome eye-candy usually with an eye to a wench with a well-endowed chest rather than to a chest of gold. Remember Pugwash, the bumbling cartoon character of children’s TV? What of Hook in Peter Pan, a pirate indeed, but a gentleman character who went to Eton and spoke of ‘good form’. Then there’s Jack Sparrow – oh we all fell for Johnny Depp’s inspired character didn’t we? Although only the first movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl was good; two, three and four in the series were not. I await to make an opinion on the fifth, due out this summer 2017.

    The adventurous tales of derring-do far outweigh the truth. Frenchman’s Creek, Treasure Island, my own Sea Witch Voyages are popular entertainment reading. The romantic idyll of life at sea, a cool breeze blowing in the rigging, the crack of sails, the gurgle of the sea rushing past the hull – the occasional firing of a couple of cannons or making some innocent walk the plank all adds to the adventure. Would we be so keen, though, with the reality of weevil-ridden rancid food, scummy green drinking water, no medicines or medical supplies, no sanitation, no clean clothes – no clean bodies, and the daily threat of the noose to end it all?

    No thanks, I’ll stick with my Jesamiah Acorne and that Sparrer’ feller if you don’t mind! (for more information check out my author community page for my social media links.)

    9781445652153

    Helen Hollick's new book Pirates: Truth and Tale is available for purchase now.

  • Class 55 Deltics by Colin Alexander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    9781445656953

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

     

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

     

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

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

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

    9781445662305

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

  • Film and Television Star Cars - The Latest Additions by Paul Brent Adams

    No one I have ever met seems to have any idea what a Star Car is, but as soon as you mention the James Bond Aston Martin or the Batmobile, no further explanation is needed. It is any vehicle, not just a car, used in a film or television programme. The term has been around since at least the 1980s - I first recall seeing it used by Mat Irvine in the pages of the British modelling magazine Scale Models. It has also been used in the titles of several books devoted to the actual screen vehicles.

    Film and Television Star Cars 1 Corgi Junior Lotus Esprit submarine car from the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, released in 1977. The wheels are hidden in the base.

    I began collecting these models in the 1990s. Apart from a book by Dave Worrall in 1996, which covered only the Corgi James Bond range, I think this is the first book ever devoted entirely to collecting model Star Cars, although diecasts have featured heavily in a number of books on film and TV toys, or on characters such as Batman. It is amazing that it is still possible to find a subject that has not been covered before. As it appeared no one else was going to write a book on Star Cars, I decided it was up to me. Between finishing the book, and publication in November 2016, I have added several more models to my collection, a mixture of older models bought at various fairs for collectors; and current models bought in retail shops, and a local supermarket while doing my grocery shopping. To show just how affordable this hobby can be, none of the models shown here cost more than $10 New Zealand, less than £5. At the opposite extreme, it is possible to spend hundreds of dollars or pounds on a single model.

    The James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) featured probably the second most famous of all Bond cars, the Lotus Esprit which converts into a submarine.  Corgi did a large version, with pop-out fins and missiles, which was included in Star Cars. This is the smaller Juniors version. It does not have any special features, and the fins are fixed in place. Like the larger version, it runs on concealed wheels. The 007 and gun logo on the nose did not actually appear on the movie car; after all, James Bond is a secret agent.  This slightly play-worn example was picked up at a collectors fair for $10.

    Film and Television Star Cars 2 From a small range of Flintstones models, the Corgi Junior model of Wilma's Coupe, released in 1983, with Wilma Flintstone at the wheel. Again the model runs on concealed wheels.

    From The Flintstones cartoon series of the 1960s, Corgi produced a set of three models in the early 1980s, each driven by one of the main characters: Fred or Wilma Flintstone, or Barney Rubble. All had plastic figures. This is Wilma's Coupe, which runs on four concealed plastic wheels, and again it was about $10.

    Film and Television Star Cars 3 Corgi Junior Chopper Squad Bell Jetranger helicopter with floats. Both the main and tail rotors rotate.

    Next up is a Bell Jetranger helicopter from the Australian TV series Chopper Squad, about a team of surf life savers at an Australian beach. The model has white plastic floats (other versions of the model had a different lower fuselage, with the more common skid undercarriage), and the main rotor blades fold so the model will fit inside its packaging - this is common among diecast helicopter models. There was also a larger version. I am not sure now how much this one cost, perhaps $5.

    Film and Television Star Cars 4 The Hot Wheels mainline toy version of the Aston Martin DB10, built expressly for the Bond film Spectre.

    From the most recent Bond film, Spectre (2015) is the Aston Martin DB10. Hot Wheels have included it in both their main toy line and in the more detailed and higher priced HW Entertainment series. Very few of these Hot Wheels models have any working features, and this applies to the DB10. Oddly, the model is not included in the HW Screen Time series of film and TV models, but is part of the HW Showroom series, although it still comes on a card with the Spectre title in the corner.

    Film and Television Star Cars 5 The 2016 Hot Wheels Yellow Submarine is much smaller than the 1969 Corgi version, but both run on concealed wheels. The model can be found on both long and short cards.

    Yellow Submarine (1968) was an animated film starring The Beatles. Corgi released a regular model of the submarine in 1969, which has been reissued several times with slight differences; but they never did a small Juniors version. In 2016 Hot Wheels finally gave the world a small, Matchbox-sized model of the Yellow Submarine. Like the bigger Corgi model it runs on concealed wheels. This one was included in the HW Screen Time series. This proved a very hard model to find in the shops, but I did manage to get a 2016 model on a long card; and a 2017 short card version from my local supermarket. The only difference in the models seems to be a very slight variation in the shade of yellow used for the lower hull, which is so slight it is only apparent when the models are studied side by side. The main difference lies in the design of the cards. Hot Wheels begin releasing their new models late in the preceding year, which is why I obtained a model dated 2017 in November 2016. These models were both $3 each, the usual Hot Wheels price in NZ. I have seen them at fairs for $10, and $15 for the less common short card version; prices which I refuse to pay for current models.

    Film and Television Star Cars 6 The popularity of video games has seen a number of tie-in models being produced, these Hot Wheels models are for the games Halo and Minecraft.

    I am not a video game player, and know little of the subject, however Hot Wheels have released a number of video game related models over the last few years. It seems logical to count these models as Star Cars, especially as several games have been turned into movies. Hot Wheels clearly share this view, and have included these models in their Screen Time series. The models shown here are for the games Halo and Minecraft, and again cost just $3 each. There is also a separate series of Halo models, on special cards. Other game related models have been the Red Bird and green Minion Pig from Angry Birds; Super Mario Brothers; and various Atari games as part of one of the higher priced premium lines.

    9781445662107

    Paul Brent Adams book Film and Television Star Cars is available for purchase now.

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