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  • 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.

  • Rail Rover: Western Ranger by Stephen Heginbotham

    The 27th January 1986 was an awful day in Salisbury, but an undeterred 50021 ‘RODNEY’ pulls into Platform 3 in charge of the 1220 Exeter – Waterloo. 50021 was built as D421 in May 1968 by English Electric at the Vulcan Foundry. After withdrawal in April 1990 it was stored at Laira Depot before being saved for preservation. (c. Nigel Rowe, Rail Rover: Western Ranger, Amberley Publishing)

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

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

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

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

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

    (Rail Rover: Western Ranger, Amberley Publishing)

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

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

    This collection of photographs depicts journeys similar to those I undertook as a teenager, but made by friends of mine setting out to explore the railways and trains of the erstwhile Western Region of British Railways during the latter years of the previous century. With a wider choice of routes and trains available just a few decades ago, it was easier then to achieve the desired locations and in this case return home the same day. There were of course many traction types to be seen in and around the West Country during the 1970s and 1980s and of course, at the time, they were common traction types and not thought of as anything unusual, but, like all things in everyday life, complacency creeps in and one just never thinks that this status quo of things is one day not going to be there. A fitting reminder of halcyon days, as the current railway stumbles around trying to get it right, and frequently failing!

    In being invited to produce some more books on my favourite subject of public transport I asked some of my many like-minded friends if they wished to contribute to this particular book, and of course, they said they would like to.

    Crossing Hayle Viaduct with the Hayle Wharves trip working is 7575 on 20 September 1972. Not many pictures exist of freight to/from and on Hayle Wharves. (c. D. Letcher, Rail Rover: Western Ranger, Amberley Publishing)

    As I have mentioned previously, compiling and writing books on any subject, including fiction and subject specific titles, is not as easy as one might presume. It involves countless hours of research, photographic reproduction, digital cleaning and correcting of old and sometimes damaged negatives, slides and prints.

    This all has to be set out to a strict and precise format as demanded by the publisher.  The final product, its presentation, publicity and promotion are all done by the publishers of course, but is usually with agreement of the author on such things as the covers.

    Showcasing a friends or former colleagues’ photographs to display them to best advantage is therefore no easy task and that is why the publishers and biographical authors put their name on the front, even though the content or most of the content was not produced by them originally.

    The photos in this book are not arranged in any particular order, so dates and locations are randomly arranged to try and keep the reader interested.

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

    Stephen Heginbotham's new book Rail Rover: Western Ranger is available for purchase now.

  • A Day in the Life of an Engine Driver by Anthony Dawson

    For over 130 years the steam locomotive dominated Britain’s mainline railways. It seemed that almost every little boy (and some little girls, too) wanted to be an engine driver. Thanks to the railway preservation movement (thanks to the efforts at Tal-Y-Llyn in Wales and Middleton in Yorkshire) the dream of being an engine driver can be fulfilled by anyone with an aptitude for the hard, mucky, work on the footplate of a steam locomotive.

    At Bridgnorth Motive Power Depot, GWR heavy freight locomotive No. 2857 and Bulleid 'West Country' No. 34027 Taw Valley bask in the sun. (A Day in the Life of an Engine Driver, Amberley Publishing)

    My own fascination with railways stems from my mum: my parents were part of a locomotive owning-group (I think it was an 8F) which sat for years in the coal yard on Cross Lane in Wakefield. There is a family link to the railways too with one ancestor being Station Master at Snaith in East Yorkshire. Mum had an N-gauge layout and regular pilgrimages were made to the NRM in York; to the Worth Valley, and to the Yorkshire Moors. The dog came too, of course. I think the first steam hauled train I ever travelled on was headed by City of Wells at Keighley.

    Fast-forward 30 years and I started at the Museum of Science & Industry as a Railway Volunteer in summer 2015. I’m fascinated by the early railways (and indeed, have lectured on them) so getting a chance to work with a replica of Planet – the world’s first express passenger locomotive – was the perfect opportunity. Learning how to clean, then fire and drive a steam locomotive. Talk about fulfilling a boy-hood ambition! The learning curve was almost vertical, but thanks to expert tuition, rapid. Firing a locomotive is something you either ‘get’ or don’t, and you discover that pretty quickly.

     

    It is a cliché to suggest that the Steam Locomotive is the closest thing we have yet made which comes close to artificial life. But it is probably true – every locomotive is different, has different ‘moods’, will perform differently every day: one day she (and they are all ‘she’) can be an absolute dream, but another will be the most frustrating thing on earth, and get called a wide variety of rude names. It is physical, filthy work, with long hours. But it’s fun with a massive sense of pride and fulfilment. You’re continuing a tradition which stretches right back to George Stephenson, getting a glimpse of a now-vanished way of life but one which, thanks to Railway Preservation, can still be enjoyed by both visitors, and those who volunteer their time at drivers, firemen, cleaners, guards, or in the signal box. And, unlike in the days of steam when the railways were pretty much a boys’ only club, these careers are open to anyone with the aptitude for the job.

    Building up the fire before departure. (A Day in the Life of an Engine Driver, Amberley Publishing)

    We do what we do on the footplate because we enjoy it: there is a strong sense of camaraderie, of being all Railwaymen together (even though there is the traditional ‘ribbing’ between the Locomotive Department and the Traffic Department); and we do it not just for ourselves but for the visitors to preserved lines. They get a glimpse into the life of the railway, a glimpse to their youth perhaps when all trains were steam trains, and hopefully to encourage the next generation onto the footplate or guards van to keep the skills of the steam railway alive. The excitement on the faces of young kids who can see and travel behind a ‘steam train’ is unbelievable. Steam trains make you smile. I don’t remember mainline steam and the number who do – and worked on steam – is in decline, but the skills and experiences gained nearly a lifetime ago are eagerly passed on to the new generation of steam crews. And as my friend and colleague Adrian Bailey remembers from his 40 year career on the railways, you really were part of a railway family and skills and experiences really do last a lifetime.

    A Day in the Life of an Engine Driver is a peek into the world of coal and steam, of oily rags and paraffin. The basics of how the locomotive works; of making a fire and checking there’s enough water; the noise and excitement of the footplate. The one thing it can’t do is communicate the warmth of the cab, or indeed that extra special smell of a steam locomotive – of burning coal; steam; hot oil and hot metal.

    Anthony Dawson's new book A Day in the Life of an Engine Driver is available for purchase now.

  • The Rainhill Trials by Anthony Dawson

    Unravelling the myths

    Rocket, Sans Pareil and Novelty as depicted (to the same scale) by the Mechanics' Magazine in October 1829. (The Rainhill Trials, Amberley Publishing)

    As Anthony Coulls has written in the foreword, the story of the Rainhill Trials is rather like the story of Genesis in the Bible. A familiar tale, one that has often been told, but perhaps never as well understood as it should be. So why write a book on Rainhill if the story is so well known? The impetus to write about Rainhill was several fold: the building in 2010 of a more faithful replica of Robert Stephenson’s and Henry Booth’s Rocket (the 1979 replica had many features which were not present on the original locomotive of 1829) and the lessons learned from that; the results of a full-scale re-enactment of the Ranihill Trials in 2002; a gathering of all three replica locomotives at SIM, Manchester in 2005; and continued frustration with the many myths which had accrued around Rainhill. That George Stephenson had built Rocket (and that it was the first railway locomotive) and had conducted industrial sabotage against his former colleague Timothy Hackworth. Walking past the 1928 replica of Novelty (which incorporates the original wheels, parts of the valve gear and one cylinder) on a daily basis aroused interest in Braithwaithe and Ericsson. The return of Rocket to the Newcastle for the first time since the 1850s and Manchester since 1836 gave further incentive to start researching and writing.

    The original Sans Pareil as preserved at Locomotion, the NRM out-station at Shildon, a stone's throw from where she was built in 1829. (c. Lauren Jaye Gradwell, The Rainhill Trials, Amberley Publishing)

    Unravelling many of the myths surrounding Rainhill was akin to jumping down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, not knowing where it would take me. The first port of call were the notebooks of two of the Judges, John Urpeth Rastrick and Nicholas Wood, as well as the minutes of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway which organised the Rainhill Trials. Analysis of the notebooks provided similar times for each of the runs by Rocket, Novelty and Sans Pareil as well as showing that Rocket – despite the later claim of Nicholas Wood – didn’t achieve a speed of 29mph. Wood simply got his maths wrong. Whilst it is well-known that both Sans Pareil and Novelty suffered from technical problems, the actual details of these failures was both sketchy and contradictory. Contemporary press reportage, especially by the likes of the oft-quoted Mechanics’ Magazine, was biased against the Stephensons, and a vocal champion of the ‘London Engine’ of Braithwaite and Ericsson.  The Stephensons (père et fil) and Hackworth were simply ‘not the right sort of people’ for the editor, and readers, of the London-based Mechanics’ Magazine. They were the same London experts who derided George Stephensons safety lamp and that he would never cross Chat Moss. Thus, reports from pro- and anti-Stephenson sources were needed to create a balanced picture; so too accounts of Rainhill from France and the USA.  In presenting each locomotive, I endeavoured to remain as neutral as possible, and let the data speak for itself.

    Neither Sans Pareil or Novelty has had much in the way of a detailed study, usually being dismissed as ‘also rans’, with the victory of Rocket being a foregone conclusion. In fact, I could have written this book twice over with the amount of data, and human interest, the research gathered about each of the engines and their builders. Analysis by two of the leading experts on early railway locomotives, Peter Davidson and Dr. John Glithero, showed that of the three contenders Novelty was theoretically brilliant, but hamstrung through never having had running-in trials, hence several mechanical problems only being discovered at Rainhill. Furthermore, the bellows needed to provide the draught for the fire used more energy than the cylinders could deliver!

    The replica certainly confirms John Dixon's observation that Novelty had a 'parlour-like appearance', all polished copper and bress like a new tea-kettle. (c. David Boydell, The Rainhill Trials, Amberley Publishing)

    Sans Pareil was even more controversial: since the 1850s, largely thanks to the bitter writing of Timothy Hackworth’s son, John Wesley Hackworth, who claimed that the Stephensons had deliberately sabotaged his father’s entry. Going through Timothy’s letters at the National Railway Museum showed that Timothy and George were on good terms (far from the bitter enemies the myth would have us believe), but also confirmed the observation that Sans Pareil had a cracked cylinder. Experience from casting cylinders for the replicas of Rocket and Sans Pareil 1979-1980 showed that the cylinder design was poor, using ‘floating cores’ which could shift during casting, leading to a flaw which could not be detected. Sans Pareil’s boiler also leaked, again something traditionally blamed on the Stephensons and their Ally, Michael Longridge, who made it. Discussing the matter with an experienced boilersmith suggests that the boiler was damaged either on the road or more likely during its testing to three times it working pressure (Rocket’s boiler underwent the same test and also showed signs of leaking, requiring the addition of stays).  Furthermore, Timothy Hackworth’s frantic efforts to seal up leaky joints in the boiler probably made matters worse. Local pride in Darlington and Shildon would suggest that ‘Hackworth was robbed’ of victory at Rainhill, and that Sans Pareil was as good as Rocket. Once again, analysis by Davidson and Glithero show that Sans Pareil was really the last-gasp of old technology and of the three contenders it was only Rocket – thanks to her revolutionary multi-tubular boiler designed by Henry Booth – that not only stayed the course but was the only locomotive which would have been able to work a regular, time-tabled passenger service between Liverpool and Manchester.

    The 2010 replica of Rocket standing at the historic Liverpool Road Station during her visit to mark the 180th anniversary of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. (c. Matthew Jackson, The Rainhill Trials, Amberley Publishing)

    Such was the rate of technological development (like phones and other personal devices), Rocket was obsolete within six months; first by further Rocket-type locomotives which sported several improvements from the Rainhill design, but culminating in the delivery of Planet in October 1830: the first mainline express passenger locomotive.

    Rocket only had a brief working life of about two years before being laid up; she was used as the test-bed of a rotary steam engine invented by Lord Dundonald in 1833, and then stored until being sold in 1836 to work on a colliery railway. Out of service again by 1840, Rocket was thankfully preserved, and although missing many of her non-ferrous fittings, was eventually presented to what is now the Science Museum in 1862.

    Sans Pareil, after a far longer working life on the Bolton & Leigh Railway ended her days as a stationary engine in a colliery before she too was given to what is now the Science Museum. You can see her, and the 1979 replica, on display at Locomotion, Shildon. Novelty languished unused until 1833 when she was rebuilt with a multi-tubular boiler and set to work on the St Helens & Runcorn Gap Railway; her original wheels and cylinders passed to John Melling, the Liverpool & Manchester Railway Locomotive Superintendent. Four wheels and a cylinder were incorporated in a static replica now on display at SIM, Manchester, and the second cylinder is on display at Rainhill library. With the 190th Anniversary of Rainhill coming next year, it would be fantastic to see all three original contestants reunited.

    Anthony Dawson's new book The Rainhill Trials is available for purchase now.

  • The Stephenson Railway Legacy by Colin Alexander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s by Stephen Dowle

    Few dissent from the view that Harrington Grenadier was one of the best coach bodies of its era. This example, on an AEC Reliance 2U3RA chassis, was one of a batch of five new to Bowen's of Birmingham in 1965. (British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s, Amberley Publishing)

    "Transitional" is, I suppose, the word to describe the bus industry’s situation in the second half of the 1970s. The transition was from two-man "crew" operation – universal on all but the most unfrequented services ten years earlier – to "OMO", or One-Man Operation, to employ the diabolical gender-specific term used in those far-off, unenlightened times. For us in the industry it was a "soft" revolution: I never heard of anyone being compulsorily made redundant as a consequence of OMO. I was one of many conductors who were re-trained as drivers, and the usual high turnover of staff made it possible to manage the changeover on the basis of natural wastage, retirements and so on. Once the dust had settled the man behind the wheel found himself doing what had, until recently, been two jobs. Much of the camaraderie disappeared and bus driving became a solitary, slightly sadder occupation. Of course, operators were in the business of running bus services, not social clubs.

    OMO was a response to decline. The industry's prosperity had peaked in the decade after the war. It was said that operators typically employed 2.4 people for every bus owned and all bus undertakings eagerly embraced OMO as a means of reducing their wages bill. Many ill-informed theories were advanced to explain the decline. Passengers were especially vocal on the topic and blamed the ever-falling fortunes of their local bus operator on the disincentive effect of higher fares and deteriorating standards of service. This was to put the cart before the horse. It was the age of "affluence", full employment and inflation. At a time when local newspapers were plump and heavy with the weight of Situations Vacant advertising, it is said that you could walk out of a job in the morning and start another in the afternoon, people rejected the shifts, split turns, early starts and low pay of bus work. Many buses were pulled from services because it was impossible to provide crews for them. Attempts to make the job more attractive mostly took the form of pay rises, which had to then be paid for in higher fares. To keep fare increases below the level at which passengers were deterred from travelling was a delicate balancing act. To me it was plain that the industry's reduced circumstances could be attributed mainly to the great increase in car ownership. Once they could afford to, people naturally preferred to travel in their own cars, door-to-door, at times of their own choosing. This led not only to a fall in the number of passengers, but to an increased problem of traffic congestion. Another factor was that people now stayed indoors watching television where once they would have gone out in search of recreation. The decline of public transport was a natural consequence of increased prosperity.

    The moulded 'St Helens front' was supplied with many Leyland Titan chassis when traditional exposed radiators passed out of favour. Colchester's 43 (OVX 143D) had beennew in 1966 and carried bodywork by Massey. (British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s, Amberley Publishing)

    The industry's adaptation to its reduced circumstances took place against a background of stability. The Transport Act of 1968 and the 1974 reforms of local government had brought in changes of organisation, but these were now well established; the greater upheaval of privatisation and deregulation would not come until the mid-1980s. For the period covered by the book it was "steady as she goes". As far as the vehicles were concerned, the introduction of OMO had presented ticklish problems of re-design. If the driver was to take his passengers' fares, the engine would have to be removed from its natural place at the front to a more hostile environment further back. In the case of double-deckers this meant the vertical rear transverse position, never very satisfactory from an engineering point of view, and in single-deckers a mid or rear horizontal underfloor configuration. This made room for a spacious platform and cab ahead of the front axle. The noble front-engined half-cab bus, a familiar and uniquely British vehicle, was doomed, and its slab-fronted, box-on-wheels, one-man successor was taking over. The normal pace of fleet renewal meant that the last front-engined buses, built towards the end of the 1960s, would reach the end of their lives in the early 1980s. So it proved. The photographs in the book were taken between 1975 and 1980, by which time OMO was almost universal. The few remaining pockets of "crew" operation disappeared during the first years of the new decade.

    This unusual Leyland Titan PD3/2 with Alexander body was fitted from new with an experimental fibreglass front made by Holmes (Homalloy) of Preston. (British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s, Amberley Publishing)

    I have spoken of "the bus industry". The coach sector, being for the most part in private hands, was proof against government interference and went its own way. Most large operators, however, had a "coaching side" that formed a minor part of their activities; most subsidiaries of the National Bus Company (NBC) contributed white-liveried vehicles to the National Express coach pool. The NBC, my employers, had incurred my displeasure by imposing a particularly insipid "corporate identity", which had led to the disappearance, one might almost say suppression, of previous company identities, liveries and lettering styles. Much the same had happened in the large cities, where the previous corporation undertakings had been absorbed into Passenger Transport Executives, each hell-bent on promoting an up-to-the-minute, go-ahead "image". In the book's introduction I give an account of how pleased I was, on first travelling to Scotland in 1976, to find the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh thronged with the vehicles of the Scottish Bus Group, still wearing the exquisite liveries and fleetnames of its separate companies. Remote from modish influences, old ways endured in Scotland, for the time being.

    Hurrying around the country by train with my camera to chronicle these developments became a favourite recreation. The matter became increasingly urgent as aged survivors of the pre-OMO epoch, each in its due time, joined the inevitable procession that led to the breaker's yard. Although I was not keen on the direction events were taking, for students of the industry they were undoubtedly interesting times. There was still much variety and what was old was markedly different from what was new: today, I would suggest, the oldest vehicles in service are not fundamentally unlike their newer replacements. Another important difference between then and now is that foreign builders had yet to get their feet under the table of the British market. Fleets were still dominated by the big names among domestic builders, notably Leyland, AEC, Bristol, Daimler and Bedford. Looking back, through the wrong end of a telescope and wearing, as usual, my rose-tinted spectacles, the era seems a miniature golden age. It is a characteristic of golden ages that they never last.

    Stephen Dowle's new book British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s is available for purchase now.

  • The Southern Region in the 1970s and 1980s by Andy Gibbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

  • Eastern National: The Final Years by David Moth

    Looking very smart in Eastern National's 'spinach and custard' deregulation livery is Bristol VR 3094 (STW 38W), which stands in Chelmsford bus station on 11 August 1992. (Eastern National: The Final Years, Amberley Publishing)

    Eastern National was probably one of the more fondly remembered Tilling subsidiaries and although it had a very highly standardised fleet towards the end of the 70s and most of the 80s, it still had something of interest. It is well known that as a National Bus Company subsidiary, EN was involved in the great FLF/VRT swap of 1973, when the National Bus Company swapped a large number of Bristol FLFs for an equivalent number of Bristol VRTs that The Scottish Bus Group was dissatisfied with. What is not so well remembered is that two years earlier in 1971 Eastern National and Alexander Midland did a swap of their own where Eastern National gave fifteen Bristol FLFs in exchange for the same number of Bristol VRTs.

    Although a few operators converted half cab double deckers to One Man Operation in the 70s, with varying degrees of success, Eastern National was the only operator that converted Bristol FLFs to OMO. Six were rebuilt in this way in 1973, but it was not considered a success and no other operator did this.

    Bristol VRT 3095 (UAR 585W) is seen on 10 February 1992. This bus was sadly lost in the arson attack at Colchester depot on Christmas Eve 1994. (Eastern National: The Final Years, Amberley Publishing)

    Eastern National were the only NBC company to stipulate 70 seats on their Bristol VRTs delivered in the 70s while every other subsidiary was receiving 74 seaters from the advent of the Bristol VRT/ series 3 in 1975. Although the last two batches in 1981, which were diverted from Alder Valley and Southdown, were 74 seaters.

    Eastern National built up one of the country's biggest fleets of Leyland Nationals in the 70s. The last one being delivered in 1980, which had the effect of gradually eroding the Tilling inheritance in the fleets appearance. Which up until then had been dominated by Bristol/ECW types which of course was standard in the Tilling Group.

    Eastern National's last front engined double deckers were Bristol FLFs. EN bought 247 FLFs and even by 1980 there were still over 100 in the fleet. But they were withdrawn rapidly after that, the last one being withdrawn in September 1981, although crew operation lingered on for a short while after. By 1982 Eastern Nationals' fleet became very standardised, with the double deck fleet being almost entirely made up of Bristol VRTs plus three examples of the new Leyland Olympian. While the single deck bus fleet being mainly Leyland Nationals with a few remaining Bristol REs.

    Seen when about four months old, Dennis Lance 1503 (P503 MNO) is at Colchester bus station on 9 June 1997. The batch of thirteen buses to which 1503 belonged would be the last buses delivered in Eastern National livery. (Eastern National: The Final Years, Amberley Publishing)

    Eastern National was successfully purchased from NBC in December 1986, and during its brief period of independence, saw off competition from Coastal Red as well as taking on several LRT routes in East London. A number of midlife Bristol VRTs were purchased from Milton Keynes Citybus at this time, mainly for use on LRT routes.

    In 1988 Eastern National purchased 30 Leyland Lynxes which went on to have long lives in Essex, although none were ever allocated to the northern Essex depots such as Colchester, Harwich, Braintree or Clacton.

    Eastern National was taken over by Badgerline Holdings in April 1990, which seemed surprising at the time, as it was the first bus company that Badgerline took over that wasn't in the south west or Wales. At first little seemed to change, but in the summer of 1990, Ford Transit Minibuses were transferred from Cityline for town services in Chelmsford.

    In July 1990, EN's new owners partitioned EN, creating the new subsidiary Thamesway for the south of Essex and LRT routes, while the Eastern National name was retained for services around Chelmsford, Braintree, Maldon, Colchester, Harwich and Clacton. Thamesway very quickly transformed their area of operation, introducing minibuses on town services in and around Basildon and Southend areas, as well as directly competing with Southend Transport in the south east corner of Essex.

    In 1993 a new livery and identity was introduced using the colours of parent company Badgerline. This was also the time when Badgerline introduced their subtle corporate identity by applying cute cartoon badgers to the wheel arches of the subsidiary's buses.

    Leyland Lynx 1427 (F427 MJN) is seen at Basildon Hospital on Friday 28 August 1992 on an early afternoon journey to its home depoty of Chelmsford from West Thurrock Lakeside. (Eastern National: The Final Years, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1995 Badgerline Holdings and GRT Holdings merged and the resulting new company was called FirstBus. This also brought Eastern National and neighbouring company Eastern Counties back into common ownership.

    While Badgerline and GRT both had a policy of their subsidiaries having their own identities, First Bus decided to gradually create a group identity. This meant the Eastern National and Thamesway fleetnames gradually being relegated to lesser prominence before finally disappearing altogether.  This was a process that was happening to various fleets throughout Britain. Eastern National and Thamesway were eventually reunited as First Essex.

    As time went on  the Eastern National heritage gradually disappeared as the VRTs, with their classic ECW lines, (a reminder of the NBC and indeed Tilling eras) were gradually withdrawn, with the last ones (apart from one which was retained for a while as a heritage vehicle) being withdrawn in 2004. And the Lynxes went about the same time.

    Recently First have revived the Badgerline name and livery for services around Weston super Mare, and do seem to be in a gradually process of introducing local identities to selected areas, so maybe one day the Eastern National name may be revived.

    David Moth's new book Eastern National: The Final Years is available for purchase now.

  • East London Buses: 1990s by Malcolm Batten

    The western terminus of East London's route 15 at Ladbroke Grove was changed to serve a new Sainsbury's store, opposite which East London's RML2709 stands on 25 March 1991. Note the route branding posters either side of the blind box. (East London Buses: 1990s, Amberley Publishing)

    The 1980s had seen profound changes in the way bus services were provided in Greater London. At the start of the decade nationalised London Transport had held a virtual monopoly on bus services wholly within the Greater London Area, as well as running the London Underground. They had been even larger before 1970, when the country area and Green Line express services were hived off to the new National Bus Company. But in 1984 London Transport was taken from under the control of the Greater London Council (which was to be abolished) and replaced by a new body London Regional Transport. Then from 1 April 1985 a new wholly owned subsidiary, London Buses Ltd, took on the operation of buses. The monopoly was to disappear, as under the 1985 Transport Act, the old system of route licensing was replaced by allowing open competition on commercially registered routes and competitive tendering elsewhere. London was spared competition but LRT was required to put routes out to competitive tender. In April 1989 London Buses was split into eleven regional operating units, plus London Coaches who ran the sightseeing operation.

    The 1990s were not going to be quieter! Route tendering would continue and be extended to all routes. The London Buses operating units could compete for these (including cross-border routes tendered by the counties adjoining London) but more profound change was coming for in 1994 as a process of privatisation of the operating companies took place. First to be privatised was London Coaches but all had been sold within a year. It was the intention that no one purchaser should be able to buy adjacent operating districts. East London was acquired by the Stagecoach Group. Their origin began ten years earlier in Scotland, but since then they had expanded rapidly, buying up former National Bus Company fleets and municipal operators, mainly in northern England. Stagecoach also took Selkent, which was adjacent but on the south side of the Thames. With only one route through Blackwall Tunnel and one through Rotherhithe Tunnel to connect them, this was not seen as posing a problem. The new owner of Leaside District, to the north and west of East London was an already familiar name – that of Cowie, the parent company of Grey-Green. They also took South London.

    Captial Citybus gained a major increase in their operations when they were awarded the contracts for several routes in the Walthamstow area in 1991 at the expense of London Forest, following their strike. (East London Buses: 1990s, Amberley Publishing)

    It should be noted that Forest District had been wound up before privatisation started. Following a two week strike over proposed pay cuts of c18% in order to win tenders in 1991, it ceased operating in November that year. Leyton garage and its vehicles were transferred to East London. Hackney passed to Leaside, while Walthamstow and Ash Grove garages were closed – Walthamstow lost its routes as the tenders it would have won were relocated to other companies.

    Major national bus-owning groups were emerging by the end of the decade, as a result of takeovers and selling-on of the former National Bus Company fleets, some of which had initially gone to management buy-outs. Stagecoach was one, Arriva was another, taking over the Cowie group of companies, and First Group were a third, acquiring the Badgerline owned companies such as Eastern National and Thamesway. All of these groups would eventually acquire one or more of the former London Buses districts.

    RMC1461 was restored to original appearance and Green Line livery in 1994. Although painted primarily for display purposes, it still saw use on the 15, as here at Paddington on 23 August 1995. When the route eventually lost its Routemasters in 2003, RMC1461 was donated to Cobham Bus Musem. (East London Buses: 1990s, Amberley Publishing)

    London Regional Transport was replaced by a new body London Transport Buses who would now administer route tendering amongst other things. One stipulation by them in 1994 was that buses on routes entering Central London must maintain an 80 per cent red livery. This was the beginning of the end for the variety of liveries that had sprung up since the start of route tendering. The variety would continue however in outer London. Several of the existing small fleets running tendered services were swallowed up by their bigger neighbours but LRT and LTB in turn encouraged new small firms to apply for contracts, sometimes with disastrous results when they got into financial difficulties.

    Vehicle-wise, the 1990s were especially noted for the rise and rise of the Dennis Dart single–deck model which soon became the mainstay of many fleets, and replacing many of minibus types which had typified 1980s thinking. The traditional London Routemaster seemed safe, as it had been decided to retain these on twenty-five trunk routes into central London. A refurbishment programme had begun from 1992 to extend their lives by up to ten years.

    In the latter half of the decade, accessibility became the watchword following the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Low floor single deck buses with wheelchair and buggy access began to enter service. Upton Park’s route 101 was one of those selected for the first conversions. Soon such vehicles entered service in bulk, replacing earlier Darts amongst the other types to go. In late 1998, the first wheelchair accessible double-deckers entered service on Arriva’s East London route 242. By the end of 1999 there were over 500 running in Greater London, and the 1000 mark had been reached before the end of year 2000.

    Malcolm Batten's new book East London Buses: 1990s is avialable for purchase now.

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