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  • 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.

  • Electric Locomotives on Scottish Railways by Colin J. Howat

    No. 90001 (HQ) at Glasgow Central with a dynamometer coach. This was a special coach used by BR to record track alignment and provide various other technical information mainly for the benefit of the civil engineers. Taken March 1988. (Electric Locomotives on Scottish Railways, Amberley Publishing)

    Electric Locomotives on Scottish Railways covers virtually the whole of the electrified network across Scotland. The first electrification took place on the north side of Glasgow from 1960 when the Airdrie to Helensburgh line and branches in between were done. This was followed closely by the Glasgow South side when electrification spread to the Cathcart Circle, Neilston and Newton areas in 1962. In 1967, the lines between Glasgow Central and Gourock along with the Wemyss Bay branch were added to the system. Progress throughout the Central Scotland area has been steady since with now approximately 40% of the whole network now electrified. This book covers electric locomotives from humble Class 81s up to and including Class 92s with images from 1974 until the present day. I have also included shots of the APT (Class 370) and Virgin Class 390s (Pendolino) as they show the further development of the original AC locomotives. Technically the APT and Virgin Pendolinos are electric multiple units but I have included them as most people regard them as electric locomotives within a powered unit.

    No. 92031 (CE) “Schiller” stabled at Ayr Depot. This was an open day organised by EWS for staff and friends. This loco is still active with DB Cargo. Taken April 2002. (Electric Locomotives on Scottish Railways, Amberley Publishing)

    The AC electric locomotive fleets are not among the most popular to have operated over Scottish metals. The 100 strong first generation of AC electric locomotives came from five construction groups. All were built to a common design theme stipulated by the British Transport Commision (BTC) design panel. Originally classified as AL1 – AL5, the fleets were later classified 81-85 and were the backbone of the modernised electric Scottish routes until AL6 (Class 86) locomotives emerged in the mid-1960s. The first generation fleets were not without operational problems and I feel if it had not been for the extension of the WCML electrification to Glasgow Central in 1974, some would certainly have been withdrawn much earlier than they were.

    The UK government gave the go ahead for the electrification of the WCML from Preston to Glasgow Central in 1970 and this was completed in 1973 with services between Glasgow Central and London Euston commencing from May 1974. In conjunction with this, the Hamilton Circle line from Newton and the Belshill route to/from Motherwell were also electrified. Next on the list was the Argyle Line between Kelvinhaugh Junction in the west and Rutherglen Central Junction in the east which allowed through running of trains between the south and north side of Glasgow. This also included a small spur at Rutherglen West Junction which allowed trains direct access from the Argyle Line to the WCML and thence direct access to/from Shields Depot.

    No. 86438 (WN) at Glasgow Central having just arrived with the overnight postal from London Euston. This loco is still employed by Freightliner. Taken February 1990. (Electric Locomotives on Scottish Railways, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1986 the Ayrshire area was added to the electrified network when the overheads were extended from Paisley Gilmour Street to Ayr, Largs and Ardrossan Harbour. However, in one of the more short sighted decisions made by BR and Strathclyde PTE, the track bed beyond Paisley Canal was lifted and houses allowed to be built on it. This has made it virtually impossible to re-open services to/from Kilmacolm. However, given the amount of houses that were compulsory purchased for the re-opening of the Waverley route to Tweedbank, nothing is impossible. Other parts of the Scottish network added in have been the Whifflet spur which allows trains to run from Motherwell onto the North Electric system. This was used extensively from December 1994 until December 1995 after the Argyle Line was shut due to severe flooding. The Larkhall branch was added in 2005 and the R&C line from Rutherglen to Whifflet via Mount Vernon was also electrified in 2014. The E&G line between Glasgow Queen Street and Edinburgh was finally opened up for electrics in December 2017. On the East Coast main line, the Edinburgh to Berwick-upon-Tweed line was electrified in 1989. This included the North Berwick Branch and in 1991 the line between Midcalder Jn and Carstairs was electrified allowing GNER trains from London Kings Cross direct access to Glasgow Central. Photographing electrics can be a challenge particularly from high locations as the overhead equipment creates obstructions which in turn affects focusing. Most of the shots in this book are taken from ground level. Some modern electric locomotives are so silent that they are literally on top of you before you know where you are particularly during windy conditions.

    Colin J. Howat's new book Electric Locomotives on Scottish Railways is avialable for purchase now.

  • Type 4 Locomotives of British Rail by Andrew Walker

    Type 4 Pioneer at Sheffield. The first of what might be called BR's 'production' Type 4s, the 2,000 hp English Electric Class 40, entered traffic in 1958. (Type 4 Locomotives of British Rail, Amberley Publishing)

    Discovering the ‘Type 4s’

    There was a time when, as a novice train spotter in the mid-70s, I was not quite able to distinguish between the various types of diesel locomotive found on the BR network. My brother John had recently purchased an Ian Allan ‘Locoshed’ book, the 1976 edition, and we had pored over the lists of numbers, wondering when we might see examples of each particular class of engine. We soon realised that certain classes of locomotive were, at that time, allocated to depots on a regional basis. So for example, to see a Class 26 or 27 one had to go north, to Haymarket or Eastfield, whereas to see a Class 33 one had to go south, to Hither Green or Stewarts Lane. This accounted for the fact that these locomotives never put in an appearance on our regular visits to Leeds, Sheffield or York, our regular spotting haunts then. Early on though, we began to see plenty of Type 4s. We did not know they were Type 4s at that time, as the objective was simply to discover if we’d seen something new and to tick it off in the book. I well recall the time on one of the very first visits to Leeds, when looking at a Class 40 in profile, that I suddenly realised it had an ‘extra’ pair of wheels compared with the similar-looking Class 37s. It may have been on the same day that I saw a Class 45 for the first time and noted that it had the same wheel arrangement as the Class 40, but although superficially similar in appearance, with the three cab windows and the protruding nose, there were some differences – the large body side grilles, a slightly flatter and shallower bonnet.

    No more freight duties for these Type 4s. In the industrial surroundings of the works at Crewe, numerous Class 40s await their final visit to the scrapyard. In this early 1984 view Nos 40115 and 40088 stand in the sidings while in the background are Nos 40065 and 40023. (Type 4 Locomotives of British Rail, Amberley Publishing)

    If you are interested in something, it doesn’t take long to become knowledgeable about the subject. Those early experiences of trying to figure out what made a ‘45’ different from a ‘46’, and realising that a ‘40’ had more wheels than a ‘37’ seemed to last mere days – and perhaps they did. The nature of the discovery evolved into a more focused process – more like a quest I suppose. Finding out that a Stratford-based Class 47 might appear on a passenger turn at Sheffield led to routine heightened anticipation on visits there. Likewise, it was always a bit of an event when one of the Western Region’s named 47s, perhaps ‘Odin’, or ‘Cyclops’ turned up. The 46s contrived to make themselves slightly more interesting than the 45s, largely because there were fewer of them in service, but then the 45s provided a counter-balance because many of them were named, and that always added a new dimension which the 46s could not offer (with the exception of the mysteriously singular 46026). So it did not seem to take very long to start to mentally categorise the various classes and the individuals therein, to a kind of hierarchy of interest, much of which was based on rarity, actual or perceived. This has probably always been an intrinsic aspect of any ‘spotting’ hobby, whether it be trains or birds. To a Yorkshire-based enthusiast with limited travelling capability, a Western Region 47 from Old Oak Common was always going to rank above say, a Knottingley-based classmate. No doubt if I’d lived in Devon it would have been otherwise.

    Backdrop of Wild Boar Fell. A Carlisle to Leeds service approches the summit of the Settle & Carlisle line at Ais Gill on 17 June 1989. Large logo-liveried Class 47 No. 47597 provides the motive power for this service, which has been strengthened to ten coaches on this occasion. (Type 4 Locomotives of British Rail, Amberley Publishing)

    The 47s were always up against it, so to speak, in desirability terms. ‘Just another Brush 4’ was an oft-heard remark, understandably so when they outnumbered all other Type 4s by a substantial margin. Not only that, but the 47s did not even offer the differentiation factor that the 40s and Peaks achieved by having a range of headcode panel configurations. Until their conversion to uniform sealed-beam marker lights, the Peaks offered four possibilities in this respect – if one includes the original discs of the Class 44s. The ‘split headcode’ Peaks were perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasing, but the two central headcode types, a singular panel or two square-ish adjacent panels, looked nicely balanced.

    An early revelation concerned the Class 40s. Pictures of some of these locomotives in the railway magazines would say, for example, ‘…40013, formerly ‘Andania’…’ and it became apparent that a sizeable contingent of the class had once been named but at some point the nameplates had been removed – every single one of them. Then I spotted the bolt-heads on the side of 40020 at Leeds, and on 40012 at Sheffield, and realised that these marked the spot. I read in several magazines and books that a decision had been made by BR to remove the nameplates, but there was never really a satisfactory explanation, nor was any responsible individual ever identified. I read that the motivation was to do with corporate uniformity, or perhaps that the 40s were no longer seen as top-link motive power and therefore unworthy of carrying names, but these seem very weak arguments. Why not just leave the plates where they were? There were no operational or reputational implications. Not long after finding out about the removal of the Class 40 nameplates, I discovered that the same had been done with the Class 44s. All ten were named shortly after construction, lending the collective nomenclature to the class, but again, someone somewhere in the BR hierarchy deemed it best to remove them en masse. Maybe it’s no big deal, but why do it? What benefits accrued? I would say none, but that’s just my opinion.

    The disappointment at being too late to see the 40s and 44s with their nameplates in situ did not, nevertheless, prevent a great affection building for them. The consolation was in trying to ‘collect the full set’ of named Class 45s, and in the excitement of seeing for the first time one of the 47s with truly gargantuan plates – ‘Isambard Kingdom Brunel’ and ‘George Jackson Churchward’, their appearance making a day at Sheffield always truly memorable. They were the celebrities of their day.

    Andrew Walker and John Walker's new book Type 4 Locomotives of British Rail is available for purchase now.

  • The Fifties Railway by Greg Morse

    No. 7037 Swindon at its namesake depot. It was the last Castle class to be built, though the Works which bore it would also produce the last steam locomotive to be built for British Railways, a Stndard class 9F, which would be releashed to traffic in March 1960. (The Fifties Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    A bit Janet and John.

     Just a museum leaflet.

     Little more than a Wiki entry.

    These are just three of the comments I’ve seen aimed at the short summary book like those that form Amberley’s Britain’s Heritage series. And I daresay the writers of those reviews felt themselves to have done a great job in alerting the world to what anyone could ascertain within a few moments of web surfing or bookshop browsing: that books of this type are short, and are intended as naught but a first step in a subject: the alpha, not the omega. As an author of a number of these “tome-ettes”, I think there are two things that need to be said. (Actually there are three, but this is a family blog.) First, just because a short book ‘adds nothing new’, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t add something new. There may not be enough room for footnoted first-hand scholarship, but the broad brush can often paint interesting juxtapositions that might not be made manifest by those authors blessed with more pages to fill. Secondly, there is an implication that no research can possibly have been undertaken. Not so.

    Early BR splendour as ex-LMS 'unrebuilt Scot' No. 46148 The Manchester Regiment takes a Carlisle-Glasgow service past Harthope in July 1953 (with a little help from a 2-6-4T at the rear). (The Fifties Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Take my latest book (please – take as many copies as you like to the counter or basket). The Fifties Railway is about 12,000 words long. Like the rest of the Britain’s Heritage series, there’s a list of further reading at the back. All those books were re-read during the writing of it. More than this though – and it’s a technique I used in The Sixties Railway and The Seventies Railway too – are the insights that reading old magazines can evoke. We all know that later research can reveal the falsehoods that are sometimes unwittingly pervaded by contemporaneous journalism, but period periodicals are superb windows on what the world was like then, back before we “knew better”.

    What I want from a book like The Fifties Railway is what I want when I go to a heritage line: a time machine. This is why I will avert my gaze when my steam-hauled special passes its owner’s twenty-first century carriage shed. Glance upon the architect’s pet project and the illusion that I can party like its 1959 is gone forever. With a magazine, I can read what an enthusiast or railway employee might have read when the world was changing, but had not yet changed. The 1950s was a decade of great change on the railway, for it marked the beginning of a truly concerted effort to abolish steam – an effort that came so soon after the erection of so many new steam classes for Britain’s newly nationalised rail industry.

    Thus we can see the real, original, reaction not only to the coming of the Britainnias and 9Fs, but also the appearance of Deltic, the first of the ‘Pilot Scheme’ diesels and the apparent revolution offered by the diesel multiple units. This is to say nothing of what passengers thought of British Railways new carriages, the reactions to the Harrow & Wealdstone accident of 1952 and how the staff took to General Sir Brian Robertson when he took over at the British Transport Commission. I could go on of course… but I won’t, lest I run the risk of writing a blog that’s longer than the book!

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

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