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About the Author
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Riding Yorkshire's Final Steam Trains
Journeys on BR's North Eastern Region
By Keith Widdowson
The History PressCopyright © 2015 Keith Widdowson
All rights reserved.
Chasing: An Addiction Explained
TRAVELLING BY STEAM train has to be one of the greatest pleasures of life. The steam locomotive, a vital cog of the nineteenth-century industrial revolution, was undoubtedly one of man's finest achievements. Monopolising the movement of both passenger and freight traffic throughout the world for over a century it was only advancing technology in the form of electric- and diesel-powered alternatives that unseated it off from its throne. Unlike today's modern traction, which switches off and closes down upon a minor component failing, it usually got you home – even if it was itself ailing! Above all she was a living, breathing machine, often having a will of her own, but if treated with tender loving care would perform all that was demanded of her.
When frequently visiting some of the preserved railways, all the associated memories of my travelling years come back to me. The deafening exhaust echoing off of the cuttings and trees, the atmosphere, the heady nectar of grit, smoke and steam emanating from a living machine tackling a stiff gradient can only be truly appreciated by 'window hanging' out of the leading coach. It is beyond my comprehension how anyone can fail to be moved by the sight and sound of a steam locomotive hard at work. Personally, since first viewing them at Waterloo in the early '60s, I have had an ongoing love affair with them. It, or more universally referred to as she, has been a predominant mistress in my life for over half a century and, being the basis of this book, I defy the reader not to empathise as to the reason why I spent my formative years in pursuit of her.
Those of you who have read my previous tome on (steam) chasing, The Great Steam Chase: The Last Days of Steam on BR's Southern Region, can anticipate the brief of this explanatory chapter – slotted in here for the benefit of new readers. To set the scene as to when and where the seeds of my love of the Iron Horse were sown, I have to take the reader back to Waterloo – where I commenced my railway career. From my workplace, perched high up on the fourth floor, panoramic views of London were available if looking north, with just a massive expanse of the glass-covered roof if looking south. Although above the roof you could still hear all the station announcements and general noises from the activities below, the noisiest, emanating from the arrival (12–14) and departure (9–11) platforms, was of the steam-operated services.
Not initially an enthusiast when joining BR, it wasn't until mid '63 that any interest in disappearing steam and line closures finally fired sufficient interest to propel me out to places I had often directed prospective customers to in my job as telephone enquiry clerk. During my lunch break the 13 30 departure for Weymouth/Bournemouth West was often viewed from the end of platform 11 and perhaps it was the sheer majesty of the 8P Merchant Navy-class locomotive, with its safety valves lifting and the fireman fuelling the fire in readiness for the 143-mile journey ahead, that became the catalyst of a lifetime hobby. As I stood there, camera poised in readiness for the platform staff's whistle and the guard's 'right away' the potent power subsequently unleashed with the Pacific initially slipping (an inherent Bulleid weakness) on the greasy rail before finally finding her feet and powering the train into the distance must have sunk deep into the memory bank of an impressionable teenager.
At the rear of the train, ably assisting with an almighty shove, was the tank engine that had brought the stock in from Clapham Yard. Within the cavernous station train shed the ear-splitting cacophony of its thunderous exhaust sent the pigeons into orbit and made any conversation nigh on impossible. It all lasted for less than a minute before the tank engine driver slammed on the brakes to bring him to a stand alongside the ever-present gaggle of trainspotters always resident at the country end of platform 11. As I mentioned in my introduction, but I believe is worth restating, how anyone can fail to be impressed with the sight and sound of a steam locomotive in full flight is still beyond my comprehension. The intention of 'setting the scene' of my love of Iron Horse chasing has hopefully thus been achieved.
Having initially joined BR 'because my parents noted my interest in local timetables' (albeit bus!) I soon realised that the majority of the, certainly clerical, workforce not only saw their employment as a means to pay the mortgage but as an extension of their hobby – enhanced perhaps by the free and reduced rate travel facilities available! One particular friend, Bill, with whom I was to subsequently travel throughout Europe, often arrived in the office on a Monday morning with tales of his travels, photographs and timetables from all over the country. 'Get out there – use your travel facilities. It's all disappearing,' he often said. He was referring to the seemingly relentless number of routes closing as a consequence of Dr Beeching's axe (The Reshaping of British Railways, 1963) together with increasing dieselisation (Modernisation and Re-Equipment of the British Railways, 1955), the consequential outcome inevitably leading to the wholesale slaughter of the steam locomotive.
During the latter part of '63 curiosity began to get the better of me and I tentatively started to venture further afield, away from the mundane suburban commuter journeys undertaken so far, to routes (in the south of England) threatened with closure. During those early explorations I regrettably failed to document any facts and it was only by carrying a Brownie 127 camera and armed with an ever-deteriorating, flimsy paper network map on which I coloured in the relevant routes that any details survived the years. From the March of '64, however, having had a birthday present from my parents of a Kodak Colorsnap 35 and now always travelling with a notebook, the addiction was taking hold of me. This camera was equipped with the latest technology! It had a lens you could change to whatever the weather was doing i.e. bright sunshine, black-lined cloud or rain – not quite up to present-day equipment but adequate enough for my needs. Over the years, having been dropped, mislaid and cursed at (when the film jammed), it has provided me with over 1,000 images, some of which have found their way into the railway press. I wish I had taken more, but funds were directed at travel costs and, as a junior clerk, weren't always there.
As the months counted down towards the end of steam throughout Britain an ever-increasing number of enthusiasts could be witnessed on the scene. As mentioned in the introduction, rather than 'copping' a locomotive, we haulage bashers had to travel behind our quarry in order to redline the entry in our Ian Allan Locoshed books. The resulting satisfaction of seeing a page or column completed, perhaps even before our fellow conspirators, was without doubt what we all wanted to achieve. Being a haulage aficionado was undoubtedly a very self-appreciating variation of railway enthusiasm. No one else would benefit from our successes. Photographers can display their results for all to enjoy whereas what did I achieve – a book full of numbers! Memories, however, remain and whenever espying a photograph in a magazine or book of a train I might have travelled on, out come the notebooks and if indeed I was aboard the depicted train the relevant page gets extracted and stowed away in my 'I was there' folder.
Photography was always, as far as I was concerned, secondary to the pursuit of steam haulage – I would love to have been at the lineside as well, but being unable to be in both places at once a choice had to be made. It was a race against time. Success in tracking down steam-operated services came with experience, but it was always reassuring to see a wisp of smoke in the distance thus increasing the likelihood, but not always guaranteeing, the arrival of one. It was a mad, frenetic period – the camaraderie, the sense of urgency – knowing it would all end one day. Steam was disappearing at an extraordinarily fast rate, that fact alone providing the impetus to catch every potential movement. I sometimes wonder if had the steam locomotive not been dying so quickly whether such enthusiasm, such a fanatical chase, would have occurred.
Whilst appreciating the run-down conditions and constant failures, such a frequent occurrence towards the end, I still feel privileged to have witnessed the scenarios and participated in the pursuits with all their attendant emotional excitement and sadness. One of my friends from that period recently contacted me in connection with a previous book and, within the communication, highlighted how lucky we were to have enjoyed the scenarios, stating they were 'the best days of my life' – with which I concur. Whereas they were fun, providing excitement and joy for us enthusiasts to follow as a hobby, for the railway employees working with such run-down machines in depots surrounded by dereliction and filth it was no joke. Their own employment was in doubt as steam sheds were closed down and I take my hat off to them for the chivalrous attitude they had towards us 'puffer nutters'.
My case and equipment. Everything I needed was crammed into this 16×10×4in attaché case.
Through all the travels contained within this tome my small attaché case (16×10×4in) went with me. All necessary equipment was contained within it: timetables, camera, Ian Allan books, notebooks, Lyons pies, Club biscuits, pens, flannel, handkerchief, stopwatch, cartons of orange drinks, sandwiches and, of course, a BR1 carriage key – a necessary piece of equipment to obtain a few hours sleep in vehicles stabled in the platforms/carriage sidings! Sturdy enough to sit on in crowded corridors of packed trains and doubling up as a pillow (albeit hard!) on overnight services it was in regular use through the final years of BR steam and even travelled with me throughout Europe in '68–69. Having survived many domestic upheavals over the years it now enjoys a comfortable retirement at the bottom of my 'railway cupboard' at home – containing all the documented travel information without which I could never have contemplated writing a book such as this.
As for apparel the anorak was not in existence then – to the best of my knowledge it was either a raincoat or a duffel coat with its attendant toggle fasteners. Usually, having commenced weekend travels directly after a day's work at the office, the obligatory tie (modern and straight edged) was always worn, albeit at peculiar angles after an overnight trip. The followers were classless. They came from all walks of life and included vicars, MPs (such as Robert Adley of Winchester who became a leading opponent to privatisation) and persons from many a varied employment. I often wondered how those who did not obtain cheap travel as an employment perk could afford it all – but then again ticket checks on trains were infrequent and there were no automatic barriers back then!
Upon returning home after each escapade, or within a few days if very late back, all the necessary details collected were transferred into legibility within large A4-sized desk diaries. Separate small books kept individual locomotive mileages, shed visits and timed trains. I lost the pre-June-1965 notebooks from which I extracted the information but have retained all the rest. There was much to do. Each 'capture' was redlined in the Ian Allan Locoshed book – more often than not being surrounded by blacked-out entries indicating sister locomotives having been withdrawn! These books were reissued quite regularly and, with the continuous transferring around of locomotives (information updated courtesy of Railway World magazine) resulting from line/depot closures, much midnight oil was burnt in just attempting to keep it all current. Luckily the detailing of such minutiae came easy to me through my work as a BR train planner where precise and accurate documentation was a requirement. Then there was a surprising educational side benefit as regards the named locomotives. Reference to library books or encyclopedias were often made as to who was Sir Harry Hinchcliffe or Clive of India, where is Bihar and Orissa, what was Bellerophon. It was much more difficult back then, not having the ability to type in the search box on your handheld iPhone! So off we go ...
Front cover of the Autumn '64 Ian Allan Combined Volume. (Ian Allan)
Front cover of Part 2 of an Ian Allan ABC. (Ian Allan)
The Locoshed books issued by Ian Allan were an essential tool in keeping up to date with the whereabouts and numbers of steam locomotives. Here are the front covers of two issues: Autumn 1966 (left) and Autumn 1967 (right). (Ian Allan)
The twelve issues of the 1967 LCGB Bulletin. These small monthly publications provided both the information to alter the Locoshed Book entries plus reports from all the regions by members in respect of which trains were steam operated, shed closures and their own rail tours. (The Locomotive Club of Great Britain)
The twelve issues of the 1966 Railway World magazines. It was the reading of 'the office copy' in those early years of railway employment, with photographs and articles of railway routes about to be axed by the good doctor, that inspired me to travel over them before it was too late. (Ian Allan)CHAPTER 2
A Southerner Ventures 'Abroad'
NORTH EAST ENGLAND was the cradle of the railways. The world's first public railway to use steam locomotives was the 25-mile-long Stockton & Darlington Railway over which, in September 1825, George Stephenson's Locomotion No. 1 worked the inaugural train. Primarily concerned with the faster movement of coal, the need for an alternative mode of transportation other than the horse-drawn method available until then had led to a myriad of railway lines being constructed throughout the coalfields of Durham and Northumberland. Always on the lookout for profiteering on behalf of their shareholders, passenger traffic, until then of secondary importance, became a valuable source of income to the railway companies of which the North Eastern Railway (NER) (1854–1922), resulting from numerous amalgamations over the preceding years, became the main player. Few railways achieved such regional domination and, given the level of rivalry that existed in much less fertile regions for railway operation, the NER was fortunate in not facing greater competition.
In the sixty-eight years of the NER's existence the railway expanded from a route mileage of 700 to 4,900. It bequeathed to the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) (1923–1947) a significant portion of the East Coast Main Line (ECML), some of the finest stations in the country, e.g. York, Darlington, Hull and Newcastle, an electrified suburban system at Newcastle and massive freight traffic. Little changed upon the 1923 grouping or indeed after the 1948 nationalisation. The railways carried on as always, moving both freight and passenger traffic in abundance. They, together with their British Road Services arm, had the monopoly. There were no motorways and car ownership was only for the well off. Change, however, was on the horizon. Post-war affluence, allowing family car ownership to become the norm, together with continual increases in permitted weight limits for lorries, was to challenge the railways' monopoly on all fronts. With the loss of many of the traditional heavy industries over the years, coupled with the 1955 British Railways (BR) Modernisation plan envisaging the elimination of steam traction by 1968, the steam locomotive, the main thrust of my hobby, was heading for oblivion. My interests therefore morphed from that of a line basher into the chasing of the Iron Horse itself. There was little time left!
The date was August 1964 and within a few weeks the Daily Herald would cease publication and be superseded by what has become Britain's largest-circulation paper, The Sun. Musically it was a great period to live through with Top of the Pops and Radio Luxembourg belting out hits from groups such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Animals – Manfred Mann's Do Wah Diddy Diddy sitting at the number-one spot during the last two weeks of that August.
Excerpted from Riding Yorkshire's Final Steam Trains by Keith Widdowson. Copyright © 2015 Keith Widdowson. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Chasing: An Addiction Explained,
2 A Southerner Ventures 'Abroad',
3 Planning the Attack,
4 Here We Go,
5 The Last Remaining Outposts,
6 The Main Players,
7 Disappointments Galore,
8 The Alnwick Adventure,
9 Where Are Those Elusive Jubilees?,
10 Riding Yorkshire's Nocturnal Mail Trains,
11 All Aboard the Rail Tours,
12 Brief Encounters,
13 No More Wakefield Portions,
14 The West Riding Finale,
15 And Still They Come,
Appendix V Two Sample Summer Forays (NER Extracts Only),
Appendix VI Railways Across the Pennines,
Appendix VII Preserved Railways in the North East of England,
About the Author,