Railways and me

My railway back story

An outline of how railways have been my hobby, for more years than I like to admit to, is set out below, hence the page title of railways and me.

Railways and me

My family’s railway interests began when I was bought a Hornby Dublo train set for Christmas by my Great-Grandfather in 1955. At age 3 I had limited interest but this blossomed thanks to an interested father who was sufficiently fired with enthusiasm himself to encourage my interest as I grew, and other knowledgeable family friends.

Although our family roots were in the north we lived near the Southern Region main-line to Southampton and I was regularly taken to the line side and have heady memories of the busy scenes of passenger and heavy van trains etc. We used the train for trips to London and to Southampton. One regular treat was coffee, served by a steward from proper silver coffee pots, in the Restaurant Car on the Up Royal Wessex to London. I also went on some school trips by train.

Family holidays with relatives in the West Riding also gave a good background to steam in the Pennines and over the Settle and Carlisle. Dad and I managed to get a trip to Doncaster Works Open Day from Leeds one summer holiday and managed to be hauled outward by the A3 Isinglass and back behind Mallard. Great Grandfather worked at Cortonwood pit near Barnsley and we would sometimes go down and see the shunting engines, the 8 coupled mainline engines and the Woodhead electrics at Wath. I also remember the massive viaducts of this area – now all gone. The industry in a whole region swept away by so called progress and the idea that using cheap imported coal and steel is better than employing your own countrymen!

Due to my father’s job as an art school lecturer he had an official permit giving group access to the dockside in Southampton and this allowed me in with him as an accompanying “student” although, as I was considerably under college age, the dock gate police must have been fairly liberal. I now realise, looking back, just how lucky I was to see both the great Cunarders, and the other liners, from close up. In the docks there were the USA tanks shunting and boat-trains to/from their own station within the Ocean Terminal building. I recall Nelsons on these trains as well as the predictable Bullieds. M7s rattled along the Itchen Valley, moguls clanked past with strings of loose coupled vans and trucks and the diminutive B4 which shunted Winchester yard.

GW and LMS types were also seen on inter-regional trains and GW stock used to come off the Didcot line via Winchester Chesil and through Shawford Junction. City of Truro was in use for a while on this line to keep it in trim when first preserved. My mate Clive’s Dad was signalman at the junction although we didn’t go down that often to avoid getting him into trouble. The site of the box and junction is unrecognisable now under the M3 motorway although Hockley viaduct used by the DN&S trains remains preserved and is, I believe, a listed building due to being an innovative structure!

Steam was run down and faded out on the Southern, but there were a few last big bangs. I don’t think I will ever forget seeing Mallard at full speed westbound through Andover (93 mph *) or Clan Line belting southbound through Shawford right at the end.(105? mph*) Fawley oil refinery sent loads out by rail and the 9Fs thrashing their 50 oil tanker trains from a standing start (Out of the Allbrook loop) and up the gradient through Shawford are also a not to be forgotten experiences. I did manage to “cop” all the Bullieds but Dad missed one. (I like to think it’s appropriate to his memory somehow that this is one of the preserved ones – City of Wells)

One railway visit today that does make me feel old though is going to the Mid Hants – a railway which I traveled over for a while in BR days going to a holiday job in Alresford and also up to Aldershot to see them play York City (my team) at football. Most of the railway is preserved but Aldershot dropped out of the the league for a while as have York too.

For a while after the end of steam my interest waned even though I used the new electric trains daily to get to college in Eastleigh and later occasionally to get to work. However it was rekindled by the North Yorkshire Moors Railway after a move north in 1972. I worked regularly as a volunteer at Grosmont shed from 1973 until work and family commitments began to get in the way circa 1984. The NYMR is the best line in the country, without a doubt, and I still visit it every year for the summer holidays. Seven and eight coach trains at full chat up steep gradients through fantastic scenery – what more can you want!

With interest rekindled even modern traction began to be interesting in the 70s. However now these diesels have also gone, farewell Clayton’s, 20s, 25s, 31s, 33s, 40s, 45s, 46s, 50s and 55s. Even the humble DMUs have gone and we have lost the grandstand view through the front windows.

Loco hauled is itself now fading out and 1999 was spent photographing the last season of 37s to Weymouth, pictures of 73s on the Gatwick’s and 47s on the Saturday Virgins. The Mark I EMUs were also doomed and so on I went to chase CIGs, VEPS etc., all now gone too. Who would have thought that in July 1967 as we watched steam go out and cursed the new “trams” even the “trams” would become a nostalgia item!

Railway photography

My first railway photographs were taken at Leeds Central in August 1962 and featured the A4s Walter K Whigham and Silver Link – taken with a Box Brownie given to me by my Grandfather. I outgrew the Brownie and photography evolved through folding bellows cameras (Zeiss Ikonta & Nettar using 120 roll-film). I was not a regular photographer until I moved into 35mm in 1977 with an S1a Pentax and later Spotmatic and don’t care to think about all the things I didn’t photograph even into the 1980s. For a long time I used Nikon kit , but not auto-focus, and have how gone digital with an Olympus model to get auto-focusing and an eye-piece which is adjustable so I can photo without my glasses.

Model making

Although not a highly skilled modeller, I also dabble with model railways and show my Hornby-Dublo collection from time to time at model railway exhibitions. With model railways it is the planning and background research I enjoy the best, especially the planning of plausible “might have beens”. You will also see from the content of other sections of this/related web-sites that I am involved in the administration side of the Waggonway Research Circle, The Stephenson Locomotive Society (SLS) and the York Model Railway Show so the hobby does keep me fully involved.

Current interests

My current interests (2016) are early railways, in particular those dating from before the steam age. As you can see from my writing pages this has also led to published works on the Tudor and Stuart era mining at Wollaton in Nottinghamshire and the career of Huntingdon Beaumont. These interests feature elsewhere on the web-site.

Many years have passed since Christmas 1955 and railways remain my main, but not sole, hobby interest for which I thank my Great Grandfather, my Dad and his long standing friend Ken Macdonald, for firing my enthusiasm. Unfortunately they have all passed on; but yes I do still have the venerable Dublo Silver King and N2 tank I was given all those years ago – and what’s more they still run. The Classic Train Set.

The “Anorak” tag.

My one annoyance is that due to the behaviour of a minority our hobby has been garnished with the tags of “sad” and “anorak” and the rest of us have to be careful in admitting to it and talking about it. Hopefully today’s kids will be inspired by the Thomas revival, drift through their teens without completely loosing interest, and will return to the fold as they mature. Don’t bore people rigid with debates on the number of rivets on the side of a tender, or other minutiae, because they don’t care and will justifiably call you a nerd! Instead pass on the pleasant aspects of our hobby such as the joys of walking in the countryside to a line side spot for a quiet afternoon of photography, the gut churning sight and sound of a big steam engine working hard on lines like the NYMR, the satisfaction gained in good model making etc, – be positive – swing the balance our way.

Learn the minutiae by all means, such knowledge is needed and should be recorded for posterity, however don’t use it to bore an inappropriate audience!

Last page update 14 October 2016.


* Mallard’s speed, as quoted above, is that given in published sources, including driver Bert Hooker’s memoirs and a contemporary log in Railway Magazine. One of the railway magazines later published a log showing Clan Line’s speed, which I recall as 105. However I can’t find my copy of this log to check and therefore that figure is included from memory only. However logs showing “end of steam” speeds of 100 plus by Bullied pacifics were published in editions of the Railway Magazine in 1967 & 68 (which I have original copies of) so it is not an implausible speed.