Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Station.

Back in the 1950s Biggleswade station and its layout was vastly different to that which confronts us today. This is largely owing to a number of rationalization projects that have included, of course, a great deal of modernization. This latter relates not only to electrification but also to signalling which until the 1960s was semaphore but which is now exclusively colour-light. However, more about signalling later. Another thing worth mentioning - something that journalists/reporters, etc, would do well to remember - is that as elsewhere it was always referred to as the 'Railway Station', never 'train station', a detestable term that has recently crept in to further defile the English language.

The station and its immediate layout.

Ever since its remodelling in the early years of the twentieth century Biggleswade station has comprised two island platforms that are linked to each other by a footbridge. The platforms - once unnumbered but now numbering 1-4 with platform 1 serving the up slow line and number 4 the down slow line with numbers 2 & 3 serving the up and down main lines respectively - are reached via stairs from the footbridge. The footbridge also provides access to the platforms from the booking hall/station forecourt on one side and from the 'New Path' on the other. It is also a 'permissive' right of way, allowing pedestrians not using the trains to safely negotiate the railway.
Prior to electrification the sleeper-decked, cast-iron footbridge, was considerably wider than the present structure and had a roof of corrugated-iron, as had the stairs that gravitated to the platforms. Also - and much missed today - there were lifts, one serving each island platform. The lifts were rope operated and were primarily intended for the carriage of parcels and post. However, the disabled, along with those with infants in perambulators, were permitted to use them so long as staff were in attendance. Another feature was that cycling on the bridge was prohibited owing to safety issues whereas today, in a sign of the changing times, cycling goes unpunished but smoking is apparently an offence. Upon electrification of the route in the early 1980s a new and heightened footbridge was commissioned to accommodate the overhead catenary. It had originally been intended that new lifts should be installed as part of the updated infrastructure. However, they failed to materialize owing to a shortfall in funding. The breadth of the old bridge can still be appreciated by the width of the approaches to its replacement.

Prior to 1902 the station had only two platforms, served by the main lines only; similar to the stations at nearby Arlesey and Sandy. In fact, Biggleswade station bore a marked similarity to that at Sandy, as can be seen from the photographs that form part of Neil Alston's collection and are here reproduced with the kind permission of his family. A difference was that at Biggleswade there was an up slow line that for a while at least and perhaps longer curved to the immediate east of the station but didn't at that time serve a platform.
Upon reconstruction the layout was widened to give four 'running lines' and the platforms still in use today. For most of their existence the platforms were only sufficient to accommodate seven-coach trains. However, upon the arrival of fixed formation electric trains the platforms were 'stretched' to handle eight coaches (2 x four-car units) and lengthened again more recently to accept twelve (3 x four-car units). For many years the platform buildings - constructed entirely of timber - 'mirrored' each other and comprised waiting rooms, ladies waiting rooms, toilets, storerooms and offices, the Station-Master's office on the 'down' platform, the Permanent-Way Inspector's office on the 'up'. Throughout the fifties the stationmasters at Bigglewade were firstly Mr Soanes, then Mr Meyhew - who I believe was also a Methodist lay preacher - and finally Mr Barsby. The Permanent-Way Inspector was Mr Simpkins. During the 1970s, the buildings on the down platform were demolished owing to their deteriorating condition and replaced by the present 'bus-shelter' arrangement. At the same time the canopy covering the up platform was truncated at its southern end, also owing to impairment.

Biggleswade station prior to 1902. As can be seen, the platforms at that time were staggered. However, many years ago the late Mr Horace (Jack) Strong, a Biggleswade career railwayman, showed me a plan of the station as it existed at the time of the photograph. It seemed to suggest that the 'up' platform was in two sections, either side of the board crossing in the foreground.. If this was the case then it seems the photo was taken from the southern section. Photo: Neil Alston Collection.

A view of Biggleswade station from the south at around the turn of the twentieth century. The 'down' goods train, which includes cattle wagons, appears to be headed by a Stirling 0.6.0 goods engine. Note the goods yard and goods shed, little changed in the 1950s. Not so the signals which were doubtless replaced around the time the layout was remodelled. Photo: Neil Alston Collection.

The following photograph was taken sometime between 1937 and the outbreak of war in 1939 by the late Mr Robert (Bobby) Haynes, of The Dells, Biggleswade. He presented the original to me as a gift around 1956 and it still forms part of my collection. According to the legend on the reverse it is printed on 'Velox' photographic paper.

Gresley class A4 Pacific No 4490 (No 60011 in the BR numbering system) Empire of India, painted 'garter' blue, standing in Biggleswade station in the months preceding World War Two. Note the covered footbridge; the loading gauge to the left and above the locomotive's tender; the flight of steps descending the cutting behind the down slow signal gantry (these served the railwaymen's cottages that are out of the picture on top of the cutting to the right); and the Station-Master's house in the distance. The track converging with the up main line was in fact a short spur just to the north of Biggleswade North Signal Box. The spur was handy for 'knocking off' 'hot-boxes' - wagons with axles that had run hot - from trains on the 'up main'. It was removed in the early 1950s. Note also the neatly tended banks of the cutting, totally devoid of the unsightly brambles that disfigure our linesides today. This scene had barely changed by the 'Fities'.
Photo: Author's Collection.

In the 1950s - the period covered by this blog - Biggleswade boasted two signal boxes; Biggleswade North which was situated immediately to the north of the up island platform; and Biggleswade South - which was considerably the larger - some quarter of a mile further south and adjacent to the up slow line. Access to Biggleswade South signal box from outside the railway boundary was via a cinder track off what was then the bottom end of the New Path, roughly in the vicinity of the present-day culvert close to the curve in what is now Lincoln Crescent.
As previously intimated, the running lines were protected by a range of semaphore signals whilst ground signals, or 'Dollies' as they were colloquially known, governed shunting operations. As can be seen from the various photos, the positioning of the signals in the 1950s was markedly altered from the earlier period. Throughout most of the era being dealt with the signals were all of the 'upper-quadrant' variety having earlier replaced the former Great Northern Railway 'Somersault' signals. That said, I clearly recall Biggleswade South's up main 'Home' signal being 'somersault', as were the up slow and up slow-to-main, 'turnout' 'Home' signals which were sited on the same gantry. These three remaining somersaults were replaced by 'upper quadrants' in the earliest years of the decade. For the benefit of those not conversant with railway terminology, upper quadrant signals are those that indicate, 'line clear', with the signal arm in the raised position.

Biggleswade North signalman, Dennis Last, peers from a window on a warm and sunny afternoon. Photo: Dennis Last


Another shot of Dennis Last in a moment of respite. It was in the vicinity of where the photographer is standing that myself and other spotters engaged in conversation with Dennis - that's assuming his duties permitted. From this location we could hear the bells that heralded a train, and the chattering telegraph instruments that seemed to be constantly busy, transmitting or receiving messages. Photo: Dennis Last.

Biggleswade North signal box was closed and demolished in the early 1960s whereas Biggleswade South continued to function until colour-lights were fully installed, finally closing in January 1977, the year of its hundred-and-first birthday. Unfortunately, although I have several photos featuring Biggleswade North signal box I have none showing Biggleswade South, save for a 'fuzzy' image in one of my not-so-good snapshots. That said, an excellent reproduction of Biggleswade South can be viewed by visiting and scrolling to the appropriate thumbnail.

Class 9F 2.10.0 No; 92144 heads south on the 'up' main past Biggleswade North signal box with  a class 'C' goods consisting entirely of 'cemflow' wagons. The 9F is based at Peterborough, New England (35A), where locomotives were very seldom cleaned. That said they were mechanically sound and rarely let anyone down. Note the main-to-slow 'turn-in' and slow-to-main 'turn-out' just visible beyond the signal post. Photo: Ron Huckle.

As for the general layout: until rationalization there was a certain degree of complexity. On the 'down' side, apart from the four running lines there was a main-to-slow 'turn-in' and a slow-to-main 'turn-out' between the station and the Back Street over-bridge. These were controlled by Biggleswade North signal box, as were the points for the spur that features in the photo of Empire of India. Also controlled by Biggleswade North were the points for the siding that serviced the down-side 'dock', opposite the down slow platform and immediately below what was then the immaculate station garden but which is now just an overgrown hillock.This siding continued southwards, passing through the goods shed before forming part of the goods yard proper. There was also a northward extension to the siding that ended at a buffer-stop immediately below the railwaymen's cottages that still sit quaintly atop the cutting. This handy siding has long since disappeared, the track-bed now home to pylons supporting the catenary.

Further south, the goods yard, located to the west of the running lines, was a substantial affair that was still very busy in the '50s'. In addition to the yard and its associated sidings there were two accommodation sidings that stretched away south towards Langford. These are still in situ, with the longer of the two forming a critical part of the present-day infrastructure, although that nearest the railway boundary has been considerably shortened since the 'old' days. For lengthy periods during the '50s', mostly during the winter months, the accommodation sidings provided a home for temporarily redundant coaching stock. At the busiest times, such as Christmas and Easter, the coaches were re-employed to cope with the increase in holiday traffic, only to return as soon as the holidays were over. During the summer the coaches disappeared altogether, possibly to augment regular service trains but more often than not to provide trains for the enhanced summer timetable. Surprisingly, throughout their periods of storage, these rakes of coaches were never locked and on wet winter days, although chilly, provided a comfortable refuge for train-spotters. The coaches could be accessed via the 'Ballast Hole' level crossing which occupied the site now dominated by the unusually high footbridge just to the north of the A1 flyover.

Partially hidden behind a veil of escaping steam/exhaust, Immaculate King's Cross (34A) V2 No: 60983 pulls away at the head of the noon 'stopper. Photo: Author's Collection..

On the 'up' side, between Biggleswade South signal box and the station footbridge, there were three lengthy sidings where wagons were stabled until such time as they were needed, including those awaiting collection by the 'pick-ups,' local goods trains that collected and deposited wagons. In certain circumstances it was also the case that fully loaded coal trains occupied these sidings before being forwarded onwards.
At its southern end the outermost of the sidings, that nearest the railway perimeter, ran alongside a dock that was known locally as the 'Pig Market'. As far as I'm aware it never functioned as a market, its true purpose being for the loading and delivery of livestock. Whatever, by the mid-1950s it had largely fallen out of use, my sole recollection of animals in transit being of a wagon-load of pigs whilst I was still a very young schoolboy. Nevertheless, although no longer in use it still had its drinking trough and feeding stalls which for all I know may yet be rotting in the undergrowth.
In addition to the sidings there was also a vary short 'spur' with its buffer-stop embedded in the dock. The spur was only occasionally occupied, more often than not by a wagon needing attention from the Hitchin-based carriage & wagon department - most likely a 'hot-box' off a southbound goods train.
Just north of the Pig-Market' stood the lamp room where the paraffin signal lamps were cleaned and refilled before being returned to the signals. On a windy night the signal lamps were sometimes extinguished meaning a 'call-out' for the staff-member responsible, more often than not the lad porter. It must have been a 'hairy' experience on a stormy night, climbing the ladder to the top of a signal post in the pitch dark, carrying a signal lamp in one hand whilst gripping the ladder with the other. During the summer months, when the grass was dry, the, 'Piggy' - as we called it - was used by we spotters as a vantage point, and although trespassing we were never challenged or evicted.
The trio of sidings along with the 'spur' vanished long ago; although traces of the buffer-stops - excepting that for the spur - can still be seen immediately below the station footbridge, adjacent to the 'up' slow line. Similarly, the site of the 'Pig-Market' can still be identified by the 'dog-leg' in the perimeter fence, towards the bottom end of the 'New Path' which is rapidly disappearing beneath brambles.

Hitchin (34D) shed's class J6 0.6.0 No: 64197 passes Biggleswade goods yard after a morning's shunting at St Neots. The J6s were a Gresley, Great Northern design dating from 1911. They certainly served their masters well.
The photo was taken from the 'Pig Market'.
Photo: Author's Collection.

Communication between the goods yard and the 'up' sidings was via the 'crossover road' which traversed the running lines just to the south of Biggleswade South signal box. Wagons were transferred as required by the yard 'pilot', usually one of Hitchin (34D) shed's class N2 or L1 tank locomotives. For much of the period covered the pilot engines were non-condensing N2s, Nos: 69515 and 69557; although the withdrawal of 69557 in 1956 saw an increase in the use of L1s. Pilot locomotives were a feature of goods yards in those days, sorting out wagons in readiness for collection by the various pick-up goods trains; or shunting those that had recently arrived into the required sidings.
South of the station the layout was completed by a slow-to-main 'turn-out' that was roughly parallel with the 'tank-house', a water-tower that fed a pair of timber-encased water-columns. The water-columns serviced the slow lines only, that for the 'down' standing at the north end of the 'down' platform, that for the 'up' being virtually opposite the 'Pig-Market'. On windy days, if walking past the tank-house - which was situated alongside the 'New Path' between the 'Pig Market' and Biggleswade South signal box - you stood a very real chance of a 'dousing'. Sadly, I don't have a clear photo of the tank-house.
All signals, ground signals, points, etc, south of the station - excepting those within the confines of the goods yard which were manually operated by shunting personnel - were controlled by Biggleswade South signal box.

King's Cross (34A) B1 4.6.0 No: 61174 passes Biggleswade North signal box with an assortment of wagons. The locomotive is displaying a class 'K' head-code which given the shadows suggests the train is 1147 'up'. the afternoon pick-up goods. Note the telegraph poles carrying the wires so vital for communication; not only between signal boxes but between signal boxes and railway telegraph offices. Also evident are the gas lamps that once lit the station. The brake-van on the right is at the rear of a train stabled in one of the 'upside' sidings. Photo: Ron Huckle.

Class N2 0.6.2 tank engine No: 69520 standing on Hitchin shed after being displaced from King's Cross suburban workings by diesel locomotives. Unlike Nos: 69515 and 69557 which once performed 'pilot' duties at Biggleswade, this example carries condensing equipment for working through the tunnels between King's Cross and Moorgate.
Photo: Author's Collection.

Diversity of goods handled was ample, for while coal formed the bulk of 'goods received' there was also a healthy trade in seed potatoes from Scotland; bricks from the Peterborough brickyards; in addition to which there were countless consignments of general merchandise. As regards coal, the principle customers were Messrs Ellis & Everard Ltd - who were also involved in agricultural and building supplies - and Henry Franklin & Sons who in addition to coal merchants were equally renowned locally as flour millers. Both these companies had coal-handling facilities in the goods yard as well as offices on the station approach.
In terms of goods dispatched, this was largely dominated by market-garden produce that was shipped out several times daily, on trains heading both north and south. Scrap-metal featured strongly; as did sugar beet in season, another valuable traffic that arrived at the goods yard from the surrounding countryside for transport to the Peterborough refinery. Almost every weekday there were shipments of flowers to markets in London and the north - and then there was the issue of motor cars.
Between the mid and late 1950s the Berkeley Coachworks company produced a range of three and four-wheeled sports cars, many of which were dispatched to the dealers by rail. The vehicles were driven directly from the factory in Hitchin Street on to close-couple, fully-braked flat wagons positioned against the down-side dock, opposite the down slow platform. For loading purposes the gaps between the wagons were 'bridged', by sheets of steel, the cars being driven on to the train via a ramp near the goods yard gate. They then continued along the train until each and every wagon was occupied.

An indifferent image of Immingham-(40B) B1 No: 61082 hurrying south on an 'up' Cleethorpes express. Note the southern end of the goods yard beyond the B1; the parked jalopy and the George Street (now part of Holme Crescent) prefabs vaguely visible in the distance.
Photo: Author's Collection.

General merchandise, both inwards and outwards, was for the most part handled in the goods shed where wagons were positioned against a platform. The goods shed was staffed by goods porters and clerks, the latter accounting for the paperwork. Goods for delivery/collection were transported to or from customers locally by Scammell, 'Mechanical-Horses', three-wheeled tractor units with articulated trailers attached. Mechanical-Horses were highly manoeuvrable, the single front wheel able to rotate through a complete circle. Mechanical Horses also shifted parcels to and fro between customers and the parcels office which was located in the main station building, immediately adjacent to the booking office. If my memory is correct one of the Mechanical-Horse drivers was Mr Plumb who lived in the railway cottages. I don't know if it presently functions as such but for at least some of the time recently, the former parcels office has seen service as a cafe and 'takeaway'.
As a footnote to 'goods handled': the empty wagons for all outgoing traffic were delivered by the daily pick-up goods trains.To complete the picture there was also a weighbridge located near the goods yard gate, along with a tiny office that also played host to the weighing mechanism. A little along from the weighbridge, nearer the station garden, sat the erstwhile stables that in years gone by housed the horses responsible for shunting duties before being displaced by locomotives. In more recent years the stables were occupied by the permanent-way department as a local headquarters and as a storage facility for their equipment. As far as I'm aware the weighbridge, although now disused, can still be seen in the tarmac; not so its office which was shamefully demolished in the 90s, the former stables following suit shortly afterwards.
Finally, we can't leave this section without mention of the station garden, for although not part of the working layout it was a colourful and well-tended feature. Situated just below the booking hall and adjacent to the footbridge the garden was an absolute 'stunner', playing no small part in Biggleswade being a frequent winner in the regional, 'Best-Kept Station', competition. However, this annual event didn't just revolve around gardens. It extended to all parts of the station/layout including the goods yard and shed, signal boxes and the various railwaymen's allotments, some of which were located between the footbridge and railwaymen's cottages, others filling space on the 'up' side between the lamp-room, sidings, footbridge and railway perimeter. For many years the certificates awarded were displayed on the walls of the booking hall, disappearing only in the '80s' when the then management, doubtless ashamed of the then state of the place, clandestinely ordered their removal, Whatever, in the 1950s the station staff were rightly proud of their achievements. Among those involved with the garden whose names I remember were Ron Garratt, Roy Gray, Ken Harrold; and a porter from Potton called 'Tom' whose surname I've forgotten but who drove to work each day in a diminutive Austin A30.

Footnote 1: Sometime around 1994 the late Neil Alston and I approached the then Network Southeast with a plan to revive the garden with ourselves as volunteer labour. Management responded positively, agreeing to meet us to discuss the matter. However, they failed to fulfill the appointment and despite further approaches we never heard anymore from them. Perhaps it wasn't all that surprising, as with privatization looming with the possible threat to their jobs, they'd in all probability lost interest.
Footnote 2: The goods yard - minus the goods shed which was demolished when the lines were electrified - is presently leased by the Plasmor company. This organization receives a trainload of building blocks daily, from their plant at Heck in North Yorkshire. These are distributed locally by road. The 'up' train usually arrives at Biggleswade at around 6.30 am having been stabled at Peterborough overnight. It generally consists of either 16 or 24 wagons and is shunted from the 'up' slow line to the goods yard via the ladder crossing that has replaced the old 'crossover road'. On the days when 24 wagons are conveyed, 8 continue on to another Plasmor depot at Bow in east London whilst 16 are discharged at Biggleswade. The returning 'empties', including any that are brought back from Bow, leaves Biggleswade in the early afternoon.

Gresley class V2 2.6.2 No: 60878 of York shed (50A) waits for the road on the 'down' slow.
Note the timber-encased water column and the gaslamp. Photo: Ron Huckle.

The trains that passed..................................

My recollections of the railway in the '50s' stretch back to beginning of the decade; indeed, even to the late nineteen-forties. Back in those days the country was still recovering from the war with this all too evident at the lineside. Track maintenance, so badly neglected during wartime, was gradually returning to pre-war levels so that timetables were being slowly accelerated. Even so, throughout the period being dealt with the maximum permitted speed on the main lines was a measly 90 mph; this despite the Eastern Region of British Railways possessing a magnificent fleet of over 200 steam locomotives that were easily capable of a 'ton'. Indeed, the Gresley A3 and A4 pacifics had - and substantially - already achieved this in the '30s'; whilst there was nothing to suggest that the newer Thompson and Peppercorn locomotives of classes A1 and A2 couldn't conceivably do likewise. But ninety it was and unless there was official sanction, when certain locomotives were given one-off permission to travel faster, this was the figure adhered to. It was even more pedestrian on the slow lines, at least on the curves through the station where the maximum permitted was a dawdling 15 mph - although I'm sure this was frequently exceeded.
As regards passenger train formation: initially - with the exception perhaps of the 'Pullmans' - there wasn't the uniformity of today; and there were certainly no corporate colours. In the earliest years of the fifties the various expresses might comprise any old hotch-potch of coaches with some being pre-grouping veterans, possibly of First War vintage. It was often the case that older style clerestory-roofed stock, from whatever source, perhaps the former Great Central Railway or maybe the Midland Railway, found its way on to East Coast 'speedsters'. As for livery, this might have been LNER teak, various other shades of brown; whilst I clearly remember on occasion some trains comprising articulated coaches from the pre-war 'Coronation' streamliner set, still in their attractive blue. More modern coaches were usually of either Gresley or Thompson LNER design; and it wasn't until the advent of BR Mark 1 stock in 1951 that any appreciable upgrade was noticed. Given the number of older coaches in need of replacement, it was several years before Mark 1s became in any way commonplace.
Apart from the Pullmans the first uniform coach-sets that I recall were those for 'The Elizabethan', a summer-timetable-only express that ran from King's Cross to Edinburgh Waverley with a corresponding service in the 'up' direction. The coaches were 'two-tone' in colour with the upper and larger portion being cream whilst the lower was a vivid red. There was also a narrow strip of red below the roof-line. This colour scheme was variously referred to as either 'Blood and Custard' or as I preferred, 'Plum and Spilt Milk'. I've also heard it described as 'Whale-Meat and Snoek' although this certainly didn't do it justice. Whatever - if my memory is correct - the two eleven-coach sets for both the 'up' and 'down' Elizabethans were of the Thompson variety before later being replaced by Mark 1s. From 1956 onwards the popular red and cream was gradually substituted by the first of the so-called corporate liveries, the ubiquitous BR maroon. As the 'fifties' progressed the formations became a great deal tidier as Mark 1s became more plentiful and more venerable rolling-stock was withdrawn. That said, Gresley and Thomson coaches continued in service throughout most of the 1960s, with catering examples prevailing well into the seventies.

Peppercorn A1 pacific No: 60157 Great Eastern of  King's Cross (34A) races through the cutting towards the Back Street over-bridge with an express for Leeds and Bradford. The photo was taken from the bottom of the steps leading down from the railwaymen's cottages (see the pre-war photo of Empire of India above).
The siding on the left is the northward extension of that serving the 'downside' dock.
Photo: Author's Collection.

Many of the expresses were titled and were generally - but not always - hauled by one of the East Coast pacifics. Those that were titled carried the name of the train on a headboard, usually positioned just below the locomotive's chimney although they were occasionally carried on the buffer-beam. In either instance the headboard was affixed to a lamp-bracket. Titled trains also carried the legend on their roof/destination-boards which were located in the centre of each coach, either on the lower part of the roof itself or in the space between the roof and the windows. Also displayed were certain of the stations served. An example of such a train was the aforementioned and non-stop 'Elizabethan'. In addition to the locomotive headboard the leading coach might carry a roof-board proclaiming,'The Elizabethen', whereas the roof-board on the second coach might show, 'King's Cross - Edinburgh Waverley'; and so it went on, for the train's entire composition. Expresses such as 'The Elizabethan' and 'Heart of Midlothian' also carried their titles on a tailboard which covered the corridor connection on the very last coach of the formation.
All of the Pullmans were titled. They were the,'Tees-Tyne Pullman'; the 'Yorkshire Pullman'; the 'Queen of Scots'; and the 'Harrogate Sunday Pullman' which utilized the 'Queen of Scots' stock but which on Sundays either terminated or originated at Harrogate. The 'Harrogate Pullman' was the only such train to run on Sundays. Other titled trains that ran in the daytime included: 'The West Riding'; 'The White Rose'; 'The Talisman'; 'The Aberdonian'; 'The Northumbrian'; 'The Norseman' (a boat train connecting with sailings between Newcastle and Bergen in Norway); the 'Scarborough Flyer'; and of course the, 'Flying Scotsman', which shouldn't be confused with the legendary Flying Scotsman locomotive.

Class A3 pacific No; 60107 Royal Lancer tears past Biggleswade with a down express in the late 1950s. Although late in their lives it was at about this time that work commenced on modifying the A3s by the provision of double blast-pipes and chimneys with the addition of German-style smoke deflectors, Their performance was greatly improved while the smoke deflectors - at least in the author's opinion - substantially enhanced their appearance. No: 60107, recently transferred from Leicester on the Great Central section to Grantham (35B), is one of those that has yet to be modified. Note the 'crossover' road and a pair of 'Dolly' shunting signals in the foreground. Photo: Author's Collection.

Other titled trains, although they were far from glamorous, were the Saturdays only expresses that ran from King's Cross to Skegness and Filey with their corresponding workings in the 'up' direction. These trains, usually in the hands of King's Cross (34A) B1s, carried yellow headboards trumpeting, 'Butlins Express', in deference to their holiday-camp pay-loads. Without exception the schedules of the titled trains were 'balanced', meaning that there were workings in either direction.
Interspersed with the titled trains were numerous untitled expresses that called at intermediate stations. Typical examples were the 8.25 am King's Cross - Doncaster that called at Hitchin, Peterborough, Grantham, Newark and Retford; and the 9.49 am York-King's Cross which called at Selby, Grantham and Peterborough. Although carrying no headboards their stations of origin, some intermediate calling points, along with their eventual destinations, were proudly emblazoned on their roof boards: 'King's Cross-Grimsby-Cleethorpes', or, King's Cross-West Hartlepool-Saltburn, the like of such we haven't seen for years and which I doubt we'll ever see again.
And then there were the overnight expresses, three of them titled with two, 'The Night Scotsman' and 'The Tynesider', each conveying sleeping-cars only. 'The third, 'The Night Aberdonian', in addition to sleeping-cars also included day coaches. Other overnight trains, those that were untitled, consisted predominantly of day coaches although sleeping-cars were conveyed on some. In certain instances they might split or amalgamate en route, most likely at Doncaster or Northallerton, their bleary-eyed passengers emerging - at least in the northbound direction - almost certainly still half asleep, in the early hours at maybe Hull, Wakefield or Middlesbrough.
Bank Holiday periods saw in incredible increase in traffic, as did busy summer Saturdays. To cater for these 'spikes' the railway resorted to 'Specials', additional trains for which paths had to be found in an often congested summer timetable. It was at such times that the winter-stabled coaches at places like Biggleswade found the employment they were clearly reserved for. 'Specials' could be identified by the reporting number, in black numerals on a white board, being displayed on the front of the locomotive and also at the rear of the train.
Finally, before leaving passengers for freight, there's an outstanding express that we can't let pass without mention. This ran on Friday evenings only, non-stop from Huntingdon to London and was known as the 'Alconbury Leave Train'. Comprising five maroon outer-suburban coaches and usually hauled by one of Hitchin's class L1 2.6.4 tank locomotives - although I have seen it doubled-headed by N2s - this train catered for American airmen based at USAF Alconbury who were looking forward to a weekend in 'The Smoke'. Although packed on a Friday there was no balancing working, leaving returning servicemen with the limited option of the handful of trains to run on Sundays.

Throughout the 1950s, despite inroads being made by road transport, freight - or goods traffic as it was then called - was still exceptionally heavy and it wasn't until the sixties that any real drop-off was appreciated. The fastest of the freights, those carrying perishables and express items, weren't quite so obvious in the daytime as they were at night when except for weekends the signalmen were up to their eyeballs with goods trains running 'block and block'. It didn't help that they were competing for paths with the aforementioned overnight expresses; newspaper, mail and parcels trains. Nevertheless, there were some notable daytime exceptions, not least of which was the 'Scotch Goods' that passed Biggleswade shortly after four. Invariably hauled by a pacific this train was renowned for its timekeeping, which in goods traffic terms couldn't always be said for many others.

Carrying class 'C' headlamps King's Cross (34A) A4 No: 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley, raises the echos on a damp afternoon with a northbound 'fitted' freight. Given that the train is pacific hauled suggests it is 266 down, the 3.00 pm King's Cross Goods Yard to Edinburgh Niddrie, known to us spotters as, 'The Scotch Goods.'
Note the platform buildings as they were until the 1970s; a glimpse of the erstwhile stables above the 'down' platform canopy to the right; the weighbridge office between the first and second chimneys; the upper part of the goods shed; and Biggleswade South signal box slightly to the left of the 'up' main line in the distance. Although difficult to identify, given its location the dark 'splodge' above the far end of the 'up' platform canopy is almost certainly the tank-house. Photo: Ron Huckle. 

The slower freight trains, those that we'll call the common carriers, although not scheduled to stop at Biggleswade often did so to replenish their tenders. In the 'up' direction their journeys from Peterborough were stop-start affairs, generally undertaken on the slow lines. It meant the locomotives often needed water. This was obtained from lineside water columns such as those that I've previously alluded to. I should add here that there were no water troughs between Werrington (just north of Peterborough) and Langley (between Stevenage and Knebworth) that enabled engines to collect water at speed - that's assuming they were equipped to do so,

New England (35A) V2 2.6.2 No: 60893 pauses for water on the up slow whilst working a goods train.
Photo: Ron Huckle

Replenishing a tender took roughly ten minutes and required precise judgement by the driver. Despite the length of his train, which often comprised fifty or more loose-coupled wagons - occasionally exceeding more than sixty - he had to bring his engine to a stand with its tank-top alongside the water column. It was then the fireman's duty to climb up on to the tender and insert the heavy pipe into the filler hole. Having turned on the water he would then watch until the tender was full, taking care not to overfill the tank. Once full, he would turn off the water before carefully removing the pipe which still held a residue of the 'wet stuff'. If for any reason he was distracted, or if he wasn't concentrating, the tender might overflow ensuring him a jolly good soaking. Events such as this were accompanied by some colourful expletives. As for the amount of water taken: it depended on the class of locomotive but a typical tender had a capacity of 4,750/5,000 gallons which on a slow haul could easily rapidly diminish. Therefore, responsible crews took water whenever it was available. Congestion was frequently a problem, with queues of loose-coupled freights wanting water. To ease this congestion permissive block working was resorted to which under caution allowed several goods trains simultaneously into the section between Sandy and Biggleswade. Loose-coupled freight trains were easily identified by the clanging of buffers and couplings.

Class 9F 2.10.0 No: 92140 of Peterborough, New England (35A) plods past Biggleswade North signal box with a class F loose-coupled goods that appears to comprise mostly coal. Note the wooden-bodied wagons. Apologies for the quality of the photo. Photo: Author's Collection

In many respects watching a loose-coupled 'goods' pause for any reason was an education in itself as driver and guard worked in unison. Heading south Biggleswade is on a rising gradient, so that as soon as the loco became stationary the wagons buffered up behind. With no brakes to prevent them the wagons then rolled slowly backwards, controlled by the guard in his brake van. Then, with the train extended he'd apply his hand-brake fully until it was time to set off again. This method of working prevented couplings 'snatching' on a restart. On the other hand, if the guard applied his hand-brake too soon and the train wasn't fully extended, when the loco restarted the couplings would 'snatch', perhaps throwing the guard off balance, the locomotive having covered several yards before the rear of the train began moving. In the 'down' direction, on a falling gradient, then the opposite was obviously true. The wagons remained buffered up so that when the driver restarted he would do so gingerly, gradually extending the couplings and so preventing 'snatching' in that fashion.

Under clear signals, Doncaster (36A) class V2 2.6.2 No: 60930 awaits the 'right-away' on the slow line with the afternoon parcels, reporting No: 842 down. That the rear of its tender appears wet suggests the engine has just taken water.

Photo: Ron Huckle.

This photo of ex WD 'Austerity' loco No: 90294 is reproduced with the kind permission of Mr P.H. Groom of Broxbourne in Hertfordshire. Photographed at March depot (31B) in 1958, it shows clearly the filthy condition so typical of this class of loco.
Photo: P.H. Groom

Traffic was varied to say the least, comprising commodities and merchandise of all sorts, far too numerous to itemize. However, in the up direction, on the slower trains, a primary constituent was coal; not only for household or industrial use but for the railway's very own consumption. Engines had a hunger for coal with some having very healthy appetites. In addition to the King's Cross depot (known as 'Top-shed' and situated near King's Cross Goods Yard, between Gasworks and Copenhagen tunnels, adjacent to the new Thameslink tunnel) there was a small servicing facility at the station itself with more major concerns at Hornsey, Hatfield and Hitchin. Given their own allocations plus visiting locomotives, between them, over the course of a day it was highly likely that upwards of four-hundred engines needed coal. Take into account that a locomotive's coal capacity might vary from between two-and-a-half and nine tons depending on whether it was a shunter or a pacific, requirements for coal were colossal,

...................................and the trains that called.

Given today's excellent timetable, whereby passenger trains call around the clock save for a brief interlude in the wee small hours of the morning, it's hardly surprising that in 2016 more trains stop at Biggleswade before 9.00 am than paused in a day in the 50s. In those days there was no such thing as a 'regular interval service', with a train every thirty minutes in either direction with additional callers at peak times. In the 1950s there were just sixteen a day, eight in either direction. Nor were they equally spaced, with some quite lengthy gaps in the timetable. For instance, in the northbound direction there was nothing between the first train of the day and a Grantham 'stopper' at noon. Given that the first called at seven-fifteen, that's almost five hours without a train. Most were King's Cross - Peterborough 'locals' although one, the 4.21 pm, ran Hitchin - Sandy only calling at Three Counties, Arlesey and Biggleswade. This was known variously as either the 'School Train' or the 'Paper Train'; owing firstly to it providing a homeward service from Hitchin for schoolchildren; and secondly, that it carried the earliest of the London evening newspapers. The papers had in fact left London a few hours earlier on a Cambridge service, being detrained at Hitchin for the addition of any late news items. This was carried out on a printing press in an incredibly small hut to the left of Hitchin's station entrance. The papers, the Evening Standard, Evening News and Star, included a blank strip of newsprint at the foot of the back page where late snippets of news - including the latest racing results - could be added. I'm not certain about this; but I think it highly likely that these latest dispatches had arrived at Hitchin via the telegraph office on the station. Whatever, after terminating at Sandy this train - formed of four articulated inner-suburban coaches known as 'quad-arts' - was stabled overnight in Sandy goods yard whilst the locomotive returned to Hitchin 'light engine'. Saturdays saw a slightly revised schedule but it was still the same basic service, the only real difference being that the 4.21 pm didn't run whilst a 2.15 pm Saturdays-only outer-suburban service somewhat surprisingly terminated at Biggleswade.

New England (35A) B1 No; 61070, in typical filthy condition, pauses with a 'down' stopper. It must be a warm day as the signal box door is wide open. Photo: Ron Huckle.

An unidentified Thompson class L1 2.6.4 tank engine leaving Biggleswade on what is almost certainly the 4.21 pm 'school/paper train'. The signals show us that unusually, the train is being turned 'slow to main' for the short run to Sandy where it will terminate. Note the 'quad-art' set of coaches. Photo: Ron Huckle.

 Another B1 waits to leave with an afternoon 'stopper' for Peterborough. This shot allows a wonderful perspective of how the station appeared in the 'fiftes'. Apart from the locomotive being a B1 rather than an A4; and the fact that the short spur immediately north of Biggleswade North signal box has now been lifted, there's little to distinguish this scene from that featuring Empire of India in the earlier picture. Photo: Ron Huckle.

It was little different in the 'up' direction, the first train of the day, Monday to Friday, departing at six- fifty-eight, This was the return working of the stock off the previous afternoon's 4.21 'down' that had been stabled overnight at Sandy. The last left for London at 8.22 pm having  - according to the public timetable - departed Peterborough soon after seven. However, I seem to recall that according to the 'working timetable', this train had started back at Grimsby at around 2.30 pm and had spent the afternoon wandering across Lincolnshire collecting newspaper/mail vans and suchlike. This seems to have been born out by the fact that by the time it reached Biggleswade it comprised maybe nine or ten vehicles but with only two of them classified passenger coaches.
However, the star of the day was undoubtedly the legendary 'nine-one'. This train originated at Grantham before calling at all stations to Biggleswade. It then ran non-stop to London covering the 41 miles in only 49 minutes. Consisting of nine or ten coaches, including a restaurant car, the train was almost always pacific-hauled, often by a Gresley A4. Towards the end of the fifties it was retimed to leave ten minutes earlier but it still retained its popularity. In fact, it was so popular at times, especially at Bank Holidays or on summer Saturdays, that it frequently became overcrowded. I certainly remember one such occasion when it was so overloaded that at Biggleswade, passengers were prevented from boarding. However, in those days trains run for the benefit of passengers rather than management convenience. Consequently, the following 'up' Nottingham express, running ten minutes behind the 9.01, was stopped to pick up the overflow. Can you imagine that happening today? Incidentally, with the platform only able to accommodate seven-coach trains, those at the rear were unplatformed. Saturday afternoons also saw the return working - but only as far as Hitchin - of the outer-suburban service that had earlier terminated at Biggleswade. I should add here that nearly every passenger train was met by a postman who engaged in the transfer of mails. If you were looking for a Sunday service; then probably the less said the better. There were just five trains in total with mid-morning departures in either direction with their balancing workings mid evening. The odd man out was an unbalanced service in the 'up' direction that called shortly after the commencement of 'evensong'.

Gateshead (52A) A3 pacific No: 60040 Cameronian, pulls slowly away on the 'noon' Grantham stopper with the railwaymen's cottages in the background. It was unusual to see a locomotive so far from home on such a working. Note the Gresley coach behind the tender. Photo: Author's Collection.

As for coaching stock; It was generally a mixture of Gresley and Thompson variants with the later inclusion of Mark 1s. As expected, many were pre-war veterans; but I have to say this, from a personal perspective the compartment-style coaches with the armrests lowered were as comfortable if not more so than many of their present-day equivalents. They were also tastefully decorated, the timber-panelled bulkheads carrying colourful prints of locations throughout eastern England. Exceptions were probably the quad-arts, built originally with wooden slatted seats. However, by the fifties the seats had been 'cushioned', although their twelve-to-a-compartment, non-corridor configuration meant they were for the most part unpopular.
Non-passenger services included those catering exclusively for parcels whilst at night, there were those bringing newspapers and mail. The 'up' parcels arrived at around ten in the morning. In addition to parcels it often conveyed pigeons that were released from their baskets on the platform. In the 'down' direction, the 'parcels' called at shortly after two. Whilst porters were busy shifting packages, the engine collected vans from the dock. These had been loaded in the morning, with flowers for the north-country markets. Of the goods trains, there were several slow 'pick-ups' with in the evening, a northbound 'fitted' (fully braked) freight for good measure. The purpose of the latter was to collect perishables.

The Locomotives.

Locomotive diversity was substantial. The crack expresses were generally entrusted to one of the East Coast pacifics; either the pre-war Gresley A3s and A4s; the wartime A2s of Edward Thompson and the later Peppercorn variants; and the post-war A1s that appeared in 1948, also to the design of Arthur Peppercorn. I ought to mention here that the initial A1, classified A1/1, was a Thompson rebuild of the first Gresley pacific and named after the railway that owned her. She differed in appearance from the Peppercorn engines but still carried her original name, Great Northern.
The A4s were undoubtedly the stars, with their streamlined profiles, melodious chime whistles and their potential for high-speed running. They were also the natural choice for the non-stop Elizabethan owing to some having corridor tenders. This meant that crews could be exchanged en route - usually in the vicinity of York - by simply walking between the train and the loco without the need for the train to be stopped. The front compartment of any Elizabethan was always reserved for the engine-men. It was on The Elizabethan that we had our only scheduled sightings of Scottish locomotives, from (64B) Edinburgh 'Haymarket'.

Thompson A2/1 pacific No: 60508 Duke of Rothesay, of (35A) New England, ambles through 'light engine' on the 'up' slow.

My maternal grandparents' house is the first one facing the railway above Duke of Rothesay's boiler. It was from here that I developed my love of trains.
Photo: Author's Collection.

The A3s were no slouches either, capable of very fast running, although by the late 1950s their ages were beginning to catch up with them. Some of the earlier examples, Flying Scotsman for instance, dated from 1923 and by 1958 the youngest was well into its twenties. To improve their performance they received double-chimneys and blast pipes with the addition of German-style smoke deflectors. The modifications were an immediate success; the engines ran as new and as far as the author was concerned - although the purists would disagree - their appearance was markedly enhanced.
The A1s and A2s, both later designs, either of Thompson or Peppercorn pedigree, were all fine locomotives and could run like the wind when it was called for. Fortunately, half-a-dozen A4s and a solitary A3 - No: 60103 Flying Scotsman - have been preserved, as has Peppercorn A2, No: 60532 Blue Peter. Sadly, all of the Thompson pacifics and the Peppercorn A1s were scrapped. Happily, a group known as the A1 Trust have built a Peppercorn A1 from scratch. Numbered 60163 and named Tornado she can often be seen hauling charters.

The Gresley V2s were arguably the most versatile engines ever built. Introduced in 1936 they were intended for express freight. However, with their 6'2" driving wheels they showed an immediate propensity for speed and quite adequately handled passenger services, often standing in for pacifics. V2s could be seen hauling anything from a humble pick-up goods to all but the most tightly-timed expresses. The doyen of the class, No: 60800 Green Arrow, has been preserved.

The B1s, introduced in 1942 to the design of Edward Thompson, were another very handy class of locomotive. Rated as class 5 in the mixed traffic range they too could be seen working almost anything. Two of Hitchin's examples, Nos: 61027 and 61251, named Madoqua and Oliver Bury respectively, frequently visited on 'stoppers'. However, the author's favourite recollection of the B1s is of the Immingham (40B) locomotives that galloped through daily, whistles screaming, on the Cleethorpes expresses. Two have survived into preservation.

The impressive K3s, with their six-foot diameter boilers, were frequent visitors on freight trains. They were powerful locomotives and with the 5'8" driving wheels, occasionally appeared on passenger workings.

J6s, of which Hitchin shed had seven, were a 1911 Gresley development that could often be seen working perhaps the 'School/Paper train', ballast trains, or performing everyday shunting in the goods yard.

Primarily intended for outer-suburban passenger work the N2 and L1 tank engines often performed pilot duties in the goods yard with the L1s in particular frequently engaged in local passenger service.

Heavy good workings were usually shared between the former War Department class WD 2.8.0s, and from 1954 onwards, BR standard 9F 2.10.0s. The WDs were powerful and rugged locomotives; not very fast but capable of plodding on forever. Invariably filthy their approach could be determined by the clanking of their coupling and connecting rods. The 9Fs were the ultimate in British heavy goods engines, capable of a good turn of speed. Indeed they were occasionally pressed into service on passenger duties if other classes of loco weren't available. In one such an instance a member of the class was noted as achieving 90 mph between Grantham and Peterborough, this despite having only 5'0" driving wheels

King's Cross (34A) V2 No: 60943 heads north on the 'down' slow with fish empties. 
Photo: Author's Collection.

Other classes to appear, although only occasionally and then  mostly on freight and parcels duties, were, B16s, J39s, O1s and O2s, Midland Region 4MTs; and No: 42374, a 'Fowler', Midland Region class '4' tank engine that for a little while was shedded at Hitchin. Apart from 42374 which became a regular visitor on 'stoppers', the rest usually appeared when Peterborough's New England depot was short of locomotives. New England's answer was to 'pinch a turn' out of a visiting engine; and thus we saw examples from perhaps, Colwick (38A - Nottingham), Frodingham (36C) and Mexborough (36B). On one occasion a Cambridge-based B17 'Sandringham' turned up on a 'stopper' but I can't remember its name or number. For a while in the fifties King's Cross depot ((34A) was allocated a handful a BR class 5s. You had to be an owl to catch them as they were generally employed on overnight fish traffic. At the very end of the fifties and into the sixties (which is beyond the purpose of this blog but is nevertheless worth mentioning) the Immingham B1s, that for so many years had been the mainstay of the Cleethorpes services, were replaced by BR standard 'Britannia' pacifics that had themselves been evicted from their East Anglian homelands by diesels.
Throughout the BR era, in whatever region, locomotive liveries were straightforward and were as follows. Apart from a brief period in the early 1950s when some engines were painted blue, express passenger locomotives invariably wore lined-out 'Brunswick' green, The only exceptions were that from the late fifties until withdrawal, some LMR pacifics were painted red. Mixed-traffic locomotives wore lined-out black whilst freight and shunting engines were plain black. Although classed as 'mixed-traffic,' in the later 1950s some V2s, perhaps in recognition of their express passenger capabilities, were also given coats of 'Brunswick' green. That said, locomotives based at certain sheds, York and New England, for instance, were so invariably filthy that it was impossible to distinguish their colour.
Back in those days many of the expresses saw a change of locomotive at various locations, For instance, an up Scottish express might change locos at perhaps Newcastle, York/Doncaster and Grantham/Peterborough before finishing its journey in London. This often meant that apart from on non-stop trains such as 'The Elizabethan we rarely saw Scottish locos and those from the Newcastle area - Gateshead (52A) and Heaton (52B), for example. Having said that there were occasions when we found ourselves pleasantly surprised, more often than not when an engine was used on a 'running-in' turn after attention at Doncaster Works. It was on a duty such as this that I saw Pepercorn A1 No: 60159 Bonnie Dundee of Edinburgh Haymarket (64B) whilst another leapt out of the blue - quite literally. At the time I was standing on the 'Alley Bridge' at Sandy snapping photos of passing trains, and took what I thought was a picture of Pepercorn A1 No: 60127 Wilson Worsdell on a 'down' express. However, upon having the film developed I discovered I'd taken a shot of Peppercorn A2 No: 60527 Sun Chariot from Dundee Tay Bridge (62B), a very rare sighting indeed and possibly the feather in my cap as a spotter.

Taken from the 'Alley Bridge' at Sandy, Peppercorn A2 No: 60527 Sun Chariot rushes north with an express. Until he had the film developed the author thought he'd photographed A1 No: 60127 Wilson Worsdell.
Photo: Author's Collection.

Also taken from the 'Alley Bridge, class 9F 2.10.0 No: 92195 of Peterborough New England (35A) hurries north with a long rake of fish empties.
The wagons in the background are stabled in a siding adjacent to the erstwhile Cambridge-Oxford line which it is hopefully scheduled for reopening.
Photo: Author's Collection

Before we leave the topic of steam locomotives I should point out that their crews were encouraged, if at all possible, to refrain from creating smoke and as far as they were able, to prevent the safety-valves lifting while their train was standing in the station. This was to avoid causing annoyance to those living in lineside properties. I well remember housewives living in The Dells or in the railwaymen's cottages opposite, on hearing a locomotive's safety-valves lifting, dashing outside to fetch in their freshly laundered washing to prevent it being covered in smuts. This was liable to happen in certain weather conditions when the condensed water vapour returned to earth in the form of a soot-laden rain.

Diesel shunting locomotives, quite a few of which still survive, had been making their way up to London to replace aging steam counterparts in the capital's marshalling yards since the mid-fifties; not under their own power but in the formation of freight trains. As spotters we collected their numbers and to us they were just another loco. It wasn't until the advent of the mainline diesel prototypes in the late fifties that we suddenly realized the threat. Even so, we didn't appreciate that the change would be as rapid as it was. The first of the diesel prototypes to appear was the blue Deltic which was frequently trialed on expresses following similar experiments on the Midland Region. The blue Deltic was soon followed by the English Electric Types 1 and 4 (Later classes 20 and 40), Brush Type 2 (class 31) and later, in the early 'sixties' by; DP2, the forerunner of the later class 50s although it had the profile of a Deltic; 'Falcon', which was overtaken by the pace of diesel development; and the 'Lion', which after various modifications became the basis for the class 47s.

The prototype Deltic diesel, in its blue livery, speeds past Biggleswade North on a damp afternoon with an 'up' express whilst on trial in the late 1950s. Photo: Ron Huckle.

But for all their testing some of the early production diesels were far from reliable with some classes barely surviving the steam locomotives they were meant to replace. Nevertheless, this didn't prevent senior management embarking on a mass withdrawal of perfectly serviceable steam engines, some only a few years old, In their haste to present a 'modern' image they often ended up embarrassed as diesel after diesel failed, their trains having to be rescued by steam locomotives that frequently completed their journey with the delinquent still in formation. Late in 1963, after steam had been officially banished from the southern section of the East Coast Mainline, I recall seeing the 'up' Yorkshire Pullman hurrying through Biggleswade behind an A1 with its shiny new Brush Type 4 diesel, as dead as a dodo, skulking behind the A1s tender. Even as late as 1964, late in the year and probably the final occasion a steam locomotive was seen at the terminus on a timetabled service, forty-one year old A3 No: 60106 Flying Fox, deputizing for a failed Deltic diesel, arrived at King's Cross at the head of the 'up' Flying Scotsman, with virtually no lost time debited to the locomotive.

A two-thousand horsepower, English Electric Type 4 1CoCo1 locomotive, later class 40, at Biggleswade towards the end of the 'fifties'.

However, senior management knew which side their bread was buttered when it mattered. In June 1961, for the conveyance of guests to the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Kent at York Minster, three special trains were commissioned. Despite the availability of a number of mainline diesel locomotives, management, fearful of the consequences should a diesel fail whilst on 'Royal' duty, resorted to ever-faithful steam. Three immaculate A4s Nos: 60003 Andrew K. McCosh, 60015 Quicksilver and 60028 Walter K. Wigham, performed impeccably, as everyone knew they would.

King's Cross (34A) A4 No: 60003 Andrew K. McCosh rushes north at the head of an express. Note the Thompson coach behind the tender which is of the non-corridor variety.

This engine was one of those chosen to work one of the 'Royal' specials carrying guests to the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Kent at York Minster. Photo: Author's Collection.

To be fair, although many of the early diesel classes were basket-cases, those mentioned above, after numerous teething problems, transpired to be decent locomotives with some of them still in use today.
As a postscript to the diesel saga I ought to mention that in a perverse sequel to the item relating to steam locomotives and smoke/steam whilst in the station; many housewives - including my grandmother whose home overlooked the station - complained that when diesel replaced steam they couldn't get their windows clean owing to the film of diesel residue on the glass.
Footnote: The bracketed numerals and letters, (34A), (36B), (40B), etc, are the codes for the respective steam locomotive depots. The code for a locomotive's home shed was displayed on a small oval plate at the foot of the smokebox door.

And Finally.

As you've probably gathered, I've some distinct and priceless memories of the 'fifties'; of the various railwaymen I encountered, some of whom I've already mentioned. Many of those I spoke with and befriended were signalmen: Dennis Last at Biggleswade North; Norman Coupland, Arthur Backhouse, Johnny Rook, Jim Saunders, 'Teddy' Bosnell, Ron Hitchcock and so many others (many of whom were relief signalmen); and in later years, Bill Hare and Peter Smith to name but two. As boys, myself and fellow spotters, perhaps Tony Tucker, Clive Pepperell and Clive Wilson, spent many happy hours at the lineside, maybe chatting with Dennis Last if his duties permitted. We listened to the bells in the signal boxes that foretold of approaching trains and when they were expected. Although at that time I hadn't a clue what they were saying we could hear the 'chattering' of the single-needle telegraph machines as messages were conveyed between signal boxes; or between signal boxes and telegraph offices. And just in case you're wondering; yes, despite the presence of telephones, British Railways was still using Morse to transmit messages, at least well into the sixties and for all I know, possibly into the seventies.
I remember the tidiness of the lineside, the neatly tended banks of the cuttings without a bramble or sapling in sight. In those days if an embankment caught fire as the result of a spark from a steam locomotive there'd be a controlled 'burn', whereby plate-layers - including Mr Sale who lived in Back Street - monitored the fire until it was fully extinguished. The result, once the grass was regrown - and I haven't a clue how it happened - were some delicious wild summer strawberries that we could reach beneath the wire-mesh fence. Today - and yes, diesel locomotives do occasionally cause fires - the first thing they do is call the fire-brigade without a thought for the cost and disruption.
Finally, a couple of scenes to stir the blood. Just imagine if you can ex Great Eastern Railway class J15 0.6.0 No; 65479 hurrying home to Hitchin following a morning's shunting at Sandy. She was forty-seven years old when she was withdrawn in August 1960 but looked every bit an octogenarian, as she surely would given that the design dated from 1882. And then, on a freezing January evening in 1963, when many of the diesels were sidelined owing to the arctic conditions, a hastily-prepared V2, proxy for a diesel that had given up the ghost before it had even started its journey, blazing her way north on a Cleethorpes express, smokebox door glowing in the dark and several minutes up on the diesel's schedule. That's what memories are made of.

Hitchin (34D) shed's solitary former Great Eastern Railway class J15 0.6.0 N: 65479. One of her regular duties was shunting Sandy goods yard. She was also a frequent performer on the Henlow Camp leave train.

Photo: Author's Collection.


Although now living at Falmouth in Cornwall we still see the occasional steam 'special'. For instance, yesterday, 20th September, 2016, I popped into Truro to witness No: 46201, Pincess Elizabeth, pass through on a Penzance - Exeter 'Cathedrals Express'. Loaded to nine coaches including a catering vehicle and a Metro-Cam Pullman she made a fine sight, although unfortunately I don't have a photo. Whatever, she must have run extremely well because after passing Truro about a minute late she arrived at Exeter St David's thirty-two minutes early. This suggests she made mincemeat of the South-Devon banks.

I hope you've enjoyed this blog. If you haven't then it's probably my fault. I've tried to impart as much information as possible without being overly technical. If there's anything anyone can add, or would like clarifying, please do get in touch.

Many thanks to those who provided photos: The Alston family, Ron Huckle, P.H. Groom and Dennis Last; and to various publications - ABC spotters books, for example - that I consulted for verification purposes. Incidentally, most of the photos credited to the author were taken with a Kodak 127 'Brownie' camera, a Christmas present from my maternal grandmother and grandfather in the mid-1950s. I still have the camera today and it still works perfectly - provided I can obtain the film. In fact, just a few months ago I took three photos locally in order to use up a film that had been in the camera since the early 1970's. I then took the exposed roll of film to a local photographic shop and asked them if they'd kindly develop it, without much hope of a result. Amazingly, all the photos turned out perfectly, including some that were taken at the North Norfolk Railway in its earliest days of operation. I'll be loading them onto this blog in due course.This blog will be updated as further bits and pieces materialize, especially photographs; so if you've anything to contribute then please don't hesitate to contact me. Any photos will of course be credited to their owners.
Further interesting and useful information featuring former L.N.E.R. locomotives can be found by visiting

Note: for anyone with an interest in British merchant shipping from the above era please go to This blog has lain dormant for some months but will hopefully be updated and expanded throughout the summer.

Footnote: It is with great sadness that I report the death following a brave battle with pancreatic cancer of Clive Pepperell, one of my train-spotting chums of the nineteen-fifties and sixties. Clive spent many of his younger years in Biggleswade, his father being the then manager of Barclay's Bank in the High Street. Clive passed peacefully away in a Peterborough hospice at 11.00 pm on Saturday, 27th August, 2016.

What a wonderful achievement by Peppercorn, class A1 Pacific, No: 60163 Tornado in attaining 100 mph on a test run, overnight on Wednesday, 12th April. I wonder what speeds she might be capable of if she was really 'let go'?