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Chichester

Meeting Reports

Wednesday 26th April 2017
The Hayling Billy
Alan Wallbank

It was standing room only as a record branch attendance of 60 people created a wonderful atmosphere in the larger committee room at County Hall, Chichester.
Alan screened three of his own highly professional self-compiled films. The first, and highlight of the evening, his wonderful hour long ‘A Never Ending Love Affair’ the story of the Hayling Billy.
The charm with which the backing track and commentary, where appropriate, blended perfectly with photos and film of the Hayling Island to Havant railway line, together with comments and interviews with people who had used the line, captivated the audience, recalling memories of childhood prior to the lines closure in November 1963.
Modern day images of an array of local locations enhanced the films content, providing a good marker of how things have changed over the intervening years. Very little in many respects, but the opening film shots of the remains of the wooden bridge, over which trains once passed from the Mainland on to Hayling island, are a sad, but reflective sight.

In the second half, Alan entertained us with two shorter films ‘Portsmouth Trolleybuses’ and ‘Cuba’s Sugar Railways’. The former brought back memories to many local people in the audience and once again the location shots and fascinating insight into the history and subsequent demise of the trolleybus network, ironically also in 1963, had the audience enthralled.
Finally another short film taken in Cuba, where most were not so familiar with the locality, was an ideal finale. The sight and sounds of steam locos working heavy sugar cane trains was a formidable experience. Many working practices had the audience on the edge of their seats and certainly wouldn’t be tolerated under current legislation in the UK!

We are extremely grateful to Alan for showing us his highly professional films which are worthy of a wider audience. The faces and comments from the audience at the end said it all really, A truly wonderful evenings entertainment.

Wednesday 22nd March 2017
40 Years of Service
Terence Jenner

Terence Jenner began his working life in the railway industry as an articled clerk, or more precisely an ‘officer cadet’, a job title which reflected the military ethos that prevailed in the railway industry well into the nationalised era. He retired 40 years later as Chairman of BRB (Residuary) Limited which was the successor to the British Railways Board after the latter was formally wound up in 2001. Such a length and breadth of service was well reflected in Terence’s fascinating insight into the profound changes that have taken place on our railways since 1948.
Terence recalled how powerful the individual Regions were in the early British Railways era where one General Manager justified having eight chauffeur-driven cars at his disposal! He went on to describe his central involvement in rail privatisation and said he was often asked whether the renaissance of the industry and its privatisation were coincidental. Terence said that factors such as a significant rise in numbers attending tertiary education, prohibitive insurance costs for young drivers and increasing road congestion would on their own have led to a growth in passenger traffic. He added that Government money now flowing into the privatised industry at record levels coupled with a longer planning horizon has undoubtedly helped the revival in the industry’s fortunes.
We thanked Terence for an insightful analysis arising from his long years of distinguished service on the ‘inside’.

Wednesday 22nd February 2017
Strictly Freight Only - Part 1
Brian Ringer

A capacity audience at Chichester Branch were delighted to welcome Brian Ringer to give a presentation entitled ‘Strictly Freight Only Part 1’ at our February meeting.
The speaker is a retired railway manager who spent his entire career on the freight side, and was therefore uniquely qualified to explain the enormous changes which took place from the late 1950s, when virtually all goods traffic was wagon-load, until the ‘80s when block trains had become the norm. He started with an entertaining description of the bureaucracy and operations involved in moving a load of guano from Cornwall to East Anglia.
The introduction of the first block trains was then covered, including the famous Tyne Dock – Consett iron ore, Annesley – Woodford Halse ‘windcutter’, and ‘Condor’ express freight services. Why those dreadful Metrovick Co-Bos were chosen to haul the latter remains an unanswered question to this day!
Later developments described included freightliners, ‘merry-go-round’ coal operations, iron-ore trains in South Wales using (filthy) triple-headed class 37s, and the rise and fall of the ‘Speedlink’ network. The talk was well illustrated with real slides (a rarity these days) including some of the less successful or downright money-wasting diesel types introduced such as the Clayton type 1s and the ‘Teddy Bear’ class 14s.

We look forward enthusiastically to the second part of Brian’s talk.

Wednesday 25th January 2017
Mail Rail
Chris Taft

“Mail Rail: A History through the Archive” was the subject of our 25 January speaker Chris Taft, Head of Collections at the Postal Museum, which is due to open to the public in mid-2017 and include a small part of the Post Office’s own underground railway.
Chris recounted the history of this unique railway, the world’s first driverless electric underground system, from early schemes until actual opening in 1927 then mothballing in 2003. It was 6½ miles in length, running from Paddington Station in the west to the Eastern District Office (at Whitechapel) in the east.
Three types of stock were utilised on this 3rd-rail powered 2’ gauge system, and examples of each will be on static display, including the only surviving 1927 car plus a 1926 battery locomotive. All these have been conserved (not restored) but visitors will travel around a loop under Mount Pleasant Sorting Office on two specially built new sets, one painted green, the original PO colour, and the other red – the colour applied with the 1987 Mail Rail rebranding.
When operational, 440 volts powered the trains, reducing to a safer 150 in the stations, but visitor’s trains will be battery powered and have a driver.

In conclusion, Chris provided us with a thoroughly entertaining and informative evening!

Wednesday 14th December 2016
AGM
Vic Mitchell

The Annual General meeting of the Chichester Branch took place a week earlier than usual because of the approaching Christmas season, but the presence of very important people at a reception prior to the Fire and Rescue service Carol Service in the adjacent cathedral, meant a hasty relocation and parking difficulties for our members and guests. Nevertheless, the business part of the meeting took place smoothly, the existing committee were re-elected, reports accepted and finances explained. The chair paid tribute to the excellent work and commitment by his committee colleagues and all agreed that the Branch is now again on a sound footing after the difficulties of the past two years.

Following the business meeting and refreshments, Vic Mitchel, founder publisher of Middleton Press gave us a fascinating account of his developing interest in railways, his early Trix Twin train set, demanding to be taken by his nurse to see the locomotives of the Metropolitan Water Board at their nearby works and then his involvement in the very early days of both the Talyllyn and the Ffestiniog restoration movements. In those more relaxed days around the end of World War 2 at the age of ten, Vic had learned his railway craft at his local station by trying out all the many railway tasks.
In 1951, with a friend, he had used a summer holiday after the end of his school years to travel to North Wales with a view to looking at both railways. Having seen the active upper reaches of the Ffestiniog and the derelict state of its main line, on arrival at Towyn they had been quickly recruited by Tom Rolt to join a gang replacing wooden keys in the track. They were told quite firmly that there was only enough room for one preserved railway in the UK and that would be the Talyllyn.
Living in Midhurst, Vic was aware of the presence and history of its local railways, and 25 years after their closure he mounted an exhibition in the local Church Hall which stimulated a lot of interest. After meeting Keith Smith and finding that between them they had something like 1000 photographs, and that another friend, Norman Langridge, had a comprehensive collection of Southern tickets, they compiled a pictorial history. The main railway publishers weren’t interested so, finding a helpful printer, the decision was taken to publish it themselves. And from that, Middleton Press has now grown to a list of some 600 titles and more are produced each year. To celebrate, the first volume, Branch Lines to Midhurst, has just been reprinted in a special edition.

This was a very special evening and the large audience clearly were fascinated to meet a remarkable man, whose links with railway preservation go back to the very early days, and who has made such an important contribution to the recording of the nation’s railways.

Wednesday 23rd November 2016
Regional Railways
Alex Green

Alex Green provided Chichester members with a fascinating account of the Regional Railways story, based on the book by Gordon Pettitt and Nicholas Comfort.
Ideally qualified to speak on this topic, (at the time of his retirement Alex was Director of Operations RRNW) he spoke of the provincial sector (1982-90), and Regional Railways (1990-94) and then looked briefly at the post privatisation period.
His talk ranged from the minimal railway with its declining freight services and decaying stations, to the start of expansion, with new stations and trains. He outlined the creation of an inter-urban network, (e.g. Cardiff - Portsmouth) and spoke of the leadership of Sir Robert Reid and then Sir Bob Reid, finally mentioning the identification of unresolved problems.
The entire presentation was backed up by hard facts and statistics.
Brilliant! Thanks Alex

Wednesday 26th October 2016
The End of the Line
Mike Beale

Mike attracted the largest attendance seen at Chichester for some time, accompanied by his wife who graced us with her presence in the audience.
Initially we were given a fascinating insight into Mikes family connections with the railway and history of the line. The projection of many historic maps, newspaper items and timetables, together with an array of images of the trains themselves set the scene perfectly.
The diversion of main line trains from the Midlands and North to the Bournemouth area, including the famous Pines Express, away from the line in 1962, signalled the beginning of the end, as local traffic was insufficient to support a viable operation. Images of deserted stations, few, if any, passengers boarding or alighting from the sparse service, were a sad but realistic image of the lines latter years.
We were treated to an in depth look at many of lines final workings, including a number of enthusiasts specials. Mike provided amazing factual detail of loco movements and loco allocations in the final months of operations, together with superb images, including the bizarre storage and movement of two withdrawn BR Standard Class 4s.
Despite a short reprieve, due to issues with the replacement bus service, the line finally closed to passengers in March 1966. However, the story did not end there. We were shown some of the interesting features of the line still existing today, providing the incentive for a good days exploration.
Finally Mike proudly highlighted the work of the Somerset and Dorset trust, based at Washford on the West Somerset Railway. At these extensive, accessible facilities, artefacts, archives, locomotives, rolling stock and much more, keep alive the spirit of the Somerset and Dorset Railway. Well worth a visit!

We thank Mike very much indeed for a thoroughly enjoyable, interesting and informative evening.

Wednesday 28th September 2016
Railway Environment
Steve Bigley

For our first meeting of the 2016-17 season in September, Chichester Branch were pleased to welcome Stephen Bigley, who gave an excellent and thought-provoking presentation on The Railway Environment.
We were told at the start that this included everything but trains, although just a few did inevitably sneak into Stephens wide-ranging and comprehensive selection of images, virtually all of which had been taken in the past few years.
Covering the whole network from Cornwall to Scotland, his talk included all the more obvious parts of railway infrastructure such as track, mile and gradient posts, embankments and cuttings, bridges and tunnels, stations and station fittings, goods facilities and signalling.
He also covered subjects connected only indirectly, such as the use of sections of former G.W.R. broad-gauge bridge rail (redundant in 1892) still buttressing a bank of the Kennet and Avon canal at Newbury, and current road signs still directing intending travellers to stations which closed eighty years ago!
Many highly unusual artefacts, both on the present system and on lines long since closed, were also shown. Being a former Redhill resident, the writer was diverted by survival in the borough of two of only three remaining sighting towers, used for surveying tunnel construction; one was above the original London and Brighton Railway tunnel at Merstham and the other, only a short distance away, was for the L.B.S.C.R. Quarry tunnel built sixty years later.
Among other observations of the peculiar and obtuse were the chapel built as a separate building under an arch carrying the main line at Runcorn, and a standard N.E.R. cast iron station footbridge at Filey, which was too long for its location so that one end had to pass through the wall behind the platform.

Altogether, Stephens entertaining and well-researched talk was much enjoyed by all present.

last updated: 28/04/17