Meeting Reports

Wednesday 25th October 2017
By Rail to Chichester, 1846-2016
Alan Green, local author and historian.

Our 25/10/17 speaker, well-known local historian Alan Green, enthralled a capacity audience of nearly 100 (a Branch record!) with his talk entitled ‘By Rail to Chichester, 1846-2016’.
In 1846 the LB&SC arrived from the East, later extending West to Portsmouth.
The heavily engineered Midhurst line arrived in Chichester from the North in 1881and Alan providing comprehensive details of the 3 stations en route - Lavant, Singleton & Cocking. Midhurst, a West Sussex market town, had two stations, the L&SW (branch from Petersfield) and the LB&SC (branch from Pulborough); a physical connection existed, only used by freight.
The last line to reach Chichester was the Hundred of Manhood & Selsey Tramway (later West Sussex Railway), built to standard gauge under a Light Railway Order, arriving from the South in 1897. It was renowned for frequent derailments, employing a boy to cycle up and down the line advising potential passengers of service failures! It remained an independent concern throughout but succumbed to road competition, closing in 1935.
The rail service to Chichester was electrified in 1938, but through freight services remained steam hauled for many years to come, as did some inter-regional passenger services (the last being on 30/04/1966).

A fascinating evening from a very accomplished and knowledgeable speaker.

Wednesday 27th September 2017
Airport Railways: A Global Survey
Andrew Sharp

The Branch launched its 2017/8 season with an absorbing talk by Andrew Sharp who is Policy Adviser to the International Air Rail Organisation.
He began by outlining the challenge of airport railways satisfying the conflicting needs of both local people (often airport employees) and visitors.
As impressive as our own Heathrow Express is in carrying 6 million passengers a year, Andrew duly put it into perspective by showing us the Hong Kong equivalent, which transports over 14 million a year!
Innovation was a common thread running through all railways connecting city centres with their airports. Amongst many examples covered were: air-rail code share at Frankfurt Airport where trains to Stuttgart are shown on the flight departure board at the Airport Station; in town check-in for flights at the many city centre stations; and grade separation at Hong Kong Airport station where incoming trains arrive at the flight departures level and departing trains leave from the flight arrivals level. Andrew gave some comparative figures of rail’s share of total passenger traffic ranging from as high as 53% at Copenhagen through to 37% at Gatwick and 28% at Heathrow.
Building rail links to airports seemed to be the classic ‘win-win’ situation where everybody benefited including the airports, the airlines, the railway operators, passengers and last but not least the people that lived in the locality of the airport.
Andrew Sharp quoted, with not a little disdain, the airline statistic that with 3km of runway you can fly anywhere in the world but with 3km of high speed rail you can only travel 3km. The fact that the entire Paris to Lyon TGV occupies less land than Paris CDG Airport was a telling counter argument!

Wednesday 31st May 2017
Black & White Steam. Another selection of David's excellent Photos
David Kelso

For our final meeting of the season our audience was fortunate to again have David Kelso bring his superb black and white photographs for a presentation entitled ‘South of the Border 1948 to 1960’. After Scotland, the family home was in the West Riding but with relatives in both Derby and London, as a youngster David was fortunate to be able to travel widely over the railway network.
So starting with a photograph taken from the top of the water tower at Willesden shed with his Box Brownie in 1948, we were treated to photographs of engines, often with their trains and in some fascinating locations which ranged from Patriots in Carlisle to an ex North London crane tank engine originally built in 1858. We saw summer Saturday trains at Mirfield, a very clean B17 Sandringham at Liverpool Street, a pigeon special at Bramhope tunnel, the Pehryn Quarry railway and a Schools and LSWR L1 on sets of ‘birdcage’ stock at Tonbridge.
As well as steam we saw the ill-fated Fell locomotive in Derby shed, a Liverpool Overhead train at Seaforth and Litherland, and Southern, Tyneside and Mersey Rail electrics.
It was a veritable feast, some in long lost locations and some in place which are little changed.

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
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.

last updated: 04/11/17