Meetings reports

Meetings reports



Saturday 8th February 2020

'Chaging Landscapes

Barry Jones

On the 8 February the West of England Branch welcomed Barry Jones for the first time when he showed a PowerPoint presentation entitled ‘Changing landscapes’. After a brief introduction when we saw some of his first black and white photos taken on a 1975 visit to Exeter, we then had a detailed look at Barry’s home city of Plymouth. In his early years his home was in a prime position overlooking Laira shed and in addition to railway photos he also showed comparative views of the changing scene in that area, before moving on to some of the less seen corners of the city such as Friary and the Cattewater branch. We also saw some memorable views taken from the top of the Royal Albert Bridge during an official visit.

For the second part of the show we were taken on a journey along the line from Plymouth to Exeter with photos recording the changes over the last 40 years.

This was a professional presentation that was greatly enjoyed by those in attendance, and Barry was invitedto make a return visit in the near future.

Saturday 11th January 2020

Branch AGM followed by 'Railways of North Staffordshire'

Alan Hopkins

The West of England Branch AGM was held on 11 January with ten in attendance. Much of the agenda was followed with relatively little comment though once more there were was some discussion as to how we can improve the attendances at branch meetings to keep them viable. No new recruits expressed an interest in joining the committee and the existing incumbents were re-elected en bloc.

After the formalities, Alan Hopkins returned to his roots when presenting ‘The Railways of North Staffordshire’. He showed details of the area and its industries, including photos of local collieries and pottery kilns and also of the canals that pre-dated the railway. Eventual ownership of the Trent & Mersey canal made the North Staffordshire Railway the biggest canal owning railway in the country. We saw views of the NSR’s loco stock and some of its impressive station buildings, before further photos were shown from the LMS, BR and privatisation periods. Some comparative views of now closed lines were also included before looking at the current preservation scene with images of the Churnet Valley, Foxfield Colliery, Apedale Valley and Rudyard Lake lines. Finally we saw a short video of a 1960s cab ride from Stoke to Uttoxeter. This was an informative look at an area not well known to many of us and was well received.

It is with much sadness that we have to report the death of branch member Peter North in November. Peter was a member of the branch committee for many years, serving for a period as Outdoor Fixtures Secretary. He was also the Editorial Rep. Devon & Cornwall for the RO from 1998 until 2017 when he had to resign due to illness. He will be much missed by his friends.

Saturday 14th December 2019

'Railways in a Yorkshire Landscape'

Stephen Gay

Stephen Gay is always a welcome visitor to the West of England branch and on 14th December he paid his eighth visit since 2001 to present “Railways in a Yorkshire Landscape”.

This talk basically gave us a comprehensive look at the railway from Doncaster to Hull with slides taken in the last 20 years or so, including views of a variety of trains at all of the stations and passing the many signal boxes, most of the latter having since closed due to a resignalling scheme. We saw the landslide at Hatfield & Stainforth and paid a visit to Goole docks as well as seeing views of the many river and canal crossings in the area. As always with Stephen’s shows, we also saw scenes from near the railway, including examples of industrial archaeology.

The line from Selby to Gilberdyke was also covered, hence among the many anecdotes we learned of the lady who had an annual season ticket to take her from Wressle to Hessle!

Most of the photos were taken in glorious light; indeed we were impressed by how much sunshine they get in this part of Yorkshire!

Many of the audience may have travelled over these lines, but this was a welcome chance to appreciate them in greater detail and the show is recommended to other branches

Saturday 9th November 2019

'Backtracking around Plymouth'

Bernard Mills

On 9th November Bernard Mills took the West of England branch ‘Backtracking around Plymouth’, a talk based on one of his books that covers the western side of the city in some detail. Photos were shown in a ‘Then & Now’ format, often in a series of views illustrating the changing scene over the last sixty years.

The talk featured today’s main line from Plymouth station to Saltash across the River Tamar in Cornwall, a journey of only about five miles, but this was supplemented by visits to several branches. Hence we were taken down the long closed line to Millbay station, and then into the docks were we saw many views, particularly of a Class 03-hauled brake van tour in 1966 and the last passenger train at the former Ocean Terminal, a DMU railtour in 1970.

We also saw authorised photos of the railway system in Devonport Dockyard, a location where photography is usually forbidden, before visiting the rarely photographed branch to the Bull Point RN Armament Depot.

Throughout the evening we visited many signal boxes and other ‘insider’s views’ included the booking office at Saltash in 1965 when Bernard was working as Area Relief Clerk.

Bernard’s talk was fascinating and we hope that he will be able to come back to give us another look at the railway in his home city – his books are well worth investigating as well!

Saturday 12th October 2019

'From Whiteball to the River Tamar'

David Mitchell

On 12th October David Mitchell presented ‘From Whiteball to the River Tamar’ to the West of England branch. This was a photographic tour along Devon’s main line through the years, with views of all of the stations and most of its prominent features. He showed many of his own photographs, but these were supplemented by images from earlier years that he has collected. Thus the subjects ranged from the broad gauge era through to the present day. Some locations, such as those along the famous sea wall, were well known, but he also showed a good number of views from lesser-known places and from some unusual angles.

In part due to contributions and questions from the floor, we only saw about two-thirds of the presentation before running out of time, so David was invited back to complete the show at a future date.

Saturday 11th May 2019

'Strictly Freight Only Part 2'

Brian Ringer

On 11th May the West of England branch welcomed the return, after exactly a year, of Brian Ringer with Part 2 of his ‘Strictly Freight Only’ talk covering the history of railfreight in the UK.

Brian spent much of his BR working life on the freight side and was able to give us an insider’s view of the business, and we were given many anecdotes relating to his career.

He started by providing a detailed examination of Train Ferry operations from the First World War through to their demise with the opening of the Channel Tunnel. He also showed slides of how the ferries were loaded and other views taken ‘on board’ during a trip with prospective customers.

After detailing the troubled history of Chunnel operations, he explained what happened during the ‘Sectorisation’ period, highlighting both the successes of Trainload freight and the problems of handling wagonload business in the Speedlink era.

He then took us through the privatisation era, including a survey of the activities of the different companies that have handled freight traffic in the last twenty years.

Our grateful thanks go to Brian for a presentation that was both illuminating and entertaining; several of the audience commented on how much they had learned from his talk.

Saturday 13th April 2019

'Saltash Auto to HST'

Terry Nicholls

On 13th April the West of England branch welcomed the return of one of our founding members when Terry Nicholls presented ‘From Saltash Auto to HST’.

As a born and bred Plymouthian, Terry explained how his early interest in railways led to him working St Budeaux signal box before he’d even left school, and one of his first photos was taken from the box depicting an auto train passing in 1957.

When joining the railway he worked firstly at Millbay before moving to Laira shed and we heard anecdotes of working at both locations as well as seeing examples of his burgeoning talent as a photographer.

His career then took him to Bristol where he worked firstly for the Divisional Locomotive Engineer before moving to Bristol Control.

His photographic ability meant that he was called upon to record various accidents in the area and we also saw staged photos of potential work hazards that were taken for training purposes.

He was able to record the very first HST engine change at Bristol, which had to be undertaken by a steam crane! The acrophobic amongst us shuddered when we saw views from the Royal Albert Bridge when Terry achieved a life-long ambition to walk across it, not over the decks but rather the main tubes!

His final career move took him to Swindon Control from where he retired in 1997, but a long family tradition (particularly on his wife’s side) of working on the railway continues with his son now an IET driver.

Our thanks go to Terry for a truly fascinating evening’s entertainment.

Last updated: 20th February 2020