Meeting Reports

Tuesday 10th March

“Hitchin South Diaries”

George Howe  

Our meeting this month was very different from our usual shows. It was based on the material contained in three diaries which were kept in Hitchin South signal box and contained entries from January 1906 until September 1968. The content covered not only railway related events but also national and local events of significance.It was the job of the signalman on each shift to keep a log of all the workings and order items needed in the box.Detonators were a regular order with old stock having to be returned before new stock issued. Stock checking was rigorous with damaged or worn items being returned before replacement or repair.

One of the earliest events mentioned was the Grantham crash of September 1906 which concluded that a brake test (now standard practise) had not been done.It was noted in 1909 that the FA cup final between Manchester Utd. & Bristol City produced 24 special trains. The funeral of Edward VII in July 1910 at Windsor was mentioned and on August 1st that year there were 10 specials to Skegness. The following year, the downside of Hitchin station was rebuilt with the footbridge going and replaced by a subway. In the June of that year, the Coronation of George V was declared a national holiday with the comment “Nice if you can get it” as signalmen had to work. The 1914 Cup Final between Burnley & Liverpool produced 81 special trains.

The speed at which the line re-opened after crashes and derailments was mentioned – hours unlike days and weeks today. In July 1915, a child was thrown from a train and the train was stopped just along the line at Wymondley where the mother was arrested. The first non-stop Kings Cross to Edinburgh with 4472 in May 1928 is noted. On 26th May 1930, a pigeon special from the North East with 40,000 pigeons stopped at Hitchin but due to the weather, were not released until 31st May having provided 200 eggs.

Unlike the First World War, World War 2 produce fewer entries probably for security but in 1942, the box was painted battleship grey. The blackout was removed in May 1945. The following February, a crash at Potters bar was recorded where there were two fatalities. Another crash in 1958 at Hitchin South when our speaker was on duty involved two freight trains and a signal gantry which we had seen earlier was demolished.

This was a very interesting presentation with some nice images to illustrate entries mentioned in the diaries and showed a different side of railway operations.

Tuesday 11th February 2020

‘Main Line Steam in the 21st Century’

Michael Smyth

This month, Michael Smyth, one of our Branch members gave us a presentation of his own images which he had taken over the last 20 years during numerous excursions to all parts of the country whenever a steam hauled train was working. Michael began by telling us that 94 different steam engines had worked trains on the mainline since the steam ban was lifted but we were not going to see all of them. Many of the pictures we saw were in black and white as he felt that it captured the essence of a working steam locomotive better.

The show started just down the road from where he lives with a shot of 60163 at a level crossing at Waterbeach. We carried on in the Eastern region with scenes at March and on the GN mainline at Offord. Mostly, locomotives such as 60007, 60009 & 60163 featured although 6233 was seen north of Huntingdon on a ” Mid-day Scot” working.

Next we visited the Settle – Carlisle line with trains at some of the classic locations though not always taken from some of the traditional viewpoints. There were also some shots of 60163 working service trains following the re-opening of the route following a landslip. Michael did comment on the changeability of the weather although the resulting picture didn’t seem to suffer.

The West Coast Mainline inevitably featured Shap summit with a Duchess, Princess, Jubilee and Scot all working hard. Scenes around the Cumbrian coast gave us a particularly nice view of the Kent viaduct from Arnside Knott.

The Midland did not disappoint with one of Michael’s favourite locos, 48151 working in Derbyshire.

To close the show, we visited Poland, Germany and Bulgaria to see what steam workings were on offer there. According to Michael, the sound of a hard working German pacific is a joy to behold.

This was a wonderful show with good honest pictures taken by a true railway enthusiast.

Tuesday 14th January 2020


Philip Wood

For our first meeting of the new decade, we welcomed back Philip Wood with one of his presentations aptly titled ” Decades “. The show consisted mostly of black & white slides scanned from his photographs of trips and visits in the 1960s. The first slide was at Liverpool St. with Class 15 D8236 on the RCTS East London No. 3 rail tour in October 1962. We later saw the train at Buntingford.

Stratford depot was featured firstly with steam and diesels present but also more recently with Freightliner Class 66 on shed. Phil also included some nice snowy scenes from the winter of 1961/2.

It was shed visits that provided the bulk of the images with visit to the LMR sheds of Derby, Toton, Annesley, Kirkby, Westhouses and Barrow Hill to name but some. Numerous locomotive types featured including Crosti 9F rebuilds, Jintys and Midland 4Fs. In the Leeds area, Wakefield, Normanton, Royston and Holbeck were visited with Jubilees, 8Fs, Black 5s along with numerous lines of withdrawn locos seen. The black and white slides really enhanced the run down and grimy state of some of the sheds.

A visit to Scotland took in the Edinburgh sheds of Haymarket and St Margarets along with Dunfermline, Alloa, Aberdeen, various Glasgow sheds and Inverurie Works to name but a few. We saw pictures A2s, A3s & A4s along with other classes synonymous with Scotland. There was a slide showing the now preserved “Morayshire” and in Glasgow, a line of out of use, Clayton diesels. Phil included a shot of Glenfinnan viaduct and Maude working a special on the West Highland Line.

It was a show that brought back memories for several of us present and we hope to have Phil back at a later date for more from his collection.

Tuesday 10th December 2019

‘Branch AGM and Members’ Contributions’

As is customary for our last meeting of the year, we held our branch AGM which was followed by a selection of photographic memories that some of our members had put together.

The chairman was able to guide us through the formal proceedings fairly swiftly as there were no issues raised that required major discussions.

We were then shown a few slides by Robert Bartlett, our chairman which included a rail tour with crowds gathering around the GWR loco and a view of the Blists Hill Museum railway incline.

Mike Page then produced a selection featuring steam workings in Poland and Germany including TY2s, Class 52 2-10-0s, 03 Pacifics and 2-10-2 tank locos. There were also some local scenes which included the aftermath of an oil tank derailment by Hills Road bridge in Cambridge.

After the break for mince pies and sausage rolls, Jim Crane showed a selection of digital images scanned from the collection of the late John Tolson. These included shunters, DMU rail tours and various other workings mainly on the Eastern Region.

Alistair Jolly then showed some of his earlier memories from around Chesterfield where he first caught the railway bug. He included some shots of interesting workings at Manchester Victoria and concluded with some more local shots of deltics at Kings Cross and more recently Class 37s top & tailing Greater Anglia workings at Brundall.

Mark Chaplin then gave us a brief talk on carriage steam heating using B1s and Class 31s at Cambridge and Norwich.

Our sales officer Keith Crossley finished the evening with a variety of pictures from this summer just gone which took us all around the country with freight at Nuneaton and Eastleigh together with a tour of Eastleigh Works. For good measure, we were also shown scenes at Bo’ness Museum, Doncaster and Brighton.

That concluded a very enjoyable evening and 2019 season.

Tuesday 12th November 2019

‘From Rookie Journalist to Grumpy Old Man’

David Percival

For our November meeting we welcomed back David Percival with another presentation in which he outlined his career in railway journalism starting with Ian Allan.

He described his commute from Knebworth to Hampton Court where the journey home involved a brisk underground journey from Waterloo to Kings Cross and

he sometimes missed his preferred train home but took the opportunity to take photographs whilst waiting for a later train. When told he could subsidise his income

with getting pictures published at 10/- a time, he invested over a week’s salary on a new camera. This had the desired result and many of his pictures were published

in Railway World and the Loco spotters handbooks.

The job gave him the chance to attend various railway events and he always jumped at the opportunity. The launch of the Class 309 Clacton units was one such event.

The units were superb but the coffee in the waxed paper cups was too hot to drink and melted the wax. He later joined W H Smiths where he became responsible for producing the

staff magazine but still got to travel around never missing photographic opportunities.

After a final change of career, retirement gave him the chance to publish some of his work in several books which really highlighted the range and quality of his photography.

The “grumpy” part of David’s talk focused on page layouts in various railway books where pictures did not align and captions were sometimes factually incorrect and not

adjacent to the pictures they referred to.

It was a thoroughly entertaining and informative talk with some really evocative pictures from all around the country enjoyed by a larger than normal attendance.

Tuesday 8th. October 2019

‘A DMU Miscellany’

Robert Warburton

Our October presentation by Robert Warburton gave us at Cambridge an insight into the variety of DMUs that served so many of the country’s lines over the past 50 to 60 years. Robert began by showing us

early examples such as GWR rail cars and an LM unit that operated between Cambridge and Bletchley. The early examples continued to evolve and serve many rural branches until the 1955 Modernisation

Plan when the designs for the so-called First Generation units were drawn up. We were shown examples of the early rail buses and examples of nearly every manufacturers’ products ranging from single unit

rail cars up to the six-car cross-country units. Southern Region units featured regularly but the Metro Cammell Pullman units in their blue livery with the Pullman crest were the most striking in appearance.

Robert had extensive knowledge of detail differences between outwardly similar units which could vary in length or have different engines. Liveries were almost as numerous as the unit types having started

their lives in BR green and appeared in corporate blue, NSE, Regional Railways and many other versions.We did see pictures of three and four car units with every vehicle in a different livery.The ‘new’ units

such as Pacers, Sprinters and Networkers were also very well represented. Throughout the show we were able to see DMUs working in every variety of location carrying out duties ranging from suburban

shuttles to inter-city services. Robert’s research and photographs showed what an important difference the sometimes unloved DMU has made to services in every corner of the country and I recommend

this show to other Branches.

Tuesday 10th September 2019

“Noth American Wanderings”

John Day

For our first meeting of the new season, we welcomed back John Day from Ipswich with a selection of images from his more recent visits to the United States. John has family in La

Grange in Kentucky and that was the starting point.

Most of the images were of freight trains, often over a mile in length with sometimes as many

as ten locomotives working it although only the leading loco would have a driver with those within the train and at the rear being radio controlled. Numerous different liveried locomotives

featured, BNSF, CSX, Union Pacific & Norfolk Southern to name just four. Often we saw different company’s locomotives working together on the same train.

The scenery was as equally spectacular with trains seen in the Mojave Desert, along the Colorado River and Marias Pass in Montana and the variety of freight ranged from double stacked inter modal trains, coal trains, grain and even aircraft fuselages.Some Amtrak

services featured which we learnt were nearly always running hours late.

We saw views of the enormous BNSF Barstow yard and freight trains stacked up around Chicago. One train crew even ordered a pizza while John was photographing as they had a long wait.

Back at La Grange, trains run along the street and it was quite something to see enormous freight trains running alongside the stalls of a carnival that was in progress. John finished with

images of a privately owned QJ which he had previously photographed in China and an oil-fired 4-8-4 working and making plenty of smoke.

This was a wonderful show made even more enjoyable by John’s humorous facts and knowledge of the American railway scene.

Tuesday 14th May

‘Station to Station, Cambridge to London’

Terry Ward

For our final meeting of the season we welcomed Terry Ward, a photographer with a passion for architecture and history. He took us on a journey along his favourite line, the West Anglian Line from Cambridge to London Liverpool Street. Not only did we see the main route but Terry also gave us a look at some of the remaining architecture and infrastructure on closed lines along the way such as the Haverhill line, Saffron Walden line and the Bishops Stortford to Braintree line.

Starting at a much changed Cambridge station, we learnt of its origins and how it could have been much closer to the city centre but for the all powerful university. There was also a look at Coldhams Lane depot with a class 317 unit propelled inside by an 08 shunter.

Heading south, we saw views of all the stations to Bishops Stortford along with signal boxes, another of Terry’s interests. Beyond here, the station styles changed from Victorian Gothic and Edwardian to 1960s concrete at Harlow. Several of the stations were very neglected and Terry deemed them too uninteresting to show.

We saw the wetland nature reserve at Roydon and Rye House power station. Passing through the suburbs, !950s developments of flats were much in evidence along with more recent warehousing. At Tottenham Hale, the two platforms had been renumbered in somewhat hopeful anticipation of Crossrail 2. Liverpool Street was still basically the Victorian gem we remembered although outside, Crossrail development was still much in evidence.

For many of us, this was a nostalgic journey where we learnt more about some of the sights along the route thanks to Terry’s research and interests in all things architectural and historical.

Tuesday 16th April 2019

‘GWR to the end of Steam’

Brian Benford

Brian Benford made a welcome return to our Branch for our April meeting, this time with a very comprehensive selection of slides of GWR locomotives from the various pre-grouping companies, the GWR of 1923 and the Western region of BR after 1948.We saw just about everything from a broad gauge working in the 19th century to Kings and Castles in the early 1960’s.

Tank engines of the Taff Vale Railway and Cardiff Railway featured and we also saw a locomotive with M&GN branding which we learned formerly belonged to a GWR constituent company before being sold. Many of the slides we saw were taken in the 1930’s and were black and white but the images were superb and some of the trains consisted of an eclectic mix of coaches.What was equally enjoyable was that Brian was able to give us snippets of information about the subject locos such as the reasons for detail differences and whether they made any difference to the engines performance.

We learned that the GW was the first company to experiment with streamlining and we saw a few shots of streamlined Kings and Castles. The colour slides that were featured were also of great interest as they showed the livery details to very good effect some of ex-works pictures were really pleasing. To finish with, Brian showed a picture of the last locomotive ordered by the GWR, gas turbine 18000 which was not delivered until after nationalisation and the cost would have paid for several Castles.

This was a lovely show and was enhanced by Brian’s research on the subject and humorous comments on some of the images.



Tuesday 12th March 2019
Railways of the Isle of Man
Geoff Brockett

For our March meeting, our speaker took us “overseas” to the Isle of Man. Geoff Brockett of the South Essex branch has enjoyed visiting the island since the 1970’s right up to the present day and during that time has seen many changes to the island’s railway system. The only thing that has remained a constant is the unpredictable nature of the weather.

Geoff began by giving us a history of the different systems on the island and how over the years, declining trade had caused the railway network to shrink and had it not been for the Manx government stepping in the whole system could well have closed.

The first line we saw was the Isle of Man Railway which is steam worked on 3ft gauge from Douglas to Port Erin. The slides we saw showed the engines in various liveries over the years together with a large variety of rolling stock which over the course of time appeared in liveries that at one time were carried. Geoff showed how the infrastructure had also changed with stations losing canopies and sheds being demolished.

We then saw a few slides of the horse tramway which is also 3ft gauge and runs from Douglas pier to Derby Castle.

From Derby Castle we were treated to a journey along the Manx Electric Railway which opened in 1893. The line runs to Ramsey with numerous delightful stations along the route. We must have seen all the power cars and trailers in operation including the unique freight loco No.23. The original 1893 motor cars and trailers were still in operation and beautifully restored.

At Laxey, the Snaefell Mountain Railway runs to the highest point on the island on 3ft 6in. gauge to accommodate a centre braking rail. Some of the views from the line were outstanding although Geoff said that mist can often obscure almost everything. The passenger stock dates from 1895 although some rebuilding has occurred.

Other railways Geoff had visited were the charming little 2ft. gauge Groudle
Glen Railway with steam engines named Polar Bear, Sea lion and a new build called Brown Bear. The line closed in 1962 but has been reinstated since 1982 by volunteers.

The 19in. Laxey Mines railway with two little steam engines named Ant and Bee also featured.

Geoff’s presentation which covered over 40 years and showed us just about every type of engine, carriage and wagon working on the Isle of Man was not only thorough and informative but some of the pictures gave those who had not been there the incentive to visit some time.

Last updated: 17th February