Features 14 Cotswold Festival of Steam A round-up of the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway’s highly-successful GWR 175 gala, which was supported by The RM.
18 Bluebell Golden Jubilee Cliff Thomas tells the story of the Bluebell Railway, which in 50 years has become one of the finest preserved railways in the world.
A HERITAGE GOLDEN JUBILEE
LL this was started by four guys in their teens,’ laughs Roy Watts, chairman of the Bluebell Railway Preservation Society. “Just look at what they were responsible for!”
His admiration is well-founded. From the bustle of Sheffield Park loco shed at the south of the line to the construction of the East Grinstead extension at the north, the Bluebell positively blooms with success. Those young students had a vision of what they wanted to achieve, but they couldn’t possibly have foreseen how it would turn out 50 years on.
And, of course, the story’s not over yet – far from resting on its laurels in its golden jubilee year, the Bluebell continues to push back the boundaries in its quest to become even bigger and better.
‘Preserving the Puffer for Posterity’ may be a nice alliteration, but it’s a phrase unlikely to find much favour today. In fact, most preservationists would wince at such childish terminology now, but in 1960, the world was a very different place: Beatlemania had yet to take the world by storm and Beeching hadn’t even been appointed chairman of the British Transport Commission, let alone taken an axe to the branch line network, but that was the slogan used by the would-be saviours of the ex-London Brighton & South Coast Railway branch in an effort to raise £34,000 to buy it from BR. Eg^YZ VcY eVhh^dc
Bluebell golden jubilee
In our tribute to the railways that launched the standard gauge heritage phenomenon half a century ago, 9B?<< J>EC7I tells the story of one that’s bloomed into one of the finest private railways in the world
Fifty years on, they may not have quite reached ‘posterity’, but the future looks good. “There is huge enthusiasm to get projects done,” said Roy Watts. “All those years of experience and co-operation have given people the desire to take on the un-imaginable, which they do with a passion and deliver with pride”.
Assuredly, half a century of salvation is something to shout from the rooftops, which the Bluebell aims to do in style during 2010, culminating in a major August 6-8 gala that will almost certainly be its biggest-ever event.
The gala will showcase the astounding progress achieved while demonstrating how things are going to develop in the future. It is a story to gladden the heart of anyone with a passion for heritage, for the Bluebell is some- thing more than ‘simply’ a preserved railway insofar as it’s always had a policy of concentrat- ing on carriages and wagons that are appropriate to its location.
The Bluebell Railway was not the first preserved line (that honour goes to the Talyllyn in 1951) and neither was it the first preserved standard gauge line, being beaten by a whisker to that title by the Middleton Railway (see last month), but it was the first standard gauge passenger-carrying railway to be preserved and the first bona fide ex-BR line to find new life under volunteer auspices. Today’s Bluebell lies on part of the ex-LBSCR Lewes to East Grinstead line, which opened in 1882. A section of the Act that authorised it stated: “Four passenger trains each way daily to run on this line with through connections at East Grinstead to London, and stop at Sheffield Bridges, Newick and West Hoathly”. Those words were to have far-reaching consequences, as we shall see.
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Bus competition and the post-war rise in private car ownership brought declining patronage over the route, leading BR’s Southern Region to start looking at closure of the Lewes-East Grinstead line from about 1951. Formal closure plans were announced in May 1954 and, despite energetic opposition by local residents, were approved in February 1955, becoming effective from May 28, 1955. That was earlier than the official closure (scheduled for June 18) due to an Aslef enginemen’s strike. An RCTS ‘Wealden Limited’ railtour set for June 12 had to be postponed, finally operating on August 14 behind H2 Atlantic No. 32426 St Alban’s Head. However, the opponents of closure were made of stern stuff. Crucially, local resident Miss Madge Bessemer (then in her 60s and grand- daughter of steel process inventor Sir Henry Bessemer) set about some research and un- earthed the statutory commitment contained within the Victorian Acts of Parliament inherited by the Southern Railway and the BTC.
This, she argued, meant that the line had
been closed illegally and should be reopened. Astonishingly, BR caved in and trains resumed on August 7, 1956, but it was with extremely bad grace. Nicknamed ‘The Sulky Service’, it was hardly calculated to attract customers and, while it was running, BR was working behind the scenes to get its way. The British Transport Bill of March 1957 included a clause to repeal the 1878 legislation and combat was renewed.
A public inquiry found against the protesters and closure, for the second time, took place on March 17, 1958. BR had finally got its way – but the doughty Miss Bessemer’s fight had not been in vain, for it had provided vital breathing space for a group of preservationists to organise themselves. Thus a second closure was followed by a second re-opening, albeit under new auspices. Little wonder today’s refreshment building at Sheffield Park is named the Bessemer Arms.
The origin of the new beginning dates from a meeting called in Haywards Heath on March 15, 1959 by four students – Alan Sturt, Chris Campbell, David Dallimore and Martin Eastland – which was chaired by 51-year-old Bernard Holden. Yes, the same Bernard Holden MBE who is still the railway’s president today at the age of 102!
That became the founding meeting of the Lewes & East Grinstead Railway Preservation Society, that name reflecting early ambitions of saving the entire route between those two towns and operating a commercial service with an ex-GWR ‘Flying Banana’ diesel railcar. A re-think led to the idea of re-opening the section between Sheffield Park and Horsted Keynes as a steam- operated ‘museum’ railway and the name was changed to the Bluebell RPS, reflecting the term the line had been known by in the 1950s (although in fact, in LBSC days, it had been known as the ‘Bluebell & Primrose line’.
The Bluebell Railway Ltd was formed in February 1960, and May 17 that year saw delivery of the first train – LBSCR A1X ‘Terrier’ No. 55 Stepney (ex-32655) and two coaches, at a total cost of £750.
After the securing of a Light Railway Order, the first train in the preservation era ran from Sheffield Park for five miles to ‘Bluebell Halt’, located just to the south of Horsted Keynes station on August 7, 1960. At that time, BR was still operating third-rail electric services over the Ardingly branch from Haywards Heath to Horsted Keynes. Those trains were still running when the society was allowed to take its steam operations into the station on October 29, 1961. In fact, Horsted Keynes didn’t cease to be shared by steam and electric until October 1963 (and the chances are it might do so again one day).
Once Stepney had arrived, it was felt that a second loco was needed, not least because with no run-round loop at Bluebell Halt, trains needed to be run top-and-tailed. First choice
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FIFTY NOT OUT: The Bluebell Story – p18
24 Keeping alive the blue era! There are many specialist companies and operators within the privatised rail industry. Andy Flowers tells the story of rolling stock provider Cargo-D.
28 Britain’s last railway gun Robert Humm uncovers the little-known history of giant railway guns in Britain and finds that one is still in existence today.
THE CARGO-D STORY
THE CARGO-D STORY
36 ‘The Bristolian’ Keith Farr details the remarkable events of the magical steam run of April 17, 2010, and presents the first part of the ‘Bristolian’ history that inspired this year’s re-creation.
42 The Railways of New Zealand In the first of a two-part feature, Chris Milner looks at the railway operations of New Zealand’s North Island.
THE RAIL GUN STORY
Britain’s last railway gun
HE8;HJ >KCC recounts the little-known history of the UK’s heaviest, and arguably strangest, railway vehicles
THE handing-back of large numbers of Mk 3 coaches by Virgin Trains to Porterbrook Leasing in 2007 provided the catalyst for the launch of a small but dynamic company called Cargo-D. With national passenger numbers still rising, its founders realised there was a clear business opportunity for a firm specialising in the spot-hire of carriages and wagons.
The directors – Dirk Ottermans, Mark Honey and Ingrid Sluis – had recognised at an early stage that many of the stored loco-hauled coaches still had many years of use left in them and that it wouldn’t be a huge effort to restore them to main line standards. In spite of having
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Keeping alive the blue era!
In our occasional series on operators of the Privatisation era, 7D:O
The vehicles were taken for overhaul to L&NWR Crewe, which became responsible for their fleet management, repair and maintenance, including re-commissioning work. The coaches had carried three liveries during their lives: British Rail blue & light grey, InterCity grey & red and finally Virgin Trains red & deep grey. Cargo-D took the decision to return them to the blue & grey BR corporate livery of the 1970s and ’80s . . . not for nostalgic reasons but on the simple basis that the coaches needed bodywork and repaints and the BR version was the easiest and cheapest to apply!
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion in the rail industry, however, and the livery has happily proved popular with charter operators, travelling enthusiasts and lineside photographers alike.
Cargo-D’s main intention, once the fleet had been refurbished in 2008, was the hiring of the vehicles into the main line TOC market – and it was an open access operator’s misfortune that proved to be a lucky break for the newcomer, for Hull Trains’ fleet of four Class 222s had been reduced by one when No. 222103 was damaged at Crofton depot.
The remaining three sets therefore had to deliver 100 per cent availability to preserve the timetable. Eventually that became unsustainable, so Hull Trains hired ex-West Coast electric loco No. 86101, five Cargo-D Mk 3s and a DVT to operate a Friday to Sunday substitute service between Doncaster and King’s Cross. The train was a success and did not suffer a single failure in traffic between January and April 2008.
The next contract followed almost immediately. Another open access operator – Wrexham, Shropshire & Marylebone Railway (WSMR) – required Mk 3s to cover for the non-availability of refurbished rolling stock, delivery of which was running late. That contract began in April 2008 and is still running today, as WSMR uses Cargo-D vehicles to strengthen sets when required. For this reason, vehicles deployed on WSMR services have been fitted with through-multiple working equipment to allow Class 67s (and in very rare circumstances Class 66s) to operate the stock with top-and-tail working or via a DVT.
Other customers who have so far taken
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BLUE IS THE COLOUR: The Cargo-D Story – p24
SQUATTING on its haunches in the unlikely surroundings of an army lorry park on Salisbury Plain is Britain’s sole-surviving railway gun. Few people are aware of its existence, but the story of where it came from and how it got where it is today is an intriguing one.
This most unusual of railway vehicles is a dinosaur from a past age of warfare when roads were inadequate to bear the weight of the heaviest types of artillery. Although the use of guns mounted on rail wagons goes back 150 years to the American Civil War, development lapsed until the 20th century. Manufacturers Schneider in France and Krupp in Germany had tried to interest their respective governments in acquiring railway guns, but without success. Armies required mobility and that meant field guns small enough to be handled by teams of horses, supplemented by a small number of heavier siege guns hauled by traction engines.
In Egypt in 1882 and South Africa in 1900, field guns had been mounted on ordinary wagons, though more for rapid movement than firing from fixed positions. A design for a six-inch calibre howitzer mounted on a purpose-built vehicle was drawn up at around the time of the Boer War, but did not go into production. There matters remained dormant until World War One. By 1915, the Western Front had coagulated into static trench warfare, and the standard field guns of the British and French armies proved inadequate against the fortifications and deep bunkers built on the German side of ‘no man’s land’. Part of the answer was the super-heavy rail-mounted gun.
Several British designs of 9.2-inch and 12-inch howitzers were produced in short order, mostly mounted on bogie well-wagons, while Vickers produced some 12-inch guns on rather antiquated-looking mountings. At the head of the rankings were the four most powerful railway guns possessed by the British Army and it is these that form the main subject of this article.
At this point, it is necessary to make a short diversion into terminology. To the layman, guns are guns. To the artilleryman, however, there are ‘guns’, there are ‘howitzers’ and there are ‘mortars’. Generally speaking, for any given calibre [i.e. the internal diameter of the barrel], a ‘gun’ is longer, has a more powerful propelling charge, higher muzzle velocity and a flatter trajectory than a ‘howitzer’ or a ‘mortar’. Many large calibre railway guns were obtained from stocks of spare naval barrels and had a typical range of 35,000 to 45,000 yards (20 to 25 miles) at a maximum elevation of 40° from the horizontal. The howitzer’s range was about half that, with plunging fire at an angle of 40° to 65°. A mortar had an even shorter range with a stubby barrel that lobbed a shell at 70 to 80°.
A gun together with its breech block is referred to as ‘the barrel’ and the railway carriage part is referred to variously as ‘the truck’, ‘the cradle’ or ‘the mounting’. The whole ensemble, including the bogies, is called ‘the equipment’.
Where a gun was given a name, it applied specifically to the mounting, for barrels were to some extent consumable items, which needed replacing from time to time.
During WW1, the Tyneside armaments firm Sir W. G. Armstrong-Whitworth happened to have on hand a pair of surplus 14-inch barrels and, in 1916, was given approval to design
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BIG BANG: Not theory but fact – p28
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