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Above: We couldn't resist this seasonal picture.  Grantham driver Jim Ledger and fireman Benny Kirk were on the footplate of No. 2551 Prince Palatine on Monday 9th March 1931 setting out from London King's Cross.  See below under A Grantham Crew’s Miraculous Escape.
(From The LNER Magazine, with acknowledgement to the LNER as publisher and with kind permission from the Great Eastern Railway Society. The Society has funded and organised the magazine's digitisation.  The digital copy can be ordered as a 2-DVD set here)

Hello all,

With most of us 'confined to barracks' there's never been a better time to extend and update the website!  There's a new page, and several pages have been improved and updated with more information and images.

Click on the titles for direct links.

A New Page

Some Men Who Saw It All: six Grantham drivers of the 1920s

In February 1930 The LNER Magazine published a photograph of six Grantham drivers who had retired during 1929.  The men were proudly posed together at a retirement presentation. 

It seemed to us that behind this photograph there are six stories of working life on the railway.  Potentially, the men's careers on the footplate might span a period from the 'Races to the North' of 1888 and 1895, conducted in relays using locomotives such as the GNR Stirling 'Singles',  to the non-stop Flying Scotsman introduced in 1928 between London and Edinburgh and made possible by the LNER Class A3 'Super Pacifics'.

Using accounts written by authors Harold Bonnett and Rev. Arthur Cawston, who became well acquainted with several of the men, and archives accessible to us on line in modern times, we think we've gained something of an insight into four decades or so of footplate work at Grantham, from the 1880s to the 1920s.

Revised Pages

Highdyke to Westborough in Fifty Pictures: photographs by Tom Boustead

This very popular page was launched in April 2020 as Highdyke to Hougham in Fifty Pictures, when it attracted a record number of appreciative comments.  Tom has worked with Steve Philpott to identify and scan more of his favourite photographs, extending the range north from Hougham to Westborough and featuring a wider variety of views.

Great Ponton Signal Box

Launched in August 2020, we have recently added information about two collisions inside Stoke Tunnel in the 1850s which led to Great Ponton station having a role in signalling through the tunnel.  Jim Chesney has kindly allowed the use of some splendid photographs from the 1930s, and the Saltersford Up main line auto signals receive an overdue write-up.

A Grantham Crew’s Miraculous Escape

Another find in The LNER Magazine is a great photograph of a Grantham crew's departure from King's Cross taken by a photographer from The Times on a snowy March morning in 1931.  The crew were driver Jim Ledger who happened to be a younger brother of Walter Ledger, one of the retiring drivers in the photograph noted above, and fireman Benny Kirk.

Thirty years later, in December 1961, Benny was the driver in charge of one of the trains involved in a disastrous multiple collision near Wood Walton.  We've added the 1931 photograph to our page about that collision, along with a recently discovered LNER circular of 1928 which demonstrates the enduring importance of the Aberdeen meat train which Benny Kirk was driving in 1961.

A quite co-incidental connection is that one of our retiring drivers of 1929, Joe Wright, was born at Wood Walton in 1864.


We always appreciate feedback, so we hope you'll dip further into the site from time to time and let us know what you think, using either the Leave a Reply section, which appears at the bottom of most pages, or our Contact Form.

We've said before that often we don't know where the inspiration for the next new page for Tracks through Grantham will appear from.  We have items 'in the pipeline' all the time but, quite regularly, someone will get in touch with a surprise discovery.  Just a few weeks ago a copy of a magazine titled Locomotive Express revealed a previously unknown (to us) account of a regular day's work for a No. 1 Express Link crew at Grantham Loco in 1950.

So prepare to get grit in your hair, and organise a nice warm bath for when you get home, as we travel 326 miles in one shift with a Grantham crew on our latest page All in a Day's Work.

In October 2019 we published a page of photographs taken by Colin Walker when he was a guest on the footplate of an O2 locomotive during a wintry trip from Grantham up to Highdyke Yard.  The driver that day was Sam Pearce.

Sam's grandson, Chris, has recently been in touch to share some memories of his grandfather Sam - a name which, in common with at least one other driver at Grantham known as 'Sam', wasn't actually his real name as you'll discover when you turn to our latest new page.

We introduce the crew, their O2 locomotive and a short but intensively used section of the East Coast Main Line as we ride on the footplate with Colin Walker between Grantham South and Highdyke.  Travel back to a winter's day in the early 1960s to join them on our latest new page here.

We were very sorry to receive in recent weeks the sad news that these two former Grantham footplatemen have passed away.

Steve and John both appear below in a photograph of former Grantham footplate crew which was taken during the visit of the world speed record holding A4 locomotive Mallard to the Festival of Speed held in the town in September 2013.

Grantham footplatemen with No. 4468 Mallard, Sunday 8th September 2013 at 2:30pm
Back row (L to R): Tony Stevens, Syd North, Phil Cunnington, Steve Taylor, John Plummer, Maurice Massingham, Don Wade, Roy Veasey, Arthur Curtis
Front Row (L to R): George Fielding, Mick Gibson, Roy Vinter, Alan Grummitt, John Michael, Ken Willetts, Boris Bennett (in front), Nev Eldred
Photograph taken by Nick Pigott

Steve Taylor was a cleaner and fireman at Grantham Loco in the 1950s-early 1960s period.  Friend and colleague Roy Vinter tells us that 'Steve and I started cleaning the same year, were the same age and went to King's X shed at the same time on loan, indeed we shared a flat with another lad in Finsbury Park for a while.'

Steve went back to Grantham after 6 months, but Roy stayed on in London as he recalls in his page here.   When Roy was still working from King's Cross shed, Steve came onto the footplate of No. 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley at Grantham early one morning as Roy and his driver were preparing for the return trip.  He 'built up the back corners' of the firebox with coal so as to give Roy a good start for the journey.

Steve Taylor, lower right, as the fireman of O2 locomotive No. 63931on the High Dyke branch. He is holding the single line token. Driver Bob Harsley is in the cab.
Photograph from the Grahame Wareham collection.

John Angus Michael, known as 'Jock' to his railway colleagues and friends, came from the Isle of Skye to Grantham as a young man to work on the LNER.  John loved the job, describing how the footplate of a railway locomotive was a special place where the team of driver and fireman held a unique position of responsibility.  Writing to us in June 2015 he describes how he felt soon after starting out as a cleaner. 'Seniority meant so much to us in those days.  Looking longingly from the lower rungs of the ladder to the dizzying heights of the top link and the rich rewards and status attainable there.

In 2017 John kindly lent us some photographs taken in 1959, when the Grantham Loco Mutual Improvement Class arranged an outing to the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway in Kent.  He told us then - rather poignantly - that he was the only man in the photos who was still living.  They are on our page here, along with John's typically amusing account of the trip and more photographs of the day lent by the late Boris Bennett.

John succeeded in attaining the position to which he aspired as a young man, retiring from the railway as a highly respected Grantham driver.  He is third from right in the photograph below, which was taken in May 1990 on the closure of the Train Crew Depot at the station.

Drivers based at Grantham in May 1990:
Back row: Pete Nicholls (Examiner), Maurice Massingham, Jack Tuckwood, Ray Green, M. (Hodge) Collingwood, Roy Evans.
Front row: Michael A. (Ma) Brown, Fred Burrows (retired), John Phillips, Denis (Danny) Wright, John (Jock) Michael, Gerry Edwards (retired).
Photograph kindly lent by Maurice Massingham.

John lent his support to Tracks through Grantham in many ways.  He always had a word of encouragement for Mel and me at our six-monthly gatherings at the Railway Club.  To quote once more from his letter of 2015, John is referring to a recent get-together when he says,  'Forgive me, John, for reminiscing, but it is so good to meet the few of us who are left and who loved our hard graft with a passion.'     

John Michael's funeral will be held in Grantham on Wednesday 21st August.  Here is a link to the family announcement.

John Clayson

 

Fred Harris joined the railway at Grantham in August 1955.  He achieved promotion to driver nearly 30 years later in April 1985, hence the title of the story of his working life on the railway.  Read how a youthful Fred and his driver peered into dense fog one night from the footplate of a slowly advancing 'Tango', looking for signals that were no longer there.  How does a footplate crew respond as a 'Green Arrow' begins to self-destruct at speed on the East Coast Main Line?  Enjoy with Fred a week away at Bridgnorth refreshing his steam skills.  All this and more in our latest new page.