It's Sunday 27th June 1971 and Grantham Yard signal box is about to close. Leaving the box for the last time, someone reached into a drawer or cupboard for an old scrapbook which had been lying there for years. It contained circulars and memos received by the signalmen at the Yard Box between 1900 and 1945, each carefully pasted into a page for possible future reference. They would be needed no more but maybe someone, someday, might be interested...
At Tracks through Grantham we have recently seen this remarkable survivor. It truly is a fascinating archive, with many stories to tell about things that mattered to the railway and to its employees.
A new page on our website draws on this resource for the first time. Fresh Fish Daily! is an insight into the importance of the Scotch fish traffic to the people who operated the Great Northern section of the East Coast Main Line in the early decades of the 20th century.
Do you sometimes have one of those moments which takes you back to a place and a time long ago, and it feels as if it was just yesterday? Watching the first part of the series The Trial of Christine Keeler on BBC1 last night took me back to Grantham station (where else?!) on 3rd October 1963 and a photograph my Dad took during one of our outings there. It's 4.05pm (by the clock on the wall) and at first sight it's a simple study of a man in the down side buffet reading his newspaper, probably the London Evening Standard.
The location is long gone. The building which housed the buffet on the down side was swept away when that side of the station was rebuilt in 1985-86. In fact it had almost been swept away 30 or so years earlier, when a 'hard shunt' into the bay platform (now platform 3, then platform 4) forced a coach over the buffers and into the north wall of the buffet in June 1954.
...but I digress, as dear Ronnie Corbett might have said. The connection becomes clear on reading the front page headlines: MISSING CHRISTINE WITNESS MYSTERY 'Paul Mann has no plans to return' and ‘LUCKY’ GORDON IN BOX TODAY, accompanied by a photograph of Mandy Rice-Davies.
The enquiry report by Lord Denning into 'The Profumo Affair’ had been published in September. Christine Keeler's trial, in which she was convicted of conspiracy to obstruct the course of justice, had just commenced.
I do remember, at the age of 9, wondering what all the fuss was about, and my parents changing the subject when I persisted with enquiring what 'a call-girl' was!
In search of the real Christine Keeler, focussing on this new portrayal of the scandal by screenwriter and novelist Amanda Coe, is on the BBC website here.
Introduced in 1977 as the Inter-City 125, HSTs (High Speed Trains) were last used on LNER scheduled services on Sunday 15th December 2019.
The final LNER service operated by HST, the 19.35 from London King's Cross to Leeds [1D30], departed from Grantham at 20.50 on 15th December. So Monday 16th December 2019 became the first day without an HST operated service through Grantham since May 1977. Another era of Grantham railway operation has passed into the history books!
As a curtain call LNER is running four Say Goodbye to the Inter-City 125 excursions using the BR blue painted set. The final one is Leeds to London King's Cross on Saturday 21st December with a stop at Grantham. A photograph of this event will be very welcome.
The customers of successive East Coast Main Line (ECML) operators have travelled through Grantham in HST sets for more than 42 years, a unique record. Companies other than LNER and its predecessors which have used HSTs to provide services on the ECML through Grantham include Grand Central and, occasionally, Hull Trains.
Although no longer seen at Grantham, HSTs remain active further north on the ECML. Cross Country continues to operate them between York and Edinburgh, and there are East Midlands Railways (on weekdays) and Cross Country (on Sundays) services operated by HSTs which use the ECML between Doncaster and Leeds.
Setting the achievement of the HST into historical perspective is difficult because they are complete trains, not a locomotive hauling a set of carriages. Confining the comparison to motive power alone, it appears that no class of diesel locomotive came near to four decades' use on scheduled ECML express services. Going back to steam days, arguably two classes of locomotive have a comparable record of longevity. They are the Ivatt GNR Large Atlantics (from 1902 until the 1940s), and the Gresley GNR/LNER A1/A3s (from 1922 until the 1960s).
Can someone update us on any fleets of passenger coaches which were in front line service on the ECML for as long as 40+ years? Please use the Comment box below.
There are lengthy features on the Inter-City 125 / HST in Rail magazine here and in Wikipedia here.
Below are four photographs by Mel Smith showing Inter-City 125 trains at Grantham in the 1980s.
With thanks to Doug Thompson for alerting us to this significant moment in Grantham's railway history.
By pure coincidence following reference to the Grantham derailment of 1906 in our previous post, Mel recently came across a reminder of the disaster for sale on a website for collectors of postal memorabilia. It's a postcard which was among the mail being carried on the train. The card was evidently recovered from the burnt wreckage, slightly singed and water damaged, and delivered to its intended recipient in Derby.
The price asked today is fairly eye-watering, demonstrating the value of rare items in a market embracing both postal collectables and railway memorabilia.
The dealer hasn't quite got the facts of the accident accurate because 14 people died as a result of the accident, not 12 as stated; two casualties died later.
In his column in the current (December 2019) issue of The Railway Magazine Consultant Editor Nick Pigott has picked up on a striking similarity between the most likely cause of the disaster at Grantham on the night of 19th September 1906, when 14 lives were lost, and the lead-up to an alarming incident which took place at Edinburgh Waverley station on 1st August this year.
In both cases the locomotive had been attached at an intermediate stop on the train's journey. Each train then seriously overran its next stopping point, apparently because the train's braking system was not properly connected to the locomotive.
In the Grantham 1906 accident the overrunning train derailed at high speed on a junction which began 135 yards beyond the platform. Fortunately, at Edinburgh in 2019 the train involved was brought to a stand using a manually activated emergency system without collision or derailment, having travelled 650 metres beyond its intended stopping point.
Multiple Aspects with Nick Pigott in The Railway Magazine December 2019, page 12
We began to construct the Tracks through Grantham website in the summer of 2016. Over the past three years or so the site has expanded to the extent that it can be quite difficult to find what you're looking for. Even we, in our role as editors, occasionally get lost among the pages!
So we've just installed as a trial an interactive Sitemap which we hope will help to make navigation simpler. The new page is here.
It's not yet perfect and we have some ideas to make it better, but we'd welcome feedback before we take it further. Please use the Contact Form on the page.
One of our contributors recently let us know about a rather magnificent photograph which has just appeared on Twitter. It was taken at Grantham station in 1949 or 1950 and shows the last GNR Ivatt 'large Atlantic' to remain in service, Grantham shed's No. 62822, taking the empty stock of a Boston or Lincoln train out of platform 2 and past the Yard signal box.
The owner of the picture has kindly allowed it to be added to one of our Yard Box pages. To see it, follow this link and scroll nearly half way down the page.
Our next regular twice-a-year get-together for people interested in the Tracks through Grantham project takes place in Grantham in mid-October. Always very enjoyable occasions, these events are an opportunity for our contributors and supporters to meet while enjoying a varied and, we hope, enjoyable and informative programme.
If you are already on our list of contacts you should recently have received the programme. Please remember to let us know if you hope to be with us.
If you're interested in attending but have not received a programme please get in touch, using the Contact Form here, and we will send you information - date, time, venue and programme. We do not publish these details on the website because we need to know how many people to expect.
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.
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.
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.
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.