by John Clayson
On Thursday afternoons during the early 1960s my father and I were regular visitors to the railway station at Grantham. I grew up in Leicester, where we lived in a flat above Dad's cycle shop on the Belgrave Road. We were not far from the former Great Northern Railway’s Leicester Belgrave Road terminus from which, until 1953, there had been a direct though infrequent train service to Grantham via the GN and L&NW joint line through Melton Mowbray.
Thursday was Leicester’s ‘half day’ closing for shops and an opportunity for Dad to go out and about, sometimes with me 'in tow' during school holidays. While there was quite a lot of railway interest around Leicester at the time, there was little high speed action and few classic or 'named' steam locomotives. So, given fine weather, just after midday on Thursdays we would often leave Mum in charge of the shop for the last half hour or so and catch the Midland Red bus to Grantham, the 12 o'clock departure from St Margaret's Bus Station. Arriving at Grantham station an hour later, there was usually plenty going on to keep both of us well occupied until teatime.
Like many boys of his generation, growing up in the 1920s and 30s, Dad was captivated by the well-publicised, high-speed exploits of motor racing aces, long-distance aviation pioneers and the main line railways. He was born in 1916 at Tunnel Cottages (now Tunnel Hill Cottages) situated above the entrance to Hunsbury Hill Tunnel in Northampton. Some of his earliest memories were of trains struggling up from Northampton Castle station into the tunnel. Passenger trains hauled by London & North Western Railway ‘Claughton’ locomotives, and freight trains by L&NWR 'Super D' 0-8-0s. He also remembered his grandfather taking him on his cycle crossbar the few miles to Banbury Lane level crossing near Blisworth to see the expresses speed past on the so-called ‘Premier Line’ linking Euston Station in London with Birmingham, the North West of England and Scotland. I visited this spot for the first time in 2009, finding that it still was a meeting place of country road with farmstead, canalside wharf and high speed railway. The level crossing was no more, a new bridge having recently replaced it. However, it was possible to imagine the activity that held the interest of my father as a young boy in the early 1920s with its busy signal box, crossing gates opening and closing, and traffic passing by on road, rail and canal.
In the mid-1950s, having given up the sport of cycling because of a health condition (chronic sinusitis) which affected his ability to train effectively, Dad became a keen amateur photographer. He particularly enjoyed taking landscape views and candid portraits. His trusty Leica M3 camera went nearly everywhere and, at home, hours were spent processing film and making enlargements.
On our early visits to Grantham he struck up a friendly relationship with the Carriage & Wagon Examiners and the Passenger Shunters who occupied adjacent cabins at the south end of the down platform. We would return to Grantham a week or two later with a slection of prints from previous visits which were distributed and appreciated by the staff. Over a period of time our circle of contacts widened and, with that growing friendship, opportunities to take more candid pictures.
At some point I think one of the Station Inspectors, probably Phil Craft, must have asked Dad to take some group photographs of the station staff. He also invited us behind the scenes to take pictures of staff who were not normally to be seen on the platform or in the public eye.
Looking back, I can’t help thinking that, as a manager, the Inspector may have seen this as an opportunity to boost the team spirit of his staff, for these were uncertain days for railway employees. For one thing, the effects of the British Railways Modernisation Plan of 1955 [see note 1 below] were really kicking in. This set the scene for the replacement of steam locomotives by diesel and electric traction. As a result, Grantham MPD (motive power depot, engine shed or, locally, ‘the Loco’), a major staging point for east coast main line expresses in steam days, would no longer be required. It was winding down towards closure, which came in September 1963.
Goods traffic also was on the wane, and the close association there had been between the railway and the various industrial concerns in the town [see note 2 below] was coming to an end.
More ominously, Minister of Transport Ernest Marples had embarked upon his programme of motorway construction and Beeching-inspired railway ‘reshaping’ [see note 3 below]. Roads were being improved, but railway services were under threat.
Grantham, historically an important staging and refreshment point on the A1 Great North Road [see note 4 below], was itself ‘bypassed’ in October 1962. The concrete-surfaced dual carriageway was part of a programme of post-war improvements to equip the A1 for safer and faster use by the mass-produced products of car manufacturing plants such as Cowley, Dagenham, Halewood, Linwood, Longbridge and Luton. As a consequence, railway locomotive and carriage works at the likes of Brighton, Crewe, Derby, Doncaster, Eastleigh, Glasgow, Inverurie, Kilmarnock, Swindon, Wolverton and York, were in decline.
Meanwhile, men and women who had seen the railways through depression and war, and who had welcomed the post-war Labour government’s nationalisation and investment programme as a platform for a secure and stable future for the railway industry, were now facing the possibility of having to leave their home town to transfer to another part of the country, or else accept redundancy.
The creation of a photographic record to illustrate such a period of transition was never part of any plan. Dad took the photographs purely as a hobby, for personal enjoyment, which shines through in the creative and imaginative flair which so many of the compositions exhibit. In retrospect, however, the collection also forms an archive which has captured something of life on the railway at Grantham in the 1960s.
Back in those days of innocence, as boy out with his father on school holiday afternoons, I was of course unaware of the concerns of railway staff for the future of their industry. To me the staff we met at Grantham were kindly friends who made us welcome, and who gave my father the opportunity to enjoy the art of photography. There was the thrill of occasional visits to signal boxes and the engine shed - some of the most evocative memories of my childhood. Sometimes we were simply sitting between trains in the Examiners’ cabin, its black kettle eternally simmering on a gas ring. For me, on those Thursday afternoons, Grantham station was a very special place.
In 2008 Grantham Museum kindly exhibited a selection of my father's pictures as part on an exhibition on Grantham's railway history. Through working with the museum I enjoyed the privilege of becoming reacquainted with railwaymen who remembered us from more than 40 years before - the man from Leicester arriving at the station from Leicester, with his camera and his young lad. The exhibition at the museum became the point at which the past rejoined the present, and a new connection was made into the future. From my perspective Tracks through Grantham is simply the current stage of a journey which began in the early 1960s.
This page is illustrated by a small selection of my father's photographs; more can be seen on many pages of this website and also on the LNER Forum, on a thread titled Returning to Grantham .
 The Modernisation Plan was developed following publication of the report Modernisation and Re-Equipment of British Railways (British Transport Commission, December 1st 1954)
 The following extract illustrates the close links between the railway and its industrial customers at the operational level.
At the Goods Department, Grantham, on December 23 , Mr. J. Ellis was presented with a fireside chair and a kerb from his colleagues, to mark the occasion of his retirement. Mr. Lee, chief clerk, presided over the gathering, and the presentation was made by supervisory foreman S. Morris, who paid tribute to the work and worth of Mr. Ellis, and wished him many years of health and happiness. Checker Ellis has been in the service of the L.N.E.R. for over 30 years, most of which have been spent at Grantham. He served first as porter, was later sack porter, and for the past 8 years has been in charge of the railway company's work at Messrs. Ruston & Hornsby's and (also latterly) Messrs. Aveling-Barford's Works. The staff of the Packing Shop at Messrs. Ruston & Hornsby's also presented Mr. Ellis with a pipe and a pouch of tobacco. (From the L&NER Magazine February 1939, p.104)
 The Reshaping of British Railways (British Railways Board, 27th March 1963) - 'the Beeching report'.
 The LNER in its house magazine referred to Grantham as a staging point on the Great North Road.
Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby [which] is almost a guide book to the L.N.E.R. Herein we have the story of the five sisters of York; the mention of The George Inn at Grantham in Nicholas' journey northwards, " one of the best inns in England - The George at Grantham," and that quaint episode when shortly after resuming the journey northwards to Newark the coach overturned, and the horses, when liberated from the shafts, immediately bolted back to the stable at The George. (From the L&NER Magazine April 1936, p.208)