by Mike Bacon
I can’t remember exactly what first triggered my interest in trainspotting. However, it must have been around 1955, sometime after starting at The King’s School, when I got together there with several like-minded friends, spotting as often as we could in the evenings and at weekends.
Subsequently this interest was, strangely, aided by our mutual disenchantment with participation in the school’s Cadet Corps due to the itchy uniforms, heavy boots, interminable marching etc. So, having tendered our requests to leave the Corps, we were duly summoned before the Headmaster who, having registered his displeasure at our requests, then inflicted a penance on us all; one afternoon each week, when everyone else was taking part in Cadet Corps activities, we had to report to the School playing field, which we then had to weed with small hand tools not much bigger than a pen-knife. A real chore, you might think, but the playing field was, in fact, located right alongside the East Coast Main Line about half a mile north of Grantham station! So several hours of spotting was always guaranteed, often with something of interest appearing. In fact, it was on weeding duty there that I ‘copped’ my last A4, Edinburgh Haymarket’s (64B) 60012 Commonwealth of Australia on the Up ‘Lizzie’ (The Elizabethan) to complete the class of 34, accompanied by much merriment!
After a while, we started cycling out to Barkston Junction after school – a trip of about 5 miles each way – whenever our homework commitments allowed. Barkston was a great place for spotting; there was a large flat mound of earth next to the Down Main line at Barkston Junction South which gave us an excellent view of all of the trains on the Main and Sleaford lines, and also on the Colwick line which crossed the road to Marston a few hundred yards further on, although some of the frequent WDs were far too grimy to identify! The Up Elizabethan was great to watch from this vantage point – you could see and hear it coming from a long way off around the sweeping curve and it was always going flat out when it passed by. Spectacular!
These after-school trips were not aimed at the normal service trains, however. We always cycled out to Barkston Junction at top speed in case what we were hoping for was preparing to depart, a wisp of smoke from over the fields near the Junction causing us to pedal even faster. The reason for our haste was one of the main attractions of Barkston - the possible appearance of a ‘Trial’. These ‘Trials’ were locomotives fresh from overhaul at Doncaster Works which were on trial runs before being returned to their home depots.
Sometimes these were locos which would never normally be seen in the Grantham area, such as those which operated from sheds in Scotland or East Anglia. Normally such engines, with their glistening paint and gleaming steel rods, would pass the mound on the slow line, reverse towards Sleaford and then pull forward onto the link line, where they would park up for an hour or so, to be checked over before returning to Doncaster.
When we arrived at the Junction, from the mound we could see if there was a ’Trial’ on the link line and what class it was, but it was not possible to identify from there exactly what the loco was. So we had to race down the field, through a farmer’s access tunnel under the main line and then diagonally across another field to the far side, where the ‘Trial’ would, hopefully, still be sat there.
Very, very occasionally this effort would be rewarded by an invitation from the driver to spend a few minutes in the cab, as evidenced by my mate John peering out of the cab window of ‘Britannia’ No. 70005 John Milton.
Probably my favourite ‘Trial’ is A2 60532 Blue Peter (of 61B, Aberdeen Ferryhill); it looked absolutely stunning as can be seen in the photograph.
Another of my ‘Trial’ favourites was, again, a rarity – A3 60101 Cicero (of Edinburgh Haymarket, 64B) – but unfortunately I had no camera with me, unlike the time 60043 Brown Jack (also of Haymarket) appeared out of the blue on a southbound fast freight, the photo of which was taken with a horizontally-held box camera!
Other ‘Trials’ could be locos shedded much closer to Grantham but, as with K3/2 61868 and B17/6 61633 Kimbolton Castle in the photographs, they too could sometimes be locos which would not normally venture into our area.
We also trainspotted at Grantham, of course, and very occasionally I visited the Station, as can be seen in my photograph of A4 60003 Andrew K. McCosh in the ‘classic’ Grantham viewpoint at the south end of the main platform on an Up express.
That was not, however, our preferred spotting place. Probably the ideal spotting location would have been a large flat area of disused land just inside the Loco gate (near to where the old turntable used to be), off the passage-way under the main line leading to Station Road. It commanded excellent views of all northbound, southbound and Nottingham line activity and also of the Loco itself but, unfortunately it was a no-go area, being regularly patrolled by the British Transport Police, in particular by a rather zealous Constable Gibson. A few of the Loco staff could be less than friendly too. A couple of my photographs (B1 61391 and English Electric Type 4 D201) were taken from this vantage point, but normally we kept away from here as the risk of being ‘collared’ was too great.
Talking of being ‘collared’, I was once apprehended by another BTP Constable for riding my bike through the tunnel from Station Road to Huntingtower Road. After taking my details, he later turned up at my house and gave me and my parents a real lecture about the dangers of my actions to pedestrians and the perils of trainspotting. I thought that this was to be the end of the matter, but I was then stunned to receive a summons from the local magistrates. I was spared the experience of actually going before the magistrates by pleading guilty to my ‘crime’ and was duly fined 10 shillings – quite a bit of money for a young school lad. All in all a bit over the top, I think.
Our favourite trainspotting location was on Springfield Road, where a sloping flat-topped retaining wall ran from the main Loco entrance to the railway bridge. We and a group of other pals from the Springfield Road area used to sit on top of this wall where we could see all north and southbound activity and could climb up on the buttress to see if anything interesting was taking place in the goods sidings or to take occasional photographs, for example my pictures of B17/1 61625 Raby Castle and 9F 92184.
The wall near to Springfield Road was also handy for nipping up to see what was turning round on the ‘Triangle’ (as seen in the photograph of A3 60103 Flying Scotsman turning alongside Springfield Road) or ‘bunking’ the New Shed; in winter it was usually possible to find a loco in the ‘dead’ line with the remnants of a fire still in it to get warm by. The aforementioned Constable Gibson used to regularly give us grief, moving us off the wall, making us move our bikes across the road, chasing us out of the Loco etc. He never managed to catch any of us actually in there, but we had a few narrow squeaks!
I do remember one particular incident, though. Word got round that there was a REAL ex-Works rarity on shed – the sole K1/1 61997 MacCailin Mor from 65J (Fort William). We duly investigated and, sure enough, it was there - tucked away in the Old Shed. What a Cop – possibly the rarest loco ever to turn up at Grantham! This was relayed back to another mate at school, not such a regular spotter and less familiar with the BTP officers. He duly set out to cop 61997 and try to photograph it. A pathway ran behind the loco back wall and along the turning triangle fence, through the allotments and up to Springfield Road; part way along this back wall, another wall that you could walk along the top of ran at right angles to it towards the Loco, with a decent view of the Old Shed from the end of it. This was the chosen vantage point for the hoped-for photograph; my mate had just about got there when a Constable appeared and confronted him. He explained that there was a very rare loco there, that he just wanted to take a picture of it, and that Constable Gibson had said it would be OK if he was quick. “Oh really...,” said the Constable “...I am Constable Gibson!” No happy ending, I’m afraid. My mate was fined, didn’t get his photograph and, if I remember rightly, 61997 wasn’t far enough out of the shed for him to even ‘cop’ it.
By this time, as ‘cops’ became harder to come by locally, we were also venturing further afield, occasionally visiting places such as Melton Mowbray, Leicester, London, Manchester, Derby and Crewe to spot locos from other regions. However, none of them ever had the appeal and sheer charisma of the ECML Pacifics and V2s, and it was always nice to get back on home territory in the hope of something unusual turning up.
Unfortunately, my trainspotting days eventually pretty much came to an end when I left school and started an apprenticeship at local engineering company Ruston & Hornsby, a five-day week from 7.30am to 5.30pm leaving little free time to pursue the hobby. Also, by this time, alternative interests such as girls and rock and roll were starting to come into play. I bought an electric guitar and started to learn to play it, got together with a new pal I met at a local dance and, before we knew it, we had got together a band (or ‘beat group’ as they were then called). That was it - loco numbers no longer had the same appeal, I’m afraid.
Looking back, the demise of steam had already started by then, and it was sad to see many of those magnificent Pacifics in such a poor state in their final years. I’m sure we saw them at their best in the 50s and I enjoyed every minute of my spotting days with my mates – I wouldn’t have missed any of it. Great Days!
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