by John Clayson
During the 20th century a remarkable number of people recorded or documented the railway at Grantham - its buildings, its trains and locomotives and, most importantly, the many facets of work on and around the railway. Their achievements are a rich legacy handed down to us in words, in pictures and in sound.
For a town of its size, railway operations at Grantham have been more than usually intensive and diverse. The compact layout was particularly attractive to observers of the railway scene. A few observers lived in or around the town, and some worked on the railway, in Grantham or elsewhere. However, most had no direct connection with the town or with the railway as their employer.
Looking at the wealth of material that's been published it is evident that at Grantham there's generally been a tradition of welcoming the visitor who arrives to observe and document the railway - provided, of course, that they are courteous and are mindful of the duties of railway staff and the responsibilities they carry. You get a sense that among Grantham railway people visitors discovered a pride in the role their town has played in establishing and maintaining the tradition of the East Coast Main Line as a record-breaking high speed railway. This remains true today. Staff at Grantham station are approachable and they are usually willing, within the limits of their authority, to facilitate access by those who wish to safely observe railway operations from the platforms.
We continue to discover new sources, so if you know of someone who created a record of the railway at Grantham in words, in pictures, in film/video or in sound and who, so far, has escaped our notice please get in touch with a recommendation.
We intend to compile a short biography for each of the people listed below, featuring their principal publications relating to the railway in the Grantham area. The biographies will appear on separate pages - please follow the links when they appear.
In some cases we are still in need of details. If you're able to fill in one of the gaps, or you can point us in the direction of someone who could, please get in touch.
The list is in chronological order by date of birth.
Rev. T. B. Parley (The Reverend Thomas Bernard Parley, 1867-1951)
T. B. Parley was a curate at St Stephen's Church in Sneinton, Nottingham when, in the summer of 1902, he made several trips to photograph trains on the the East Coast Main Line. Among his pictures are some of the earliest known photographs taken at Grantham of trains travelling at speed.
Walter Lee (Walter Lee, 1891-1969)
Grantham's leading professional photographer of the inter-war period who also documented events in the town on cine film. His footage includes the scene at the station in July 1937 when the first London to Edinburgh non-stop Coronation service dashed through at high speed.
Joe Traxler (Joseph Frank Traxler, 1900-1999)
Joe was born in London and he recalled, in early editions of the Newsletter of the Great Northern Railway Society, travelling through Grantham with his father in GNR days. He made film in colour including The West Riding passing through Grantham with beaver tail observation coach. Sometime after the Second World War Joe came to live in Grantham with his family. He was taking photographs into the 1980s.
M. W. Earley (Maurice William Earley, 1900-1982)
Maurice Earley, founder of the Railway Photographic Society, was one of the leading railway photographers of his day. He was most active betrween the 1920s and the 1960s. Earley lived in Reading and took most of his photographs on the Great Western Railway, but he published an album of photographs taken on the LNER including some in the Grantham area.
T. G. Hepburn (Thomas Gordon Hepburn, 1905-1980)
A highly accomplished amateur photographer from Nottingham who recorded many railway scenes at and around Grantham between the late 1920s and the early 1960s.. His work has been widely published and includes some stunning compositions.
Rev. Arthur C. Cawston (The Reverend Arthur Cleverly Cawston, 1906-1989)
Between December 1929 and early in 1933 Arthur Cawston was a curate at the parish church of St. Wulfram in Grantham. His interest in photography found expression on the railway, many railway families being among his parishoners . Cawston's work is predominantly well-observed studies of locomotives and trains.
Harold Bonnett (Harold Bonnett, 1907-1999)
The son of a signalman on the GNR at Barkston, Harold Bonnett worked as a locomotive cleaner and fireman at Grantham between 1924 and 1927. Books written in his retirement include a fascinating autobiographical account of his 4 years' locomotive work at Grantham and subsequently at Hatfield. He also wrote two articles about the staff at Grantham 'Loco' (engine shed) and their work.
John F. Clay (John ?Frederic Clay, ?1914-?1993)
John F. Clay wrote the Foreword of Rev. A. C. Cawston's book LNER Steam at Grantham in which he says that as a schoolboy photographer in the 1930s he met Arthur Cawston and Thomas Hepburn on the platforms at Grantham. Cawston, in his Introduction, tells us that John Clay was 'for many years a schoolmaster at Grantham'. His photographs appear in a number of books and periodicals and he wrote an article about Grantham's railway heritage in The Railway Observer.
We'll be very grateful for more complete information about John F. Clay.
Cedric A. Clayson (Cedric Archibald Clayson, 1916-1994)
Cedric Clayson lived in Leicester where he ran a cycle shop. Between 1961 and 1964 he spent occasional Thursday afternoons on Grantham station, Thursday being Leicester's 'early closing' day. Many of Cedric's photographs are studies of people: railway staff going about their business, passengers, spotters, in fact anyone who happened to be about. Other pictures are portraits or groups taken at the request of the staff who he had come to know.
Peter Handford (Peter Thomas Handford, 1919-2007)
Peter Handford was an internationally acclaimed professional sound recordist, winner of the 1985 Academy Award for Best Sound for the film Out of Africa. As a hobby he created and published high quality recordings of trains, faithfully reproducing the ambience of the railway in its setting by, for example, capturing birdsong, bleating sheep and other sounds of the countryside. In the late 1950s Peter recorded sounds at Grantham station and also at Barkston Junction and Highdyke.
Noel Ingram (Noel Fedden Ingram, 1919-2001)
In the early 1960s Noel Ingram became a prolific recorder of the railway scene between Grantham and the foot of Stoke Bank. He took most of his pictures in colour, and his subjects included signal boxes, stations and evocative scenes at Grantham 'Loco', as well as locomotives and trains on the main line and the branches. Noel lived at Tollerton, Notts.
Jack Cupit (Jack Cupit, 1922-2005)
Jack Cupit made several visits to Grantham from his home in Nottingham between 1949 and 1952. Among the scenes he he documented with his camera are several views of the last GN 'Atlantic' to remain in service, No. 62822, working out its final months on slow trains to Boston.
Frank Cossey (Frank Cossey, 1922-2008)
Frank began work in the late 1930s as a locomotive cleaner with the LNER at Lincoln, making the usual progression to the footplate as fireman. In 1950, benefitting from research carried out with the Workers' Educational Association (WEA), he won a scholarship to read history at Oxford University, afterwards following a new career as a teacher and lecturer. In 1983 Frank published the definitive history of the railway in Grantham.
Peter Keys (Peter Keys, 1927-2004)
Born in Grantham, Peter began his working life as a trainee Telegraph Lad in December 1941 at Grantham South signal box. In 1998 his account of working in wartime conditions at the South Box was published. Peter also referred to operations at Grantham Yard and Grantham North boxes.
Colin Walker (Colin Peter Walker, 1930-2005)
Colin Walker was a master of the medium of black and white photography, combining dramatic viewpoints with a keenly observed sense of the interplay of light and shade, shape and composition to create emotive views of the steam railway. He taught art at a Leicester school and travelled to the Grantham area to take photographs on many occasions in the late 1950s. Above all, Colin Walker's photographs exemplify the art of creating 'mood' in a monochrome image.
W. Elgar Dickinson (William Elgar Dickinson, 1936-2019)
Another native of Leicester, Elgar visited the Grantham area on several occasions between 1945 and the early 1960s. In his autobiographical account of his interest in the steam railway, which is illustrated with his own photographs, he notes the changes which took place during that period. He travelled by bus and by bike, and he also recalls a train journey from Grantham to Leicester Belgrave Road.
Keith Pirt (Keith Richard Pirt, 1936-2005)
Keith lived in Sheffield and is best known for his colour photographs taken between 1959 and 1962 at Grantham, featuring trains approaching and leaving the station on the main line and locomotives awaiting duty around the Loco yard. To get the best from colour transparency film Keith favoured fine, sunny days for photography. Keith Pirt's photographs have been widely published in magazines, and compilations of his work feature in a number of hardback albums.
In the late 1950s Mel travelled from Nottingham, initially with his father and brother, to watch trains on the East Coast Main Line. Barkston was a favourite spot, and Grantham station was visited too. In the 1970s Mel returned to create a record of the station buildings while they remained subtantially as they had been in the days of the Great Northern Railway. Photographs taken as part of this survey can be seen here.