by John Clayson
Above: Lt. Peter Handford in 1945 as a sound recordist in the Army Film Unit.
Photograph from the Imperial War Museum collection http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//55/media-55642/large.jpg
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. Peter bequeathed his collection of railway sound recordings to the National Railway Museum.
There is a wealth of biographical information about Peter Handford available on the internet. Therefore I intend simply to provide some links to further reading about his life and his many accomplishments in the professional realm, devoting the remainder of this page specifically to his work in the Grantham area.
Peter Handford - some sources of biographical information
There is an obituary in The Guardian here.
There is an obituary in The Telegraph here.
There is a Wikipedia page here.
There is an audio Interview from 2002 with David Watkin here, here and here.
Peter Handford's autobiographical account Sounds of Railways and their recording (David & Charles, 1980; ISBN 0-7153-7631-4) is well worth reading. It is long out of print but, in July 2015, I acquired a copy via the online used book market for £8.50 (including shipping). The full text (no illustrations) is available here.
A biography and discography Transacord: Sounds of Steam and other Transports of Delight written and compiled by Mark Jones was published in 2011 and is available to purchase here.
A two-page illustrated feature by Mel Holley, My Favourite Things, appears in Steam World Issue 105 (March 1996) on pages 12 and 13. Peter Handford is introduced as 'the undisputed master of the lineside microphone'. There is a photograph of Peter and his wife in his home studio, and the article illustrates 'some unusual and prized items' of railway interest at their home.
Peter Handford and the Grantham area
In the late 1950s Peter recorded in the Grantham area at Barkston Junction and at Stoke Tunnel/High Dyke, as well as at Grantham station. On pages 64 and 65 of Sounds of Railways and their recording Peter describes how he assessed High Dyke sidings and Grantham station from the sound recording perspective, and he goes on to tell an amusing story at the expense of the then stationmaster.
...the north end of Stoke tunnel [was among my favourite locations for Gresley Pacifics at speed], where the Pacifics and other engines made a fine sound as they climbed up from Grantham and entered the tunnel, one after another, while in the background an occasional 2-8-0 climbed away on the single line towards Stainby, with iron ore empties from nearby High Dyke Sidings. The only trouble with Stoke summit was that it was plagued by aircraft noise, except at weekends and it was only worth going there on Saturdays when, during that summer , the wind always seemed to be blowing strongly across the track and seldom carried the sounds of the trains climbing up from Grantham.
Grantham I visited several times, especially on summer Saturdays, for it was a splendid place and although [road] traffic noise could be troublesome at the north end of the station, there was an excellent recording position to the south of the station just beyond the up platform. There, shielded by buildings at the rear, there was just space between the sidings to set up the recording equipment and settle down for the day - or part of the night - ideally placed to record the changing of engines and the departure of a procession of trains on the last lap of their journey to King's Cross. Grantham too had a problem, in the person of a large, officious and no doubt efficient stationmaster who, for reasons of his own, did not seem well disposed to railway enthusiasts, still less to the use of mysterious recording equipment despite my permits, or for that matter engine crews. He customarily stood at the end of the up platform when supervising engine changing; one evening V2 No. 60881 backed onto a train and coupled up, the stationmaster stood back as the whistles blew, 60881 started with a slip which even by V2 standards was prodigious, and from a liberally priming chimney drenched the stationmaster with warm and greasily sooty water. It might have been accidental but for the fact that the grinning driver gave a thumbs up sign as the engine passed, and with no hint of a slip climbed away towards Stoke summit; unfortunately the whole performance was so diverting that the recording was completely ruined by inattention.
There is a tale that Peter Handford had an encounter with a ghost signalman at Barkston South Junction box when making some night-time recordings in August 1961. The story has appeared in print and has been published here.
Peter's recordings were first issued on 78rpm discs in the 1950s. In the intervening years they have been available on 45rpm EP and 33⅓rpm LP vinyl formats, and then on compact cassette and CD. Today, digitally remastered, some of the recordings are available to purchase by download to your computer.
Sound is an extraordinarily evocative medium. Think of Winston Churchill, and you are as likely to bring to mind his voice and a passage from one of his wartime speeches as you are an image of his British Bulldog countenance. Peter Handford's technically accomplished recordings of the steam age take us right to the platform end, or into the open countryside where the railway sweeps past. "Close your eyes, and you're almost there" to paraphrase the Andy Williams song. They deserve to be as widely enjoyed, and as appreciated for their artistry, as the work of the best-known railway photographers.
Peter Handford Recordings made in the Grantham area published on Vinyl Records
Many of these recordings are obtainable through the online second hand market.
Argo Transacord 7-inch mono EP (extended play), 45rpm, EAF 33, issued in 1961
Recordings made during July 1957 at the south end of Grantham station, and at Peterborough North on a raw foggy day in November 1958
Recordings made at Retford South crossing during August 1956, at Peterborough North in September 1958 and at the north end of Stoke tunnel, near the summit of the 1 in 200 climb from Grantham, during July 1957.
Argo Transacord 7-inch mono EP (extended play), 45rpm, EAF 77
Argo Transacord 7-inch stereo EP (extended play), 45rpm, ZFA 77
Side Two, track Two:
Great Northern Engines
Argo Transacord 7-inch mono EP (extended play), 45rpm, EAF 80
Side Two, Track Two:
Grantham - 1957
Argo Transacord 7-inch mono EP (extended play), 45rpm, EAF 86, issued in 1965
Recordings of class A3, A4, V2 and other ex-LNER locomotives at Grantham Station in July and August 1957.
D for Diesels
Argo Transacord 7-inch mono EP (extended play), 45rpm, EAF 98.
Side Two, Track Three: D9009 Alycidon, was recorded at Barkston Junction in August 1961.
Argo Transacord 7-inch mono EP (extended play), 45rpm, EAF 144
Includes recordings made near High Dyke sidings.
Argo Transacord 7-inch mono EP (extended play), 45rpm, EAF 145
Side Two, Tracks Four and Five were recorded near High Dyke sidings.
Sounds of the Steam Age - The Triumph of an A4 Pacific
Argo Transacord 12-inch stereo LP, 33⅓rpm, ZTR 108
Recordings made during a record breaking journey between Kings Cross and Doncaster on 23 May 1959. The train, headed by 'A.4' Pacific No. 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley, driven by Bill Hoole, reached a speed of 112 m.p.h. on the return journey.
Side Two, Track Three: approaching Stoke tunnel, at speed down Stoke bank, passing Essendine
Sounds of the Steam Age - Rhythms of Steam
Argo Transacord 12-inch stereo LP, 33⅓rpm, ZTR 113
One recording made at Barkston Junction.
Sounds of the Steam Age - Trains to Remember
Argo Transacord 12-inch stereo LP, 33⅓rpm, ZTR 118 (also issued as compact cassette KZTC 118)
Side One, Track Two: Trains in the Night at Grantham Station
Sounds of the Steam Age - North of King's Cross
Argo Transacord 12-inch mono LP, 33⅓rpm, TR 134 (also ASV Transacord LP, ATR 7029 and compact cassette ZC ATR 7029)
A variety of ex LNER steam locomotives, at work in the 1950s and in
1961. At Kings Cross, Hitchin, Peterborough, Stoke Tunnel, Retford,
Edinburgh and Whitrope.
Side Two, Band 3:
Sounds of the Steam Age - Railways Round the Clock
Argo Transacord 12-inch stereo LP, 33⅓rpm, ZTR 143
Recording made at Barkston Junction
Sounds of the Steam Age - Steam Through All Seasons
Argo Transacord 12-inch stereo LP, 33⅓rpm, ZTR 149
Side Two, track Two - summer afternoon at Barkston Junction
The World of Railways - Changing Trains
Argo Transacord 12-inch stereo LP, 33⅓rpm, SPA 438 (also issued as a compact cassette KCSP 438)
Steam and Diesel locomotives of various types at work at different locations on British Railways between 1957 and 1966. A journey in the cab of the High Speed Train, during a 125mph test run, in February 1975.
Side 1, Track 1: At Night on the East Coast Main Line at Grantham Station in 1961
The World of Railways 'L.N.E.R.'
Argo Transacord 12-inch stereo LP, 33⅓rpm, SPA 506, issued in 1977
Steam locomotives of the London & North Eastern Railway, at work on British Railways between 1956 and 1961.
Side One, Band One - at Grantham station (some tracks are the same as those on the Grantham - 1957 EP EAF 86, but they appear in a different order)
Side Two, Band Three - recorded near High Dyke sidings
The World of Railways - Pacific Power
Argo Transacord 12-inch stereo LP, 33⅓rpm, SPA 563 (also issued as a compact cassette KCSP 563)
LNER, LMS, SR and BR Pacifies at work on BR between 1956 and 1976; including most of the recordings previously issued on the EPs EAF77 and ZFA 77, with other recordings not previously issued. SNCF, DB, and DR Pacifies at work in France and in Germany.
Steam in the Fifties
ASV (Academy Sound and Vision Ltd.) Transacord 12-inch stereo LP, 33⅓rpm, ATR 7001
Side 2, Track 4: at the south end of Grantham Station
Peter Handford Recordings made in the Grantham area published on Compact Disc (CD)
The following CDs include recordings made in the Grantham area.
Sounds of the Steam Age - The Age of Steam
ASV (Academy Sound and Vision Ltd.) Transacord CD ATR 7037, published in 1987
Track Nine: At the northern end of Grantham Station during a damp night in August 1961.
Grantham had a large and busy loco. shed at that time and was still an engine-changing point for many north and southbound trains.
The 12.37am northbound express, which included sleeping cars for Edinburgh and Dundee, is standing at the down platform, now headed by No. 60014 Silver Link which has just taken over from the engine which brought the train from King's Cross.
No. 60014 whistles, starts the heavy train out from the station and with driving wheels sometimes slipping on drizzle-dampened rails, heads past and away, behind the North Signal Box, towards Barrowby Road Junction and on, round a curve, down the gradient towards Peascliffe Tunnel and Barkston Junction.
A light engine which has been waiting nearby, simmering gently, now moves past and away towards the loco sheds.
A parcels van is being loaded in a nearby bay platform while a 9F, which has been held at signals, starts out from the station with a heavy northbound freight train and heads it past and away behind the signal box.
A K3 clanks past running light and then a V2, approaching from the north, swings round the curve, passes by and whistles away through the station to tackle the long climb to Stoke Tunnel with an up fitted freight train.
A relief express train for Newcastle is standing at the down platform, shortly after 2.00am, headed by No. 60867 which whistles and, with driving wheels slipping wildly and frequently, starts out from the station and - not, apparently, inconvenienced by an appalling metallic knock - heads the train past and away to the north, into the drizzling darkness beyond the signal box.
Sounds of the Steam Age - L.N.E.R.
ASV (Academy Sound and Vision Ltd.) Transacord CD ATR 7047, published in 1995
Track Five: At the south end of Grantham Station in July 1957.
No. 60014 at the head of a Newcastle - London express starts out from the station and, after some initial difficulty in keeping adhesion, climbs past and away on the 1 in 200 gradient which continues, unbroken, for five miles to a summit just beyond Stoke Tunnel.
No. 60914, running light, backs slowly past to take over a waiting train.
No. 63791 moves and whistles in the up yard.
No. 60914 whistles, starts a heavy southbound express, slips violently and has continuing difficulty in keeping a grip on the drizzle dampened rails as it heads the train past and climbs away. Meanwhile No. 60022, trailing a plume of steam from the safety valves, whistles down the gradient and tears past and away through the station with an express for Edinburgh.
No. 60893 moves slowly past towards the station to take over another up express.
Track Six: At the northern end of Stoke Tunnel, just beyond which is the summit of the five mile, 1 in 200, climb from Grantham, on a windy day in July 1957.
No. 60007, approaching against the wind on the climb from Grantham, swings round a curve into view, roars past High Dyke Sidings, enters a short deep cutting and whistles into Stoke Tunnel with a Leeds - London express.
An engine moves in the sidings on the down side of the main line.
No. 60943 approaches round the curve, heads past and whistles into the tunnel with a Newcastle - London express.
No. 63929, approaching from High Dyke with a train of empty iron ore wagons, tackles the steep climb past and away into a cutting through which the single line of the mineral branch curves away from the main line, towards Stainby.
No. 61060 brings an up local passenger train past and whistles away into the tunnel. No. 60845 emerges from the tunnel with a down express.
No. 64187 passes through the cutting with a southbound pick up goods train and whistles wearily into the tunnel.
No. 60055 bursts out from the tunnel and rushes away towards Grantham with a northbound express.
No. 61974 then climbs energetically past the sidings with a southbound fitted freight train and whistles into the tunnel.
Sounds of the Steam Age - Trains in the Night
ASV (Academy Sound and Vision Ltd.) Transacord CD ATR 7049, published in 1996
Track Ten: At Grantham Station During a Night In August 1961
Peter Handford Recordings made in the Grantham area available to download
Digitally remastered recordings of railway sounds recorded by Peter Handford are now available to purchase and download from the Transacord Digital website here.
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1 thought on “Peter Thomas Handford (1919-2007), sound recordist”
Thank you for the pictures and information. I have always had an interest in railways, and the recordings made by Peter Handford caught my attention many years ago. This developed into a hobby with me collecting the recordings, then matching up photographs of the locomotives which has resulted in me having the majority of the recordings made by "Argo-Transacord" stored in photograph albums with the recordings being on cassette tapes and vinyl disc. I only wish that they could be transferred to "CD" to keep better in storage. I also "found" the book too which completes the collection. So enjoyed the read.