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Derek Meads – Oh for a Time Machine!

Introduction by Mel Smith

We are sure that most of the people who visit our website probably have wonderful memories of visiting Grantham themselves, so if you are reading this you may have an interesting story to tell? One of our aims is to try and encourage visitors to send in their own Grantham related railway recollections. Derek Meads, a regular visitor to this website, recently commented on one of our stories. The following piece is an example of how a small but wonderful collection of fragmented memories can turn into a wider story.

With our help your recollections of Grantham could be published on the Tracks through Grantham website for others to enjoy. We will also illustrate and enhance your personal story with suitable photographs selected from our archive. If you have a tale to tell, or maybe just a few interesting anecdotes locked away in your mind, then please do get in touch.

Here then is Derek Meads' account of his own visits to Grantham.

Getting in Touch

Grantham was always a special place for me to visit, and as such I do make a point of looking out for any new articles or stories appearing on the Tracks through Grantham website. These tales never fail to bring back such wonderful memories of the happy times that I spent there in the 1950s. Not long ago, after reading one of those nostalgic stories, I decided to send in a comment. A few days later I was somewhat surprised when Mel got in touch to ask if I would be interested in sending in my own trainspotting memories. To be honest I didn't think they would be of too much interest because, in many ways, they are similar to visits made by lots of other people. However, he convinced me that everyone has a unique viewpoint and we all see the world from our own perspective, so it would be well worth noting down my personal recollections. As a result, just before Christmas 2023, I started to put together a few ‘jottings’ which, as it happened, eventually turned into several paragraphs. With lots of welcome help, encouragement and assistance I've now managed to get my notes to this stage. So here is my own Grantham story. I hope you like it, and that it goes on to inspire other like-minded railway enthusiasts to contact Tracks through Grantham with their own memories.

Early Days

My earliest 'audible' railway encounter came about after my parents had moved to Bulwell, a Nottingham suburb situated to the far north west of the city. This would be just after WW2 and, as was often the case in those days, we lived with my father's parents for a while. The audible encounter? Well, I clearly remember laying in bed at night time and listening to the intermittent sound of clanking wagons being shunted at what I assume was the relatively nearby Watnall Colliery. We left Bulwell in 1950 and moved to the Council Estate at Bilborough, which became our new family home. It was here that I attended the local primary school and I soon discovered that a lot of the boys there were interested in trainspotting. As you can imagine, there was a constant exchange of spotting stories. My own interest increased and eventually, now having a bike of my own, I would join them at the local railway spot in Wollaton, which was located on the line leading out from Nottingham (Midland) and onwards to Sheffield and the North. It was here that I had my first Jubilee class 'cop', this being No. 45627 Sierra Leone.  My brother David, who is five years younger than me, started to take an interest in railways too. This ultimately brought about our first joint trainspotting trip to Grantham; he would be seven years old at the time, but I'll tell you more of that later.

To Grantham

Prior to that visit with my brother, my own first visit to Grantham was in 1952, so I would only be around ten years old. Fortunately for me this trip came about when a nineteen-year-old spotter, who I had met at that same local railway bridge in Wollaton, invited me to go along with him. It seems that my mother had luckily checked out with his mother, so all was well for our planned trip (imagine that now!). I can’t remember too much about the journey but on the day, as was often the case in later visits, we were probably pulled by a J6 class 0-6-0 from Nottingham Victoria to Grantham.

An Ivatt J6 class 0-6-0 No. 64249 is ready for its next trip from Grantham.

It's worth noting that in the years following that first trip the loco classes working the Derby and Nottingham trains that I travelled on to and from Grantham would consist of (as already mentioned) J6 class 0-6-0s. There would also be A5 class 4-6-2T tank engines and L1 class 2-6-4T tank engines. I do remember the odd B1 4-6-0 making an appearance and even a B12 4-6-0 on one occasion. Most, if not all, of these services were made up of non-corridor carriages.

Back to that first visit in 1952: As we got closer to Grantham station the Nottingham line was now running parallel with the main line. It was here that I spotted my very first Pacific ‘cop’ approaching from the south. It turned out to be a Peppercorn A2 No. 60529 Pearl Diver, a York engine. Wow! I quickly noted it down as it thundered past my carriage window, then pressing my face against the glass, I watched the engine until it disappeared from my view. That first cop was now safely recorded in my notebook and had made the whole trip worthwhile. A minute later we coasted into Grantham station and slowly came to a stop at the buffers. I waited for my older friend to get up before following him towards the door. Stepping down onto the  platform I was overwhelmed by that heady feeling of excitement that all young spotters must have felt when they were next to a main line especially, here, the East Coast Main Line. That excitement soon grew into a sense of anticipation of what might turn up. I eagerly glanced up and down the line in absolute wonderment of what might appear next.

I didn’t have to wait too long before I was rewarded with a constant procession of stopping and passing trains.  As the day moved on many more engines would be noted down and my list of cops steadily increased. The station announcer would provide clues throughout the day: ‘the next train will be passing right through, please stand clear on platform 3’ or ‘the next train to arrive at platform 2 is for London King's Cross'

One particular memory that stood out from the others on that visit, and it will never leave me, was seeing another Peppercorn loco; this time it was A1 No 60117 Bois Roussel in blue livery! The loco was allocated to Grantham at that time, but for many years after, I did have real doubts that I had actually seen it at all. Confirmation came sometime later, as I discovered that No 60117 was not repainted in the familiar BR green livery until 1953. However, it was to prove to be my only sighting of a blue-liveried Pacific. The following year I went back to Grantham again, but on that occasion, as mentioned earlier, I took my seven year old brother David with me. I was still only twelve years old myself, so looking back it’s hard to believe that our mother actually allowed us to both go there unaccompanied.

Many more trips to Grantham followed in the early 1950s. Money was scarce in those days but a half crown 2/6d  would get us a 1/10d return child ticket, bus fares and a few pence left over; which would be spent in the slot machine on the station to get our supply of 'Beech Nut' chewing gum, or maybe a packet of fruit Polos (remember them?). Now kitted out with our basic supplies we are ready to stay at Grantham station all day, carefree and happy, just watching the seemingly endless passage of freight and express trains. In those days we were pretty much left to our own devices, but in later years trainspotters were often branded as trouble makers. Unfortunately, if anyone happened to be unruly, everyone would be tarred with the same brush and ordered to leave the station. Having been ejected en masse, we would end up taking some time spotting near the loco shed, accessed via the pedestrian tunnel that led under the main lines off Station Road.

The well used pedestrian tunnel under the main lines.

Being so relatively close to the engines on shed was an enjoyable interval, but not as good as the real close up thrill of watching them hurl through the station at breakneck speed! Thinking back, strangely enough I can only remember visiting Grantham shed once, and this was before it officially closed in September 1963. That was when I went on a RCTS (Railway Correspondence and Travel Society) 'shed bash', but I cannot recall ever trying to bunk it!

Having been ejected from the station we would end up taking some time spotting near the loco shed.
A4 No. 60008 Dwight D Eisenhower! Being so close to the engines was an enjoyable interval.

Eventually we would make our way back through the same pedestrian tunnel under the lines before strolling up to the station entrance. Once there the usual story was to tell the ticket collector that we were getting the next train to Nottingham Victoria, which I think left at about 4.15 pm, but this was of course a ploy. When it came to departure time we would avoid the transport policeman by hiding in the gents’ toilet until the 4.15 train had definitely left. We knew of course that the next train to Nottingham was not due to leave until around 5.30pm, so this gave us an extra hour and a bit of spotting! Another bonus for accidently ‘missing the 4.15’ was the chance - if it was on time - to see the northbound Heart of Midlothian.

We were old and wise enough to know that the station was not a playground. When we were spotting on the platforms a careful and mindful approach to the dangers of being so close to non-stop expresses tearing through kept us way back from the platform edge.

A3 No, 60055 Woolwinder dashes through Grantham with an Up express in 1955.

Those platforms at Grantham I remember were fairly long, so if we happened to be at the northern end of the Down side platform and a northbound stopper came in, then our view of southbound trains would invariably be blocked, that is until the stopper had departed. To counter this, if we saw an Up (southbound) train approaching, we had to race to the far south end to try at least to get a glimpse. This, as every spotter knows, was one of the golden rules of spotting; if you don't actually see the loco, then you could not count it as a cop!

If we happened to be at the northern end of the Down side platform and a northbound stopper came in, then our view of southbound trains would invariably be blocked. A sprint to the south end of the station would follow!

That sprint to the south end was not always a success. On those occasions, if we couldn’t get the number ourselves, we just asked the spotters who were already positioned there. The south end of the station was a much favoured vantage point for spotters like us. There would be a convenient collection of porters’ trolleys to sit on which were very useful, especially after the lunch period.

There would be a convenient collection of porters' trolleys to sit on which were very useful, especially after the lunch period.

The 'Dead Hour'

Lunchtime was called the 'dead hour' as all the main expresses had passed north or south, so we were waiting for the return workings. It was also a good opportunity to eat our jam sandwiches, drink mum’s home-made ginger beer and chat with the other spotters who had come from Derby or maybe Lincoln. With our lunch over we would sometimes play a game of tag by running around the small shed on the platform end. The game would go on for a while, but ultimately we got in the way of the staff working there and were soon ticked off.

With our lunch over we would sometimes play a game of tag by running around the small shed on the platform end. The game would go on for a while, but ultimately we got in the way of the staff working there and were soon ticked off.

This meant a hasty retreat to another seat along the platform; to keep us out of further trouble and possible eviction. Things did sometimes get quite serious. I do recall visiting the station on one bank holiday when the police were in attendance. This was to ensure that spotters would immediately leave the station upon the arrival of their train. It did turn out that on this occasion we were judged to be alright to stay. My friend Stephen had come with his dad so, being with an adult, we were safe!

The usual 'spotters gathering' at the south end of Grantham station as A1 No. 60133 Pommern meets A4 No. 60026 Miles Beevor

You will have probably guessed by now that Grantham was an East Coast iconic magnet for us. Those now so impossibly distant spotting days were never boring and, as already mentioned, we would stay all day long. What with the huge variety of expresses dashing through the station, local arrivals and departures, trundling freight trains or those simmering resting giants standing across the yard towards the shed, what a really wonderful and exciting place it was.

A Colwick (38A) based O4 No. 63729 trundles through Grantham with an Up freight in 1955.
Photograph taken by Maurice Stuart Bradley.

Named Trains

On top of all of that a variety of magically named trains, to our young eyes, also came through Grantham! The Elizabethan, The Flying Scotsman, The White RoseThe Yorkshire PullmanThe Fair MaidThe Scarborough Flyer - I once saw the latter train hurtle through the station behind A3 No. 60044 Melton with the fireman leaning out of the cab and sporting a knotted handkerchief on his head. Other vivid memories are seeing the unique W1 class loco, No. 60700, hauling a through freight and also being near the shed area when A4 No. 60008 Dwight D Eisenhower appeared from the south. I stood transfixed as the loco with its chime whistle blowing continuously, blasted right through the station with a northbound train.

The unique W1 No. 60700 at Grantham.

What memorable moments! I always enjoyed seeing the swirl of dust and rubbish swept up by the passing at speed of a class C fitted freight, sometimes with a spotless Top Shed A4 on the front! We stood and admired the skill of the top link drivers at the south end of the station as they eased away an A4 at the head of an Up express with 14 bogies, expertly controlling the tendency for the wheels to slip as they got under way. Those memories are brought back and reinforced when I listen to an EP vinyl record in my collection.  Recorded at Grantham in 1957, amongst the wonderful evocative tracks on the EP there are engine changes and expresses at speed, with those haunting chime whistles sounding as they rush by through the station.

Those memories are brought back and reinforced when I listen to an EP vinyl record in my collection. One of Colin Walker's atmospheric photographs aptly illustrates the cover of the 7-inch EP (Extended Play) disc of evocative sounds of the steam railway recorded by Peter Handford at Grantham.

I also have intact a much treasured solitary spotting book from 1959, so I know for sure that on Easter Monday 30th March 1959 the Flying Scotsman was pulled by A3 No 60053  Sansovino. According to my notes the loco was allocated to Gateshead (52A) so this train was probably the Up working. Below you will find a photograph of that spotting book, including my ticket and some of the other locos I was lucky enough to see on that day in 1959. The return ticket cost 4/8d and we had departed from Nottingham Victoria for Grantham on the 9.30 am train, being pulled by a Colwick based J6 No 64213.

A page from my treasured notebook showing some of the entries for Easter Monday, 30th March 1959.

Dawn of the Diesels

Some of the Bay platforms at Grantham were used for the Lincoln services, but unfortunately I never did see steam on those local trains, it was always a Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU).

On the Up platform a group of spotters have found a good vantage point and eagerly await their next cop. Meanwhile they seemingly ignore the DMU in the siding beyond the Lincoln Bay.

As a dyed in the wool true spotter of steam, the advent and introduction of diesels taking over services on the main line through Grantham was indeed a really sad time for me. However many spotters did have a soft spot for the Deltic class. To see and hear one of those powerful locomotives slowly departing from Grantham with that characteristic low whirling 'growl' was, I must admit, a bit special.

New meets old - A4 No. 60006 Sir Ralph Wedgwood greets one of the new batch of Deltic locomotives hauling 1A19 - Newcastle to Kings Cross.

Actually I did have a run behind a Deltic to Edinburgh and I was somewhat amazed that even on the gradients it never seemed to slow down at all! Being a steam spotter, much better of course was a trip I went on to King's Cross for a London stations spotting bash. I was fortunate enough to have an A4 pacific in charge BOTH ways. The London journey was with A4 No. 60006 Sir Ralph Wedgewood and the return to Grantham (I believe) was behind A4 No. 60032 Gannet or maybe No. 60033 Seagull? I did get a bit wet during the journey back as I was standing in the front carriage with the window slid open. The engine picked up water at Werrington troughs, so you can imagine the outcome…

Nowadays my memory is still not too bad I think. It was actually tested and proved to be fairly reliable when my younger brother David recently visited me. The conversation, as often it does, turned to railways and with his aid I was able to repeat all 78 names of the A3 class Pacifics from memory! I must admit that I did need a bit of prompting though to get No 60038 Firdaussi. Here's a list for reference below:

Test your own memory. Look away, can you name them all?

Sad to say, but way back then I was not able to afford a camera. However I do have a photograph of A4 No. 60017 Silver Fox in my collection, which shows it departing north from Grantham and dated March 1963. This was just a few months before its sad demise in October 1963.

A4 Pacific No. 60017 Silver Fox is about to pass the North Box at Grantham with a Down Express on Sunday 24th March 1963.
Derek Meads Collection

I was lucky enough to spot nearly all of the A4s. The elusive one being the Scottish based engine No. 60031 Golden Plover. It was a close thing though, as one day when I was up in Stirling I managed to catch sight of a trail of smoke from a passing train. My fellow spotters, who were nearer to the line than me, actually saw the loco, but I didn't; not even a small part of the chimney. When I caught up with them I asked what the number was. My heart sank as they gave me the frustratingly bad news... it was 60031! Being a true spotter I have stuck to the golden rule of spotting: if you don't actually see the loco, then you could not count it as a cop. I suppose 33 (plus a bit of smoke) out of 34 isn't too much of a disappointment...

The one that slipped through the net: unfortunately Derek wasn't at Grantham on this day in 1959, as his elusive bird, A4 No. 60031 Golden Plover, heads 'The Elizabethan' southwards through the station.

Very happy, happy times and many great unforgettable memories of those golden days I spent at Grantham. Oh for a Time Machine, so that I could be whisked back again, but maybe this time with a digital camera! Oh for a Time Machine…

Derek Meads 2024

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