by David Page
If a kindly aunt and uncle had not decided to settle in Grantham, and to move back there into retirement after a few years of work in Hertfordshire as housekeeper and chauffeur to the Barford family, little or none of what follows might have come my way - at least until the early sixties, when pocket money ran to film and a train ticket.
Long before I started school I could recite the names of the stations from Nottingham Victoria to Grantham – and Sedgebrook was among them, so that wasn’t yesterday. After Gonerby Tunnel a sight of Wulfram’s beautiful steeple would draw me to the window, looking hopefully at the tracks on that side. Once I was rewarded with an A1 flying through on the Up main as our ‘A engine’, ‘Raggy’, ‘A5’ or ‘L1’* swung over the pointwork towards the Western platform.
[* four types of steam locomotive used in the 1950s on trains between Derby Friargate, Nottingham Victoria and Grantham]
At the ‘Loco’ (engine shed) the Triangle*, with its triumph of geometry over limited space, had only recently been built and my aunt and uncle then lived in Walton Gardens not far from it. So it was not long before I was taken to see 60062 Minoru being turned and being shown blue A4 Sir Nigel Gresley moving about in the loco yard, hearing meanwhile the unmistakable high-pitched chaffering of a J52 saddletank slipping and shunting in the yard. There was also the sight of blue A1 Kittiwake tearing through northbound under London Road bridge with the Queen of Scots Pullman express for Edinburgh.
[*There's an explanation of Grantham shed's locomotive turning triangle near the end of this page.]
Unfortunately my aunt and uncle’s move to Hertfordshire coincided with the mid-fifties years of engine-changing activity, and I was too young to go there on my own and spend a whole day on the platforms with Pacifics and V2s, plus the O2s on the ironstone jobs and whatever the Loco or Colwick had turned out for the Nottingham and Derby branch. It soon became clear that if the ‘spotters’ misbehaved themselves, beyond bouncing up and down at the platform ends with shouts of “Streak!” at the mere suggestion of a chime whistle, everybody would be chucked off the station. Although occasionally the station announcer would come out with “All trainspotters from Nottingham must go home on the next train from Platform 5”, the lavatories always seemed unusually busy until the bark and knock of a departing L1 had cleared Barrowby Road Junction. The 'Loco' was a good deal less welcoming; if bunking Colwick had its moments, Grantham was reserved for those daft or desperate enough to try!
Changing times for loco spotters at Grantham
As David has hinted, during the 1950s the official attitude at Grantham to loco spotters swung from a relatively relaxed acceptance to serious deterrence. These articles from The Grantham Journal illustrate the change in mood.
Spring 1949: acceptance
Summer 1957: spotters are banned!
The railway brought its big guns to bear on what by then was seen as the menace of the trainspotter. The railway police, the magistrates and the local newspaper were all enlisted.
Following a failed attempt to 'bunk the Loco' (make their way unofficially into the engine shed) on 1st July two lads from Leicester were each fined £1. A pair of Grantham lads engaged in a similar venture on 18th July ended up receiving just a warning at the juvenile court and 4/- each costs to pay (was this a case of more lenient treatment for locals?).
A ban on spotting at the station seems only to have displaced the problem to other locations, because three boys who'd travelled from Halifax (aged 15), Melton Mowbray (aged 11) and Middlesbrough (aged 12!) were each fined £1 after being found on 12th August sitting on the parapet of the subway bridge in close proximity to the shed outlet line. This was close to the spot featured in David's photograph of No. 69549 below, near the end of this page.
David resumes his visits to Grantham...
And then my uncle and aunt retired to a house in Stanton Street, long since vanished under a supermarket. I realised that even though I had just seen 60105 Victor Wild fresh from ‘Plant’ (Doncaster Works) in the full glory of Kylchap exhaust and German blinkers, glistening and simmering in the drizzle by the North box, the writing was on the wall and I had better get some photographs before it was too late. Wrong positions, poor lighting …anything to capture dwindling survivors on film.
The prime targets were my all-time favourites, A1s, A2s, A3s and V2s; the difficulty lay in finding them well-lit and stationary because of the limitations of my camera: 1/100 (top shutter speed) and f/6.3 (maximum aperture).
A sunny and bitterly cold day of February 1963, spent in the snow, ice and bitter wind on Platform 3, had yielded only one half-decent shot as filthy A3 No.60056 Centenary drifted about light engine between yard and station; things had got off to a bad start because as I arrived classmate No.60039 Sandwich, clean and respectable but only days from withdrawal, was blowing off ready for the climb to Stoke, but a bitter east wind blew the steam down and spoilt the shot.
V2s and Pacifics came on and off shed, silhouetted as the winter sun went down, and the O2s on High Dyke came and went, or passed through for Frodingham, 63931 and 63932 coming on shed coupled chimney to chimney. Already J6s, A5s and ‘Raggies’ had vanished from the local trains and L1s and K3s were rusting silently by Colwick’s coaling tower, to be joined by unrebuilt O4s.
About half past three the station Tannoy announced that a diesel unit had distributed its engine components on the track somewhere out in the icebound wilderness of the Nottingham line, and derailed itself in the process. A Lincolnshire Road Car bus came promptly to our rescue and set us down at Aslockton Station in the deepening dusk. Eventually an Ivatt 'Flying Pig’ from Colwick drew in at the head of three non-corridors, stopping at the signal-box as the fireman jumped down to ask the signalman to set the road for a run-round and to cross them over. “Gorrany matches, mate?” came a disgruntled mutter from the platform. Warmth, a compartment to myself, and steam haulage back to the Vic …I had no complaints!
Then along came ‘Acutol’ and ‘Acuprint’ developers and fewer shots ended up in the bin. In May 1963 No. 60110 Robert the Devil ran in from the south with an express, just too fast for the shutter; but as the light – and hope - began to fade No. 60044 Melton drew to a stand with a King’s Cross express. She, too, would be withdrawn in the following month.
Clearly, as steam was now supposedly banned from King's Cross, time was running short for the surviving Pacifics in the area and the first day of July 1963 saw British Railways’ oldest surviving A3, No. 60106 Flying Fox standing in Platform 2, looking filthy and decrepit at the head of another southbound turn, with the fireman busy up on the tender. How appearances can deceive; she would be spruced up and turn in a lively performance on a special train before eluding the breakers for almost a further year and a half.
Time was running out, too, for the A1s, and I was pleased to get the shot of 60141 Abbotsford that day, standing in evening sunlight just as Melton had done with yet another southbound express.
But one particular scene that lives on in the Skull Cinema took place about the same time, when diesel failures were still frequent enough to make life interesting and some hopeful souls noticed that one scheduled London-bound ‘run through’ had not put in an appearance. Several minutes later all the Up Main signals came off and an A1 in a great hurry came racing round the curve from the north, storming through the station in a shrieking flurry of slipstream and dust; No. 60125 Scottish Union and crew were clearly intent on making up for lost time.
From the Western platform little of what was on shed could be seen until engines moved out to the exit signals, and one afternoon something behind the scenes was clearly about to leave; at last a clean A1, No. 60121 Silurian drew forward to the outlet signal, but a grimy and rusty V2 was coupled behind her, motion partly dismantled; No. 60906 was on her last journey, presumably to Doncaster. [No. 60906 was scrapped at Doncaster Works in June 1963]
I make no apologies for pulling the next shot out of the bin, because some years after it was taken, thanks to Peter Handford and his tape recorders, I heard this particular N2 making a crisp, steady start from Platform 16 at King’s Cross with a suburban train from Moorgate to the Northern Heights in December 1958. Transferred to 34F, demoted to shed pilot, she did not last much longer; north of Potters Bar these hefty tank engines found few friends. Ask a Colwick man!
After a grim, wet afternoon in summer 1963 when the Loco closed and the only steam in sight was A3 No. 60108 Gay Crusader standing as main line pilot in the yard, who would have expected sights like these, fifty years on?
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David's interest in photography extended to film processing and the use of his school darkroom. Crucially, he kept his negatives and we have directly scanned them to prepare the 1960s images above. It's a reminder of the importance of retaining negatives carefully, if you have them, because they will almost always provide better scans than prints.