by Richard Cumming
Above: Stamford Town station on Saturday 23rd February 1952 as Beyer-Garratt No. 47997 hurries south with coal from Nottinghamshire. My first, unforgettable experience of one of these giant machines blasting through a station was a similar scene 20 miles or so down the line, at Melton Mowbray, in summer 1956.
Photograph by Phillip H. Wells. This image is from the collection of The Railway Correspondence and Travel Society (RCTS), ref. PHW1559, and is used here with permission.
Grantham was the centre of my railway universe, but as a train spotter I needed more. A few years ago I reminisced here on Tracks through Grantham about bike rides around Grantham as a spotter in search of that elusive cop. Coronavirus Lockdown has given me the opportunity to revisit that theme but with journeys further afield, all in aid of new numbers in my combined volume.
My first trip of any distance was in the summer holidays of 1956 when, at the age of 10, I decided to cycle the sixteen miles to Melton Mowbray and have a look at engines on the former Midland Railway. I had spent a week the year before on holiday in Liverpool, primarily on Lime Street Station, but since then, apart from Peterborough Class 4 Moguls, there was a dearth of engines with numbers beginning '4' at Grantham. Also I was just itching to use my new, single gear Hercules Courier bike. I'm sure that I would not have told my mum and dad beforehand. There was relatively little traffic on the roads in those days, but I’m sure the answer would have been a definite 'no'.
I do remember slogging up the long slow hill at Denton but having to walk up the steep hill at Croxton Kerrial, where a drink of water from the roadside pipe was most welcome. Melton Mowbray Town railway station, mid week, was not hugely busy but I still remember the two highlights: Jubilee No. 45614 Leeward Islands on a London bound passenger train and my first Beyer-Garratt, heading south at speed on a coal train - a memorable sight. This was the first of a few visits to Melton, initially by bike but later by Lincolnshire Road Car bus which enabled an onward visit to Leicester. It was enough to whet my appetite for more.
B17 'Sandies' (Sandringham class engines) were rarely seen at Grantham. The odd one ex-works on freight maybe; sometimes the occasional one on a visit to the dead line alongside the New Shed. Thus it became time to test the rumour that Sandies were to be seen at Sleaford, but that they took the Avoiding Line (false info as it turned out). So it was that I found myself at Burton Pedwardine, off the Threekingham road, south of Sleaford. On the way I had rumbled across the, still in place, railway track of the abandoned Sleaford to Bourne line and then settled down for half a day of excitement!
The old Great Northern & Great Eastern Joint Railway was not the busiest, but a couple of memories remain: B17 No. 61657 Doncaster Rovers with a Spalding-bound passenger train and my first 9F 2-10-0, No. 92067, on a Whitemoor-bound freight. Not great, but still in my memory sixty-three years later.
A year or so passed and a fresh rumour was that Britannia Pacifics had replaced the B17s on the main passenger duties including the North Country Continental boat train from Parkeston Quay to Manchester and Liverpool.
By now we had found out that a farm track just outside Sleaford brought us to a triangle of lines - to Boston, to Spalding and the Avoiding Line - near the maltings, as shown on the map. Until I saw the map I had not realised that the farm track was actually along the old track bed of the abandoned (in 1956) Sleaford to Bourne line.
Disappointment when a Stratford (30A) shedded B1 headed the boat train...
…remedied a few months later when an afternoon visit to Sleaford Station yielded two Brits - No. 70009 Alfred The Great and No. 70035 Rudyard Kipling.
Britannias on passenger work in Lincolnshire
In the late 1950s the Britannias on East Anglian services to and from London Liverpool Street began to be replaced by diesels. As a result the 'Brits' were used on other services, replacing B17s, V2s and B1s.
One of the first moves was to transfer No. 70035 Rudyard Kipling to March shed for regular use on the daily Colchester to Newcastle express, with the Brit doing the March to York leg and return.
Shortly afterwards, another innovation was the use of a Stratford-based Britannia on The North Country Continental (known as 'The Boat Train'). There's an informative article published in the mid-1930s about this historic service here.
No. 70009 Alfred The Great was on this duty when I saw it at Sleaford, and what a duty it was. Stratford Diagram 6:
- Starting at Goodmayes yard for freight at 2.55am with a 5.02am arrival at Harwich Parkeston Quay;
- After servicing, departure from Parkeston was at 8.0am on The North Country Continental, arriving at Sheffield Victoria at 12.52pm;
- The loco went to Darnall shed for servicing before departing Sheffield at 3.30pm on the return 'Continental' and arriving at Harwich at 8.53pm;
- Departure from Parkeston, on freight, was at 11.40pm with arrival at London Spitalfields at 2.34am.
No. 70009 was a regular on this turn and I have seen photos of it at Sheffield and Worksop, as well as in real life at March a few months later.
The next Britannia duty change, in Lincolnshire, was the transfer of a number to Immingham shed for working the Cleethorpes to King's Cross express passenger services via the East Lincs Line. One of these, 70040, is photographed at Spalding.
A point worth noting is that with the closing of a number of Lincolnshire railway lines all three services mentioned in this note began being routed through Grantham in the early 1970s.
We were always trying something new and one of the later local-ish bike rides was to Saxby Junction. One of the lads had worked out that it was on the same line as Melton, was a couple of miles nearer Grantham, and the junction part was with the old Midland & Great Northern Joint heading for East Anglia. I vaguely remember a train either way on the M&GN but not the detail.
Now imagine that the holiday trains have departed, and all is still, when the middle of the three tall signals clears. We anticipate a train approaching on the main line from the south. The expectation builds as we strain our ears for the sound of a distant whistle, and our eyes for a first glimpse of the hoped-for express leaning to the banked curve, to sweep beneath our feet and fade into the distance towards Melton... For us, this was the highlight of the day - Britannia No. 70004 William Shakespeare, at speed, rounding the curve from the south with a northbound express. Newly released from Golden Arrow duties in the south of England this sighting made our day, and the ride back to Grantham was so much easier.
Nottingham, Burton-on-Trent and Wolverhampton, plus Wellington and Shrewsbury!
My train spotting journeys were now getting beyond my trusty Hercules, and rail trips all over the country ensued before my final major bike excursion in 1960, aged nearly fifteen.
A train spotting pal in Burton-on-Trent invited me to stop at his house and join him and his mate on a railway sheds visit on a Sunday, cycling around the West Midlands. This would mean a whole lot of ex-Great Western and LMS never before seen at Grantham and so the answer had to be 'yes'. I borrowed my cousin Michael’s bike - nothing special, just drop handlebars on an old Sturmey-Archer geared Raleigh, and away I went.
Saturday, 54 miles to Burton with a visit to Nottingham (16A) shed thrown in. Sunday 32 miles there and 32 miles back, cycling to three sheds at Wolverhampton, Stafford Road (84A), Oxley (84B) and Bushbury (3B), with an afternoon visit by train to Wellington (84H) and Shrewsbury (84G) thrown in - magic!
Highlights - sparkling ex-GWR Kings at Stafford Road, Bushbury’s gleaming Jubilee 4-6-0s, my only Dukedog, No. 9004 stored at Wellington, and finally the multi-regional array of engines at Shrewsbury. Lowlight - cycling along the A38 from Wolverhampton in the dusk and in pouring rain with no lights. Fortunately I was between the other two lads who did have lights - still scary.
The ride back from Wolverhampton to Burton was both tiring and frightening. As a result, the next day being a Monday and still a holiday, and with money in my pocket, I decided to travel 'on the cushions' back to Grantham. I must have been feeling flush as the return went via Sheffield!!!!!!
An afternoon on Sheffield Midland station was followed by yet another Britannia cop when No. 70045 Lord Rowallan headed my train back to either Derby or Nottingham (I can’t remember which). The perfect end to a magic weekend.
Thereafter most of my train spotting trips were with BR taking the strain. A bike was still necessary for getting around town and on our regular visits to Barkston. As a result I’ve never lost my love of cycling and this love has been a godsend through lockdown 1 and now lockdown 2.
Keep Safe Everyone.
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