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Trips to Grantham, aged 9

Malcolm Johnson remembers boyhood trips to Grantham as a 9-year-old.

A Deltic through Grantham
A Deltic passes north through Grantham in the 1970s ©Malcolm Johnson

I was born in Caythorpe, and lived in Leadenham as a child for a time later on.  I have many memories of Grantham station, but not of trips there from Nottingham, as my Dad used to take me there when we were still living in Lincolnshire. It was a magical place to a 9-year-old (in 1959).  You’d go over the footbridge to the island platform, and there seemed to be an endless vista of lines stretching to the shed area where you could see engines moving to and fro.

There was no turntable by that time, and a triangle had been laid out instead, so that engines would steam off into the distance and then return facing the other way.

Back in 1959 I can remember seeing the N2 tanks (695XX series) which were used for, I suppose, shunting and station pilot duties – I don’t believe they saw service on passenger trains – but a year or so later they had all gone, and the L1s had appeared (677XX series) which were used on the Nottingham services. As well as the express engines there was also an allocation of freight types – I remember the O2 2-8-0s which were used on the High Dyke iron ore trains.

My time for trainspotting there was roughly in the 1959 – 1963 period. I would estimate about half the expresses stopped there, many of them to change engines (the main reason for the shed). At the north end of the station there was an engine siding next to the end of the island platform where you could inspect the engine waiting to take over a northbound train. At the south end, the engine siding was beyond the platform end past the little signal box, so you only saw the relieving engine when it backed onto the train.

We trainspotters mostly gathered at the northern end (and it was always the island platform), mainly because the bay platforms were at that end for the Lincoln services (all DMUs by that time) and the Nottingham and Skegness lines. Would sometimes go to the south end though. The ‘up’, or southbound, platform had a colour light signal at the end, so if it was green you knew a ‘run-through’ train was coming (i.e. non-stop). At the north end you could see a bracket signal around the curve. If it is was ‘single-pegged’ – i.e. one signal was clear – you know a train was approaching which would stop. ‘Double-pegged’ – i.e. both signals were clear – meant a non-stop. Same with the signals visible from the south end of the station for northbound trains.

Passenger services of course were all handled by Pacifics plus V2s.  Standing at the north end it was always fun if one of them slipped in getting the train under way – the A1s seemed particularly prone to that. The worst case of slipping I ever saw, though was an A3 – I think it was Centenary – at the south end, when it could hardly move the train at all, slipping violently with the train just inching forward.  After some time of this it appeared that there was some defect with the brakes on the train, which had not been released!

I particularly remember the ‘Streaks’ (A4s) on non-stops approaching from the south when you could see them coming from some distance away – it was always a thrill to see the strangely-shaped front end taking shape and hear the chime whistle as it neared the station – ‘Streak!!!’

The first diesels had made their appearance in 1959 – the D200-ers as we called them at that time. In other words the early class 40s, with numbers such as D206 and D208 etc. I remember they had a regular working on the ‘Heart of Midlothian’ express. We had to admit it was noticeable how quickly they could accelerate a train compared to steam.

By 1961 the great days of steam were over, with the Brush Type 4s (class 47) and the Deltics starting to appear, and steam began to be in a minority. I still used to go, but it was never the same.

When my Dad used to take me he would often sit in the buffet on the island platform with a cup of tea and a cigarette while I was on the platform outside. I do remember that on the buffet counter one of the two sandwich and cake display cabinets had the initials LNER on it!

After a break of several years I visited Grantham station again in about 1974. Some changes! Of course the shed and sidings had all gone, the Lincoln bay had been filled in, the canopy over the other bay platform had gone, the buffet on the island platform had gone – in fact all the buildings on that platform have now been replaced, plus there’s a new footbridge. In 1974 there was still a proper buffet on Platform 1, but now that’s been replaced by a little coffee and sandwich place.

I did spend a little time on the station with my own son a few years ago and noticed one thing hadn’t changed – the battered railings at the north end of the island platform. I’m sure they’re still the same as I used to lean against all those years ago!

I do have my Ian Allan ABCs from 1959 onwards, but it would be boring to list all the numbers seen. What I do remember is that on my early visits in 1959 (I don’t claim it to be on my very first visit) many of the engines seemed to have names beginning with the letter T – Tracery, Tagalie, The Tetrarch (what names they had!), and the A2, Tehran. I also remember Captain Cuttle (the names!) and Pretty Polly made an impression on me. My favourite name was Madge Wildfire (A1). What better name for a steam engine?.

While there was no doubt about the magic of the Streaks my favourites were the A1s. I can see in my mind’s eye now Aberdonian slipping away from the north end of the station.  I’d love one day to see Tornado go through Grantham on a steam special (it would have to be in BR green, though!). But not a very accessible place from South Wales where I live now.

The A1s (and A2s) were of course known to us spotters as ‘blinkers’ from the smoke deflectors, later being joined in that category by most of the remaining A3s. I remember visiting Preston in 1961 and finding the spotters there didn’t talk about ‘blinker’ engines but ‘shielders’. That’s the West Coast for you!

I mentioned the buffets earlier – in the spotting days very little time was spent on Platform 2 – the spotters were more or less banished to the island platform – so in those days we only ever went in the buffet there. But was that in use as well as the one on platform 2?  Or did the latter only open when the island platform one closed?

Although as a very young child I can just remember when steam was still used on the Lincoln trains (well what I actually remember are the old compartments in the coaches with the leather strap to lower the window) by 1959 the Derby 2-car DMUs had taken over those trains.

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