MonthJanuary 2013

Notices of my death are premature

I’ve just had a phone call – 29.1.13 –  from a friend in Frome – wife answered – and he asked if I was in good health. Susan answered in the affirmative and asked why. ‘Well I met a friend last night at the cinema who is a railway enthusiast. He knew that my Frome friend knew me and asked him if he had heard that I was very ill – if not actually deceased’!

I’m amazed that a little incident at the West Middlesex A&E at Christmas has ended up in Frome as a danger to health in January.

So I am in fine fettle, nearly completed my next offering – The Great Western’s Last Year’ and looking forward to starting the next one – ‘Railways in the Vale of the White Horse’.  The ‘Last Year’ book has been a real marathon, 86k words, 100 pix and 12 diagrams to illustrate stories of collision and derailments. I will admit to getting tired these days – I turned 72 in January. I still have the captions to write for all those pictures. The book was intended as one chapter per month but most months now have to have two chapters. What I have done is to use NOTHING but GWR official records, all the Directors’ meetings Minutes plus the General Managers Fortnightly Reports to the Directors plus the GWR Staff Magazine. Then the other half of a chapter – or second chapter for the one month consists of stories of collisions, derailments, trains breaking couplings the latter all written from the GWR  internal reports.

When I did a smaller book along these same lines ‘The Great Western at Work 1919-1939 ‘, published in 1993 using the same Minutes and Reports the Great Western Society’s reviewer, Charles Wetmath said the book was ‘not definitive’. Well, it did not tell the entire story of 20 years existence of a great company but everything that was written was drawn from GWR papers so it was definitive – within the limits of the publishers format.

This ‘Last Year’ book is 86k words for one year so while it still cannot tell everything that happened I’m hoping it will give a good idea of the activities of Britain’s best railway in its last, difficult year.

Breakaway near Penmaen Halt

There were only 37 freight train partings in July 1947.  I have the complete record for the month.  On 29th  a  heavy freight, 2-8-0 tank engine, No.5229, coupled bunker end to leading wagon, was hauling 50  empty coal wagons forming the 8 p.m from Rogerstone yard, northwards,  to Oakdale colliery. The engine was pulling  about 450 tons on a 1 in 122 rising gradient when  the engine’s draw bar pulled out of its buffer beam near Penmaen halt. Driver  Maidment experienced the most rapid acceleration of his life but never for a moment lost his presence of mind.  He shut off steam, and sounded the brake whistle for the benefit of Guard Fawkes. Guard Fawkes screwed down his handbrake and Maidment stopped only gradually to keep away from his train. Engine and its train stopped 10 yards apart.

They knew that there would soon be a train from Oakdale for Rogerstone  coming south  towards  Rhiw-syr-Dafydd, 1 ¼ miles further north. Guard Fawkes gave Driver Maidment  ‘Wrong Line Order “A” – Guard to Signalman’ . Maidment drove No. 5229 quickly to Rhiw,  hurried to the signalman and explained the situation.  The south-bound train not in sight of Rhiw Distant signal and so could be stopped in an orderly manner.  Its engine uncoupled and by the authority of the Wrong Line Order ran Up the Down line onto the engine-less train.  Meanwhile No. 5229 got onto the loaded coal train, coupled  chimney to train, and took on to Rogerstone. The incident was resolved in a few  minutes by the train crew’s knowledge and initiative.

Of the other 36 partings only 4 were the fault of GWR wagons. The rest were 11 LMS, 5 LNER and 16 colliery or coal merchant owne3d wagons. This last category – ‘Private Owner’ – were the worst maintained on the railway, a throw back to the very earliest days of railways  –  and these were the wagons that the nationalized railway was obliged to purchase.

Breakaway near Chipping Campden

Here is a little story of an incident on the Oxford –  Worcester line in 1947. Every detail is correct. My information comes from the GWR Internal Report. This is an example of the sort of thing to be published in my next book ‘The Great Western’s Last Year’. These kinds of stories will be a part of a wide look at the Great Company when its life was very difficult.

On the 19th the  6.45 a.m Worcester to Kingham local goods was hauled by 2-6-0 No. 6324 with sixty-four  wagons  and a 20 ton brake van. On 6324 was  Driver H.Bevan with Fireman P.Matthews  and Guard W. Northcott of Worcester. They stopped at Honeybourne for the bank engine – No.2273. with  Driver J. Teale..  The train would require the banker’s assistance right through to the summit  and so the banker was coupled to the brake van. This was to ensure the banker stayed with the train on the 1 in 154 downhill from Campden to Blockley before the final assault on the summit. The coupling between the 32nd and 33rd wagon broke after passing Campden station, running down a 1 in 154 gradient.  Everyone concerned behaved with perfect calm and practised ease. The guard of the train and Driver Bevan,  were alert and saw the breakway – this section of line was notoriously difficult for the driver of any loose coupled train and  his train was exceptionally long and difficult to control. Guard Northcott would have made sure the bank engine driver was aware. Driver Bevan kept his half going to keep away from the rear portion.  The signalman at  Blockley signalman saw the front part go by with the brake van and  sent the 5-5 signal to Moreton-in-Marsh. Driver Teale kept control of his half and brought it to a gentle stand at Blockley station, clear of the level crossing. The front portion was stopped at Moreton-in-Marsh. The defective wagon was put into a siding. It was owned by  a Mr. Ray of Southend wither it was bound from Pilsley Colliery, Derbyshire, an ex-Great Central Railway station. To be on the Worcester line shows it was lost – wrongly marshaled somewhere back along the line – and now it was set aside at a country station,  with a broken coupling, and as it was not  owned by the  GWR would not be mended until Mr. Ray was contacted and had agreed to pay the GWR to fit it with a new 3-link coupling.

When the front part of the train was at a stand in Moreton station, the rear part was propelled under the provisions of Regulation 14A from Blockley, the train re-formed and, with the banker uncoupled,  Driver Bevan proceeded on his way to Kingham.

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