MonthOctober 2011


marshbrook copy

                                            Marshbrook built during 1870s. Situated between Craven Arms and Church Stretton on the GWR/L&NWR Joint line from

                                            Shrewsbury to Hereford.


Pontypool Station South b0x. GWR 1910. 163 levers

Gort signal box w/S’man P.J Cunningham. 15.5.82

No.2220 was the last of a series, numbered 2201 to 2220. 2220 was built at Swindon in 1882. I don’t know the loication. 2220 is hauling a milk train – see headcode and ‘Siphon’ behind engine. Taken in 1920 by Bill Kenning.

No.820 on Didcot shed. 18.10.20. Taken by Bill Kenning.

No.810 one of  a set of engines numbered 806 to 825, built at Swindon starting in 1873. No.810 has it original type of boiler – i.e not replaced with a ‘Belpaire’ firebox boiler as had happened to most  engines of  this vintage by the time this photo was taken, by Bill Kenning, on Didcot shed, on 22 March 1920

‘Badminton’ class 3304 ‘Oxford’ at Oxford with LSWR coaches. Birkenhead – Bournemouth train? c.1908.

Built in Sept. 1898. 6ft.8.5in. driving wheels. Re-numbered 4112 May 1927. In ‘as built’ condition.

3304 was the last of the class to lose its original boiler – in 1913 – when a Std No.2 was fitted. Thus becoming an ‘Atbara’. Some of this class received No.4 boilers carried by the 6ft 8.4in. ‘City’ class.

No.4170 ‘Charles Saunders’ 7ft. diameter driving wheels on Didcot Shed with Shedmaster Mr.Short. 22.3.20

Photo by W.L Kenning on a very miserable, grey, day.

Doreen Spackman and the driver, fireman and guard of the Savernake L.L – Marlborough L.L branch train. 1942

Savernake Low Level. S.M Millard with a smart new hat, Doreen Spackman. Porter X. 1942

Collingbourne Ducis (ex-M&SWJc.Rly) Station Staff. 1945. Station Master Rawle with old pattern GWR hat  Mrs. Vi.Brown booking clerk, Thelma Hoare, signalwoman.  Porter X. Taken by Doreen Spackman, signalwoman at Collingbourne Ducis.

Dean goods leads Armstrong goods with a heavy coal train on the Down Main at Kennington Jc. Down Loop track in foreground. c1915. All these by young Bill Kenning.

Dean goods propels empty coaches into Up Siding at Slough, seen from East signal box. c1921

2580 at Slough on Up Relief Line. Taken by Bill Kenning from East box which was on platform. c1921

2579.Kennington Jc.Up Loop or possibly drawn up onto branch. A Radley College schoolboy is on the footplate with Fireman Beenley. c.1915No.73 ‘Isis’ in Binsey Bay, Oxford with 10.33 stopper to Banbury (2, 8-wheelers) 21.5.14 (Whitsun week-end) Sun strongly shining straight into the lens from over the top of the boiler.The five pictures from here down were taken by a Radley College  schoolboy, William Lovett Kenning, with a box camera using glass plates. Negatives developed in the dormitory sink after ‘lights out’.

‘Beyer’ or ‘322’class  just past Kennington Jc on Up line, signal on the Thame branch visible. As a Beyer-Peacock design it can be seen to have a Gorton Style tender – i.e one a bit too big for the engine.
‘Sir Daniel’ class 2-2-2 express engine converted to 0-6-0 goods engine. passing Kennington Jc. 1914

Armstrong Standard Goods. coal rail tender. Llanderfel between Corwen and Bala Jc. April 1921

eadfirst’ i.e facing Down direction. Sunday p-way train. c.1914

ex-LBSCR ‘Terrier’ ‘Portishead’ about to enter Clevedon Square.19.8.33. This engine passed to the GWR as No.5 ‘Portishead’

Manning Wardle at Portishead level crossing with Guard Riddick.19.8.33

Manning Wardle on WC&P at Portishead 19.8.33

4472. Flying Scotsman with Up Flying Scotsman. York. c1932

404. York Station Pilot. c1932

6015. Newcastle – Swansea via Nottingham Banbury, Stow-on-the-Wold and Gloster. 

2744. Up Flying Scotsman. York. 15.7.32

2599. York. 15.7.322577.19.7.32 york.
2402. York. 17.8.31.

2401. City of Kingston-upon-Hull. Potter’s Bar.4.6.30

2355. York. 15.7.32

Gleneagles.  600345 ‘Lord Faringdon’ Aberdeen –  Glasgow express.

Gleneagles. 44253. August 1965

Greenloaning. 60009 ‘Union of South Africa’ Evening express Glasgow – Aberdeen.44998. Up fast. Greenloaning. August 1965

Greenloaning. 61160. passenger train. August 1965

Greenloaning. ‘WD’ 2-8-0 on Down goods. August 1965

70002 Geoffrey Chaucer. leaving Dunblane for Glasgow August 1965 Continue reading

Samuel Morton Peto

Reading books on railway history you come across the name of contractors, Peto & Betts; Peto Brassey & Betts or just Peto.  But no-one ever went beyond mentioning the name. So who was this man Peto.

My biography of him was published by Ian Allan in July 2009.

Peto is one of the great – forgotten – Victorians. He was junior partner to his cousin Grissell, between them owning the civil engineering and building contracting company of Grissell & Peto, founded in 1830. This company built canals, the first shopping mall in Britain – Hungerford Market at Charing Cross, the Royal Stables at Windsor, they cleared the area for Trafalgar  Square,built he square with its fountains and lions and built Nelson’s Column. They then took on as sole contractors, the job of building the present day Houses of Parliament. Peto got the  contractor to build  the Wharncliffe viaduct for  the GWR – Engineer I.K Brunel. Peto was treated with less than politeness by Brunel after Peto’s men had built the great viaduct, on time and within budget. It was several years before Peto took a chance and did some more work for Brunel – on the Banbury – Birmingham route. Peto was a politician, the Liberal M.P for Norwich and he was very much involved in railway politics too. He was closely connected with Robert Stephenson and the L&NWR.  Peto built the Chester & Holyhead route, or a large part of it and  ran the C&HR Company for a while and at the same time he was  was constructing the GWR line northwards from Banbury. Not far away, various inferior contractors were building the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway, Engineer I.K Brunel. The OWR was destined  by its Act of Parliament to have been a broad gauge railway and the only company the OWWR could sell or lease itself was the GWR – by law. The GWR supplied a great deal of the capital used in constructing the line. But the L&NWR and the Midland did not want the GWR getting into their territory  in the  West Midlands, rich in coal and iron and various manufactories and so they got Peto to wangle himself onto the Board of Directors of the OWWR so that he could – illegally – have the OWWR sold to the LNWR. He did not succeed but he caused a lot of money to be wasted in court cases and also in promoting fresh railways – none of which got as far as getting their Act of Parliament – so as to give the OWW an independent route towards London.

Peto was big in East Anglia and, with the willing co-operation of the Eastern Counties Railway Chairman, David Waddington M.P for Harwich,  organised various swindles on the ECR shareholders. ECR money was used to improve Lowestoft harbour which was owned by Peto and Waddington and all the while the ECR’s harbour at Harwich was neglected. Peto built chapels and supported orphanges and was a very good employer. He treated his navvies with the greatest care and they were the best paid workmen in the country. Peto told the Parliamentary Inquiry into the working condition of railway labourers that as he required his men to shovel 20 tons of earth a day he saw the necessity of paying them well, housing them well when they were in places far from accomodation, feeding them well.


Peto was made a Baronet in 1855 as the result of writing  letter on 30 March 1854  to the War Office suggesting a railway be built in the Crimea to assist the war effort there

The story of Morton Peto really is a wonderful series of paradoxes. One could say that he robbed the rich to feed the poor, certainly his ordinary shareholders frequently ‘lost their shirts’ but his navvies were employed well for 30 years. Peto eventually went bankrupt and brought down Overend Gurney, the people who had been lending him injudiciously large sums of money. The failure of Overend Gurney brought about the total collapse of the British banking system on 10 May 1866.


Peto’s bust at the exit doors of Norwich Station has an inscription which states that he was a ‘Baptist, Philanthropist and Entreprenuer’  that is true, but he was also a ‘Liar, a Cheat and a Fraud’. BUT – there is always a ‘BUT’ with Peto, he didn’t make shady deals for his own sake, although of course, he took his profit, he used ‘iffy’ money to  created better housing, vast new industries, giving tens of thousands employment until recent times. He died on  13 November 1889 without a will, he had very little to bequeath. His wife died leaving £500 to the Baptist Missionary Society. Peto left behind him, a whole new holiday town and fishing port of Lowestoft, the Victoria Docks in London, railways all over the world. Employment, food  and housing for the masses.

Hallen Marsh crash 1947

At 5.30 a.m on 18 February there was a head-on collision on the single track branch line 1 ½ miles from Hallen Marsh Junction going towards  Pilning Low Level. The night was very dark, clear and frosty, with 3 inches of snow on the ground. Signalman J. Wheeler was on duty. He was 22, had been a signalman for  3 ½ years, the last six months at Hallen Marsh Jc. At 3.41 a.m that morning he had the 1.45 a.m Cardiff to Avonmouth goods standing at the  Home signal on the branch while a banking engine ran across the junction, on the Up Main  towards Henbury.

With the engine clear, Wheeler  pushed lever 14 into the frame, setting the points for the branch, and reversed 16 which closed the catch point in the branch line and reversed 51 lever so as to turn the crossover from Up to Down Main. He pulled signal lever 40 and the train set off for Avonmouth. When it had gone Wheeler replaced lever 51, setting the crossover points for ordinary – Up and Down – running but did not re-set 14 or 16. The route remained set for ‘Up Main to Up Branch’.

At 4.37 he accepted  under the ‘Warning Arrangement’ from Pilning Low Level the 8.45 p.m Cardiff – Avonmouth goods and at 5.10 that train passed Pilning Low Level. The train was 2 ½ miles away. At 5.18 a.m Wheeler accepted at ‘Line Clear’  the 9.20 Avonmouth to Salisbury goods. He got ‘Line Clear’ from Henbury and  lowered his Advanced Starting signal, lever 63,  which was the Henbury side of the junction but when he tried to pull lever 65, his Up Main to Henbury line  starting signal, he was unable to do so because the route was set for the branch. Signal 65 was the directing signal for the junction, to its left was  Signal 62 which was cleared when the route was set for the branch. When the 9.20 p.m Avonmouth came to a stand at signals 62/65 Wheeler told the driver that the lock had failed on the operating lever for the main line route but all was in order – he could pass the signal at danger and proceed towards Henbury.

The driver set off, Wheeler sent ‘Train entering Section’, 2 beats on the bell,  to Henbury and then went to his Train Register to enter-up times. He had his back to the train. When he looked up he saw that the train was going along the branch line and had passed the branch advanced starting signal – 61 – at Danger  and showed no sign of stopping.The driver  must have thought there was a reason for him being sent the very long way round to get to Filton Junction and was working  his 68xx class 4.6.0 hard to accelerate his 600 ton train. Signalman J. Wheeler was now faced with the terrifying knowledge that a head-on collision was inevitable and when he heard the awuful thumping, crunching, sounds  1 ½ miles away he telephoned Bristol Control with the news.

The  8.45 p.m Cardiff, hauled by a ‘Dukedog’ 90xx class 4-4-0 with 350 tons was travelling slowly because the driver had been ‘Warned’ to be ready to stop at Hallen Marsh Junction. The closing speed was estimated at 37 mph.  The view ahead from the Cardiff train was so restricted that the driver had no time to apply his brakes or blow his whistle.  Both engines and their tenders were de-railed, all six men of the two trains were injured, as stated by the personal  injury lawyers. Twenty six wagons were derailed some of them were petrol tankers; other wagons were  smashed to bits. Clearing the line was delayed by  having to clear away so many wagons before they could get a crane to the derailed engines. The collision happened at 5.30 a.m on the Tuesday. The line was clear and fit or normal running  at 6 p.m on the Thursday.

The Inspector of Accidents for His Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate was Brigadier Langley. At the end of his report he wrote: I have no recommendations in connection with this accident. There is no justification for the provision of safety equipment. It required successive mistakes by two men to cause the accident. The young signalman jumped to a wrong conclusion and an experienced driver passed a signal at danger without authority and did not notice he was on the wrong route.

The “Signalman’s” trilogy

I have written  three volumes of autobiography describing my connection with the railway. They were first published in 1981 1983 and 1987.

These were ‘Signalman’s Morning’ which covers the period 1945 to 1961 –  from a small boy besotted with the  scene on the Great Western Railway, to my unofficial apprenticeship into signalling and engine driving to becoming a signalman at Uffington in Berkshire on Western Region of British Railways. The sequel to this was ‘Signalman’s Twilight’ which describes the events and the people and ends in 1965 with the beginnings of modernisation of signalling and motive power and the  the closure of stations between Didcot and Swindon and especially of the most important one – Challow – where I ran a one-man a campaign to save it.  ‘Signalman’s Nightmare’ Starts in 1962 and recounts more stories of the railway and its people  and continues the story  about the  coming of the diesels, their surprising fragility on express trains –  rusty steam engines to the rescue. The replacement of mechanical signalling by a more modern, automated system – and the dangers that that produced.  Uffington signal box where I worked 1965-68 was the interface between mechanical signalling and automated. In that three years I experienced more shocks and difficulties than I would have done in 50 years in a traditional signal box. The story moves on to Oxford and the signalling and incidents, more redundancy due to automation and ends in beautiful Somerset, working Clink Road Junction and Witham – junction for the Cranmore branch. A signalman’s life was always full of incident and interesting fellow employees – and some not so interesting – and ‘Nightmare’ ends with my resignation from the railway in 1975.

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