Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thursday 14 June - Shoeburyness revisited

Fenchurch Street Station
In the summer of 1961 I worked as a fireman on the steam trains between Shoeburyness, Southend and London Fenchurch Street. I decided to go over the line again for the first time since 1961. Much has changed but this revived many memories.
The line is now ruin by C2C which is owned by TrenItalia
Fenchurch Street station takes a bit of finding as it is hidden away. There is another entrance but the ticket office there was closed so I had to go to the front and climb up the stairs.

Fenchurch Street still has just four platforms. One  trick we used to play was to keep the driver and fireman of an incoming train in conversation. The fireman would have cut off with the help of the driver who would have reversed his engine to make it easier to uncouple - leaving the engine in reverse gear and with steam in the steam chest.  We would try and keep them occupied until the locomotive at the other end would draw the train out of the platform and the light engine would start to follow down the platform.  It was a laugh watching the driver and fireman race after their engine and scramble aboard.

One day I came in here with another crew and the fireman had let the fire down too low so that the brake would apply but there was not enough steam to release the brake with a danger of the train wheels skidding. We came in very very slowly and the train was only brought to a stop by the driver putting the engine in reverse and opening the regulator. The fireman was known as Pedro. He would stand in front of the open firehole put his hands over his crotch and sing the popular song "Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Fire."

Just outside Fenchurch Street there used to be a block of flats. If we had to spend a couple of hours here overnight on our engine the driver would try to get the signalman to let him creep his engine down a couple of signal lengths so that we could observe the ladies of the night who worked without curtains.  The whistle was never blown in this location during the day.

The first station now is called Limehouse, it used to be called Stepney.  There was a sharp curve at the London end of the platform with a badly located signal.

Passing Plaistow there was no sign of the former locomotive shed there.

We did not stop at West Horndon. In steam days the stops were pretty erratic. One Sunday evening I was working a train and the driver was trying to work out whether he was supposed to stop there. We went sailing through and were treated to an extra long station stop at Upminster. The guard said we should have stopped at West Horndon but nobody said anything.

The climb up to Laindon (summit) was carried out by our electric train with a maximum of 77 mph.  We never achieved anything near that on steam, and I would have to pay close attention to the fire and water level in the boiler.

There is now a station at Basildon on the down grade to Pitsea. In spite of the station stop we achieved 78 mph.

We didn't stop at Pitsea today. This stop was also frequently omitted in steam days. There is a curve with a speed restriction through the station. I heard tales that some drivers took the curve so fast that they could feel the driving wheels rise off the rail.

After Pitsea there comes a stretch of country on the north side and Thames Estuary on the south side. I think it must have been at Chalkwell where some crews would throw out a message to a shellfish seller on the way up to London, "Meet the xx.xx train towards Southend with a shillingsworth of winkles".  

I was on the shunt at Southend Central one day but when we went back to Shoeburyness we had an extra man with us who insisted on bringing his bicycle with him. There is very little room in the cab of a 2-6-4 tank engine for three men and a bicycle.

When we had reached Southend Central we would only have about five miles to go to Shoeburyness where the hard work of cleaning the fire would commence. I would take a look at my fire at Southend and if it looked a bit heavy or thick I would ask my driver to knock a bit out. We would take off like a scalded cat and much of my fire would go out of the chimney/stack leaving me with less to clean.  I was talking to a lady who is now a booking clerk with Arriva Trains Wales who was brought up in Southend in a house with a back yard facing the railway. She said her mother would curse the steam engines which blew cinders and smoke over her laundry drying on the washing line.

As we approached Shoeburyness we passed another series of houses with back gardens facing the railway. I was reported for making smoke here on my first trip out on my own. Nothing came of it and I suppose management was happy enough that I knew how to make smoke at all.
Shoeburyness - the end of the line

The Shoeburyness carriage sidings have been expanded but there is nothing to see of the locomotive shed here which was on the other side of the main line.
Shoeburyness is not the place to linger and I took the first train back to Southend (Soufend in the vernacular).
It was blowing a gale over the Thames Estuary at Southend.  This is the pier, reputedly the longest in the UK. 
This is the bay platform at Southend. One day an excursion came in with an LMS class 5 4-6-0. The engine went to Shoeburyness, was serviced, turned and returned to Southend. The driver squeezed up but on the LMS the coupling up was done by a shunter. Here is was the responsibility of the engine crew. At train time the guard, didn't bother to look at his brake gauge and waved his green flag. The class 5 took off straight away and it was some time before they realized they had left their train in the platform. Red faces all round.
I took a train back to London via Tilbury.  I only made a couple of trips via Tilbury but at that time trains had to reverse in the stub end station, now the electric trains run straight through and we returned via Ockendon to Upminster over which I have never traveled. 

All told it was a great day of many happy memories. 
I have transcribed my diaries of my time in Shoeburyness:

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wednesday 13 June - Messed up by Thameslink

We wanted to go to Eynsford today and made our way by Underground to Blackfriars. We managed to wander through the ticket machinations and moved to the platform where the announcements assured us that the train with destination Sevenoaks was on time. However, the platform staff didn't know where the train was and eventually informed us that it was delayed in its journey inbound and they had no idea where it was. If this was the situation in the morning things were likely to be worse later on and we decided to abort and get a refund. The rail situation in the South East is a mess.
One of the new trains for Thameslink at the new station at Blackfriars.  Neither is more than a couple of years old yet there is a difference of about a foot between the platform and the train. This demonstrates a complete lack of planning and should never have been allowed to happen.
We walked along the embankment and had a drink at the Anchor and Tap and then made our way to St. James Park where there were a great number of people and lots of water birds.
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Statue of a black friar

Hays Galleria

The ducks were aggressively looking for food

Tuesday 12 June - Bluebell Railway and Sheffield Park and Gardens

We caught the train from Victoria to East Grinstead. The District line was overcrowded - good job it was only three stops. We had to force our way into the train and people were being left behind. This was with the new trains so the only solution would seem to be more frequent trains - unless the problem will be resolved with the opening of the Elizabeth line in December.

The train to East Grinstead was a 12 car electric and very comfortable. However, the automatic announcement system insisted that we were going into London and not out of it. It knew where we were but not which direction we were travelling.  Many of the stations towards the end of the lie have short platforms and people were told to move to the front of the train. One man tried to do this but claimed that the gangway doors were locked. He was carried past his stop to East Grinstead.
At East Grinstead our train to Sheffield Park arrived behind a Southern 0-6-0 Q class 30541

The driver relaxed with a cup of tea

30541 running round to the other end of the train
 Although I had never ridden behind one of these engines it was not particularly exciting. These were freight locomotives and equal to the low speeds on the Bluebell line. The train of mark I coaches was well filled with people out for the day who were not particularly interested in the railway per se but it helps to pay the rent.  The ride is mostly downhill to Horstead Keynes and Sheffield Park through pleasant countryside mixed with fields of cattle or sheep and much woodland.

At Sheffield Park we were led into the refreshment room by a duck.  Turns out there are at least four ducks that inhabit the place trying to get food from the passengers.

After admiring the well preserved station we walked across the fields to the Sheffield Park and Gardens National Trust Property. The rhododendrons were practically finished but the water lillies were in bloom and made a tremendous show.

The ducks wouldn't leave us alone

A giant redwood tree

Ducks, ducks everywhere.
We were eventually able to escape from the mallards and made out way back to the station where there was time for me to take a look at the museum before catching the last train back to East Grinstead.
The museum contains a demonstration lever frame

I well remember Sir Valence from my train spotting days

30541 runs round at Sheffield Passing a 2-6-0 Mogul 31618

Monday, June 11, 2018

Monday 11 June - Travel Bristol to London

There was time to take a look around Bristol Temple Meads station before out train left for London

The station is looking very tired and needs a complete restoration

Our train was an old HST diesel powered train.
These trains may be pretty old and are in the process of being replaced by the new electric/diesels but the ride was smooth and very comfortable. There was a slight check through Twyford, probably for Ruscombe Junction. We were doing 120 mph over the Maidenhead viaduct, which the pundits said would fall down when it was built in the 1840s, and 128 mph just before Slough.  An on time departure from Reading was turned into a ten minute late arrival in Paddington by signal problems. I have actually done the trip from Reading faster in a steam locomotive.

We had plenty of time to get the short distance to the hotel so decided to have a drink at the Mad Bishop and Bear in Paddington station. The sun was shining brightly through the roof of a very busy station.

It was sunny and hot and we walked into Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.
There were a few tufted ducks on the Round Pond

People were feeding apples to a flock of ring necked parakeets.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sunday 10 June - Weston-Super-Mare

We walked down to Bristol Temple Meads station and had plenty of time to catch a local train to Weston-Super-Mare. The railway seems to manage to inconvenience passengers easily with platform changes and late running. It was bad on a Sunday which used to be the easiest day to work.   

Weston-Super-Mare was very much as I had expected. It is a seaside holiday resort with a wide prom, a pier and funfairs. Fish and chips is the order of the day.
A novel idea was to haul Thomas the Tank on the sand with a horse

The tide was out a long way and there is lots of mud on the beach as well as sand

The tide was coning in this afternoon
The funfair on the pier was very loud but many seemed to be enjoying it

We found a restaurant by a thatched cottage which had shady tables out front. Of course we had cod and chips which was very good indeed. As we walked back along the prom we stopped to look at the dogs happily chasing balls in a shower of sand; kids building sand castles and damming small streams; the ice creams, some places even had ice cream specially formulated for dogs; small kids rushing around. I was bombed by a seagull - nice bit o' shit dahn my shirt. People were happy and in good spirits.

On the way back the railway managed a platform alteration  - and there are only two platforms at Weston so there was a lot of last minute scurrying to cross over the footbridge to the other platform. The train was crowded, one woman had three small dogs with her which were fighting among themselves. She had one in a harness and she merely hauled it up off its feet out of the reach of the others.

We arrived back hot and tired but had had a great day.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Saturday 9 June - SS Great Britain

It was a beautiful warm and sunny day today and we walked a lot.
We went through the castle gardens and alongside the water to Shed M and straight to the Great Britain exhibit. It is evident that Britsol has a lot to offer but there is a lot of dirt and garbage in the streets and there is a great deal of graffiti.
A shallow mirror pool gives the impression of the vessel in the water

The vessel is in dry dock 

Reproduction of the novel design of propeller and rudder mechanism

Steering was out in the open

The first class passengers did very well for themselves

The visit was very well done and we were able to look at every part of the ship. It was good to see elevators/lifts so that mobility impaired visitors could go everywhere.
After the Great Britain we took a harbour tour.

The harbour is used for many leisure purposes - sailing, canoeing etc

The weeds growing on the harbour walls made an attractive splash of colour

There were good views of the Great Britain from the boat tour
We walked further down towards Clifton where there was a poor view of the suspension bridge but we were getting tired and didn't want to walk further, bearing in mind we would have to walk back

This pirate boat was sailing towards Clifton and we watched as the swing bridge was opened to allow it through

The Bristol Harbour Railway was giving short rides

The small saddletank locomotive was built in 1917 by Avonside and the crew had to keep a sharp lookout to avoid the large numbers of visitors strolling oblivious along the quay
By this time we were getting tired and found a place to get an early meal. We were amazed at the number of cocktails being prepared by the five member counter staff. The Old Town was hopping with many sitting outside drinking.  

It was a long day with much walking but it has given us a good impression of the center of the city.