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:

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