Monthly Archives: October 2021

Narrow Gauge Railways – Humphrey Household

Humphrey Household was a prolific photographer. He started taking photos in the mid 1920s with an initial focus on the railways near Cheltenham and more widely in Gloucestershire. One of his books focusses on the railways of Gloucestershire in the 1920s (“Gloucestershire Railways in the Twenties” – https://rogerfarnworth.com/2021/09/16/the-gloucester-and-cheltenham-tramroad-an-addendum).

“Narrow Gauge Railways” was written in the late 1980s and published first by Alan Sutton Publishing in 1988, and again in 1996 by The Promotional Reprint Company. It was Subtitled, “Wales and the Western Front.” In the book, Household focusses on a number of Welsh Narrow Gauge lines before taking a look at the use of narrow gauge railways in the first World War and then completing the book with a chapter on The Ashover Light Railway.

The six chapters relating to Welsh railways are held together in one narrative by being a result of personal observations by Humphrey Household on a series of day visits to the lines in a family holiday in 1925. His first chapter shows how the Festiniog Railway was the forerunner of a whole series of steam and electric powered narrow gauge lines across the world. His second chapter tell the story of the family holiday in Llanuwchllyn, a mile from the head of Bala Lake. Careful planning was required to ensure that round trips to the various lines could be completed in a day. Vista to the Festiniog Railway, the Welsh Highland Railway, the Talyllyn Railway, the Fairbourne Railway, the Corris Railway and the Glyn Valley Tramway were planned. There was a hope that the Vale of Rheidol Railway could also be included in what was an ambitious programme seeking to utilise information from Bradshaw’s timetables and a series of cheap day tickets offered by the Great Western Railway.

As well as other images, the book features a number of Household’s own photographs which were taken in 1925 and give an insight into what these narrow gauge lines were like in the years before closure and then eventual preservation.

The third chapter covers the collapse and recovery of the Festiniog Railway. The next three chapters cover the Talyllyn and the Corris railways, and the Glyn Valley Tramway.

The chapter about the Glyn Valley Tramway was particularly engaging, probably because I had not properly realised that it existed before reading of it in Household’s book. I guess that my focus was always on Telford’s aqueduct which carries the Ellesmere Canal seventy feet above the River Ceiriog and the railway viaduct a further thirty feet above the River.

Initially the line was a horse tramway which operated on wagon trains travelling loaded under gravity from the mines and quarries upstream as far as Pontfaen before being split into a series of shorter trains to be hauled up gradients as steep as 1 in 22 to a level above the canal basin and railway sidings by horses. It was converted to steam power in the late 1880s which meant that at the time of Household’s visit on 14th August 1925, the locomotives were between thirty and forty years old.

The Glyn Valley Tramway was never a significantly profitable venture. Just u.der 8 years after Household’s visit, passenger services ceased. The line ceased operation completely on 6th July 1935.

The final two chapters cover light railway operations on the Western Front I. The First World War and the The Ashover Light Railway.

Many narrow gauge lines in the 1920s made use of surplus stock bought from the War Surplus Disposals Board and Household decided that the preponderance of ex-military stock on the narrow gauge lines of the UK was enough justification for including a potted history of the use of 60cm lines serving the trenches in the Great War.

I was surprised to discover that the British Army was slow to recognise the benefits of light narrow gauge lines to the war effort and that it was as late as 1916, when British forces took over a sector of the front which had been under French control, that the British high command realised how effective the French lines were in the logistics of supplying the front lines.

Once the value of these light railways had been realised, the War Office moved swiftly to get large numbers of locomotives and wagons built in a very short period of months.

The Ashover Light Railway was constructed after the War, as “were the Welsh Highland Railway, the Sand Hutton Light Railway and the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway, the Ashover was one of the last of a long line of light railways designed for public service before road motor competition put a stop to further promotion.” [1: p144]

Household must have visited the Ashover Light Railway in the late 1920s or early 1930s. There are a number of his pictures illustrating the text of the chapter. The majority of the motive power on the line was ex-military and the gauge was fixed to match the locomotives, 6 of which were bought from the War Surplus Disposals Board for the princely sum of £1000.

I picked this book up second hand in good condition. Of particular interest to me, were the pictures taken by Humphrey Household in the 1920s.

To find out more about the Ashover Light Railway, please follow this link:

https://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/topic/141368-the-ashover-light-railway/&tab=comments#comment-3435681

References

1. Humphrey Household; Narrow Gauge Railways: Wales and the Western Front; The Promotional Reprint Company Ltd, London, 1996.

Meandering Slowly Along Branch Lines! And other routes. ….

In 2019, Lizzie Pook, writing in the Independent, highlighted a movement which appears to belong in the same ‘family’ as the concept of ‘Slow Food’. [1] She said, “Whether it’s chugging through Sri Lanka’s tea plantations on an old steam train or picking your way through the forests of Transylvania with just a pair of walking boots and a flimsy rain mac – there’s something undeniably romantic about taking things slow.” [1]

She continues: “It’s this allure that forms the basis of slow travel [2] – a growing trend that’s swapping whistle-stop city tours for leisurely strolls, and red-eye flights for low-key cruises. Travel should be so much more than lurching your way frenetically around a destination, trying to scratch things off a tick-list.” [1]

As we have already seen, Lizzie Pook points out that, “slow travel is an offshoot of the slow food movement – a focus on local farming, regional cuisine, communal meals and traditional food preparation methods that began in Italy in the 1980s as a protest against the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome. This cultural initiative has evolved into an entire way of life known as the Slow Movement, which aims to address the issue of “time poverty” through an increased focus on making connections; with people, places and things.” [1]

Pook, picks up on comments from Justin Francis, CEO of Responsible Travel. “Slow travel is … connecting to the soul of a place through its history, food, language and people. … The train travel element is in no small part due to eco-anxiety and the spread of the flight-shaming movement.” [1][3]

So, those of us who feel a nostalgic affinity for the heady, halcyon days when there was a branch-line to almost anywhere outside of major towns and cities, are back in vogue! We are, perhaps fortunate that not all of those wonderful old lines have disappeared. Writing around a decade ago,  Michael Williams takes us on twelve ‘slow train’ journeys scattered across the UK in his book, ‘On the Slow Train’.

On the Slow Train [5] lifts our heads from the daily grind and encourages us to “reflect that there are still places in Britain where we can stop and stare.” [6] As the author says: “this book attempts to distil the flavour of Britain as glimpsed from the windows of slow trains and especially through the voices of people in the communities they serve.” [5: p3]

Michael Williams also harks back to the Flanders and Swan song ‘Slow Train’ as he sets out on his journeying. All of the lines referred to in the song did close, all that is but one. That one line is the subject of Williams’ first chapter, the line “from St. Erth to St. Ives.”

Some of the trips that Williams describes are along old main lines. So, I guess there is a strong case for the flexibility espoused in the rather longwinded title to this review. What these journeys have in common is their slowness!

There are twelve different journeys covered in the book. The line from St. Erth to St. Ives is followed by a trip from Carlisle to Leeds on the Settle-Carlisle (main line); a tube journey on the Isle of Wight; Wrexham to London on a short-lived ‘open access’ service which harked back to the kind of service passengers received in the 1930s; a circumnavigation of the Lake District on the coastal line through Sellafield; a steam excursion from Victoria to Canterbury, Ashford, Dover and Folkestone; ‘inner London’s only country railway’ (Stratford to Richmond); Euston, the ‘Deerstalker’, Rannoch Moor and Mallaig; the Heart of Wales line; the other Somerset and Dorset line; the Norfolk Broads, Berney Arms and Liverpool Street Station; and Formby to Chester-le-Street.

That last journey takes us back to the Flanders and Swan song ‘Slow Train’. They are two towns mentioned in the song whose Railway Stations, despite being high on the list of candidates for closure, remain open and thriving into the 21st Century.

An excellent, entertaining, gentle read bought cheaply secondhand with chapters of just the right length to read at the end of the day!

……….

References

1. Lizzie Pook; What is Slow Travel and How Can I Embrace It?; in The Independent, 5th August 2019, accessed on 18th October 2021.

2. https://www.independent.co.uk/topic/slow-travel, accessed on 19th October 2021.

3. Francis is talking about Flygskam, [4] the anti-flight movement that originated in Sweden in 2018, which encourages people to stop taking flights to lower carbon emissions.

4. Further details about Flygskam: https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/flygskam-anti-flying-flight-shaming-sweden-greta-thornberg-environment-air-travel-train-brag-tagskryt-a8945196.html; accessed on 20th October 2021.

5.  Michael Williams; On the Slow Train; Arrow Books, Preface Publishing, London, 2011.

6. The back cover page of reference [5].

Wennington to Morecambe and Heysham (via Lancaster)

Roy Davies has just published (July 2021) an album in the popular Middleton Press series which calls itself the Ultimate Rail Encyclopedia (International). Like many people, I own a number of these volumes which never seem to disappoint.

Roy Davies book focusses on the former Midland line which followed the valley of the River Lune from Wennington to Lancaster and then turned to the Northwest heading for Morecambe and Heysham. [1]

The line was was a pioneer of electrification. The Midland Railway Board decided in 1906 to electrify the Lancaster-Morcambe-Heysham lines which it had acquired on 1st June 1871 when it absorbed the Morecambe Harbour and Railway Company and the ‘little’ North Western Railway (not to be confused with the ‘large’ LNWR).

“Services began using a German 6.6kV 25Hz AC overhead system, powered by the MR’s own generating plant at Heysham with overhead wires carried on a mix of steel and wooden gantries.”

“The service was withdrawn 12th February 1951 as the stock was time expired. …On 17th August 1953 the lines were re-energised … to 25kV 50 Hz AC with power taken from the National Grid.”

“The former Midland route from Lancaster to Morecambe and Heysham was the first single-phase electric railway in the country!”

Davies’ book commences its journey along the line at Wennington Junction Station which sat on the South bank of the River Wennington, close to the village. The Station and the main East-West line between Settle and Carlisle still exist today.

Wennington Railway Station in the 21st century. The line to Lancaster left the Settle to Carnforth line just to the West of the bridge which carried Old Moor Road over the line.

The line from Wennington to Lancaster closed on 3rd January 1966 to passenger traffic and in 1967 to freight. “On 3rd June 1967 the last through train ran from Heysham via Lancaster to the West Riding. … Thereafter, all traffic using the Heysham Harbour branch had to reverse at Morecambe.”

The centre of Lancaster with the old Midland line in the top left of the image. The station in the far top left is Green Ayre Station. The Midland line crossed the River Lune on Greyhound Bridge after passing through the station, and continued on to Morecambe. Lancaster’s MPD and the Midland Goods Yard feature nearer to the camera. This image does not feature in Roy Davies book. [4]

Like other books from Middleton Press, Roy Davies book is made up of a series of photographs and maps of each significant location on the line. These are grouped into chapters of convenient length, covering each section of the line: Wennington to Lancaster; Lancaster to Morecambe, Morecambe to Heysham and a separate section relating to the Morecambe to Heysham line from 1994 until the present.

Copious notes accompany each photo and each map. These highlight salient points on maps and photographs, without which, like sense might be made of the chosen photographs.

The book has been a joy to read!

Morecambe Pavillion Station – the end of the line. The picture was taken from above in 1920 as part of a survey. This picture does not feature in Roy Davies’ book but comes from the website of Britain from Above. [2]

Morecambe Promenade Station was the end of the line, or, at least, one of the ends of the line. Heysham was the other. I later years, after the closure of the old Midland line, Heysham was accessed only by reversing at Morecambe Promenade!

Heysham South Quay and railway station in 1929, a version of this image appears in Roy Davies book. [3]

References

  1. Roy Davies; Wennington to Morecambe and Heysham; Middleton Press, Haslemere, Surrey, 2021.
  2. Image Ref: EPW004078, Britain from Above, https://britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EPW004078, accessed on 11th October 2021.
  3. Image Ref: EPW029243, Britain from Above, https://britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EPW029243, accessed on 11th October 2021.
  4. Image Ref: EPW002092, Britain from Above, https://britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EPW002092, accessed on 11th October 2021.