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Sometimes I think railway photographs, all photographs, have wonderful back stories to tell. I have my favourites and one of them was taken at Liverpool Lime Street by the late Eric Treacy. As I am sure readers will know, Treacy was appointed vicar of St Mary’s parish, Liverpool in 1936, aged 29, and with Edge Hill MPD on his ‘patch’. The temptation is to speculate that this was when the younger Treacy first developed an interest in steam locomotives and photography. But, not quite. There is a grainy photograph taken in 1935 showing railwaymen inspecting a rather strange looking locomotive at the end of one of Lime Street’s platforms. The caption reads: ‘Brand-new Pacific No.6202 — the ‘Turbomotive’ — attracts the scrutiny of railwaymen at Liverpool Lime Street as it awaits departure on a running-in turn, the 12 noon Liverpool–Plymouth. The first coach is a GWR vehicle.’

Picture: Jubilee 45575. BR Steam photos


The Turbomotive was a strange beast. It was a proto-type of a proto-type, taking the frames and some of the design of Stanier’s Princess class of Pacifics and fitting one with a steam turbine instead. Let’s not discuss the relative efficiencies of the Turbomotive compared to a more conventional design, leaving that to the experts. Instead, let’s imagine and look at some old photographs. They show the long casing for the turbine running roughly the length of the running board, one side of the boiler for the main turbine and the other for the reverse turbine (you can’t simple put one turbine into reverse on a steam locomotive). The main (forward) turbine had 18 rows of blades and the reverse, only 4. By operating a dog clutch and the reverse turbine set to 0, you could go backwards.


This sounds fair enough. It was all about efficiency, of course and, on the face of it, things looked promising. No ‘hammer blow’ on the tracks, better steam efficiency. But steam turbines on ships were designed to operate at a constant setting so locomotives, constantly changing speed, created a turbine-esque problem, resolved, ingeniously, by varying the nozzles emitting steam to the turbine – fewer in use at slow speed, for example. Going in reverse was also a problem. With few blades the reverse turbine had little power and was only really designed to get the locomotive around shed yards etc. So the Turbomotive was always ‘boiler first’. With me, so far?


Well, what about that Treacy photograph? It shows a group of three railwaymen approaching along the track side while another group of two are looking up, under the running board to see the main turbine, in its casing. Curiosity indeed, no leaking steam, a brand new locomotive but nothing like the normal visitor to Lime Street. User comments about 6202 were generally favourable, commenting on a ‘smooth’ fire but a weird, high pitch whine instead of the usual exhaust. One fireman explained that it was virtually impossible to back stock down into the platform as the reverse turbine was too weak.


What are our men talking about?


‘This bit goes in there.’


‘That’s the actual turbine. Yes, it is – no it isn’t.’


A shout to the cab. ‘How do you start her, mate?’

Curiosity is the theme, tinged with a whiff of scepticism. Would an important locomotive designer think it would fail when he had gone ahead and built something like this? I rather think there’s a hint of pride too – us, owning a locomotive like this. It’s the future.


Sadly, it wasn’t. There were teething problems, as usual, a lack of spares for a unique engine. Eventually, after the war and an important turbine failure, the LMS gave up and rebuilt 6202 as ‘Princess Anne’, a conventional Princess’, only for it to written off in the tragic accident at Harrow and Wealdstone in 1952. A sad and catastrophic end for many, including the locomotive.


Eric Treacy went on to become Bishop of Wakefield until his retirement, photographing his way around Britain’s railways as the years passed. But that’s another story.


For me, though, I always look at that photograph of curious railwaymen looking over 6202. Treacy has captured just the right moment, the image, frozen in time, when the Turbomotive first emerged on duty. It’s a picture about the bumping together of technology with the photographic image and its maker, a genius I think.


You can see the photograph in the article by Martin S Welch which appeared in ‘Backtrack’ January 2008 here


The NRM holds an extensive catalogue of Treacy’s photographs – see here


And the Turbomotive? See here


‘Polyphemus’


John Swanwick


Share Your Thoughts. Sign in below to leave a comment. Become a Member of Friends of the National Railway Museum. Friends have supported the National Railway Museum for over 40 years Raising £1.8 million to date.


About the author: John Swanwick has a lifetime interest in railways, beginning with trainspotting days in the East Midlands in the early 1960’s. In 2016 John began collecting oral histories for a proposed railway museum at Birstall on the former Great Central route through Leicestershire. The oral histories contain the recollections of many who worked on, or used, the Great Central route prior to its closure in the 1960’s. The recordings are now held in the National Railway Museum archives and the East Midlands Oral History group at Leicester



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Updated: 4 days ago


Members of the crew reflect on their achievement following Mallards record-breaking run. Image: NRM


Let’s talk about clothes this week, railway clothes. You know, look at the descriptions of the various railway uniforms in the NRM’s collection and you will see a whole selection, from the flamboyant to the austere, some looking military in style, others more ‘casual’. For those meeting the general public there’s obviously a good reason for distinguishing a railway employee and, in doing so, conveying some sort of sense of what the railway was about. We can debate the wisdom of various styles, particularly in the BR era, but looking through the uniforms of various porters, stationmasters, guards and so on, of the various railway companies before 1948, you can soon build a sense of what the company was trying to convey.


‘Here’s Albert, modelling the latest guard’s outfit from the Southern Railway, c.1925’. Albert looks vaguely uncomfortable – a real guard, then, not a model. I cast an eye over the ensemble and wonder how practical it was – in all weathers, all situations. None of this hi-viz stuff, strictly male, a hint of ‘fashionable’ but not so much. Would a pistol in a holster on the belt help the image? Would it help crowd control?


What about the footplate crews, though? A previous post in this series mentioned the serge jacket, a source of pride among drivers, signifying status and responsibility. Not quite so good, though, for newcomers starting a railway career. Albert recalled how he started: ‘The overalls and your hat, and rags, things like that. But you had to provide your own shoes.’ Ken remembered the same with a slightly begrudging ‘You had to buy your own boots’, still rankling after all these years.


Good stuff, though. Albert recalled courting a girl at Bugbrooke in Northamptonshire and riding over on his motorbike from Woodford Halse to see her. One day ‘it tipped it down with rain all the way back – 13 miles. I had this big railway coat on and leggings and when I got to Woodford the only place that was wet was between my legs where water had run down the tank. The overcoat was absolutely saturated but it hadn’t gone through. I think it took that coat about 3 weeks to dry out. It weighed a ton….’ I didn’t record if Albert ‘got his girl’.

Karen Harrison at Old Oak in 1980 with some of the other secondmen...


Ken remembered you had two sets of overalls, one ‘on your back’ and one in the wash. Some fitters, like Eric, recalled having three sets in later years – suggesting that some sheds had discovered ‘luxury’.


But of all the memories I have recorded the one I thought the best was that of Keith. He was slow to start, either because he didn’t feel he knew me or because memory takes time to re-activate. He recalled living in a terraced house in Leicester with his father, a railwayman, and mother and brother. He was still at school but he recalled how his brother was getting on as a cleaner at Leicester Central shed. ‘I can remember coming back from school on – I think it was Mondays, but I might be wrong there. The house smelt of soap and new washing. You know what I mean? I felt sorry for my mum. She had several sets of overalls from dad and my brother but she only had a dolly tub and blocks of soap. It must have taken her ages to scrub the dirt out. But they always looked clean and smart when they went off to work.’


‘Every day?’ I asked. No, she didn’t do it every day but it was more than once a week. I can remember the house being full of washing drying when it was a wet day outside.’ Listening, I thought I, too, could smell the soap, the ‘plonger’, the dolly tub. Railway life wasn’t all about working on the footplate. You needed a good back up team at home too.


But, then, at least it was a suitable colour. A few years ago, two Australians, father and son, arrived for a driving experience on a steam loco. As the ‘host’ it was my job to check everyone was suitably dressed but the Australians posed a challenge. They were dressed in striped overalls with a peaked hat, ‘Casey Jones’ style, apparently purchased at Harrods a few days earlier, by mum. We laughed about it, fortunately, since they knew how unusual it would be – it was for laughs. But, then, I wondered how practical they thought their outfits were – after all, they were replicas of engineer’s uniforms in North America. ‘Actually, really good’, they said, pointing out plenty of leg and arm room, good protection. Nobody mentioned keeping them clean, so I asked.


‘Oh well, we’ll just throw them in the machine ready for next time’.


No dolly tubs now but, then, not many steam engines either. Me? I prefer that blue serge jacket on the footplate because, if I had one, everyone would know I’d earned it.


See a selection of LNER uniforms after Mallard’s record breaking run and for the Southern Railway


‘Polyphemus’


John Swanwick


John Swanwick has a lifetime interest in railways, beginning with trainspotting days in the East Midlands in the early 1960’s. In 2016 John began collecting oral histories for a proposed railway museum at Birstall on the former Great Central route through Leicestershire. The oral histories contain the recollections of many who worked on, or used, the Great Central route prior to its closure in the 1960’s. The recordings are now held in the National Railway Museum archives and the East Midlands Oral History group at Leicester


Share Your Thoughts. Sign in below to leave a comment.


Become a Member of Friends of the National Railway Museum.


Friends have supported the National Railway Museum for over 40 years Raising £1.8 million to date.

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Michael Wallace, MBE ,the Friends late lamented Honorary Secretary retired in 1992 as Deputy Head of Ripon Grammar School after 34 years teaching there.

He was a life member of FNRM from the beginning and between 1992 to his death in 2018 he devoted his skills and a large part of his time to our organisation.

He also left us a substantial legacy and one way of publicly acknowledging his considerable contributions to both education and railways is an Essay competition in his name.

Open to pupils of all ages from his old school this initial years competition attracted 21 entries covering a very wide range of railway topics.

The four judges, Helen Ashby, Philip Benham, Chris Nettleton and David Thomas selected the top three in the senior and junior categories and all the participants were invited to a VIP day at the Museum on 21st July for the presentation of their awards. It is the intention to publish the winning essays in future editions of the Review.


Unfortunately Covid isolations reduced the number attending but the photograph shows the group in front of the Duchess of Hamilton - the locomotive which was rescued, restored and operated entirely from funds raised by the Friends.

Find out more about Friends of the National Railway Museum here

Friends contributions to the NRM can be seen here

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