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Short stories from the history of Britain's railways 

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As some may know there is a project to create a new railway museum at Leicester North station on the Great Central Heritage Railway (the old Belgrave and Birstall station on the former GC route through the East Midlands). This is currently mothballed but not before over 100 hours of oral history recordings have been made. These are now safely within the NRM archive and also the East Midlands Oral History Archive at Leicester.















A Great Central poster from the 1920s promoting travel over GCR routes to Stratford upon Avon. Photo: NRM, SSPL library


The recordings mainly cover interviews with those who had some connection with the old route from Sheffield to Marylebone. Some were passengers, railway employees at various stations, or local historians. Several interviews cover footplate crews who worked at one of the three Motive Power Depots (MPDs) on the route – Annesley, Leicester (Central) and Woodford Halse. Most of these men were young enough to become firemen or ‘passed’ firemen at the time of steam’s demise so they tell interesting stories of what it was like to work with steam locomotives, mostly in the 1950s and 1960s.


It’s particularly interesting to contrast the MPDs mentioned. Annesley, in North Nottinghamshire was in a coal mining community and largely staffed by those whose fathers didn’t want them to be miners. Leicester Central was a fairly typical central-city depot whose inhabitants often had side-lines close by – garden allotments, pig breeding, for example. Woodford Halse, in what was rural Northamptonshire, was a small agricultural hamlet until the Great Central arrived in the 1890s, transforming it into a railway town. With local labour supplies limited, the depot was a good place to transfer to if you were a teenager in a bigger shed, whose promotion prospects were limited because of the older men but who might advance more quickly by moving to Woodford Halse. Many did, and their stories of life in complete different surroundings to their previous homes make interesting listening.

The London terminus of the Great Central Railway with the magnificent extant façade, seen in the early 21st century. Photo: NRM, SSPL library


The closure of the route was controversial at the time, and remains so for some today. It generates emotional responses in a few of the recordings and reminds us of how passionate people were about ‘their’ railway long after nationalisation. Some still are, referring to the pros and cons of the LMSR and LNER, and even the GCR and the MR.

The glory days of the Great Central encapsulated in this colour-tinted photo, date and location unknown. Photo: NRM, SSPL library


As the current situation changes I am hoping to collect more histories and, with the NRM’s help, make them all available to researchers.


By John Swanwick


Find out more about Friends contributions here

From 1845 railways played a huge part in the development and growth

of Scarborough as a seaside holiday destination.

In the late 1970s to help arrest the decline in visitor numbers

Scarborough Council funded the restoration of a turntable and

watering facilities and persuaded British Rail to introduce a

programme of steam hauled excursion trains bearing the headboard

Scarborough Spa Express. The majority of the trains were hauled by

locomotives from the national collection and Mallard, Duchess of

Hamilton, City of Truro, Evening Star and eventually Flying Scotsman

have all been involved at some time. This had not been part of the

forecast work load when the museum was set up in 1975 and from 1980

the Friends funded two fitters and organised volunteers to support the

maintenance, preparation and operation of the trains.

This was partially funded by revenue from on train teams of

enthusiastic volunteers, selling Friends’ books and merchandise.














British Rail poster advertising the Scarborough Spa Express. Photo: NRM collection SSPL



4472 Flying Scotsman passes Grosvenor Terrace, York enroute to Scarborough in the 1980s. Although not a National Collection locomotive at this time, it was prepared and serviced by NRM staff paid for by FNRM. Photo: NRM collection SSPL


Duchess of Hamilton 46229 Class 8P. This locomotive was designed by Sir William Stanier for the London, Midland & Scottish Railway. The locomotive is shown on the Scarborough turntable which was constructed to enable steam locomotives on the Scarborough Spa Express to be turned ready for the return trip to York and other Yorkshire destinations.Photo: NRM collection SSPL


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The most recent films uploaded onto the Film Archive of Railway Signalling and People (FARSAP) site give us a total of 165 signalling locations, plus people’s memories and signalling topic primers. Recent additions with the East of Nottingham area films take us from Newark Castle back towards Nottingham, taking in Staythorpe Crossing, Rolleston Crossing, Fiskerton, Fiskerton Junction and Lowdham. Then on the line from Grantham to Nottingham the film covers Allington Junction, Bottesford West and Bingham West. Also now available are the latest additions to the Barnetby to Grimsby line covering New Barnetby, Brocklesby Junction, Ulceby Junction, Roxton Siding, Stallingborough, Marsh Junction, Great Coates No.1 and Pyewipe Road Crossing. Also in that patch, the impressively large Great Central 137 lever box at Wrawby Junction which was filmed in 2014 has been on FARSAP for some time along with Pasture Street, Grimsby. The Barton-on-Humber branch and Immingham Docks videos also available on FARSAP for some time now help to give a very comprehensive impression of signalling around the Grimsby area.

Details of the latest additions have been posted on four Facebook sites which between them have over 22,000 members. These are BR Signalmen, Signalwomen and Signallers; Signalboxes and Signalling; Mechanical Railway Signalling; and, British Rail Old School. The FARSAP team hope that members of these groups will investigate further if they’re paying attention: we expect nothing less from the signalling fraternity and sorority! Within hours there have already been 50 “thumbs up” ratings for these latest Facebook postings. We’ve also had comment from a signaller who once worked in Newark Castle box and another from a Newark shunter who prevented a suicide by the box whilst on night duty.

There’s already a lot to see on FARSAP and more material is being added as it is edited. So to avoid indigestion the advice is to keep visiting regularly, view reasonably sized chunks at a time and keep coming back to see what’s new.


By Mike Peart


Find out more about Friends contributions here

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