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Oiling the wheels 90 years ago

Driver J W Street was the record breaker who wrote the book “I Drove the Cheltenham Flyer”. His favourite locomotive was "Castle" class 5006 "Tregenna Castle" which he described as the best engine for her work he ever had. My picture shows former film star 5006 “Tregenna Castle” at the end of her days on the scrap line at Swindon Works in 1962.

Filming of the "The Ghost Train" drama based on Arnold Ridley’s play was well under way 90 years ago and it finished at the end of June 1931. The Great Western Railway had been asked by Gainsborough Pictures Ltd to provide at least a week’s use of a line, a station, a swing bridge, the “Cornish Riviera” (especially for the American market), a large locomotive (“Castle” class 4-6-0 5006 “Tregenna Castle”) and other locomotives (“Dean Goods” 0-6-0 tender engine 2441 and 2-6-0 “Mogul” 6319) along with coaches and newspaper vans for the filming.

The filmmakers also needed help to furnish a waiting room and booking office and the interior of a corridor coach in the studios. GWR Chief Mechanical Engineer Charles Collett provided two staff with plans from the Swindon Works Carriage and Wagon department for this purpose. The film, which was about gunrunning by Russian smugglers, sees a train finally meet its end at the Barmouth Bridge on the Cambrian Line. Some filming took place at the actual bridge [now a listed structure], and for the climax of the film a model train made by Bassett Lowke Ltd is seen to plunge off the open [model] bridge. Sounds of passing trains were recorded at Langley (Bucks) station for two days in May 1931: the station was near Pinewood Studios which were sometimes used by the film company.

5006 was filmed between Reading and Bramley on the line to Basingstoke one Sunday running by with some “Cornish Riviera” coaching stock as it was too heavy for the Limpley Stoke (Wiltshire) to Hallatrow (Somerset) line where much of the filming took place. Camerton station (Somerset) on that branch was renamed “Fal Vale” for the film. Dunkerton Colliery in the Somerset coalfield was used to film locomotive 2441 with two coaches and four newspaper vans being loaded by smugglers with guns in boxes labelled “Eggs” and “Tiger Sauce”. A camera in a railmotor cab was used to film a train entering and coming out of Box Tunnel, and film of passing scenery was shot from trains running between Reading and Didcot on the main line between Paddington and Bristol.

Further film of the “Cornish Riviera” was shot with the up and down trains coming out of Somerton Tunnel (Somerset) between Taunton and Castle Cary on the West of England main line. For shots of a locomotive at full speed, a stretch of line was heavily oiled, one firmly-anchored locomotive was made to act as a buffer and make lots of steam whilst another locomotive coupled to it had its regulator opened fully so that it slipped spectacularly while standing still! Other shots of approaching locomotives were filmed from behind with cameras pointing at mirrors. Rain at Camerton was provided by the Radstock fire brigade.

Unfortunately, not all the film survived although some film and sound reels from it were re-discovered in the late 1990s. Stars of the film were Jack Hulbert, Cicely Courtneidge and Ann Todd.

Mike Peart

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