Trainspotting Dilemmas

Watching the news these past few months I find myself checking that my memory is in good shape whilst also indulging in the occasional nostalgic moment. Perhaps it’s a consequence of prolonged lockdown and perhaps it’s just called ‘aging’. ‘Aging’ includes rummaging around in my library for old books and notes from boyhood days spent trainspotting. Some of my notes are interesting……


In spotting school days there were many adolescent worries. Sitting alongside concerns about algebra and the tense of French verbs, there was a nagging philosophical, even ethical, challenge about locomotive spotting. Soon after I started collecting numbers it dawned on me – and others – that locomotives occasionally went into ‘the Works’ and emerged a bit different to the way they went in. Perhaps it was a new boiler, other items replaced. Some emerged looking completely different – think Southern Railway ‘West Country’, ‘Battle of Britain’ and ‘Merchant Navy’ classes, minus streamlining. So the question was, had I really seen 45688 ‘Polyphemus’, for example, or a contemporary version of it? At what point could one say one had truly seen 45688? In extremis, we might conclude only the frames were likely to be consistent over time (and then, not always). Instead, locomotives sported all kinds of variations of boiler, liveries, attachments and so on.

Southern Railway West Country, Battle of Britain. © NRM.


Picture: Curbside classic.com


A case in point concerns LMS Princess Coronation class (4)6254 ‘City of Stoke on Trent’ which featured in a recent edition of ‘Backtrack’ magazine (Vol 35 (4) April 2021). Authors Allan C Barker and Mike G Fell pieced together the history of this locomotive from being outshopped by the then LMS in September 1946 through to its withdrawal in September 1964. During a relatively short life of 18 years this locomotive went through 6 boilers (at least one of which was from a sister locomotive 46233) and carried 5 liveries (can you name them all?) This is before we add in two BR tender emblems, various lining differences, and a yellow stripe on the cab sides.

Maybe you are thinking you weren’t anywhere near LMR territory during those years, but you might have seen it on the Western lines in 1956 – a replacement for ‘Kings’ which were having their bogies checked at the time.


I consulted my notes and found my date – about the time it would have carried maroon livery and be on its fifth boiler; Rugby, 1962. So I can only say I saw it then, or a version of it from 1961. But I can’t say I saw it in other guises. So, a dilemma then.


It’s an interesting issue though. Our own ‘Flying Scotsman’ today sports a double chimney and German style smoke deflectors, all finished impeccably in BR Green. But we all know it was black too, had different numbers, a single chimney, no smoke deflectors (and what about those small, funny ‘wing’ style ones either side of the chimney?). To get around the issue of authenticity, museums and locomotive owners sometimes change the livery as a way of freshening up the image and attracting more visitors, a marketing strategy and an interesting reversal of the old dilemma of the railway spotter. Is this the future for restored and preserved locomotives, then?


Next time you are inside the NRM try walking over to ‘Duchess of Hamilton’. OK, we all know when it looked like that – streamlined, LMS livery and all – but should we know what the boiler was? What other secrets are hidden beneath its streamline casing?


To see what ‘City of Stoke on Trent looked like it might be best to Google it. There are plenty of photos, but which one is the ‘real’ City of Stoke on Trent’? Take your pick!


And by the way, back in the day, it all got too difficult. Algebra and the tenses of French verbs were much more straightforward.


‘Polyphemus’


By John Swanwick.


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