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.