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A brief history of early steam trains
An invention that changed the world is 200 years old in 2004. Britain is celebrating the bicentenary of the steam railway locomotive with a year-long events programme, but it is not an engineering giant such as James Watt or George Stephenson being fêted The man who first put steam engines on rails was a tall, strong Cornishman described by his schoolmaster as “obstinate and inattentive”. Richard Trevithick (1771-1833), who learnt his craft in Cornish tin mines, built his “Penydarren tram road engine” for a line in South Wales whose primitive wagons were pulled, slowly and laboriously, by horses.
On February 21, 1804, Trevithick’s pioneering engine hauled 10 tons of iron and 70 men nearly ten miles from Penydarren, at a speed of five miles-per-hour, winning the railway’s owner a 500 guinea bet into the bargain. He was 20 years ahead of his time – Stephenson’s “Rocket” was not even on the drawing board but Trevithick’s engines were seen as little more than a novelty. He went on to engineer at mines in South America before dying penniless aged 62. But his idea was developed by others and, by 1845, a spider’s web of 2,440 miles of railway were open and 30 million passengers were being carried in Britain alone
Perhaps because it was the birthplace, Britain can boast more railway attractions per square mile than any other country. The figures are impressive: more than 100 heritage railways and 60 steam museum centres are home to 700 operational engines, steamed-up by an army of 23,000 enthusiastic volunteers and offering everyone the chance to savour a bygone age by riding on a lovingly preserved train. The surroundings – stations, signal-boxes and wagons – are equally well preserved and much in demand by TV companies filming period dramas
Wales deserves a special mention for its Great Little Trains. Though small in stature, these narrow-gauge lines are real working railways, originally built to haul slate and other minerals out of the mountains, but now a wonderful way for visitors to admire the scenery, which is breathtaking. There are eight lines to choose from and one, the Ffestiniog Railway, is the oldest of its kind in the world.
Then there are the railway museums that are historic in their own right. “Steam” at Swindon is built into the former workshops of the Great Western Railway (GWR) which has near-legendary status among rail fans; the GWR Railway Centre at Didcot re-creates its golden age in an old steam depot where polished engines are tended lovingly. Part of Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry is situated in the world’s oldest passenger station; and the ‘Thinktank’ museum in Birmingham contains the world’s oldest active steam engine, designed by James Watt in 1778.
But it is North East England that is known as the birthplace of railways for here, around Newcastle, the world’s first tramways were laid and, later, the world’s first public railway between Stockton and Darlington steamed into life. At Shildon in County Durham, a £10 million permanent Railway Village is taking shape, to open in the autumn, the first out-station of the National Railway Museum
At nearby Beamish, the open-air museum of North Country Life – where the past is brought magically to life – there’s an opportunity to see one of the earliest railways re-created. Feel the wind – and steam – in your hair as you travel in open carriages behind a working replica of a pioneering engine such as Stephenson’s Locomotion No.1, built in 1825.
The Bluebell Steam Railway - Southern Rail
The Bluebell Railway was the first preserved standard gauge passenger line in the world.The original intention of the founders of the Bluebell Railway (then known as The Lewes & East Grinstead Railway Preservation Society) back in the Spring of 1959 was to re-open the line in its entirety from East Grinstead through to Lewes and to run a commercial service using an ex-GWR "Flying Banana" diesel railcar, to be augmented with a two-car DMU when funds permitted! These plans soon fell through however when they a) failed to aquire the whole line and b) not surprisingly found no enthusiasm for the idea amongst the local population. So, the idea to re-open the Sheffield Park to Horsted Keynes section as a steam "museum" railway was proposed and adopted. Being an ex-LBSCR line the original intention was to concentrate on rescuing as much "Brighton" stock as possible with the first requirement being a Stroudly "D1" Class 0-4-2T, until it was realised that the last one had been scrapped some year and a half previously! So, the next choice was a Stroudley "Terrier" 0-6-0T, probably the best-loved of the Brighton locos (two of which, 32636 and 32670, were by then the oldest locos operating on BR), and of which BR just happened to have a surplus one and sold her, together with a couple of coaches, for £750. This loco, BR number 32655, was formerly LBSCR number 55, Stepney, an identity she was to regain once more under Bluebell ownership.
This, the Bluebell's first train, arrived under its own steam on 17th May 1960, travelling via Haywards Heath to Horsted Keynes and thence onto Bluebell metals to Sheffield Park. As the Bluebell was not yet allowed access to Horsted Keynes but was only able to run from a point (Bluebell Halt) just to the south of the station where no run-round was possible, it was decided that a second loco was needed to run trains "topped and tailed" so a request was made to BR to buy a second "Terrier". However, with only 11 of the class now remaining, BR could not spare one and suggested instead that an ex-SECR Wainwright "P"Class 0-6-0T, BR number 31323, could be bought instead. This suggestion was not greeted with much enthusiasm as the "P" class did not have the charisma of the "Terriers" and they had, in fact, not been a success when built. Intended for working light branch services and push-pull sets, they were found to be too small and were relegated to light shunting and shed pilot duties. For the Bluebell there was no alternative at the time so the loco was purchased, and very successful she proved to be, especially when she was later named Bluebell and subsequently painted blue
So, the first summer saw the BluebeTraffic in that first short summer from 7th August until the end of October, running at weekends only, exceeded all expectations at over 15,000 passengers and proved the point that to run a steam service using volunteers was a viable proposition. The railway could make the £2,250 annual payments on its five year lease of the track and run its trains, but had virtually no surplus income to invest in other rolling stock. At the conclusion of this first short but successful running period the winter's work of refurbishing the engines, station, signalling etc. commenced. ll operating a train with four items of stock, each of which hailed from a different company. A loco each from the LBSCR and SECR and a coach each from the LSWR and SR - a far cry from the earlier "all-Brighton" ideal!
August 15th had seen the arrival of the Fletcher Jennings 0-4-0T industrial loco Baxter. This loco was only able to steam on a handful of occasions in 1960 and '61, and because of its condition would not do so again until 1982, when it had received a thorough overhaul. This led to the decision not to allow any more such locos to clutter the Bluebell in the same way that they were to do on many railways elsewhere. A classic case of this was an LBSCR Billinton "K" Class mogul, quietly put to one side by sympathetic BR staff when, following the hand-over of the running of BR from the BTC to the BR Board, the whole class was suddenly scrapped in 1962. The railway just could not find the cash so in the end the loco suffered the same fate as the rest of her class. Other locos on the list included an LBSCR Billinton "E4" Class 0-6-2T, a second Stroudley "Terrier", an LSWR Beattie "0298" Class 2-4-0WT, (the oldest design of loco working on BR - in the final event two of the three survivors of this class were preserved elsewhere), a GER "J15" Class 0-6-0, a Metropolitan Rly 0-4-4T and BR Standard Class 4P/4F 2-6-4T Number 80154, the very last loco built at Brighton Works and also the loco that hauled the final BR service over the Bluebell line. In addition to these and other locomotives, various representative types of rolling stock were targeted. Amongst these was the last LBSCR coach surviving on the mainland (some were still in use on the Isle of Wight, and still are to this day), a Pullman car, an SECR birdcage brake, a clerestory coach and a GWR rail motor coach. Some items which were available were rejected as being beyond restoration, a view not always shared by everyone. In the case of LBSCR "E1" Class 0-6-0T number 110 this was turned down as it had been much modified during many years service with the NCB but the loco was subsequently rescued for the East Somerset Railway. In 1961 an attempt was made to bolster the meagre coaching stock by purchasing some ex LSWR "gate stock" (open vestibule, gated stock with tram style seating) still in use in the Plymouth area, but this was scuppered when the coaches were seriously damaged during a storm. The asking price for ex-BR coaches was £200 each but the Bluebell managed to aquire the four "Cheshams" from LT for a total of £260. They form the oldest complete set of preserved bogie coaches in Britain and worked long and hard on the Bluebell for several years, until age finally took its toll in the late 1960s. Another Bluebell policy, that of no duplication of locomotives (despite the original intention to purchase a second "Terrier") fell by the wayside during 1961 when a second SECR "P" Class, number 27, was purchased to augment number 323. 1961 also saw the arrival of the LSWR Adams "0415" Class 4-4-2T number 488 (BR number 30583).
A big milestone in Bluebell history was achieved on 29th October when, for the first time, the Bluebell was allowed to work into Horsted Keynes Station, still used by BR for the electric service to Seaford. Appropriately enough, the loco used was "P" Class number 323, Bluebell. 1962 saw the arrival of GWR "Dukedog" 4-4-0 number 9017, Earl of Berkeley, an interesting class of loco re-built from the frames of the older "Bulldog" class with "Duke" class boilers. 1963 brought a major campaign to secure some coaches before the supply of pre-nationalisation stock dwindled too much and several Maunsell coaches were bought, together with the two 100-seaters. These were not the most popular of coaches with many of the members, but proved to be amongst the most regular and reliable performers. Now both outshopped in full Maunsell livery they are a joy to behold (and with the recently installed through lighting, no longer the guard's nightmare now trains run through Sharpthorne tunnel!) Coaches did not have far to come as most were being stored on the Ardingly branch after withdrawal before being taken to Newhaven for scrapping. Supplies were so good that on a couple of occasions a coach was sent back to be exchanged for another because it had broken windows! If only we had been able to buy more.... One tragedy of the Ardingly branch was when the last LBSCR coach, reserved for the Bluebell and marked accordingly, was accidentally removed and converted into a car-carrying flat truck. The mistake was realised just too late to save the coach. Amends were made, however, two years later when the LBSCR Directors' Saloon became available and BR, no doubt remembering their error of two years previously, gave the Bluebell preferential treatment and did not go to open tender to dispose of this vehicle. 1964 was a desperate year for the Bluebell. The attitude from BR was fast hardening and basically the Railway had to find the funds to purchase the line, or be closed down. No money was available for anything else! History can tell the story of the protracted negotiations with a hostile BR management and the final triumph in 1968 when a hire purchase deal was struck, but there was a long and agonising period when it seemed the Bluebell's days were coming to a sad end. One, and probably the only, highlight of 1964 was when, after the personal intervention of that famous East Grinstead resident, Dr Beeching, the original "Terrier" of 1872, number 32636 Fenchurch arrived.
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