For enthusiasts and researchers of the Great Eastern Railway

2009 Annual General Meeting - A report by Bill King

As Nigel Bowdidge let me in to the car park at the Brentwood Theatre I noticed that I wasn't the first to arrive. The other booksellers and purveyors of Society information - Dave Taylor and Barry Jackson - were already present. Once we did get inside, with Dave Zelly's now-arrived key, we soon set about putting up the stalls and tables for the 36th Society A.G.M.

Others soon started to arrive, Jim Tant with membership records, John Watling, Brian McCarthy and Philip McGovern. One late-comer was Geoff Ashton. Not long returned from a holiday, he reasoned that it was better to come by train. As ten o'clock approached, Dan Glading and Peter Ashton had the urn a-boiling and the coffee, tea and biscuits at the ready. Jas. Millham had brought along a display describing his model railway; Colin Dye, Volunteer Co-ordinator of the Epping - Ongar Railway, was touting for new members; and our very own Mark Baker - deltiologist of note - had brought along his collection.

The meeting would take the usual format, first a talk - this year by Simon Hanney on the Epping - Ongar Railway - then lunch, followed by the official business of the AGM. The second talk of the day was to be presented by well-known railway photographer, Peter Groom.

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Simon Hanney is a great enthusiast for the Epping - Ongar Railway and despite his youthful looks, following his experience on the Swanage Railway, has taken on a number of senior roles in that railway's volunteer society. As well as by Colin Dye - Volunteer Liaison Officer - he was accompanied by Roger Wright, who is President and Owner of the railway.

  • The Loughton to Epping line was opened by the GER in 1865, doubling taking place in 1892.
  • The extension to Ongar had actually been authorised in 1859.
  • There was a plan to extend to Dunmow; as a consequence the former station has a through layout.
  • Branch construction was undertaken by Thomas Brassey, beginning in 1862.
  • Opening took place on 24th April 1865.

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We began with the earliest known picture of North Weald, complete with milk churns in the foreground, this of course a reminder that agricultural traffic was of great importance. We saw an action shot inside the signal box and general views of the station and its surroundings.

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At Blake Hall the buildings are very definitely GE in character and our speaker remarked that it was "a lovely little station". Unfortunately, nobody used it!

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One particular picture of Ongar, showing an F class-hauled train waiting at the platform and surrounded by water tower, signalbox and goods shed seemed to emphasise the essentially rural nature of the line - it could have been taken anywhere in deepest Great Eastern territory, luckily now being carefully recreated by the volunteer team.

These evocative pictures were rounded off with just a few of "1962" tube stock on the line, together with the red-liveried Cravens-built units which are behind the so-named Cravens Heritage Trains group, which along with ORPS and F5 project are now working closely with EOR to re-open the branch. In its latter days, the line boasted the only level crossing on the London Transport system and the last semaphore signals on LT!

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Roger Wright, now said a few words. He was the man behind Blue Triangle, he rode the line's last train and got himself involved with Pilot Developments after they had taken over the line. This organisation had a desire to rid themselves of the line's surplus land and Ongar goods yard was sold in 2007. Following various reorganisations and business transactions, Roger has now found himself the proud owner of the line.

Simon retook the microphone and told us something of the current exciting events that are happening at the railway. At North Weald, during the preparation for repainting in LNER green and cream buildings livery, the team have revealed original Great Eastern paint on a number of occasions, samples of which have been carefully taken. The repainting at both stations is still progressing, but Simon was able to let us in on a World Exclusive - Ongar station is to be repainted in Great Eastern livery!

Simon then went on to highlight that like all heritage railways, the more volunteers who came down to help, the sooner the line would re-open. He appealed to the GERS to assist with additional information, pictures of the branch - especially the interiors - and the rare opportunity to help restore some of the last un-touched original GER stations. It was an opportunity to join a friendly and enthusiastic team. No prior experience was necessary, and there are enjoyable and rewarding tasks to suit all abilities and ages, from 18 to 88!

There was other news, too:

  • The preservation Society's website has been updated and it includes a department diary, discussion forum and details how to get involved in the local GER heritage railway.
  • The footbridge at North Weald is to be restored
  • For those that didn't know already, Ongar station represented 0 miles on the LT network. Consequently, all current LT route mileage is calculated from a station LT no longer serve!

Their presentation finished, Simon and Roger took a number of questions, were thanked by Geoff Ashton and then warmly applauded.


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After the lunch interval the serious business of the AGM was timetabled to begin. Beforehand, however, and it was with everybody's great pleasure, Chairman Ashton presented Membership Secretary Jim Tant with Honorary Life Membership of the Society and a complimentary copy of the GER Magazine on DVD. Jim has tackled this onerous task for twenty years.

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It was a great pleasure to make the acquaintance again of Peter Groom. His talk was entitled "In Search of Great Eastern Steam, 1956 - 1962". He explained that he set out in 1955 to photograph every steam engine in the country - and he almost achieved it! He noted that he is primarily a locomotive enthusiast but was at great pains to say that he expected that he knew less about Great Eastern engines than the assembled audience.

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His slide show was arranged in order of wheel arrangement, so whilst first displaying B44 0-4-0T No. 33, the Stratford Works shunter at Kings scrapyard in Poplar in the spring of 1964, he noted that: "… the Stratford guide had to put up with all sorts of oikes". Next we saw the last member of class J-65 at the Works in November 1956 and Peter pointed out the odd wheel arrangement - one axle had eight-spoke wheels and another had ten-spokes.

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We saw several photos of Buckjumpers, including 68500 which is believed to have avoided being converted with the high steel cab due to its sojourn in Scotland.

Moving on now to 2-4-2Ts, we first saw an F-4, in 1959, whose front Great Eastern wheels had different spokes when compared with the back. The loco also had a shortened stove-pipe chimney "to go where other taller engines feared to tread". We also saw our visitor's personal favourite - it was a regular visitor at Cromer Beach where Peter's family took their holidays and used for working to Mundesley.

Then we reached the 0-6-2Ts - somewhat limited on the Great Eastern, being represented only by the N-7s. 69603, seen in 1958, was the last machine to run with a tall GE chimney. It was fitted with slide valves, as well. The final, sad picture of this class was of a whole line of them waiting to go for scrap, taken in October 1962.

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E-4s were represented by No. 62788, seen in the scrap line in 1959, but fitted with an improved cab for working across Stainmore.

Coming now to the J-15s, 65361 was of the "early style" and one of the longest serving. It was not passenger braked and so had no balance weights fitted to the wheels. It was photographed in the scrap line in October 1962.

The heavy-freight classes were represented by a number of J-17s and J-20s. 65505 was pictured on a Sunday in the spring of 1959 at Hither Green - it would only take a Stratford crew three-quarters of an hour to get home from here by public transport and so locomotives were sometimes left in the yard on a Saturday for another crew to collect on Monday. J-20 No. 64692 was seen at March - these were the country's most powerful 0-6-0s until the advent of the Q1 - although the former class never was joked about by Stanier - "Where's the key?" he is said to have asked Bulleid.

"Claud" 4-6-0 No. 62510 with the framing cut away was at March station in 1956 followed by 62599 at Derby. Its frames were different at the front and it was fitted with piston valves, as working on the Cheshire Lines Committee lines.

A whole range of B-12, B-17s and B-2s were then displayed, including one of the former working from Grantham down Mallard's racing ground - Stoke bank. Then we saw 61608 "Gunton", in 1960, to which is attached a story. Peter worked as a teacher at a school in Walthamstow in the sixties. One day, one of his pupils, knowing that he was interested in trains, approached Peter and said: "'ere sir, do you want to buy a nameplate?" Thinking it to be stolen, our guest turned it down. However, it turned out not to be so, and later he purchased the aforesaid "Gunton" for £8!

The final slide was of a very well turned-out B-2 61671 on the 3.15p.m. or 3.30p.m. from Cambridge to Kings Cross.

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The time had run out, Peter's slides were finished and it remained only for our Chairman to sum up, thank Peter and invite the audience to show their appreciation, which they did without hesitation. Then the 2009 A.G.M. was over. Only the clearing up was left to do - and the Brentwood Theatre was ready for the final performance of that musical!