For enthusiasts,researchers and modellers of the Great Eastern Railway

Report of the 2008 Half-Yearly Meeting

by Bill King

Saturday 18th October 2008 dawned bright and fresh for the 35th Anniversary of the Great Eastern Railway Society. Our meeting this half-year was to be held in the Goods Shed at Chappel & Wakes Colne station which is, of course, dominated by that magnificent red brick viaduct, the longest on the Great Eastern Railway and built in 1849.

Driving under the viaduct and arriving a little late, I parked right outside the station entrance on what was the down side building. Passing through the former booking hall, I moved onto the platform, crossed the demonstration line and entered the goods shed.


Barry Jackson was already set up, complete with the latest sales additions. Further down were Nigel Bowdidge and Dave Taylor with books, maps and plans for sale, galore. Much conversation - or circulation as we term it in the Society - was in progress and I saw many old friends.


I had brought some mementos from Paxmans, in Colchester, for any members to take a look at and another member had a number of Rail News for sale. Both of us erected another table each to display these and what with the Museum's food counter, the meeting room started to fill up pretty well. Authentic steam sounds and smells surrounded our location for the restored RS&H 0-6-0 tank locomotive was giving footplate tuition in the yard.


Geoff Ashton was soon making an introduction to the day and a special thanks to Peter Barham. This half of our Journal editorial duo has recently become the incumbent at the parish church of St. Mary the Virgin at Ponteland, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. When Peter lived in Bury St. Edmunds he did not always make our local meetings, but now that he was in the north east, well… Moving on, our first speaker of the day, Reg Davies, was introduced for a one hour session on Claud Hamilton - The Man.

Reg Davies

"Soldier, Politician, Railway Chairman and Sportsman," so ran the title of his obituary in The Times, "Born 1843, died 1925". And who realised the significance of the connection between the man - of Irish descent - and the date on which his namesake locomotive was released from Stratford Works? 17th March - St. Patrick's Day.


A brief biography was followed by Lord Claud's Great Eastern career. It began on 24th April 1872 when he was elected a company director, replacing Lord Salisbury. He became Chairman in 1883 - a position that he held for 40 years, his final meeting being on 20th February 1923. He took an active part in the affairs of the company although some would say that he had conflicting roles, sometimes safeguarding the shareholder's interests and at others being concerned for the welfare of employees.

What can be in no doubt, however, is that he was associated with the railway during a growth period in its fortunes. Shortly before he joined the company its shares were worth a paltry 30% of their face value. By 1872, this had improved to 40%, rising to 75% in 1893, 100% in 1896 and later reaching the dizzy heights - for a company once in Chancery - of 129%. He was held in high esteem by the company's servants - on his retirement in 1923, 1300 contributed to a collection for a rose bowl to be presented to him. At the same time, he refused to accept collective bargaining and disliked the Associated Society of Railway Servants. Amongst his other business interests he was also Chairman of the Railway Clearing House and Director of the Sheffield District Railway and the East London Railway.

Lord Claud's outlook on life were all rather put aside when he recruited the first American to take charge of a British railway - that man was Henry Thornton. After approval from the President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Hamilton approached Thornton who, at that time was General Superintendent of the Long Island Railroad - a subsidiary of the P.R.R. and operator of the chief suburban system in the USA. And so H.W. Thornton came to the GER and the rest, as they say, is history.


Lunch was in tourist second open, E3779. It was actually quite cosy to sit four around a table by the window and enjoy a ham or salmon salad. The coach didn't go anywhere, of course, and it was slightly disconcerting to feel it moving on its springs - but enjoyable nevertheless.

Soon enough, the afternoon session was begun and our Chairman introduced Gary Sanford - the late Peter Paton's brother-in-law - who had brought along a selection of Peter's photographs to entertain us. Our speaker explained that Peter had made comprehensive notes and, in any case, many of the pictures were taken at very similar locations. Often he would cycle alongside the Tilbury line from his home at Leigh-on-Sea, taking photographs of the approaching trains as he travelled along.


Although all of the pictures are from 1¼" negatives and span the period 1948 - 1957, some of the initial ones were taken using a "Box Brownie". They are in black and white and have come accompanied by some 600 hours of cine film - which Gary intends to transfer to video - and some audio tapes. We started our tour on the LTSR and saw a number of pictures of Stanier 2-6-4 tanks hauling the commuter trains.

Peter's travels, however, weren't exclusively on the Tilbury, nor even only in East Anglia, and we were very soon listening to the famed Sammy Gingell of Stewarts Lane. It was a shame, perhaps, that Richard Hardy was not with us. He went onto to describe a run down to Dover with an SECR 4-4-0. The excitement really started at Swanley where a speed around 80 mph was achieved, although this wasn't the best for he went at 86 at one point and arrived at the Channel port ten minutes early!

Passing through many pictures - streamlined B17, some taken at Cambridge and more steam on the LTS - we arrived at Liverpool Street. But where were all the people? Not a soul was to be seen, and yet it was broad daylight. The explanation was that these were taken during the railway strike of 1955. The strike by the members of ASLEF commenced at midnight on Saturday May 28th and lasted for three weeks.

Following a short break for refreshments and the raffle draw we were soon into the third presentation of the day. Mike Stanbury - explained that his talk, "Aspects of Preservation" would encompass the "trials and tribulations" of some parts of the railway preservation movement.


Outside, was a certain blue painted 0-6-0 tank locomotive. Some younger members might have been forgiven for mistaking the loco for a certain personality from the Island of Sodor, although he was wearing neither his face nor his name and number.

Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns works number 7031 was built at the Kitson factory in 1941. It spent its working life in the British steel industry and arrived at Chappel in 1973. It worked hard there until 1992 when it was withdrawn for a rebuild. The engine returned to steam in early 1993. After only five steamings, however, the boiler was found to be leaking around the firebox stays and had to be withdrawn again in 1994. The causes and possible solutions were not resolved until 2000, the engine only appearing in its new guise at Easter 2008. The locomotive being a licensed Thomas the Tank Engine replica does have significant advantages for the museum.

Firebox stays for RSH loco

Conversion to Thomas


Another engine, N7 no. 69621 was also reviewed. Currently on the North Norfolk Railway, it went there when the EARM struck a deal concerning the engine's required boiler repair. Great Eastern News 136 demonstrates that they have done a fine job. Mike noted that the restoration was so authentic that when driver Tony Gooding got on the footplate he hung his jacket on the appropriate hook without even looking for it!

Again our Chairman extended the thanks of the gathered members; not only to Mike for his informative lecture but also for the use of the Goods Shed and all the other museum's facilities.

The Society's final meeting of 2008 was over and it remained only to move the residual sales stock to various members' cars and tidy up. This being done we began our way home - all the time looking forward to 2009!


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