For enthusiasts and researchers of the Great Eastern Railway

Report of the 2007 Annual General Meeting

Brentwood Theatre, 17th March 2007

by Bill King

The Annual General Meeting of the GERS was held at the Brentwood Theatre on 17th March 2007.

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As well as the official business, the presentation of the Harry Jones Award had to be made to the intended recipient. This year, David Butcher received the trophy for his article "The 'Jazz' Train Workings at Liverpool Street Station", which appeared in Journal 127.

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Geoff Ashton (Chairman, left) presents the Harry Jones Award to David Butcher

The meeting consisted of two illustrated talks and an address about the developments at North Woolwich.


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Rodger Green presented

The North Woolwich Branch: 1846-2006

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A map, prepared by the presenter and Ian Strugnell, of the area in 1846 was first up. Meanwhile, Rodger explained that 160 years of service on the branch had now come to an end. In the 16th century Stratford was an important centre of population in the district and by the 18th century had developed a number of significant industries. Tanning and porcelain manufacture were the most important. South of the town lay an area of marshland which did not have what we today might call planning restrictions. In the 19th century, therefore, there commenced in this area a number of businesses which were undesirable elsewhere.

Part of the area around Woolwich was in Kent - this last meaning that there are documents of interest to a GER historian in the County Record Office at Maidstone. This situation remained until 1889, when the district was absorbed by London County Council.

Messrs Bidder - the Calculating Boy - Peto, Brassey and Kennard planned to build a railway line from Stratford to Thames Wharf in 1843 but it was not until 1844 that the GER received Royal Assent to build the line. Part of the construction included the erection of coke ovens at the wharf.

A plan of 1858 showed Victoria Docks which cut through the original line and also showed the deviation opened in 1855. The docks were spanned by a narrow swing bridge which was used as a roadway and as a railway. Two early pictures of the swing bridge over the cut followed. One showed a wagon belonging to Fardell whose horses provided most of the power within the docks.

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Beckton Gasworks opened in 1880 and this provided much extra traffic in the area. It was seen in a plan dated that year in which the Royal Albert Dock was opened. Between this year and 1892 widening of the line took place between Stratford and Thames Wharf.

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The Great Eastern Railway's ferry, introduced by the Eastern Counties Railway in 1846, was closed in 1908 - the railway boats no longer able to compete with the Free Ferry introduced by the LCC in 1889.

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King George V dock was opened by the Port of London Authority in 1921 and more traffic was added to the branch as the dock was rail connected. The period between the wars was one of stable trade for the North Woolwich branch but the destruction of World War 2 caused significant damage, as it did to many lines in the East End, and from which the Gallions branch never recovered.

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It was a shock on the 1st May 1970 when the Port of London Authority closed its railway system and then a month later the gas works at Beckton closed down. By 1976 British Railways was considering complete closure. However, in 1979 the Greater London Council decided to breathe fresh life into the branch and the Crosstown Link Line was launched.

After resignalling in 1984, the North London Link was introduced in May 1985. This provided a third rail service all the way to North Richmond with two car ex-SR emu trains running with a 20 minute headway. Class 313 multiple units were introduced to the line in 1989. Jubilee line construction caused temporary closure again between May 1994 and October 1995, the Underground line taking the old goods line trackbed from Stratford to Canning Town.

The last day of public passenger services on the (heavy rail) line was on 9th December 2006 and the last passenger private passenger service the next day. Near the end of Rodger's talk he showed a plan of the current status of the North Woolwich branch there were no lines shown south of Stratford!

This was a fascinating and extremely well presented talk. Rodger should expect to receive some invitations to present it elsewhere.



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Our second speaker was Neil Howard of Royal Docks Heritage Railway Ltd, formerly a senior BR Public affairs manager and now leader of the group intending to provide three new facilities using the old line.

With the discontinuation of the heavy rail link from Stratford to North Woolwich, the section between Custom House and the former terminus is not required by the DLR, though ultimately might need to be used for Crossrail.

According to a DLR press release conversion of the retained route from Royal Victoria to Stratford International will create three new stations between Stratford and Canning Town: Stratford High Street, Abbey Road and Star Lane.

His group proposes to make use of the resource in four ways:

  • To create a college where young adults can be provided with vocational training enabling them to work in the rail industry. This is RailSchool.org
  • To redevelop the North Woolwich Old Station Museum as a museum of rail transport in London.
  • To provide a "test bed for new and developing railway equipment, especially signalling".
  • For heritage railway operations which might be used, for example, for corporate hospitality, film shoots and the like.

Our speaker provided a number of duplicated newsletters dated 3rd March 2007 for the audience to take away.


 

After the lunch interval our third speaker was David Dent, who spoke about The Hertford East Branch.

David's starting point was Broxbourne, which was reached from London by the Northern and Eastern Railway on 15th September 1840. This railway was subsequently taken over by the Eastern Counties Railway in 1843. The N&E's final act was to construct a branch line from Broxbourne to Hertford, and it was about this line that we were to hear.

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Our first slide was of Broxbourne in 1898. Next we saw the station house which lasted until 1959 when it was demolished. It was built in an Elizabethan style and the Hoddesdon omnibus was seen in the foreground. At one time, Mr Saggars was the Station Master and lived in the station house with his wife and nine children. David noted that the building must have worked some aphrodisiac-like magic as another Station Master, Mr. Cook, had eleven children! Then was a charming picture of the station staff with the then current Station Master, Mr. Barker, and his dog. Ha,ha!

Travelling towards our destination brought us to Essex Road level crossing where we saw Mrs. Johnson, the gatekeeper, in an early-dated picture. The crossing keeper's house was close to the line here and David commented that it was probably not the place to display delicate china! Then was an aerial view of the crossing.

Rye House Station was the next point of interest, although before a station was built here, tickets were issued to fishing club members at Ye Olde House Hotel, which could be said to be the first "station". Rye House was an important local attraction and visitors came from a long distance to visit here. It is also claimed to be the oldest surviving brick-built building in Hertfordshire and was once the location of the Great Bed of Ware. The one-time house owner, William Henry Teale, acquired the bed and put it to use in his pleasure garden. In 1931, it was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Teale is also said to have fiddled the passenger receipts at the station which may have been a significant source of funds - between 5,000 and 10,000 are said to have visited the location over a bank-holiday weekend. Continuing our journey, we passed the halt situated between Rye House and St. Margarets and arrived at the latter place. This was the only two storey station house on the branch and it was pictured in 1910. At Ware was the factory of D. Wickham & Co. and we saw a nicely turned-out railcar that was destined for Peru. This company was, of course, very well known in the UK and elsewhere in the world as the manufacturer of railcars and works, or track inspection, trolleys.

The Great Northern Railway had running powers to the station - subject to capacity - of which the GER made sure there was none! It was also the location of one of the two well-known petrol-mechanical shunters, which was "shedded" under a still standing bridge.

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The line ran from here across The Meads to arrive at Hertford East in, originally, a wooden train shed which doubled as a passenger and goods station. The present building (shown above) dates from 1888 and was designed by W.N. Ashbee.

David made this into an interesting talk and answered a number of questions at the end.

The meeting wound-up here with a reminder that the half-yearly meeting this year will be in that very pleasant city, Norwich, on 20th October.