I loved to travel on British Rail trains in the 1970s. In May 1971, when I was 13, we went on a two-week family holiday to Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset. We travelled by train as we had no car. We sent our luggage by rail passengers luggage in advance (PLIA). It always turned up at our destination! I think we walked to the old Stevenage station to leave the luggage for transportation by train.
British Rail Trains 1970s Style
On Saturday the 29th of May 1971, we travelled to Kings Cross station and took the tube across the Paddington. On the platform at Paddington, for some reason, I took my mother to the front of the train. Meanwhile, my elder brother and father got our seats.
At the head of the train was Warship Class 42 826 Jupiter. Its external appearance was appalling. The reason was that at the time the exmover strength in the carriage washers at depots on the Western Region appeared to be a bit too concentrated. The paint on locos became effectively bleached. My mother wasn’t convinced that this locomotive would pull us anywhere! Later in the journey when we travelled at speed through Swindon past the works, I remember commenting to my mother that ‘appearances can be wrong‘. Interestingly though records show that nearly two weeks later, 826 was stopped due to coolant leaks from the cylinder head and both A and B transmissions had to be changed. It was also recorded that it was painted blue again.
There is more information in The Book of the Warships by John Jennison
We made it to Highbridge station where we de-trained and caught a taxi to Burnham-on-Sea. Unfortunately we were twenty years too late to catch a Somerset and Dorset Line train to the sea. As expected, our luggage had arrived safely and we collected it from reception.
The Runabout Rover ticket
After some days enjoying the seaside, my parents gave me permission to purchase a weekly rail runabout ticket. On the morning of Wednesday 2nd June I turned up at Highbridge and Burnham- on-Sea booking office. I purchased an area 4 Runabout Rover ticket. As you can see from the photograph the number is quite interesting being 0000.
I can’t remember exactly the area that the ticket covered but I do remember going down as far as Newton Abbot and up to Bristol.
On that first morning after crossing the footbridge I went over to explore the old and closed Somerset and Dorset platform. Here I spotted a pair of class 37s or EE3s as we used to refer to them.
At that time, the M5 motorway was under construction. British Railways made a new rail connection from the Western Region Main Line to connect with the former Somerset and Dorset station area. This allowed the transportation of fly ash used in the construction of the motorway from power stations to especially constructed discharge area not far from where the old Highbridge works were located.
Next, it was off to Newton Abbot with a change at Taunton. Here I saw the Brush prototype locomotive Falcon. Recently repainted into BR Blue and re-numbered 1200, it sat alongside the down island platform.
Approaching Newton Abbot, just North of the depot 83A, I noticed in the sidings a couple of warship locomotives minus their name plates – 851 Temeraire and 836 Powerful.
In those days, my paper round money of £1.37½p didn’t afford me the luxury of railway magazines. I was never up to date with what was happening on British Rail in respect of locomotives and rolling stock. I subsequently learnt that these diesel hydraulic locomotives had been withdrawn just over a week before on the 22nd May 1971. These locomotives were subsequently towed to Swindon works along with 853 Thruster and 862 Viking in Mid October of 1971. 836 was broken up in early March 1972 and 851 in June 1972, just over a year after withdrawal.
Diesel Hydraulic Locomotives
During my week long travels I visited Exeter St Davids where I photographed other diesel hydraulics including Class 22 6343 on tanks. Later 6343 was on the Depot in the company of D819 Goliath.
Also present was D817 Fox Hound and D828 Magnificent marshalled next to Hymek 7084.
Class 22 6343 on tanker train at Exeter St Davids June 1971
Working down from Exeter Central later in the day, I photographed an unidentified warship with a Hymek on the rear of a freight train. On a Waterloo bound service was 868 Zephyr.
These were extraordinary times in the era of diesel hydraulics. Swathes of withdrawals meant a limited amount of time to view them in operational condition.
Although I have an interest in the early diesels, for me, the lure of steam is even greater. Early in the holidays I spotted a sign on the sea front at Burnham-on-Sea. It advertised day trips by boat to Barry Island. I wanted to go but I was only aged 13. I mentioned the boat trip to my father stating that Barry had a scrapyard containing over two hundred steam locomotives! Being a responsible parent, he immediately said that I couldn’t go!
My parents were happy for me to travel locally but not too far. However, my Rail Rover was still valid so the temptation to go to Barry scrapyard was overwhelming. I worked out that I could easily get there by train. If I caught the first train of the day from Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea station, I would have sufficient time to find the place and have a good look around before returning at a decent hour. All went well on the way there and I found the yard with ease. I couldn’t believe the incredible quantity of steam locomotives. On many I found it easy to read the numbers but others were very difficult. The rust had forced off the paint with the digits on.
I also saw two diesels D601 Ark Royal and Class 21 D6122.
When I look at the list in my notebook, two numbers jump out at me. One is 92212 the 9F I was involved in restoring over seventeen years from 1980 at the Great Central Railway at Loughborough. The other is Jinty 47406 which I have driven and fired on the Somerset and Dorset at Midsomer Norton.
If you would like to see more photos of this time, I thoroughly recommend the book Barry: The History of the Yard and its Locomotives which has some amazing photos from this time. It is a bit pricey but second hand copies do come up on Amazon and even at full price, I think it is worth it.
The return journey
On my return journey I was delayed and arrived back at the caravan at nearly midnight. As I crept in, I heard my father whisper from his bed ‘I know where you’ve been‘. That was it till morning. At breakfast, he was trying hard to be stern but I could tell by his eyes he was smiling inside. I actually think it was a combination of him being proud of the fact that I had worked out how to get to Barry together with relief that I had made it back safely.