On the 24th April 1957, some railway enthusiasts held an informal meeting in the Midland Hotel just opposite Bath Green Park station.
Founding members included famous Somerset and Dorset photographers Ivo Peters and Alan Newman. The object was to form a society ‘……to further the interest in railways generally, and to seek out other persons interested in the subject in Bath and district.’ according to the minute book.
At the time, the Somerset and Dorset was fully operational, as was the Midland line. The latter ran from Bath Green Park through to Bitton and Mangotsfield and on the into the Midlands and the North. To celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the Bath Railway Society, it was fitting that the dinner was on board a train from Bitton station. Pines Express carriage boards adorned the train reflecting back to the time this famous express passed through this station.
For a number of years I worked at Swindon at what is now Great Western Railway’s headquarters. I used to go to the Bath Railway Society meetings with friend and colleague Richard Tapscott. At the time meetings were held at Bath Green Park railway station. This was a highly relevant venue to the Society and a superb one at that. Therefore it was very sad that the Bath Railway Society were effectively forced out of Bath Green Park station in 2014 due to the hire charge for the monthly meeting being substantially increased. In my view, this was a big disservice to a society that has afforded such pleasure to a great number of people for over sixty years, particularly those from Bath.
Over the years the Society has had a number of eminent railwaymen as members. These include O.S. Knock who was president until his death in 1994. Ivo Peters friend’s Norman Lockett and former Shed Master at Bath Green Park, Harold Maurice were also members. So was Guy Williams, one of the founding members of Pendon model railway. From 1994, David Sheppard CBE FRSA FRGS OBE has been the President of the Bath Railway Society while Peter Waterman OBE is Vice President.
The society has a programme of presentations by speakers on a variety of railway related subjects. Talks are held on a monthly basis between September and July at St Mary’s church, Darlington Street Bathwick in Bath.
Over the years there have been many well known speakers but for me there are two that really stand out. The first is the late Bill Hoole who is best remembered for his expert enginemanship particualarly of class A4’s over the East Coast Main Line. Indeed the recent 100mph achieved by 60163 Tornado reminded me that the post-war speed record for steam traction is held by 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley when it was driven by Bill Hoole. It achieved 112mph between that Little Bytham and Essendine on the 23rd May 1959 while hauling the Stevenson Locomotive Society Jubilee Celebration special.
The second name that stands out is Richard ‘Dick’ Hardy. I first met him in 1980 at Melbury Terrace alongside Marylebone station when he agreed to sponsor me under British Rails scheme for a degree in engineering. I have since met and corresponded with him on a number of occasions. The last time I met him was at Loughborough station in June 2015. He was present as part of the 50th commemorations of the closure of 38E Woodford Halse where he was Shed Master in 1949. So the Bath Railway Society has a superb pedigree in terms of railway associations and it continues today. If you are able to get to meetings why not join?
John Froud, the current Chairman, welcomed us all to Bitton station. He was accompanied by Bob Bunyar a Somerset and Dorset aficionado who has recently published Somerset and Dorset Swan Song: Last Days of a Steam Railway which is an excellent read.
I also met Keith Greenwood a friend and fellow volunteer on the Somerset and Dorset at Midsomer Norton. He has been a member of the Bath Railway Society for twenty years.
One of the many pleasurable things about travelling by train is the opportunity to meet and converse with pleasant and interesting people.
This evening we were accompanied at our table by two other Bath Railway Society members. Tony was a former London black cab driver who learnt ‘the knowledge’ in just sixteen months! His fellow member Mike is now retired but did design warships. He was involved with HMS Illustrious, HMS Invincible and HMS Ark Royal. As the train made its way along the former Midland Railway route on a glorious sunny evening, we shared stories of instances and experiences.
The friendly staff of the Avon Valley Railway served us dinner which was delicious. Having a meal in a railway carriage on the move has to be one of life’s highlights.
Looking out over the countryside as we headed towards Avon Riverside we saw a number of hot air balloons.
The view of the River Avon as we passed over the bridge was truly wonderful. I think that you see the countryside best from a train window. The evening was truly memorable. I have to extend my heartfelt thanks to Bath Railway Society for the arrangements and selecting such an appropriate venue. Thanks also to the staff of the Avon Valley Railway for all the hard work and making the evening such a success.