For enthusiasts, researchers and modellers of the Great Eastern Railway

Report of the 2006 Annual General Meeting

Brentwood Theatre, 18th March 2006

by Bill King

The Annual General Meeting of the GERS was held at the Brentwood Theatre on 18th March 2006. The official record of the meeting will be made by the Society Officers and minuted elsewhere.

Taking one item slightly out of order, I am very pleased to say that Rodger Green was nominated for and received the Harry Jones award this year. His article "The Millwall Extension Railway - Part 1" - or as he subtitled it "The Penny Puffer" - appeared in Journal 124, last year. Paul Goldsmith was honoured, too, by rightly being made a Vice-President of the Society.

Two Essex Lights - The Branches to Thaxted and Tollesbury

by Peter Paye

Like all good light railways, the two that formed the subject of Peter Paye's talk, of course, had nicknames. The Kelvedon and Tollesbury Light Railway was locally known as the "Sprat and Winkle" (a name apparently also claimed by the Andover to Southampton line, see here.) The other line, properly the Elsenham and Thaxted Light Railway, was the "Gin and Toffee". Sir Walter Gilbey of Elsenham Hall was the gin and George Lee of Thaxted the toffee. The former gentleman provided much of the money to build the railway.

Promoters of the Kelvedon and Tollesbury had been meeting with the Great Eastern Railway since 1889 but without much success. A light railway order was obtained in 1901, Colonel von Donop inspected in 1904 and the line was opened on 1st October of that year. In 1907 the extension from Tollesbury to its pier was opened, but immediately after the First World War George Osborne commenced competitive bus services with a twelve-seater Ford Model T. (Not entirely the same period, but some memories of this bus operator can be found here.)

Meanwhile, on the Thaxted line, Sir Walter Gilbey called a meeting in July 1896 and Walter Hopkins, who had been appointed engineer to the scheme, proposed a 2'6" gauge line. Von Donop inspected this line too, but in 1913, and on 1st April of that year it was opened.

After the Grouping the London and North Eastern didn't do much with either line but mobile guns operated on the branch during World War Two along with two Dean Goods and two other WD locomotives. In 1950 the Railway Executive announced that closure to passengers would take place in May 1951. Appropriately the last train was freight from Wilkin's jam factory.

The Thaxted line (See here and here.) didn't really fare as well as that from the coast. The last passenger train, complete with 400 customers, ran on 13th September 1952. A black-draped coffin lettered "Died Waiting R.I.P." was conveyed along the platform as the last up train waited, one of the pall-bearers having the distinct looks of our presenter, although he denied it!

The Holden F5 Steam Locomotive Trust

By Graham Rowlands


The day's second presentation was by Graham Rowlands of the Holden F5 Steam Locomotive Trust, whose aim is to continue the evolution of the 2-4-2T locomotive originally designed by T.W.Worsdell.

Their society website can be found at: Another group at the Epping - Ongar railway - Cravens Heritage Trains - has two preserved Underground trains and a locomotive and their website includes a brief history of that line.

The LNER F5 2-4-2T locomotives (Great Eastern Railway class M15R), usually known as "Gobblers", were synonymous with the Ongar branch. The nickname had originated with the F4 class which were fitted with Joy valve gear and are said to have had a voracious appetite for coal.

Graham was able to show us a number of pictures of F5 locomotives working on the branch, including three on the last day of steam operation and, very sadly, the remains of No. 67199 - smokebox door and numberplate - in a scrap wagon! The F5 Society has made good progress with its project and collected a number of locomotive drawings.

The building work is being carried out at a workshop at Ovington, near Great Yeldham where wooden patterns have been produced for the engine's trailing wheels. The intention is to cast these in 2007. The buffer beams have been machined and these have been assembled with the valances to form a "perimeter frame". The boiler will have to be built to meet current safety requirements and the Society hope to build the main frames for the locomotive in 2008 with a completion date planned for 2012. Graham noted that this would coincide with the Olympic Games - perhaps the locomotive might be named appropriately!


Ramblings on Tickets

By Graham Kenworthy


Graham Kenworthy is known to many Great Eastern Railway Society members as the co-author of several books in the Middleton Press series.

His speciality lies in the area around the Norfolk and Suffolk borders. Less well known is that he is an avid ticket collector. He gave an illustrated talk about a whole range of Edmondson card tickets.

Edmondson invented a ticket printing and numbering machine, which pioneered a system of fare collection in the development of the railways, see here and here.


Graham's first batch of tickets was issued at Liverpool Street, but all had different issuing points. These included:

  • WS - West side ticket office
  • ES - East side ticket office
  • MetLO - Metropolitan line office
  • CLR(Liv.St.) - Central London Railway Office

He also explained that all single tickets purchased at Liverpool Street, and all other down direction tickets were green. Buff coloured tickets were for the up direction.


Next to be shown was an undated map of the Woolwich branch - our speaker explained that his talk had originally been given to a group up in Norwich and "those 'ol bois" wouldn't have known where North Woolwich was - without a map! Included was a Royal Albert Dock to Liverpool Street boat train ticket. We then had a map of the Millwall Docks and tickets issued by the Millwall Docks Company. The reverse of that company's tickets contained some unusual text: "The Railway Company will not be responsible for delays caused by the opening of the Company's swing bridges"!

Graham showed us a slide of a ticket issued at "The Piazza, Covent Garden" - an agency for the railway - and for an unusual journey from St. Pancras to Wisbech, via Tottenham and another for a trip from the same London terminal to Huntingdon, via Tottenham and asked why anyone would go that way and not from Kings Cross.

In 1964 Graham was at Haddiscoe station where he met an agent of the Lowestoft Journal. After some discussion the agent agreed to write an article about ticket collecting and this duly appeared in the newspaper. After a while, Graham received a letter from Australia together with an unused portion of a railway ticket explaining that the writer bought this during his emigration - just in case he didn't go - but no longer had any need of it!

Later - and, nicely connecting to our first talk - were three conductor guard tickets, one each for journeys: Kelvedon to Tollesbury, Elsenham to Thaxted and Yaxley Hall to Stowmarket.

The talk was wrapped up with a South Woolwich to Stratford Market issue - note that the GER had a ticket office on the south bank of the Thames and in Kent! There was time for a few questions to which Graham humorously responded and then Geoff Ashton invited the audience to thank our speaker - which they warmly did.


And so another AGM was brought to a close - entertaining as usual and always a good Saturday out. Looking forward to seeing you again at the next!


 Report of the 2006 half-yearly meeting

held at Hills Road College, Hills Road, Cambridge, 21st October 2006

by Bill King

Around 70 members and guests gathered at a new venue - Hills Road Sixth Form College - for this year's half-yearly meeting. This is a smart modern college and we were located in the Science department lecture theatre at the rear of the complex - this did make discovering the rooms somewhat akin to finding one's way out of a maze! It was also necessary to avoid the "Sculpture for Surgeons" class - I kid you not! - which was just about to commence at the front of the buildings. A quick review of the results at the end of the day did reveal some pretty good artwork.

We were very pleased to be joined at the beginning of the meeting by local resident, Lew Adams, former General Secretary of ASLEF and now a member of the British Transport Police Authority - for some of his views see here. He has recently been involved in the collection and creation of an aural history archive which will be available for consultation at the NRM. Over 500 former railway employees - the oldest over 100 years of age - have been interviewed as part of this project.

As usual, the day consisted of a number of presentations, and on this occasion for the first time they were all made using "modern technology". All of our speakers worked with a laptop hooked up to a projector. This does have the advantage over the old-fashioned slide projector that some striking effects can be achieved. For example, multiple images can be made to appear on the same screen. On the downside, a "slide" which has been skilfully prepared prior to the event, but which contains an image the wrong way round or in the wrong order cannot easily be changed "on the fly". Nevertheless, this was a milestone - how long before the presentations are made entirely automatically? - Or even by a remote speaker over the Internet? Who says we are an historical Society?

As described in the most recent News and on the website, the programme consisted of illustrated talks:

  • Mistley, its railways and its Maltings by Keith Gardner
  • The Railway Record of the British Isles by Dave Challis and Andy Rush - with examples from the Cambridge area
  • The Saffron Walden Branch by Alan Hardy

Lunch was to be had between the Mistley and Railway Record talks and the opportunity could be taken to purchase a book or two or even a new information sheet. As ever, Barry Jackson was on hand with all the latest Society updates and Nigel Bowdidge and Dave Taylor were doing their best to shift all those books that have been clogging up the back of Nigel's garage! There are always bargains to be had - it really is worth a visit to one - or both - of our meetings each year.

Mistley, its railways and its Maltings

Keith Gardner professed himself neither a railwayman nor even an engineer but said he was determined to build a model of a Great Eastern station. His chosen subject was Mistley which was pretty comprehensively covered in Journal 97's A-Z feature. Keith's interest lay in topography and this gave a less than usual slant on his presentation. He started by showing a map of the East Anglian coast identifying that the Yarmouth via Beccles main line ran in a generally north-easterly direction and that there were a number of coastal estuaries interlaced with railway branches.


He next demonstrated that far from being the flat main line that so many GER-detractors claim, it was, in fact, very much a switch back as the railway rose from a river valley, crossed the separating upland and then descended into the next valley. Interestingly, the total length of the branches between London and Yarmouth was greater than the length of the "trunk".


Mistley station is positioned on the branch which runs by the side of the Stour and is positioned at a "pinch point" between the river bank and the high level land to its south. Rail and river - two important means of 19th century transport - were close together at this point and this led the town to develop as an important industrial centre.


Comparison with Manningtree was made and although this town is a railway junction laying on a line with direct connections to London it did not develop in the same manner. In fact, although Mistley was at one time expected to become a Spa town, with a number of Robert Adam designed Georgian buildings, it has the largest group of Maltings in the country. This has all made for a most interesting model to be created.

The station building, which is surrounded by the Maltings, is attributed to Frederick Barnes, was built on the downside platform in 1854 and largely consists of the station master's accommodation together with a booking hall and waiting room. The latter has an unusual oriel window projecting onto the adjacent platform. It can be compared with its close neighbour at Dovercourt Bay which is similar but larger, although from an architectural point of view not so attractive. Keith noted that it was not a typical Swedey station.

Malting is an industrial process whereby grain - often barley - is steeped in water for three or four days until it germinates and is then dried in two stages by air circulation and kiln drying. The latter was undertaken using anthracite or coke as the combustion products are in direct contact with the malted grain. The associated buildings are robust brick structures with strong steel-supported intermediate floors - they need to support a substantial mass of water - with low between-floor height. The works at Mistley were labelled "Edme" - which is an abbreviation of English Diastatic Malt Extract Company - and the process is still carried on in the town, albeit soon to be in more modern industrial/warehouse type buildings - the old Maltings are presently being converted into flats and apartments.

The traffic at the station was consequently very varied, with incoming fuel and grain and outgoing malt and derivative products. The steeply graded branch which ran down to the Maltings and quayside is well known and there was also a local passenger service and through express boat trains serving Parkeston Quay. Our speaker illustrated all these features, and more, with his own slides. He then went on to describe, briefly, the failed Mistley, Thorpe and Walton Railway. Some earthworks from this scheme still survive and Keith was also able to explain and illustrate these. The show was finished with a number of views of Keith's model. Following the conclusion we heard a number of amusing tales of the difficulty of taking a train up the incline with an 800hp BTH diesel (and see here) in charge and of a brake van which was let loose by vandals down the slope and which disappeared for some time amongst the overgrown track. (The story of the up-travelling diesel is recounted in the Journal article, with some more detail.)

The Railway Record of the British Isles - An Introduction

After an enjoyable lunch and chat with some old - and new - acquaintances the day's second session kicked off with a talk from Dave Challis and Andy Rush on their project to harness the power of the computer. They have been recording many images, plans and drawings for some time using the database program, Microsoft Access, and have been assisted in their quest by Microsoft Research. Many of the images included in their work were photographed by the late George Pring and have been catalogued by Industrialogical Associates, who are our two presenters together with Michael Senatore and Peter Lewis.

Their project was originally a paper-based record and is divided into three broad areas:

  • administration
  • infrastructure
  • rolling stock

Dave and Andy's main interest is in infrastructure, which includes bridges and tunnels, signalling, buildings, lineside equipment and so on.

Each record in the database includes a note on sources and, at present includes about 5,500 images. There is no plan, nor money, at present to make the database more widely available, for example by selling copies. Nor does there seem any likelihood of a national body, for example the National Railway Museum, publishing it. Dave noted that the Signalling Record Society had a similar recording system.

All-in-all this is a most interesting project and one which should offer a unique historical source in the future. Anyone who missed Dave and Andy's presentation or who would like a second chance to see it should note that they will be making a similar talk to a Cambridge University Library Seminar in February 2007.

The Saffron Walden Branch

Originally, Alan Hardy hailed form the North West, but moved to Saffron Walden in 1976. (I have to say that his accent didn't sound altogether local.) Originally he intended to join the LMS Society, but discovered that they were a "snotty-nosed bunch"! (Quite why I cannot understand - what have they to be stuck-up about?) His nearest (former) station on the line is Bartlow and he now drinks in the pub next door - so he switched his allegiance to the Great Eastern Society and has remained a member ever since. Having played a cameo role and provided an amusing introduction, Alan handed over for the main presentation to Adrian Dyer who had, apparently, travelled over the line - in his push chair!

The line commenced at Audley End, where the Neville Arms Hotel is situated. This establishment takes its name from the family of the Lords Braybrooke, who were the local nobility. Our first picture was a 1909 view of Audley End station and this was closely followed by a newspaper cutting of the notorious Samuel Dougal being escorted away from the station by two policemen in 1903. This chap was responsible for the Moat Farm Murder in which the unfortunate Camille Holland lost her life. He was hung at Chelmsford gaol in the same year. Less threatening were views of a G4 tank at the station in the 1930s and a C12 on the branch train in the late forties. Holland flour mill was seen in the background of a slide of an E4 on a passenger train.

Leaving the junction, we headed towards Saffron Walden, only four minutes away.


The branch line was heavily promoted by George Stacey Gibson who became the Saffron Walden Railway's chairman and was a tee-total Quaker banker; he lived in the town. There were a number of fascinating views of the platform, buildings and goods shed, dating throughout the early to mid-twentieth century. A view unseen these days was the transfer of cattle from train to lorry for onward transport. Many of the pictures were taken by D. Campbell and his mode of transport - a bicycle - figured in a number of them. Diesel railbuses were introduced on the branch on the 15th September 1958 with the intention of halting the decline in passenger numbers, but unfortunately, were unsuccessful - these machines continued the passenger service until the line's closure and locomotives, especially of the larger variety, were uncommon. An exception was in 1961, when B1 4-6-0 No. 61119 brought the Royal Train with Prince Philip on board, for a stay on the line.

Next was Acrow Halt, so named for the next-door factory where the famous building props were made. Not many people know that the equipment got its name from the solicitor, Arthur Crow, who first registered the company on behalf of its owner William A. de Vigier. The intention was that it should appear at the top of every alphabetical list of industrial firms. The halt was opened in 1957 and is still in existence, albeit heavily overgrown. The stop after this was Ashdon Halt. This was put in somewhat earlier than the previous halt, having been built as a simple wooden platform in 1911 - a former Great Eastern coach body was added, for waiting accommodation, in 1916. On the approach to Bartlow was the location of that infamous scene from the 1969 film Virgin Soldiers in which a heavily made-up Black 5 masqueraded as a ruined locomotive somewhere in the Malayan jungle. Adrian noted that the poor locomotive - hoisted into a hole and leaning over at a drunken angle - was "in quite an appropriate state for an LMS engine." Perhaps that snooty lot in the LMS Society might have something to say about this!

Our arrival then was at Bartlow, junction with the Haverhill to Cambridge line. There were a number of views of the station, in the 1950s and quite recently. Alan is fortunate enough to know the present owners of the station building and has been able to visit and take a number of photographs. Locally, there are three Romano-British burial mounds; these were created one generation after that infamous Essex Lady, Boadicea, had roamed the area. Alan also had a close-up of the hedge that has been carefully manicured into the shape of an engine and which is in the gardens here. Society member, Ron Gooch, who was at the meeting, remembered seeing the topiary when he was a driver on the Stour Valley line and his engine was stopped on the bridge at Bartlow on a Colchester bound train.



Our chairman, Geoff Ashton, proposed a vote of thanks to all of our speakers at the end of each session. We had had a good variety of very interesting talks and I am sure that everyone one of us left the meeting more entertained and informed than when we arrived. And so another GERS get-together had come to an end. Until the next time - and note that the 2007 AGM will be at The Brentwood Theatre courtesy of Dave Zelly - here's looking forward to the next Great Eastern Journal and the Society News.


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.


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.


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.


Rodger Green presented

The North Woolwich Branch: 1846-2006


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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
  • 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.


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.


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.


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