For enthusiasts,researchers and modellers of the Great Eastern Railway

 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.


Report of the 2007 Half-Yearly Meeting

The Assembly House, Norwich, 20th October 2007

by Bill King

I took the opportunity of travelling from Colchester to Norwich by One Railway - quite the right way to travel to the half-yearly meeting of the Great Eastern Railway Society.

As usual, the travelling stands were already present on our arrival. As advertised, too, all the regular Committee members were there, our President and Chairman and we had the opportunity of meeting the other of the Journal editors, which was a pleasure.

The Norfolk Railway

The day was to consist of three speakers and the theme of the meeting was Railways in Norfolk, quite rightly given our location. As usual there was a goodly group of members assembled at 11.00 ready for our first guest, John Barney. His book, "The Norfolk Railway", was reviewed by our Newsletter Editor in issue 132. I discovered that John has a keen interest in the history of Norfolk and is presently a Research Fellow at the Centre for East Anglian Studies. He told us that the Norfolk Railway had a length of less than ninety miles; only four years as an independent operation; great ambitions but few prospects and more enemies than friends. It was the child of Samuel Moreton Peto and through his activities extended its sphere of influence to the Baltic Sea.

The East Anglia - Suffolk and Norfolk, not Essex, Cambridgeshire or Herts. - of 1830, into which the railway was born, had quite a good road system. Quite frankly, the people of Norfolk didn't want a railway. But in 1835 three railways were projected from London towards Norwich. Only the Eastern Counties had any real prospect of reaching Norwich, but anyway, Norfolk people didn't care. By 1840 it had dawned on some that their county was going to be left behind in the great railway building spree and in 1842 the Stephensons made a plan to build a line to the coast. They needed to raise £200,000. Finally, Grissell and Peto's great contracting company offered to supply a complete railway - including, as it turned out, an insufficiency of trains - and enthusiasts for the Yarmouth and Norwich Railway got it through.


Soon after, another plan was hatched for the Norwich and Brandon Railway. Although it needed twice the capital of the Yarmouth and Norwich, Brandon was bait - there was no trouble getting the money for this line. The two lines were amalgamated to become the Norfolk Railway on 30th June 1845, one month before it opened, which was the same day on which the Eastern Counties extension from Newport to Brandon was ready for traffic.

Still the line was unpopular in the county town. The Norwich Union Insurance Company even invested in the Eastern Union which was busily building its competing line from Colchester through Ipswich. A number of other railway schemes were later planned and some unusual construction ensued. The awkward loop through Thetford is an example.


Peto went on to become an M.P. - he was a good talker and a very convincing man - and to build Lowestoft from almost nothing into an important town. But that is a different story - and it is in Suffolk. Geoff thanked our speaker for a splendid talk.

Photographs from the George Powell collection


After lunch, Graham Kenworthy took the stage for a presentation of some photographs from the George Powell collection. He started his show with a fantastic colour slide of Britannia 70041 "Sir John Moore", complete with headboard, awaiting departure from Liverpool Street with "The Norfolkman". He explained that the collection had come into the Society's possession through the good offices of R.C. Riley. Copies of many of them are presently available for purchase through Colour-Rail. We departed the London terminal. Arriving at Marks Tey, which was one of George's favourite locations, we saw a variety of trains and locomotives.


Reversing now, to travel along the line towards Sudbury, there was a train in the branch platform. Our President confirmed that the coach was of North Eastern origin. Graham enquired whether anyone could identify the theme of his show - nobody guessed - so he explained that it was the only way to travel from London to Norfolk using George Powell's slides!


Passing through Cockfield, with a magnificent collection of standard rose bushes, and Welnetham, we arrived at Thetford.


Being well and truly in Norfolk, now, we were treated to four pictures of signals, one of which was a Tommy Dodd - the well-known Great Eastern ground signal.


Our speaker continued with pictures of locomotives in British Railways livery and numbering, including B-12 no. 61576 at Colchester with "The Suffolk Venturer", an enthusiast's train.


This brought us very nearly to a close. What a wonderful selection of slides this was. Geoff Ashton summed up with a few well-chosen words and the audience showed its appreciation.

A View from the Signal Box

If, like me, you have been to some dry corporate slide presentation, you may have come across the technique of dropping an attention-grabbing picture in to the middle of the show. Well it's not to say that John Barker's presentation was at all uninteresting, but it really started with The View from the Signal Box. And it was a fabulously atmospheric picture taken from Somerleyton Swing Bridge signal box, looking along the River Waveney on a glorious summer's day.

Prior to his retirement, three years ago, the swing bridge box at Somerleyton was John's for three years, but his signalling activities started somewhat earlier, although it was his second career. Finding himself at a loose end in Thetford an advertisement appeared in the Eastern Daily Press for trainee signallers. He applied, was successful, and was taken on for a twelve-week absolute block signalling course at Grosvenor House in Norwich. He learned that the principal of the absolute block system is that a railway section is blocked until you tell somebody otherwise. He successfully passed out as a signalman.


At this point John showed the audience all the documentation - the Rule Book and the Signalman's General Instructions which he had to know and understand, to the letter. At Harling Road, which was he first posting, there were only two shifts, each of 9¾ hours and the first train was at 05.52. He showed us a number of views inside the box, which was a comparatively simple block post, although with gates to control as well. He identified the various types of lever in the frame and the other "signalman's essential" - an armchair. Harling Road also supervised a controlled crossing at Thetford, which was relatively busy.


After about eighteen months, he moved to Brandon where he showed us an exterior picture of the 1931-built box. There was a reasonable amount of freight traffic here, mainly limestone going to the sugar beet factory at Wissington. The frame was marked, "GNR Leeds" and it was back-to-front, that is the signalman worked with his back to the line.


Again we saw some views inside the box and John explained that a signalman always has a duster with him with which to grab hold of the levers - this avoided moisture in his skin from causing them to go rusty. Another detail was the carpet placed over the unworked areas of the frame - this prevented draughts from blowing up from the locking room below.

Following a house move John applied for a transfer to Somerleyton, even though the box was situated around half-a-mile from the station. When he arrived he took note of the green hut outside the box - apparently the bridge was worked by dog-clutches and this was the kennel where the dogs were kept!


The bridge itself was built in 1904, weighed some 120 tons and carried a pair of lines across. One red flag was flown to notify boats that it was a swing bridge, although two indicated that it was jammed - which did occur from time to time. As a precaution it was inspected by the engineers every week.


John gave us a detailed description of the operation:

  • Operate the signals and locking levers to protect the bridge - the signals on the remote side were operated by a mechanism passing across the bridge
  • Raise the bridge off its mounts by hydraulic jacks
  • Turn a wheel - not unlike a gate operating wheel - in the vertical plane to withdraw the locking bolts
  • Start the electric motor drive
  • Operate a control lever to swing the bridge. The bridge was held in the open position on this lever
  • And, as they say in those car repair manuals, closing was the reverse procedure of the opening

John's final slide - another evocative picture - was of a rainbow and it ended at Somerleyton station!

The Chairman again thanked our speaker who received a warm round of applause from the audience. And so another GERS meeting was over. Fortunately, it was a good deal more rewarding for the Society than for poor old Norwich City, because they lost 3-1, at home, to Bristol City that day. I travelled back to Colchester on the 17.30 from Thorpe, and the Canaries supporters were all good humoured. What a great day out!

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