For enthusiasts,researchers and modellers of the Great Eastern Railway

Meeting Report
GERS Half-yearly meeting at the Assembly House, Norwich on 15th October 2011

Although I had an invitation to accompany Andy Grimmett on the cushions, my excuse for driving to Norwich was that I had four boxes to deliver to Rodger Green.
Norwich is a wonderful city and the Assembly House a fantastic venue.  On arrival all the usual features were to be seen.

The Society's well-stocked second-hand stall had many interesting books and drawings.  I found one dating from the 1930s which contained three interior views of Stratford Printing Works. This was passed on to David Challis for a Journal article he is preparing.

The first talk of the day was by Rik Alewijnse and considered Railway Shipping in East Anglia. 1883 saw the opening of Parkeston Quay and the launch of the S.S. Norwich and the S.S. Ipswich.  They were fine new screw ships and heralded the Great Eastern Railway's switch from paddlers. Rik described the preceding paddle-propelled ships, including the Adelaide, which was the company's first ship built of steel instead of iron.  He noted that navigation of the river delta to Rotterdam was more suited to paddle-steamers.

Using the Society-produced minutes extracts, the need for new construction technologies and screw propulsion was demonstrated. By reference to an article in "The Engineer" of 23rd January 1885 and a fine line drawing of the ships the layout of the two vessels was described. Interior and deck scenes were illustrated from contemporary newspapers and GER publications.
The use made of the ships and their fares was then described. The S.S. Ipswich was particularly accident-prone but the S.S. Norwich had a much less eventful career - although she did transport a tiger in 1893. The Norwich was also used as an icebreaker during the Great Freeze of 1895. Rik noted, finally, that Able Seaman C.A. Fryatt joined the GER service in the Ipswich in 1892 but that, as he said, was another story.

After lunch the Harry Jones Award was made to David Challis for the first in the series of two articles concerning the Mildenhall branch. The Award was presented by Journal Editor Geoff Ashton.
Following this, the Society's latest venture, the Files Emporium, was launched by the President, John Watling.

Our second presentation was entitled The Ups and Downs of the GER in Norfolk and was by Graham Kenworthy.
He explained privately beforehand that the Ups were aerial photographs taken by Mike Page and the Downs were ground level pictures at the same locations. Graham told me:  "I don't usually reveal the content behind the enigmatic title until I start on the images, so I would prefer that you left things up in the air, so to speak". We were treated to views of Norfolk's railways such as we had not seen before and gradually made our way from the county's hinterland to its capital.
One was of the station buildings at Norwich Victoria, which housed a circus prior to their railway use. There was on especially fascinating view of the Low Level sidings at Norwich Thorpe station.  This was interesting as it is the only one known to our speaker which includes a view of the Italianate tower of the original station, there. One member was surprised at the description "low level sidings" as they were only three feet below the level of the remainder of the yard.  He wondered, too, about the pronunciation of some Norfolk station names.  Was it Hunstanton, for example, or Huns'ton? Graham provided us with a really most enjoyable "all round view" of the railways of Norfolk.

Before the refreshment break, the Society Archivist, Lyn Brooks, provided an update on the status of the Society's Collection and the soon-to-be-available digital index.
Afterwards was the raffle draw, when five or six lucky winners were able to select a book-prize of their choice.

The final presentation of the day was by John Hull, Vice-Chairman of the Mid-Norfolk Railway.  His chosen subject was The Mid-Norfolk Railway, Past and Present. John has been involved with the Wymondham - Dereham - Fakenham line since he moved to Norfolk in 1974. He joined the Rail Action Committee that campaigned to get passenger services reinstated.  They ran several special trains over an eleven year period until final closure to freight traffic in 1989. Publicity from these activities led to the formation of the MNR and the local council's purchase of the line between Wymondham South Junction and County School station. John was elected Chairman of the railway and continued in that role during the initial opening of the line. Later, he became a normal volunteer.  Now retired, he has been able to take a more active part, once again.
John's talk had three sections and each was prefaced with a brief history and introduction:

  • General slides of the line from Wymondham to Fakenham between 1974 and 1985
  • Pictures taken during a brake van ride in 1975
  • Transparencies made in the weeks before the presentation.

All-in-all an entertaining and informative day was had.  Many thanks to all our speakers and the Meeting's Organisers for their efforts prior to and at the meeting.


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.


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