For enthusiasts,researchers and modellers of the Great Eastern Railway

Report of the 35th Annual General Meeting

by Bill King


The usual crew were already at the Brentwood Theatre when I arrived. Everyone was happy that Geoff was able to present the Harry Jones Award to John Watling for his article "Carriage Building in 1907 and the Norfolk Coast Express".


The primary interest of the day was, however, the traditional talks which accompany the AGM.

The Reconstruction of Trowse Swing Bridge by Martin Fargher

Martin Fargher kicked off with his presentation on the reconstruction of Trowse Swing Bridge in 1987. See also here and here.

He explained that before his appointment as Resident Engineer at Trowse, he had been responsible for the infill of a large bridge which accommodated Leeds station as it passed over a redundant arm of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.


The arrangement of the new Trowse bridge relative to the old was made clear in GERS News 53 (see map above), together with the project brief:

  • To avoid traffic disruption the new bridge would be built on a new alignment upstream of the then existing bridge
  • As a consequence of the deviation, an Act of Parliament would be required to enable its construction
  • The bridge would accommodate a single line of track
  • The bridge would be brought into service at around the same time as the Ipswich - Norwich electrification was commissioned
  • Although the 25kV overhead supply would only be energised when the bridge was open for rail traffic, the provision of such a system made it unique
  • The joints between the swinging spans and the fixed part of the bridge would be arranged to provide an overlapping rail joint
  • The project was estimated to cost £3.953m
  • On completion the old bridge would be removed


This is the third railway bridge to cross the River Wensum on the approach to Norwich. The first was built to carry the Eastern Counties Railway line into the Thorpe terminus and opened in December 1845. The second was of double track configuration in an effort to reduce the traffic bottle-neck created by the previous single track span.

The new bridge differed from the two previous versions in a number of technical details:

  • The pivot was not arranged at the centre of the swinging section, the length of the two spans about the pivot being 30m and 6m
  • The bridge does not rest on the pivot when it is open to rail traffic. As a consequence, the pivot can be of relatively light weight construction
  • A method was required to raise the pivot into contact with the swing spans and then further raise the complete assembly prior to pivoting. The method selected was to utilise four hydraulically driven screw jacks


  • The need for a complicated system of wedges to align the remote ends of the swinging spans with the fixed was avoided, with the bridge being simply supported on plain bearings at its ends
  • The "catenary" across the bridge is replaced by a rigid beam with a slot in its bottom face to hold a conventional conductor wire

Martin's first task at the site was to supervise the construction of a bank of ducts under the river through which the 25kV power supply cables and signalling and telecommunication cables pass to the remote side. The British Railways (Trowse Bridge) Bill was introduced into the 1984-85 session of Parliament and, once Royal Assent was received on 22nd July 1985, work could begin in earnest.


The construction of the new bridge was contracted to the local company May Gurney with the electrical and hydraulic systems and bridge structural steelwork being sub-contracted to Butterley Engineering. The bridge fabrication was undertaken by Butterley in their works at Ripley in Derbyshire.


A class 31 diesel locomotive 31.417 was the first rail vehicle to pass onto the bridge on 11th February 1987 and was used to compress the waybeams to allow tightening of their fastening - we saw a view of it undertaking that duty. Final commissioning took place over the weekend of 14th - 15th February 1987. During construction Trowse Swing Bridge Junction Signal Box was eliminated, but a swing bridge control room was built on the opposite river bank.


During the 20 years since the bridge was brought into service the opportunity has been taken to update the bridge lifting system, now utilising a hydraulic primary system:

  • Improvements in hydraulic control technology now permit the synchronisation of multiple hydraulic jacks operating in unison
  • The mechanical screw jacks were found to not respond satisfactorily to an applied off centre load


Originally, the bridge was required to open on demand. Indeed, the Act of Parliament required it to be so. This was found to be altogether too disruptive to rail services and the bridge is now available to open four times each day at stated times.

This was a fascinating talk with bags of technical detail by the engineer who was "at the sharp end". It was very well received by the audience who responded in the usual way.

The Sweedie by Iain Scotchman

After the AGM, Iain Scotchman provided us with an unusual "virtual journey" from Norwich to Liverpool Street. It was in the blue diesel era and copiously illustrated with Iain's own slides.

"The Sweedie" was the story of the 10.32 departure from platform 2 at Norwich Thorpe in 1979 or 1980. Arrival at Liverpool Street was due at 12.43. It was hauled on this day by 47.117.

Imagine that you were on this train, that Richard Ball, Passenger Operating Assistant, Liverpool Street was in the next seat and that Terry Simister, Secretary of the Society, was opposite. Sit back and let Richard and Terry describe the journey.

Leaving Thorpe, we have to climb a 1 in 84 gradient on the line towards Norwich Victoria where there is a speed restriction of 40mph. The gradient gives the lie to the old belief that East Anglia is flat. There was not much custom and the lines had steep gradients and tight curves. East Anglia was primarily a barley-growing region, much grain was shipped to the mills and breweries in London.

Passing Tivetshall, the junction for the Waveney Valley line to Beccles which closed in 1966, Richard reminds us that near Pulham Market, a station on the branch, one of the first airship bases was built. Soon after this we arrive at our first stop. Listen hard and you can hear: "Diss,….Diss,…..This is Diss!"

After a short wait, we accelerate up the gradient through Mellis where there was the junction station for the Eye branch.

Travelling on, we pass Haughley Junction where the line from Bury comes in from the right. Many airfields were built in this area during World War Two, the station handling 445 trains of aviation fuel during the first six months of 1944. Coming towards us is a class 37 on a beet pulp train. This is probably destined for Scotland or the North West as animal feed.

Shortly after this, we arrive at Ipswich. Terry tells us that this was an important part of the Great Eastern where the branch to Lowestoft went off. The fishing port was railway-built and owned, fish landed here was placed into trucks marked with special red labels, conveyed along the branch to the main line and attached to the first London express. It was also the centre of a most eccentric service. Sea water could be shipped to any station on the GE system for 6d a barrel.

Meanwhile, in the buffet on our train - a good way to meet people - Chief Steward Ernest Ward is serving breakfast. Passing the plastics factory at Brantham, we cross the two bridges over the Stour to arrive at Manningtree. This is the place of the triangular junction with the Harwich branch, and important because of the Parkeston Quay ferry connections with the Continent. Unusual freight traffic originates at Mistley where industrial explosives are produced.

"This is Colchester. The train arrived at platform 3 is the 11.49 train for London only. British Rail apologise for the late running of this train." Here we are 51½ miles from the metropolis, having travelled just over 63 miles from Norwich. Leaving Colchester, we are soon passing Marks Tey where, Terry tells us, Lord Claud Hamilton once had a down express, conveying his personal carriage, especially stopped. He left the train and went into the Refreshment Bar on the platform. On rejoining the train he was asked by his companion of the reason for the out-of-course halt. "Well you see," said he, "they told me they had taken on a new barmaid here and I just had to see if the stories about her were true!"

This is the fastest stretch of the old Great Eastern main line - the line speed limit here is 100mph and we are travelling at 95 - that is the limit for this type of locomotive.

We are soon approaching Shenfield, almost 95 miles from Norwich and just 20 left to go. The line from Southend Victoria joins here.

Maurice Holmes is the manager who is based at Bishopsgate and looks after the Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street lines. There are six tracks on the entry to the terminus, widening into 18 platform roads. Between 5 and 6 pm 144 train movements take place. Liverpool Street is not unacquainted with intense service, of course, the "Jazz" having been reckoned to be the most intense in the world. As John Betjeman remarked about the "county" and business passengers arriving at Liverpool Street: "The ladies go second class, most of the men go first, except of course the vicars."

The station was built on the cathedral plan, with nave, aisle and transept - at this time, the redevelopment plans for the station are just being formulated and there is a campaign to retain as many of the existing buildings as possible. And so we arrive at our destination. No longer should this line be called "The Sweedie". It has an important function as a passenger railway, conveying boat train and other "customers" and now handles Ford motor cars and oil traffic. Well done Iain, who had reproduced this journey of almost 30 years ago using the latest technology. He was warmly congratulated with a round of applause.

And so, yet another visit to Brentwood was over - the crowd made its weary but contented way home. Dave Zelly tells me that before our next visit the Brentwood Theatre will have new dressing rooms, so best wishes to them with the building work!

Map courtesy of Iain Scotchman. The pictures of Trowse swing-bridge kindly supplied by Martin Fargher.

Report of the 2008 Half-Yearly Meeting

by Bill King

Saturday 18th October 2008 dawned bright and fresh for the 35th Anniversary of the Great Eastern Railway Society. Our meeting this half-year was to be held in the Goods Shed at Chappel & Wakes Colne station which is, of course, dominated by that magnificent red brick viaduct, the longest on the Great Eastern Railway and built in 1849.

Driving under the viaduct and arriving a little late, I parked right outside the station entrance on what was the down side building. Passing through the former booking hall, I moved onto the platform, crossed the demonstration line and entered the goods shed.


Barry Jackson was already set up, complete with the latest sales additions. Further down were Nigel Bowdidge and Dave Taylor with books, maps and plans for sale, galore. Much conversation - or circulation as we term it in the Society - was in progress and I saw many old friends.


I had brought some mementos from Paxmans, in Colchester, for any members to take a look at and another member had a number of Rail News for sale. Both of us erected another table each to display these and what with the Museum's food counter, the meeting room started to fill up pretty well. Authentic steam sounds and smells surrounded our location for the restored RS&H 0-6-0 tank locomotive was giving footplate tuition in the yard.


Geoff Ashton was soon making an introduction to the day and a special thanks to Peter Barham. This half of our Journal editorial duo has recently become the incumbent at the parish church of St. Mary the Virgin at Ponteland, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. When Peter lived in Bury St. Edmunds he did not always make our local meetings, but now that he was in the north east, well… Moving on, our first speaker of the day, Reg Davies, was introduced for a one hour session on Claud Hamilton - The Man.

Reg Davies

"Soldier, Politician, Railway Chairman and Sportsman," so ran the title of his obituary in The Times, "Born 1843, died 1925". And who realised the significance of the connection between the man - of Irish descent - and the date on which his namesake locomotive was released from Stratford Works? 17th March - St. Patrick's Day.


A brief biography was followed by Lord Claud's Great Eastern career. It began on 24th April 1872 when he was elected a company director, replacing Lord Salisbury. He became Chairman in 1883 - a position that he held for 40 years, his final meeting being on 20th February 1923. He took an active part in the affairs of the company although some would say that he had conflicting roles, sometimes safeguarding the shareholder's interests and at others being concerned for the welfare of employees.

What can be in no doubt, however, is that he was associated with the railway during a growth period in its fortunes. Shortly before he joined the company its shares were worth a paltry 30% of their face value. By 1872, this had improved to 40%, rising to 75% in 1893, 100% in 1896 and later reaching the dizzy heights - for a company once in Chancery - of 129%. He was held in high esteem by the company's servants - on his retirement in 1923, 1300 contributed to a collection for a rose bowl to be presented to him. At the same time, he refused to accept collective bargaining and disliked the Associated Society of Railway Servants. Amongst his other business interests he was also Chairman of the Railway Clearing House and Director of the Sheffield District Railway and the East London Railway.

Lord Claud's outlook on life were all rather put aside when he recruited the first American to take charge of a British railway - that man was Henry Thornton. After approval from the President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Hamilton approached Thornton who, at that time was General Superintendent of the Long Island Railroad - a subsidiary of the P.R.R. and operator of the chief suburban system in the USA. And so H.W. Thornton came to the GER and the rest, as they say, is history.


Lunch was in tourist second open, E3779. It was actually quite cosy to sit four around a table by the window and enjoy a ham or salmon salad. The coach didn't go anywhere, of course, and it was slightly disconcerting to feel it moving on its springs - but enjoyable nevertheless.

Soon enough, the afternoon session was begun and our Chairman introduced Gary Sanford - the late Peter Paton's brother-in-law - who had brought along a selection of Peter's photographs to entertain us. Our speaker explained that Peter had made comprehensive notes and, in any case, many of the pictures were taken at very similar locations. Often he would cycle alongside the Tilbury line from his home at Leigh-on-Sea, taking photographs of the approaching trains as he travelled along.


Although all of the pictures are from 1¼" negatives and span the period 1948 - 1957, some of the initial ones were taken using a "Box Brownie". They are in black and white and have come accompanied by some 600 hours of cine film - which Gary intends to transfer to video - and some audio tapes. We started our tour on the LTSR and saw a number of pictures of Stanier 2-6-4 tanks hauling the commuter trains.

Peter's travels, however, weren't exclusively on the Tilbury, nor even only in East Anglia, and we were very soon listening to the famed Sammy Gingell of Stewarts Lane. It was a shame, perhaps, that Richard Hardy was not with us. He went onto to describe a run down to Dover with an SECR 4-4-0. The excitement really started at Swanley where a speed around 80 mph was achieved, although this wasn't the best for he went at 86 at one point and arrived at the Channel port ten minutes early!

Passing through many pictures - streamlined B17, some taken at Cambridge and more steam on the LTS - we arrived at Liverpool Street. But where were all the people? Not a soul was to be seen, and yet it was broad daylight. The explanation was that these were taken during the railway strike of 1955. The strike by the members of ASLEF commenced at midnight on Saturday May 28th and lasted for three weeks.

Following a short break for refreshments and the raffle draw we were soon into the third presentation of the day. Mike Stanbury - explained that his talk, "Aspects of Preservation" would encompass the "trials and tribulations" of some parts of the railway preservation movement.


Outside, was a certain blue painted 0-6-0 tank locomotive. Some younger members might have been forgiven for mistaking the loco for a certain personality from the Island of Sodor, although he was wearing neither his face nor his name and number.

Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns works number 7031 was built at the Kitson factory in 1941. It spent its working life in the British steel industry and arrived at Chappel in 1973. It worked hard there until 1992 when it was withdrawn for a rebuild. The engine returned to steam in early 1993. After only five steamings, however, the boiler was found to be leaking around the firebox stays and had to be withdrawn again in 1994. The causes and possible solutions were not resolved until 2000, the engine only appearing in its new guise at Easter 2008. The locomotive being a licensed Thomas the Tank Engine replica does have significant advantages for the museum.

Firebox stays for RSH loco

Conversion to Thomas


Another engine, N7 no. 69621 was also reviewed. Currently on the North Norfolk Railway, it went there when the EARM struck a deal concerning the engine's required boiler repair. Great Eastern News 136 demonstrates that they have done a fine job. Mike noted that the restoration was so authentic that when driver Tony Gooding got on the footplate he hung his jacket on the appropriate hook without even looking for it!

Again our Chairman extended the thanks of the gathered members; not only to Mike for his informative lecture but also for the use of the Goods Shed and all the other museum's facilities.

The Society's final meeting of 2008 was over and it remained only to move the residual sales stock to various members' cars and tidy up. This being done we began our way home - all the time looking forward to 2009!


2009 Annual General Meeting - A report by Bill King

As Nigel Bowdidge let me in to the car park at the Brentwood Theatre I noticed that I wasn't the first to arrive. The other booksellers and purveyors of Society information - Dave Taylor and Barry Jackson - were already present. Once we did get inside, with Dave Zelly's now-arrived key, we soon set about putting up the stalls and tables for the 36th Society A.G.M.

Others soon started to arrive, Jim Tant with membership records, John Watling, Brian McCarthy and Philip McGovern. One late-comer was Geoff Ashton. Not long returned from a holiday, he reasoned that it was better to come by train. As ten o'clock approached, Dan Glading and Peter Ashton had the urn a-boiling and the coffee, tea and biscuits at the ready. Jas. Millham had brought along a display describing his model railway; Colin Dye, Volunteer Co-ordinator of the Epping - Ongar Railway, was touting for new members; and our very own Mark Baker - deltiologist of note - had brought along his collection.

The meeting would take the usual format, first a talk - this year by Simon Hanney on the Epping - Ongar Railway - then lunch, followed by the official business of the AGM. The second talk of the day was to be presented by well-known railway photographer, Peter Groom.


Simon Hanney is a great enthusiast for the Epping - Ongar Railway and despite his youthful looks, following his experience on the Swanage Railway, has taken on a number of senior roles in that railway's volunteer society. As well as by Colin Dye - Volunteer Liaison Officer - he was accompanied by Roger Wright, who is President and Owner of the railway.

  • The Loughton to Epping line was opened by the GER in 1865, doubling taking place in 1892.
  • The extension to Ongar had actually been authorised in 1859.
  • There was a plan to extend to Dunmow; as a consequence the former station has a through layout.
  • Branch construction was undertaken by Thomas Brassey, beginning in 1862.
  • Opening took place on 24th April 1865.


We began with the earliest known picture of North Weald, complete with milk churns in the foreground, this of course a reminder that agricultural traffic was of great importance. We saw an action shot inside the signal box and general views of the station and its surroundings.


At Blake Hall the buildings are very definitely GE in character and our speaker remarked that it was "a lovely little station". Unfortunately, nobody used it!


One particular picture of Ongar, showing an F class-hauled train waiting at the platform and surrounded by water tower, signalbox and goods shed seemed to emphasise the essentially rural nature of the line - it could have been taken anywhere in deepest Great Eastern territory, luckily now being carefully recreated by the volunteer team.

These evocative pictures were rounded off with just a few of "1962" tube stock on the line, together with the red-liveried Cravens-built units which are behind the so-named Cravens Heritage Trains group, which along with ORPS and F5 project are now working closely with EOR to re-open the branch. In its latter days, the line boasted the only level crossing on the London Transport system and the last semaphore signals on LT!


Roger Wright, now said a few words. He was the man behind Blue Triangle, he rode the line's last train and got himself involved with Pilot Developments after they had taken over the line. This organisation had a desire to rid themselves of the line's surplus land and Ongar goods yard was sold in 2007. Following various reorganisations and business transactions, Roger has now found himself the proud owner of the line.

Simon retook the microphone and told us something of the current exciting events that are happening at the railway. At North Weald, during the preparation for repainting in LNER green and cream buildings livery, the team have revealed original Great Eastern paint on a number of occasions, samples of which have been carefully taken. The repainting at both stations is still progressing, but Simon was able to let us in on a World Exclusive - Ongar station is to be repainted in Great Eastern livery!

Simon then went on to highlight that like all heritage railways, the more volunteers who came down to help, the sooner the line would re-open. He appealed to the GERS to assist with additional information, pictures of the branch - especially the interiors - and the rare opportunity to help restore some of the last un-touched original GER stations. It was an opportunity to join a friendly and enthusiastic team. No prior experience was necessary, and there are enjoyable and rewarding tasks to suit all abilities and ages, from 18 to 88!

There was other news, too:

  • The preservation Society's website has been updated and it includes a department diary, discussion forum and details how to get involved in the local GER heritage railway.
  • The footbridge at North Weald is to be restored
  • For those that didn't know already, Ongar station represented 0 miles on the LT network. Consequently, all current LT route mileage is calculated from a station LT no longer serve!

Their presentation finished, Simon and Roger took a number of questions, were thanked by Geoff Ashton and then warmly applauded.


After the lunch interval the serious business of the AGM was timetabled to begin. Beforehand, however, and it was with everybody's great pleasure, Chairman Ashton presented Membership Secretary Jim Tant with Honorary Life Membership of the Society and a complimentary copy of the GER Magazine on DVD. Jim has tackled this onerous task for twenty years.


It was a great pleasure to make the acquaintance again of Peter Groom. His talk was entitled "In Search of Great Eastern Steam, 1956 - 1962". He explained that he set out in 1955 to photograph every steam engine in the country - and he almost achieved it! He noted that he is primarily a locomotive enthusiast but was at great pains to say that he expected that he knew less about Great Eastern engines than the assembled audience.


His slide show was arranged in order of wheel arrangement, so whilst first displaying B44 0-4-0T No. 33, the Stratford Works shunter at Kings scrapyard in Poplar in the spring of 1964, he noted that: "… the Stratford guide had to put up with all sorts of oikes". Next we saw the last member of class J-65 at the Works in November 1956 and Peter pointed out the odd wheel arrangement - one axle had eight-spoke wheels and another had ten-spokes.


We saw several photos of Buckjumpers, including 68500 which is believed to have avoided being converted with the high steel cab due to its sojourn in Scotland.

Moving on now to 2-4-2Ts, we first saw an F-4, in 1959, whose front Great Eastern wheels had different spokes when compared with the back. The loco also had a shortened stove-pipe chimney "to go where other taller engines feared to tread". We also saw our visitor's personal favourite - it was a regular visitor at Cromer Beach where Peter's family took their holidays and used for working to Mundesley.

Then we reached the 0-6-2Ts - somewhat limited on the Great Eastern, being represented only by the N-7s. 69603, seen in 1958, was the last machine to run with a tall GE chimney. It was fitted with slide valves, as well. The final, sad picture of this class was of a whole line of them waiting to go for scrap, taken in October 1962.


E-4s were represented by No. 62788, seen in the scrap line in 1959, but fitted with an improved cab for working across Stainmore.

Coming now to the J-15s, 65361 was of the "early style" and one of the longest serving. It was not passenger braked and so had no balance weights fitted to the wheels. It was photographed in the scrap line in October 1962.

The heavy-freight classes were represented by a number of J-17s and J-20s. 65505 was pictured on a Sunday in the spring of 1959 at Hither Green - it would only take a Stratford crew three-quarters of an hour to get home from here by public transport and so locomotives were sometimes left in the yard on a Saturday for another crew to collect on Monday. J-20 No. 64692 was seen at March - these were the country's most powerful 0-6-0s until the advent of the Q1 - although the former class never was joked about by Stanier - "Where's the key?" he is said to have asked Bulleid.

"Claud" 4-6-0 No. 62510 with the framing cut away was at March station in 1956 followed by 62599 at Derby. Its frames were different at the front and it was fitted with piston valves, as working on the Cheshire Lines Committee lines.

A whole range of B-12, B-17s and B-2s were then displayed, including one of the former working from Grantham down Mallard's racing ground - Stoke bank. Then we saw 61608 "Gunton", in 1960, to which is attached a story. Peter worked as a teacher at a school in Walthamstow in the sixties. One day, one of his pupils, knowing that he was interested in trains, approached Peter and said: "'ere sir, do you want to buy a nameplate?" Thinking it to be stolen, our guest turned it down. However, it turned out not to be so, and later he purchased the aforesaid "Gunton" for £8!

The final slide was of a very well turned-out B-2 61671 on the 3.15p.m. or 3.30p.m. from Cambridge to Kings Cross.


The time had run out, Peter's slides were finished and it remained only for our Chairman to sum up, thank Peter and invite the audience to show their appreciation, which they did without hesitation. Then the 2009 A.G.M. was over. Only the clearing up was left to do - and the Brentwood Theatre was ready for the final performance of that musical!

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