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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 17 - September 1973
The Road to Steam: Those Were the Days! - Aiden Ridge
I cannot really remember when I first started being interested in railways but I was about fourteen years old when I began to go out and about on excursions to points of railway interest and one of my favourite jaunts was a Sunday afternoon trip on the old Great Central Railway mainline from Finmere to Woodford Halse and back. Two firm friends were my regular companions on these occasions, Brian Lucas and Adrian Williams and I would cycle from my home at Thornborough through Buckingham to Tingwick where my mates lived. We would then ride together the two miles or so on to Finmere station which is two stations north of Quainton Road, the intermediate one being Calvert.
At that time Finmere was complete with a signal box, freight yard, weigh bridge, several lower quadrant signals and with shunting disc signals for the sidings. The station proper was quite typical of those on the London Extension and consisted of a single island platform with the buildings placed along the middle. The premises included a separate block to house the toilets and a reinforced concrete cycle shed which was obviously a later addition. The approach to the station platform from the road below was by a flight of stairs which had a landing half way up. The whole design was very neat and its most important feature was a twin iron girder bridge which spanned the Buckingham to Bicester road. This was constructed in two separate sections, one for each running line. The tracks of the up and down main lines led straight onto the bridge from the platform end and the space between the tracks was taken by the aforementioned staircase. That, I hope, sets the scene!
On reaching the station we would leave our cycles at the shed and make our way to the booking office. Only one man would be on duty on Sundays, and, being of a friendly nature, he usually invited us into his office to avoid messing about with the little window through which you usually had to make contact with the staff for tickets. We would have a chat about our plans for the day and he would find the day returns for the three of us to Woodford. One day I remember he opened the safe to get some change and Brian remarked that we could now carry out the robbery of the year. "There's nothing in 'ere mate," growled George, and, on peering inside we could see how very true this was!
As we were usually the only passengers for the Woodford train we would chat with George while we waited for it to arrive. Sometimes we would wonder how long the station and the line would survive, while at other times we would discuss how erratically or how late the trains had been running. In all honesty our train, the 11.20 a.m. from Marylebone, was almost always on time and soon after hearing the ringing of bells and the twitching of signal wires, we could see a puff of white steam in the distance heralding the approach of the 1.7 p.m. to Woodford. The train called at High Wycombe and Princes Risborough on its journey and reached the main line via Akeman Street and Grendon Underwood Junction. As it approached Finmere steam would be shut off, the noise would grow louder and the engine would swing into the reverse curve and arrive at the island platform. Suddenly, this quiet station, until now peaceful, with birds twittering and only the odd cars running under the bridge would become a scene of noise and bustle. The engine would sweep past with a warm gust of air, brakes would squeal on the carriages, two or three passengers would alight, doors would slam and we would find a nice empty compartment for our trip. Leaning out of the window, not to miss anything, we would see the guard blow his whistle and wave his green flag. Slowly, at first the train would move. Then the engine would be opened up and the train would accelerate uphill towards Finmere Plantation, a thickly wooded hill through which the railway had made a great gash when it was built in the 1890's. The engine was frequently one of the B. R. Standard Class 5 4-6-0's and it would reach a steady speed of about 50 m.p.h. with the train of six or seven coaches. Brian, a very keen train spotter would mastermind all these pleasant days out and about. He would spend hours looking through railway and bus timetables, locomotive shed allocation books, shed directories and maps to produce copious notes and detailed itinerates for us to follow. To him, the railway enthusiast hobby was a very serious matter indeed, and Adrian and I knew that all we had to do was to follow his directions and we would not fail to see the maximum number of engines on our journey.
Soon we would reach Brackley Central and our approach was marked by the rumbling over the lofty viaduct south of the station. Again our train would drop a handful of people, one or two would board the train and the whistle would blow and off we would puff into the open countryside with clouds of steam and smoke drifting across the fields. This part of Northamptonshire was, and still is relatively sparsely populated. Nobody would be there to watch the train go by; even the farm animals would carry on grazing. Little wonder there were few passengers on the Great Central stopping trains in this district. In the next fifteen minutes we would pass small hamlets like Radstone, which never had a station, Helmdon station and Culworth station would flit by; then, at 1.29 p.m. we would draw into Woodford Halse, the big junction and railway town in the middle of nowhere.
After leaving the train and showing our tickets we would set off for the engine shed. This involved walking along a long cinder track, next to a brook noteworthy for its collection of every conceivable sort of rubbish you could imagine existed! As we reached the large locomotive shed we quite naturally took the numbers of every engine and looked at the shed allocation plates. A good variety would always be present, most of them cold and all of them very grimy. Brian has lent me a list of the typical selection on a Sunday afternoon in 1962.
|WD 2-8-0's||90069/95, 90299, 90355, 90486, 90520/42/72 and 90638|
|9F 2-10-0's||92052/92, 92136 and 92246|
|B1 4-6-0's||61028/78,61106/86, 61275/71|
|5MT 4-6-0's||44965, 45217|
|J39 0-6-0's||64742/7 and 64809|
|5 4-6-0's||73032/69 (73032 was allocated to Neasden and sometimes worked our train)|
The only engine which would have any real life about it would be the Standard Class 5 from our train which would be taking coal from the coaling plant prior to being filled with water and turned. The rumbling of the coal falling into the tender would disturb the peace of the town on a Sunday afternoon. Chimneys smoked on the red brick terraced houses which were otherwise still and quiet. It seemed that most people were indoors having an after dinner snooze rather than scrambling about in dirty railway sheds looking at dirty old engines!
Our loco would be ready very soon and would stand simmering awhile waiting to return to the station. The crew would have sandwiches and a cuppa before starting work again. Meanwhile, my friends and I would be making our way back to the station to see the 1.15 p.m. from Nottingham Victoria to Marylebone arrive at 2.33 p.m. A Britannia was often the engine in charge and I can well remember seeing 70045 "Lord Rowallan" on one occasion. Doors would slam, whistles would blow and a passenger or two would be walking down the steps as the London bound flyer started its journey through Quainton to stop at Aylesbury and Harrow on the Hill. For the next half an hour we would sit on the station or have a walk round. One day, Brian suggested that I should invest in a London Midland timetable available at the booking office for a shilling. I was delighted at such a big book for only a bob and got one without delay! I still have that timetable and although the pages are a bit brown with age it is still in good condition and interesting to browse through.
Soon after 3 o'clock our Standard 5 would come steaming into the station having been reunited with the carriages. As soon as it squealed to a halt we were aboard waiting for the right away. Once on the move we would accelerate to what always seemed a cracking pace for such a leisurely railway. I think the crew were always eager to be getting back home, because by checking the number of seconds to travel 1/4 mile and dividing the number (in this case 14), into 900 we could check our speed, and it was always quite high, once as high as 64½ mph. This was exciting but it didn't last long because we would soon have to slow down for the stop at Brackley.
On a sunny day the ride in the train was very pleasant. The shadow of the engine and its plume of steam chased along the fields and hedgerows to keep pace with the train itself and this delightful frolic seemed to add to the carefree atmosphere the line always had. Perhaps the lack of passengers also added to this impression of calm and peace!
All too soon we would be slowing down for Finmere. I remember once, as we ran into the station, a lump of coal fell from the tender and bounced along the platform, just missing a lady who had taken swift avoiding action. She didn't look at all pleased and to me it seemed as if the fates were conspiring to frighten away the few passengers that were left!
Leaving the train we would hand our tickets to George and walk over to the engine for a last glimpse. Then the guard would wave the right away, the regulator would be opened, the side rods would slowly start to move and she would bark loudly away. We would give the fireman a friendly wave and stand and watch until the last bogie of the last coach had crossed the bridge. When all was quiet again we would reluctantly leave the station and begin our cycle ride back to Tingewick, with a stop for tea at Brian's house.
During the week, at school at Buckingham, Brian would give me details of his plans for our next expedition. The other boys, and even some of the girls, were fascinated by the way we chased trains all over the country and they were amused and interested when we told them of our journeys and experiences.
Incidentally, I was never quite sure why Finmere station was so called because it is at Newton Purcell, a tiny village straggling along the A421 road, and a good half an hour's walk from Finmere! Perhaps the reason was that Finmere is a larger village. It doesn't really matter now, because all that is left of the station is the girder bridge which is looking very dilapidated after seven year's disuse, there are some remains of the platforms, some rubble and one or two telegraph poles, one of which has a ball and finial spike on top. The little weighbridge house is still there, but the entrance to the station has been bricked up. The other stations I knew are presumably in the same state, but Quainton Road, of course, lives on.
Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
Page Updated: 21 October 2017