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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 20 - Summer 1974
Why Quainton - By Crassus
Members often ask what led to the choice of Quainton as our permanent site. By 1967 the London Railway Preservation Society, (our parent Society), owned as much stock as it could squeeze into its two rented sidings - one in Luton and the other in Bishops Stortford. Both sites were due to be re-let and the Society would not be able to remain as "siting tenants" for much longer. Leasing a site is never very satisfactory and it had become obvious by 1966 that we would have to buy a depot of our own before long, thereby ensuring a secure future.
The Executive Committee decided to appoint two members to carry out a survey of all possible sites and report their findings as soon as possible. This was, in fact, the birth of our first sub-committee and the two members were Roy Miller and Peter Clarke! They spent every weekend for some six months hunting in four counties for the ideal site. They travelled 2,000 miles by road and a good many by train too! They went from St. Pancras to Bedford and Northampton; Marylebone to Bicester; Kings Cross to Stevenage, and Liverpool St. to Colchester, looking at all the goods yards and sidings they could see from the railway and noting down all the possible ones for further visits by road. They also visited all the worthwhile branch lines.
Eventually they had enough information to begin compiling a short list and high on the list came the Up Yard at Quainton. Though the rail connection with the main line had gone, Quainton had the longest headshunts of any of the sidings they had seen. These had been built to accommodate the very long goods trains that used to come down on the Great Central main line to Quainton until the early 1950's. These trains were shunted into the sidings for re-marshalling into smaller local goods trains. The Metropolitan would then take over and the numerous, shorter trains would be taken on to their destinations anywhere between Quainton and London.
High on the list of possible sites came Wheathampstead in Herts. The Welwyn to Luton Branch had closed but near Ayot St. Peter there were some old gravel pits which were being used by a north London borough for their rubbish. Huge hopper wagons were loaded with all the refuse and BR then brought them to Welwyn and on the Welwyn to Luton branch as far as the old gravel pits. There a spur went off to the right to take the rubbish trains into the pits. By 1967 these were nearly full and the contract with BR had only three more years to run. The idea was to buy a piece of land near Wheathampstead Station to use as a depot and run our engines on the 1¼ miles down to the spur. A nice little staging post could have been built at that end and then when the contract with BR ended in 1970, the Society would buy the rest of the line to Welwyn, giving us about 3½ miles in all.
Unfortunately the owners of the land refused to sell. Without it there was no room to build the very necessary sheds and workshops, so the scheme had to be abandoned.
Hemel Hempstead to Harpenden was another line that was closely examined. BR had closed the branch from Harpenden to Hemel when the Gas Works closed down, but a manufacturer of breeze block had taken a lease on the line and operated diesels to collect wagons of flyash which BR brought from coal burning power stations in the Midlands. These were pushed a short way up the branch line. The idea here was that the Society would assist in the running of the line, but unfortunately the station at Redburn had been partially pulled down and the yard was rather small which would have prevented any expansion. Also there was a rather rickety bridge over the A5 and it was obvious that when it had to be demolished the flyash would be collected by lorry and the Society would find themselves locked in, with no hope of either expansion or a connection with BR.
Another branch line inspected was from Buntingford to Ware, but not only would the project have been too expensive but there was a girder bridge over the river just as you come off the main line - that would have been a very real headache! Some were too costly to be seriously considered such as Denham to Uxbridge. Some were very attractive but lacked the space for sheds such as Leighton Buzzard to Dunstable, or Aston Rowant to Chinnor. Olney, in north Bucks, had everything that was needed and was a beautiful country station in excellent condition with goods shed, signal box and a turntable. But it was too far away for members in the Enfield, Barnet, Harrow and Watford areas, and it would have been costly.
Woodford had a coaling stage, running repair shed and even a triangle! Brackley had a beautiful golden stone station building, and Hatfield North had all the facilities, but right in the middle of the town, There was also the Leigh Valley Scheme which was to be a "leisure area" from Walthamstow to Waltham Abbey, with lakes for boating and a steam railway, rather similar to the Peterborough project. It never got off the ground and any Society participating in that sort of scheme would have been in the hands of the County Council.
No - the answer was definitely Quainton. True it had no sheds at all and only a signal box in the Down Yard. But it had plenty of space, long headshunts, was far enough away from houses and it had the goods line from Bletchley to Aylesbury running through the station. That line did offer the opportunity of a connection with BR sometime in the future.
The Depot Sub-committee presented their report and the Executive Committee agreed to their findings. BR were approached with a view to buying the Up Yard and fund raising began in earnest. Unfortunately the sum raised was not enough so the Executive Committee decided to try for the small Down Yard.
Purchase of the land was completed by 1st April 1969 and of the track by 31st December of the same year.
Our fifth birthday fell on April 1st of this year and the progress made to date has proved that the London Railway Preservation Society's Executive Committee of 1967 made the right decision when they chose Quainton as our permanent site. In another five years we should see many changes in the Up Yard as well, and Quainton will then be even more firmly on the map as one of the leading steam centres in the country.
Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
Page Updated: 28 October 2017