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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 62 - Spring 1987

John Fairman

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To many members the name John Fairman is known only for its quarterly appearance in Quainton News, so your new Editors felt a few notes on his very full career and hobbies would be of interest, particularly as he has occasionally been able to mix the two.

A Chartered Gas Engineer, John was involved with the production of gas from coal and oil during the period 1936 to 1981 and on his retirement held the position of Planning and Construction Engineer, Southern Gas; a job which carried responsibility for all engineering planning, new construction and building works throughout the region. The post was based in the Southampton Head Office.

As is well known, most gas works boasted their own railway system, that in Southampton being known as the Chapel Tramway and running along the public road between the gasworks and the BR exchange sidings. In 1960 the railway faced a motive power crisis, when the fire box of their Peckett 0-4-0ST No. 1370 was deemed beyond repair. At that time John was Assistant Engineer and he suggested to his boss that Portsmouth gasworks had a Barclay 0-4-0ST out of use. A man of impulse, the boss rang Portsmouth and demanded they send the loco up at once. It duly arrived in rather a sorry state, but this was no problem, as the works' Mechanical Engineer was an ex-SR Eastleigh man and the Barclay (later to become known as Lord Fisher) was soon the subject of a full overhaul and repainted into Southern Railway livery.

But there was still a major problem. The loco was facing the wrong way, as it was the driver's job to couple and uncouple wagons by means of a special shunter's pole used from the cab. So, in February 1961, a diminutive Barclay saddle tank, with ten people in the cab, was to be seen steaming down the Southern main line from Northam to Southampton Terminus in order to make use of the turntable. The crew of the unrebuilt Battle of Britain Pacific No. 34064 Fighter Command, which passed on a boat train, could hardly believe their eyes! Lord Fisher is now on the East Somerset Railway and probably would not have survived for preservation but for John's bright idea.

From 1961 to 1971, John was Manager of Reading gasworks, situated between the former GWR and SR lines. It was during this period that two preserved diesel locos, Hymek B-B No. D7029 and Warship B-B No. D821 Greyhound, found temporary sanctuary there. For a short time, in 1970, John was able to help out on the maintenance of Manor 4-6-0 No. 7808 Cockham Manor at Didcot Railway Centre, although professional responsibilities prevented any long-term involvement.

John is particularly proud of a project he was involved in during the late 1970s, after returning to Southampton. A modern high pressure naphtha reforming plant (for producing artificial natural gas) in Portsmouth had lain derelict for some time and the task of returning this Barry Scrapyard gasworks to full production was his. An idea of the size of the project will be gained from the budget - a cool £3.8m. (It was at this plant that the Centre's recent arrival, Ruston 88DS 0-4-0DM No. 463153 was employed.)

John's first interest in railways came in 1932, at the age of 12. By 1936 he was a member of the RCTS, writing his first magazine article a year later, going on to become South of England Branch Secretary in the early 1950s. This position involved the organisation of a number of railtours, the first being a train of two elderly coaches hauled from Eastleigh to Bishops Waltham and back by Drummond C4 0-4-0T No. 30589.

But we are jumping ahead. In 1938 the country saw its first steam-operated enthusiasts special and, at Kings Cross, John took his seat in a train of GNR six-wheelers, to be hauled to Peterborough and back by Stirling 4-2-2 No. I. He has often wondered whether either of the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre pair were in that train.

But we are jumping ahead. In 1938 the country saw its first steam-operated enthusiasts special and, at Kings Cross, John took his seat in a train of GNR six-wheelers, to be hauled to Peterborough and back by Stirling 4-2-2 No. 1. He has often wondered whether either of the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre pair were in that train.

Back to the 1950s, when the RCTS were holding monthly meetings in a hut adjacent to the turntable at Eastleigh MPD - many speakers being interrupted if something interesting came on shed - and it was here John met and became friends with Roy Miller and Peter Clarke. However, John claims no part in helping Roy and Peter's choice of Quainton Road as the site for our Centre. In fact, he never paid a visit to Quainton until about 1969, when he immediately appreciated the enormous potential for future development and also the peace and 'atmosphere' which the passage of time has failed to erase (except perhaps on our busiest Open Days!). Professional commitments and the demands of family life prevented an active role at Quainton, but, in 1970, the post of Newsletter Editor became vacant, so the challenge was taken up - the Newsletter becoming Quainton News shortly after.

Not that this was the only voluntary position. For the past fifteen years, John has also been Preservation Editor of the Railway Observer, a post which necessitated the compilation of a card index system containing details of every preserved item of stock in the UK, including the narrow gauge. Currently Hon. Secretary to two charitable organisations and Treasurer of a third, John still finds time for another great love - historical research. Author of Netley Hospital and its Railway, the current project The Hampshire Waterside and its Railways is being knocked into shape on a new word processor, which has now become almost essential to cope with the heavy workload. (Note the titles of the books - they are not just about railways , but local history studies as well.) Still we are not finished, as John regularly produces historical booklets to accompany the many special events organised by Network SouthEast's entrepreneurial Salisbury Area Manager, Gerald Daniels. Just to ensure boredom does not creep in, a part-time car delivery job helps John keep in touch with preservation activities all over the country!

Your Editors would like to take this opportunity to wish John and his wife Norah all the best for the future - and we trust that every member will do the same. We also hope that John will be able to find the time in his busy schedule to visit Buckinghamshire Railway Centre occasionally!

The text in this Quainton Railway Society publication was written in 1987 and so does not reflect events in the 27+ years since publication. The text and photographs are repeated verbatim from the original publication, with only a few minor grammar changes but some clarifying notes are added if deemed necessary. The photos from the original publication are provided as scans in this internet version of this long out of print publication.

John Fairman - Quainton News No. 62 - Spring 1987

Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
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