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

Adventures at Amersham - Richard Hardy

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Richard Hardy - The driver of GC Director 4-4-0 No. 5506 Butler Henderson is Fred France, who fired the first train to leave Manchester London Road for Marylebone in 1899. In 1937, the year of his retirement, he is pictured at Amersham ready to leave at 4.06 pm for Marylebone on a stopping train from Leicester. This was the return working of the 10.00 am from the GC London Terminus.

Lens of Sutton - Ex-Great Eastern Railway Glasshouse 2-4-2T No. 8307 (LNER Class F7) pauses at Granborough Road with a motor train from Verney Junction. This scene is typical of this section of the line in the early 1930s.

To a certain ten-year-old boy a house move to Amersham, in 1934, was a new adventure little did he know that it would last more than forty years

Richard Hardy tells of the days when two small boys saved their pocket money for a 7/9d return to Sheffield and when the school holidays meant a footplate trip on an A1

We came to live in Amersham when I was just ten years old. House-hunting we came the people's way - by train - and hired a taxi, an old Austin 12 which belonged to the station garage. We were hauled from Rickmansworth by a red Metropolitan H class 4-4-4T, with MET in large letters on the tankside, which slipped a bit starting its six Dreadnought coaches on the curve at Ricky. How those old coaches dragged in their last years, slowing up the Metropolitan electrics (Sarah Siddons and so on), causing even the A5 4-6-2Ts to slip on that sharp curve and rising gradient. It would sometimes take more than a minute to get past the first bridge. Even longer one day for David Bareham, a senior Neasden driver, who came to a stand with the GC Atlantic No. 6094 and seven coaches opposite the coal stage on the 5.00 pm Marylebone - Woodford in 1940. He managed to restart without assistance, but passed under the bridge on the beginning of the straight, when he should have been half-way to Chorley Wood. It was a long climb to Amersham, mostly at 1 in 105, but slackening for a couple of hundred yards near Chorley Wood distant and through Chorley Wood and Chalfont stations, finally easing near Amersham station and then beginning to fall towards Missenden in the curved cutting to the north.

Back in 1934 the Met. trains were hauled by the H class tanks Nos. 103 - 110 between Rickmansworth, Aylesbury, Quainton Road and Verney Junction. The two Pullman cars, Mayflower and Galatees, were much in evidence, although I never ventured inside; no children allowed I don't doubt. The Chesham shuttle was always an E class 0-4-4T, No. 1, or 79 or 80 and two Dreadnought coaches - no pull and push. With the running round at each end, this was hard work for the firemen. No doubt they took it easy on the road, as the Met. used good Welsh coal and a boxful, with judicious use of the dampers, would last a long time. Just after the war the Great Eastern Glasshouse Gobblers, Nos. 7001 and 7011, would come up from Enfield on ten coaches; 10½ miles and 16 stops and starts without the fire being touched. The 'box would be made up with big lumps straight off the stage - hard coal at that - and things would be nicely ready for the uphill work out of Liverpool Street. The Gobblers were 2-4-2Ts, belonging to the same generation as the E class, and were about the same size - probably more economical, but shyer for steam.

The G class 0-6-4Ts, Nos. 94- 97, worked some of the passenger turns - now and again an E would appear, hard pressed but like all South Eastern and Chatham designs, free steaming. The Gs also helped the Woolwich 2-6-4Ts, class K (another Chatham design), on the freight turns. I think there were three Met. freight jobs each way every day, including Saturdays. The yards were all busy and often there were two freights at Amersham at the same time in the early afternoon. The K class never worked passenger trains until the LNER took them over in 1938. They were fine strong engines. All the Met. machines were kept beautifully clean polished buffers and motion - and were very free running downhill. Due to the Welsh coal, they climbed the banks with very little smoke and had that tell-tale white rim round the chimney top.

The old Met. drivers were a different breed and, when they went across to Neasden GC with their engines in 1938, they maintained the old conditions of service, their special overalls and uniform cap, until, through retirement, they gradually became extinct. They always kept their own work and the GC side were no doubt glad they did not insist on the link position their seniority them to, which would have landed one or two on the Piped Goods jobs to Manchester with the GC four cylinder mixed traffic engines; difficult jobs in their own right. So the Met. men in time lost their engines and worked the A5 4-6-2Ts, L1 and L3 2-6-4Ts, N2 and N7 0-6-2Ts, C13 4-4-2Ts and N5 0-6-2Ts by way of variety, instead of the Met. machines, which gradually went down the slippery slope, much to the old timers' regret.

At Aylesbury there was a unique little engine shed, where under one small roof were shedded the engines of three different companies and worked by men as different as chalk and cheese. The LNER had a couple of A5s, out-based from Neasden, and the little old Glasshouse F7 2-4-2T No. 8307, which hauled its single twelve wheeled coach to Verney and back and across the branch to Princes Risborough. The Met. had an H and a K out-based and the Great Western had a brace of 61XX 2-6-2Ts out-based from Slough. The three very different breeds of men rubbed along very well, unlike some small places, where fiercely competitive men were barely on speaking terms. A little further along the line was Quainton Road, where the old A class 4-4-0Ts Nos. 23 and 41 did their magic on the Brill branch. My mother took me over there one coldish day and, as No. 23's chimney brushed the branches of the trees, we, in our unheated underground coach behind a few goods wagons, got colder and colder. I expect Mother cursed the day she ventured to Wotton, Westcott, Wood Siding and the roaring metropolis of Brill! So much for the Met. - what of the Central?

The GC was the railway. From 1937 to the end of 1940 I was at school at Marlborough, near Sevenoaks and Swindon, deep in GW territory; impressive locomotives, drivers who looked down at you with their stiff white collars and white moustaches - looking like Marshal Petain or Field Marshal Earl Haig; impressive, romantic, but in no way to be compared with the roaring full blooded Great Central. In 1934 one rarely saw a Gresley engine on the GC, nor wanted too. It was nearly all Director 4-4-0s from Neasden and Gorton and Atlantics from Leicester on the fastest trains, but for the heavy and most difficult work, such as the Newspapers, the Night Mail and the Sunday excursions, the four-cylinder Farringdon 4-6-0s- great, gutsy, blood-thirsty machines - were the favourites. Very strong, heavy on coal. But the two Caprottis, Nos. 6166 and 6168, were flyers an.d quite economical. The Newspaper engine came back from Leicester, all stations to Amersham and then, leaving at 9.11 am, fast to London - the favourite train for the more prosperous commuters, to whom 10.15 was a civilised hour to start work.

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London Transport Collection - A Kerr Stuart built class H 4-4-4T makes a fine sight in this official view. The Met. used Welsh coal, so the dark exhaust is obviously at the request of the photographer - both crew members appear to be looking to see if he is pleased! Can any reader identify the location? In the original photo the track can be seen to curve left under the bridge in the distance and there is also a lower quadrant bracket signal visible.

Richard Hardy - A four-cylinder (LNER class B7), No. 5473, arriving at Amersham with the 6.26 pm from Marylebone. Having run fast to Amersham, the train will now call at all stations to Leicester.

On the Down, the crack train - my train - was the 6.26 pm from Marylebone. When we came to live in Amersham, my parents would send me off to London on my own, at the age of 10 and 11, to teach me to find my way around. Anyhow, I either found my way to watch Surrey at the Oval or did my round of the London terminals - Paddington, Addison Road, Clapham Junction, travelling on the Winkle, through to the Bank (hopefully, lifting up the footboards on the old Waterloo and City stock to see what was happening underneath), Liverpool Street, Kings Cross and the 6.26 pm - first stop Amersham. One train of eight coaches and a big GC four-cylinder mixed traffic 4-6-0 stood in No. 4, the 6.20 pm Bradford in No.1 and the short 6.23 pm Gerrards Cross ahead of us in No. 4, with the engine right up under the bridge. The old Unic taxis, with white painted tyres, stood down the centre carriageway.

I would get in the compartment behind the tender and repulse all borders. It was amazing what a scruffy boy and an open window would do, especially if one could leave it down in the tunnels. How those old four-cylinders used to roar! Canfield Place in 4 mins. 30 sees. - Neasden in 8½ mins. - and Harrow in 13 mins. Later on they would ease up for Ricky, take it steady to Chorley Wood, because of a Chesham ahead, and then roar into it again up to Amersham - first stop. Marvellous stuff!

The old boys would really run the 3.20 pm and 4.55 pm Manchester and nothing would ever be served in the diner until the train passed Aylesbury. Rickmansworth was restrict to 25 mph, as it is today, but the Neasden and Gorton men knew what was safe (anything up to 45 or 47 mph) and went skating round to get a good run at the bank, saving coal and the fireman's back. That was in my childhood, but, by 1939, I had begun to get to know some drivers and firemen, Hector Radcliffe in Amersham signalbox, Ted Jackman on the platform, Mr. Deuce, the head booking clerk, and his assistants, Miss Barker and Harry Banning, all true Met. and GC employees, not LNER or London Transport. (The last Met. and GC man has, I believe, recently retired.) My interest was going much deeper, for, although I did not understand at the time, I was taking my first real steps towards the wonderful forty-two years I was privileged to spend amongst railway men most of whom in some way, even in adversity, enriched my life.

So let us now think of the summer of 1939, the last few days of peace and the early days of the war before I joined the LNER at Doncaster, in January 1941, as an apprentice. The first Pacifies had arrived at Gorton, Hermit and Tracery; two Green Arrows had come to Neasden, Nos. 4830 and 4845 , and there was still room for a few GC express engines. Three Caprottis were now at Neasden to run the 10.00 am Bradford and the Night Mail, but also the three Sunday excursions. Those excursions! Michael Kerry, my boyhood friend (who one day was to be knighted), and I had saved our coppers to go to Sheffield on a Sunday in 1939. Three excursions every Sunday, all ten coaches,all B3 Farringdon 4-6-0 jobs, normally Nos. 6166/7/8. Sheffield and back for 7/9d (38p) behind a four-cylinder. When Michael and I get together, we can still recall vividly our No. 6168 Lord Stuart of Wortley passing Culworth Junction on a brief down-grade at 7.5 mph. Every exhaust beat clear - marvellous! Good money too for the Piped Goods drivers, who worked through to Sheffield, booked off and then on again for the return journey via High Wycombe. Most of their work was Manchester and lodge, so it was quite a money-spinning gang, until they went into No. 1. Even in No. 1 the turns were by no means social hours - 2.32 am Leicester, 4.00 am Woodford, 10.00 am Leicester, 3.20 pm Manchester, 4.55 pm Leicester and 10.00 pm Leicester - most of the drivers were over sixty and the fireman over forty years of age.

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Richard Hardy - Ex-Met. Driver Gerald Pope is seen standing on the running plate of A5 4-6-2T No. 5003 whilst taking water in the up bay at Aylesbury in 1943. Note the Metropolitan Railway overalls and uniform cap

Then the war came and the GC was never the same again. The Director Ypres came down with the evacuee trains to Amersham, but people started taking me for footplate trips. My first was on a stopping train to Wendover with engine No. 4830 (a Green Arrow). The driver was George Parks, one of the original Neasden men, who had come south to open up the railway. Then I got to know Len Hyde and Gerald Pope (old Popey), Met. men - and one summer morning, at half-past five, I was wailing down at the crossing, a quarter mile north of the station, to be picked up by Leo and taken to Aylesbury and back to Ricky on the up train, the engine being Met. G class 0-6-4T No. 6155 Robert H. Selbie. Little did I know that forty years later I should select for railway service the great-grandson of the one-time General Manager of the Metropolitan Railway! I remember that journey as if it was yesterday. The fire hole door opened inwards, as on the LNWR. Belpaire firebox, wheel reversing gear, our journey achieved on the first port of the regulator uphill. By 1940 the H class 4-4-4Ts had gone away to Colwick (where they were detested) and the ex-GCR A5 4-6-2Ts, the Met. K 2-6-4Ts and the Gs covered the Met. passenger work, which they were to monopolise until the new L1 2-6-4Ts arrived after the war.

Much happened to me in 1940. A journey to Aylesbury on the Mail in the dark with my great friend Ted Simpson, who fathered me in those far off days. He had written to me at school, saying that, if mother would allow it (my father had died in 1938), I could ride with him on the 10.00 pm to Aylesbury. What an invitation -- it burned in my pocket! I longed for a Caprotti, but the Pacifies had taken over the hardest work and I had to put up with the A1 (later A3), No. 2554, Woolwinder. But what a journey! Pitch dark, no lights, glare sheets between engine and tender, Sam Oldknow, the fireman, working steadily, but everything quietly under control throughout. The Pacifies and Green Arrows were, of course, marvellous machines and better than the four-cylinders, with which my heart really lay. Full regulator and short cut-off wherever possible and nothing more than 25% up Amersham bank.

Bill Collins took me to Aylesbury, first on Jutland, a Director, then on the Neasden Atlantic No. 6091 and then, unbelievably , on No. 5196, one of the two B1 4-6-0s (later B18) shedded at Woodford. I was told to drive this engine, dating back to 1903 - and, under rigorous instruction, to stop at every station, except Aylesbury, where we filled the tank. Bill knew that old Goodhand (Johnny Goodhand, still alive today in Chalfont, but far from well), the Inspector, would be safely up in London. Bill retired in 1951 and he died some thirty years later , having nearly reached 95. I went to his funeral within a year or two of retiring myself, having known him since I was a boy. Ted Simpson lived until he was over 90 and the hard railway life they had led as young men, when a day was 12 hours, not even ten, never mind eight, had done them no harm. Bill was not tall enough to join the Central in 1902, so went to the Great Western. After two years he was passed for firing and went to Swindon for a medical. The doctor said: "I don't like your teeth, I'm going to take them out!" (Imagine that on any other railway but the GW!) Bill replied: "Indeed, you are not, Sir - I'm off to join the Central!" This time, with paper in the soles of his boots, he was successful and lived happily ever after.

One more memory of the early war years before I joined the railway - before the Blitz too. I could lie in bed on a quiet clear night, no traffic on the roads, all peaceful up above - and hear the Caprotti on the Mail emerge from the cutting above Rickmansworth, enter the woods, soar though Chorley Wood and on to Chalfont, getting nearer and nearer at a steady 35 mph with a heavy train, gradually accelerating though the station at Amersham and getting louder and louder, faster and faster, as they passed the crossing across the fields to the old town. That was excitement for you!

. .. to be continued

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.

Adventures at Amersham - Richard Hardy - Quainton News No. 62 - Spring 1987

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