The Wrecker

Hav­ing delved into Brief En­counter, The Rail­way Chil­dren and The Tit­field Thun­der­bolt, STEVE ROBERTS’ next film foray takes him to Hamp­shire

Rail (UK) - - Contents - RAIL pho­tog­ra­phy: STEVE ROBERTS

RAIL trav­els back in time to the scene of “the most spec­tac­u­lar rail crash in cin­ema his­tory”, and dis­cov­ers what re­mains.

Opened in June 1901, the Bas­ingstoke to Al­ton Light Rail­way was twice used as a film­ing lo­ca­tion. But the line closed as long ago as 1932 - how much is there still left to see?

The B-A was a stan­dard gauge 20-mile line, the first opened un­der the 1896 Light Rail­ways Act. On open­ing day, only 50 tick­ets were sold at in­ter­me­di­ate sta­tions, so vi­a­bil­ity was al­ways to be an is­sue, although the new route did cut the jour­ney time from Bas­ingstoke to Al­ton by more than half (it had pre­vi­ously been two hours via Winch­ester and was now 45 min­utes).

Light meant light. Pas­sen­ger trains were re­stricted to a max­i­mum of five bo­gie ve­hi­cles, and goods trains to 15 loaded wag­ons or 25 emp­ties. Mixed trains in­cluded sheeted wag­ons car­ry­ing the likes of hay, as this was an agri­cul­tural area.

There were three in­ter­me­di­ate stops on the B-A, plus sid­ings. The line served the farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties of north Hamp­shire, plus vil­lages sited re­motely from their sta­tions. Sta­tion build­ings were con­structed from cor­ru­gated iron with match-board­ing in­te­rior, and each sta­tion had four rail­way­men’s cot­tages plus a sta­tion­mas­ter’s house, built some dis­tance from the track (to avoid de­mo­li­tion should the line be dou­bled). Each sta­tion had a well, with two worked by wind pump. A small halt was also added (1909).

Much of the track was lifted in 1917 be­cause of mil­i­tary de­mands. Lon­don and South West­ern Rail­way di­rec­tors con­sid­ered po­ten­tial traf­fic in­suf­fi­cient to war­rant re­lay­ing the track in 1921, but the lo­cals ob­jected and a meet­ing was held at Bas­ingstoke Town Hall in Jan­uary 1923, protest­ing at the branch’s aban­don­ment and re­place­ment with a bus ser­vice.

The lo­cals pre­vailed, as the line was re­in­stated in Au­gust 1924. But it was only a tem­po­rary tri­umph, as traf­fic in­deed proved in­vi­able with wages ex­ceed­ing re­ceipts. Pas­sen­ger ser­vices ceased in Septem­ber 1932, with freight con­tin­u­ing un­til June 1936. Track was then re­moved for the sec­ond time, although stubs at ei­ther end sur­vived un­til 1967 for goods shunt­ing.

Film crews de­scended on the line ei­ther side of clo­sure. First came The Wrecker (1929), a 74-minute crime film, di­rected by Ger­man Géza von Bolváry and based on a play by Bernard Merivale and Arnold Ri­d­ley (the mas­ter­mind be­hind 1931’s The Ghost Train, and later in life Pri­vate God­frey in Dad’s Army).

The film was made on the cusp of sound, with shoot­ing tak­ing place in the sum­mer of 1928. Orig­i­nally silent, it was rapidly

re-re­leased with a mu­sic track and some syn­chro­nised speech se­quences.

The film be­stowed an early screen­writ­ing credit on An­gus McPhail (of Whisky Ga­lore! fame), while there is also an Al­fred Hitch­cock cameo. Ri­d­ley per­me­ates this story and if you watch The Ghost Train you will find snatches of The Wrecker that have been edited in. Some un­used film was also used in The Seven Sin­ners (1936).

The South­ern Rail­way was a ma­jor stake­holder, co-oper­at­ing fully - many lo­ca­tions and en­gines were used, and not all on the B-A. Rail­way buffs will en­joy some rail­wayana - there are shots of sig­nal box ap­pa­ra­tus and the tech­nol­ogy of the time, in­clud­ing a wire­less in­di­ca­tor show­ing train po­si­tions.

The Wrecker is fa­mous for a de­rail­ment dubbed “the most spec­tac­u­lar rail crash in cin­ema his­tory”. It was filmed at Her­ri­ard, about seven miles south of Bas­ingstoke and the sec­ond stop on the route to Al­ton.

A lo­co­mo­tive and lorry were both writ­ten off on Au­gust 19 1928, when the film­ing oc­curred. The en­gine was SECR (South East & Chatham Rail­way) F1 Class lo­co­mo­tive A148, which was pulling a rake of six SECR coaches. This was ground-break­ing for the time - mod­els were usu­ally used, not a real lo­co­mo­tive.

On the day, Hamp­shire Con­stab­u­lary closed roads and em­ployed crowd con­trol, such was the pub­lic in­ter­est. It was a big event, with 200 work­ers from a Mid­lands rail­way com­pany turn­ing up to watch. There were 22 film cam­eras poised to cap­ture the ac­tion.

The train was re­leased on an in­cline to crash into a Fo­den steam lorry, work­ing up a good head of steam (40-45mph) prior to im­pact. The driver ( J. Brown) and fire­man (G. Goodright) were both from Guild­ford, the driver jump­ing clear just be­fore the col­li­sion. The train crew may have de­parted, but there were two foot­plate dum­mies to keep things re­al­is­tic.

Only one take was pos­si­ble, so metic­u­lous plan­ning went into the stunt, which lasted all of 65 sec­onds. To en­sure a spec­tac­u­lar de­rail­ment, some track was re­moved.

The train ploughed off the line with steam ev­ery­where, smoke and sparks shoot­ing 15 feet into the air, and car­riages blaz­ing. The ex­plo­sion was heard a mile away. The doomed en­gine ploughed up the track for 120 yards be­fore fall­ing on its side, with a 30-foot rail goug­ing through the ten­der into the guard’s van. The whole train left the track ex­cept for the last pair of wheels.

Af­ter the high-oc­tane fun there was a down­side for rail work­ers, who toiled overnight to get the line work­ing again for the next day. This was still an op­er­a­tional rail­way!

The ‘Wrecker’ of the film’s ti­tle was de­lib­er­ately engi­neer­ing ac­ci­dents on Bri­tish rail­ways (United Coast Rail­ways to be pre­cise) - his mo­tive was to dis­credit them so that cus­tom would switch to a bus com­pany (Kyle Mo­tor Coaches).

Thirty-five per­ish when the ‘North­ern Ex­press’ is wrecked and more die when ‘The Fly­ing Welsh­man’ is de­railed by a truck left on a cross­ing. Roger Doyle, the hero of the piece, is on this train. The named trains are not that orig­i­nal - next in line is ‘The South Ex­press’ - and the cul­prit is dubbed ‘Jack the Wrecker’ by sen­sa­tion­al­ist news­pa­pers.

The bad­die, Ambrose Bar­ney (the rail­way man­ager and se­cret owner of the bus com­pany), was played by Amer­i­can film star Car­lyle Black­well.

Chair­man of the rail­way com­pany Sir Ger­ald Bartlett ( Win­ter Hall) is shot dead af­ter be­com­ing sus­pi­cious. It then passes to his nephew Roger Doyle ( Joseph Striker) to fol­low up the clues, in tan­dem with his love in­ter­est, sec­re­tary Mary Shel­ton (Benita Hume). She sus­pects Kyle Coaches, who profit from each crash by im­me­di­ately open­ing a new bus route.

The evil Bar­ney sug­gests his pur­suers use the ‘Rain­bow Ex­press’ to fol­low up a clue, but Doyle (who missed the train) learns that another crash is planned, which he man­ages to foil. It’s all very Dick Bar­ton.

At the film’s con­clu­sion our he­roes thwart another planned crash, the vil­lain is

The train ploughed off the line with steam ev­ery­where, smoke and sparks shoot­ing 15 feet into the air, and car­riages blaz­ing.

ap­pre­hended, and Doyle and Shel­ton pro­fess their love for one another amid a cloud of steam as all the loose ends are tied up. There is light com­edy and ro­mance in there, which ap­pear at vari­ance with oth­er­wise se­ri­ous sub­ject mat­ter.

In­ter­est in the film per­sists, and in 2009 footage of the de­rail­ment was re­stored with a new mu­si­cal score by com­poser Neil Brand. Next up for the B-A was 85-minute Oh, Mr

Porter! (1937), di­rected by the French-born Mar­cel Var­nel.

This time it was Clid­des­den sta­tion (the first stop south from Bas­ingstoke, and the one be­fore Her­ri­ard) that was used. Clid­des­den, in­clud­ing sig­nal box, be­came the fic­tional Bug­gleskelly in Ire­land. The sta­tion had closed in 1936, so this time the film­mak­ers had no wor­ries about an op­er­a­tional rail­way.

Hired for three weeks, the set de­sign­ers made the sta­tion suit­ably ram­shackle, as the film’s theme re­quired. Hi­lar­i­ously, with signs of life at the sta­tion again, be­tween May and July 1937 pas­sen­gers be­gan turn­ing up ex­pect­ing trains. Per­haps a ten­der be­ing used that had ‘South­ern’ on it sug­gested the rail­way had re-opened!

As with The Wrecker, not all film­ing was done on the B-A. The wind­mill that fea­tures at the film’s con­clu­sion was at Ter­ling, in Es­sex, while the ti­tle se­quence uses shots on the Water­loo to Southamp­ton Rail­way. Glad­stone was a 2-4-0T en­gine built for the Kent & East Sus­sex Rail­way in 1899 and named Nor­thiam. It re­turned to the rail­way af­ter­wards and re­mained in ser­vice un­til 1941, when it was scrapped. The film also used an X2 Class 4-4-0 No. 657 and an 0395 Class 0-6-0 No. 3509.

Oh, Mr Porter! was based on Ri­d­ley’s The Ghost Train. It is a com­edy star­ring Will Hay as Wil­liam Porter, a hap­less sta­tion­mas­ter at an iso­lated halt on the ‘South­ern Rail­way of North­ern Ire­land’, where there are tales of haunt­ings and very real gun-run­ners. The

name of both film and hero were taken from the pop­u­lar mu­sic-hall ditty Oh, Mr Porter, what­ever can I do? I want to go to Birmingham and they’ve taken me on to Crewe.

Bug­gleskelly sta­tion lies close to the bor­der with the then Ir­ish Free State (hence the il­licit gun-run­ning). It is a re­mote sta­tion, two miles from the near­est bus stop, so ideal for ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties. The al­leged haunt­ing (‘One-eyed Joe the Miller’) aims to de­ter cu­ri­ous on­look­ers, es­pe­cially at night.

In an im­plau­si­ble end­ing, Porter and his two equally hap­less em­ploy­ees - Jeremiah Har­bot­tle (Moore Mar­riott) and Al­bert (Gra­ham Mof­fat) - pur­sue the gun-run­ners to a derelict rail­way tun­nel, where a ‘bor­rowed’ train has been con­cealed.

Our three he­roes end up trapped at the top of a dis­used wind­mill, but mirac­u­lously turn the ta­bles on their ad­ver­saries by cou­pling their own en­gine Glad­stone to the filched rail­way car­riages and con­vey­ing them to a sid­ing, where the gun-run­ners are ar­rested. Poor Glad­stone explodes at the end in its mo­ment of tri­umph.

Although there was noth­ing as spec­tac­u­lar as the crash in the pre­vi­ous film, this didn’t pre­vent star Will Hay from al­most be­ing killed by a train dur­ing film­ing!

There was also re-use with this film. A brief shot of Will Hay tak­ing a ferry to Ire­land morphs into a Chan­nel Ferry in Hitch­cock’s

The Lady Van­ishes (1938). But this time there was no ro­mance - the film is an out-and-out com­edy us­ing the best of ‘bum­bling Bri­tish hu­mour’.

I needed to find what re­mained of this one­time light rail­way, lit­tle used by pas­sen­gers but much loved by movie moguls. I started at the south­ern end of the line (Al­ton) and jour­neyed north (to Bas­ingstoke).

Hav­ing last vis­ited the sta­tion at Al­ton in 2013, I was keen to see how it looked five years on. I re­call the new foot­bridge be­ing put in then, and it re­mains op­er­a­tional to­day. An old foot­bridge at the south­ern end of the sta­tion was closed and no longer ap­pears on Na­tional Rail’s sta­tion plan.

Al­ton, which was ef­fec­tively the south­ern junc­tion for the B-A, has three plat­forms. The main sta­tion build­ing is on the sta­tion ap­proach side (Plat­form 1). The foot­bridge con­nects to Plat­form 2 and Plat­form 3, which is utilised by the Mid-Hants Rail­way (the Wa­ter­cress Line).

Na­tional rail ser­vices from Water­loo via Alder­shot ter­mi­nate at Al­ton (there’s a buf­fer stop at the south­ern end of Plat­form 1). This was once a through route to Winch­ester, but the only ser­vices south of here now are cour­tesy of the Mid-Hants, and only to Al­res­ford.

Hav­ing closed in 1973, the line was pur­chased from BR in 1975 and be­gan re-open­ing in stages from 1977. At the top of Sta­tion Road is The Rail­way Arms, with a crack­ing bit of sig­nage-cum-sculpture - a 3D South­ern steam lo­co­mo­tive emerg­ing from a stone tun­nel por­tal.

The Mid-Hants heads out of Al­ton and af­ter half a mile reaches a pair of bridges over roads (the A339 and Butts Road) by the side of an open green ( The Butts). It was just a bit fur­ther on at Butts Junc­tion that the B-A di­verged, swing­ing off right to be­gin its jour­ney to Bas­ingstoke (the ap­proach to Butts Junc­tion

The site of Her­ri­ard sta­tion (The Wrecker) can be vis­ited, although lit­tle re­mains to­day. Where the fa­mous crash took place is now part of the A339.

was one of only two dou­ble-track sec­tions on the line). There was also once a fur­ther line head­ing off south­west to­wards Fare­ham (the Meon Val­ley Line).

Hav­ing pho­tographed the bridges (sadly, a Fri­day in late June was not a Mid-Hants run­ning day, so no steam trains puffed across), I set­tled for a re­con­noitre of The Butts in­stead. Look­ing to­wards where I knew the junc­tion to have been, I could see the French Horn pub and vi­su­alised a steam train puff­ing along some­where be­hind this.

The B-A line then crossed Chaw­ton Park Road on a bridge (which is no more). To­day there is a scout hut (the 3rd Al­ton Scout Group), set back from the road. The line would have crossed over the top here, ar­riv­ing at the first in­ter­me­di­ate stop.

Al­ton Park Halt (an ad­di­tion in 1909) had a 200-foot plat­form. There there had also been a sid­ing for a hos­pi­tal and con­va­les­cent camp built un­der the aus­pices of the Absent Minded Blind Beg­gar Fund (from Rud­yard Ki­pling’s

Absent Minded Beg­gar), boosted by fund-rais­ing con­certs dur­ing the Boer War.

The sid­ing was even­tu­ally re­moved, but a sim­i­lar one was pro­vided in April 1910 for the Lord Mayor Treloar’s Crip­ples’ Home, which had taken over the con­va­les­cent camp huts from 1908.

The home took de­liv­ery of 1,500 tons of coal per an­num - a train with a T9 4-4-0 at ei­ther end meant there was no tricky re­vers­ing needed around the curve. The plat­form, mean­while, was used by Founder’s Day specials vis­it­ing the home. There is still an over­grown plat­form on pri­vate land be­hind the scout hut, and a fin­ger post back at The Butts points the way to Treloar Hos­pi­tal, although the site is to­day oc­cu­pied by Al­ton Com­mu­nity Hos­pi­tal.

I knew the site of Bent­worth & Lasham sta­tion lay in be­tween the two vil­lages. Ar­riv­ing from Bent­worth at a cross­roads, with Lasham signed the other way across the A339, I only had to drive a very short dis­tance be­fore find­ing fence posts for Sta­tion House and Sta­tion Cot­tages - a re­minder that the next three stops, the prin­ci­pal in­ter­me­di­ate sta­tions, all had pretty-much iden­ti­cal ar­range­ments of these (pleas­ingly, all are still ex­tant).

Wan­der­ing down the drive, past the cot­tages to the one­time sta­tion­mas­ter’s house, I was met by a sign read­ing ‘Be­ware of Trains’. I was also met by Tony, who lives in Sta­tion House.

The ac­tual sta­tion site is fenced off (the owner of one of the cot­tages owns the land and key). In his ab­sence, a sprightly Tony hopped over the fence and bagged a cou­ple of pic­tures with my cam­era. The con­fig­u­ra­tion was also ex­plained - the left-hand gate was where trains headed into the plat­form and the right-hand gate was where the pas­sen­ger en­trance would have been. Bent­worth & Lasham had over four acres al­lot­ted to rail­way use.

The site of Her­ri­ard sta­tion ( The Wrecker) can be vis­ited, although lit­tle re­mains to­day. The line’s sum­mit is here, at nearly 600 feet above sea level. Where the fa­mous crash took place is now part of the A339.

Again, there were over four acres set aside for the sta­tion, which had a 300-foot-plus well, served by an oil-driven pump. This was sadly the scene of a fa­tal ac­ci­dent when a seat low­er­ing a fit­ter’s mate tipped, caus­ing him to fall.

The sta­tion had stayed open dur­ing the First World War for milk and parcels traf­fic, car­ried from Bas­ingstoke sta­tion on an LSWR Kar­rier bus con­verted to a lorry (the track hav­ing been tem­po­rar­ily lifted). The same ap­plied at Clid­des­den.

The sta­tion site in Bag­more Lane is about 300 me­tres south­west of a cross­roads with the A339. Pass­ing Elder­field House (the vicarage) on the left, we quickly ar­rived at the old sta­tion. Signs point the way, with the sta­tion house to the left of the en­trance and the sta­tion cot­tages to the right (at Bent­worth & Lasham they are along­side one another).

The for­mer sta­tion yard is oc­cu­pied by in­dus­trial units. Steve, who has been here over 20 years, pointed out what he be­lieves were scanty re­mains of the cat­tle dock. He also took me to see the two pas­sen­ger plat­forms (this was the line’s pass­ing place - the only other sec­tion of dou­ble-track). One is clearly vis­i­ble, but the other is pretty-much buried be­neath a hedge, although the plat­form edge is dis­cernible in places.

Next up was Clid­des­den, the Oh, Mr Porter! sta­tion. I found Sta­tion Road eas­ily enough - nomen­cla­ture like that is al­ways help­ful – and started pho­tograph­ing a ter­race that re­sem­bled the sta­tion cot­tages I’d al­ready seen.

There was a garage next door, which I as­sumed was oc­cu­py­ing the sta­tion site. I was wrong. Gareth, a rail en­thu­si­ast and vol­un­teer on the Mid-Hants, ad­vised me that the cot­tages were only built around a decade ago, so I con­tin­ued around the cor­ner to find the real deal. The sta­tion cot­tages were there, this time with the sta­tion house at right-an­gles be­hind (in­ter­est­ing that while the build­ings were repli­cated, the lay­out was al­ways dif­fer­ent).

I wasn’t to get a glimpse of the plat­form. I had read that the out­line could be dis­cerned in a field, but Gareth reckoned it is hid­den among the gar­dens. There are also sup­posed to be sev­eral bits of con­crete fence post re­main­ing, and the beech trees that once lined the plat­form are still vis­i­ble. It was once pos­si­ble to glean the sta­tion name carved into chalk on an em­bank­ment.

One thing I al­ways as­so­ciate with Bas­ingstoke is round­abouts. Ap­proach­ing from the south, I reached the five-point Vi­ables Round­about. Here is a small sec­tion of track show­ing the di­rec­tion of the Bas­ingstokeAl­ton line as it ap­proached Bas­ingstoke sta­tion. Not only was there a sec­tion of track (1976), but a plaque with some his­tory.

Thorny­croft’s Sid­ing was a pri­vate sid­ing for a mo­tor lorry works (orig­i­nally the Thorny­croft Steam Wagon Com­pany) which ar­rived in Bas­ingstoke in 1898. The last lorry built on the site was in 1972 and the sale of the works oc­curred in 1973. Engi­neer­ing con­tin­ued un­til the late 1980s, when de­mo­li­tion paved the way for a su­per­mar­ket.

Not only had there been a sid­ing here, the first ‘cut’ for the rail­way was made here­abouts in 1898 by Charles Ritchie, Pres­i­dent of the Board of Trade. There is a mu­seum just a few hun­dred yards away from the old works site (the Mile­stones Mu­seum), which houses a col­lec­tion of Thorny­croft ve­hi­cles.

The B-A came in from the south, join­ing the main line just west of Bas­ingstoke (there’s a 100-me­tre stub re­main­ing to­day). Bas­ingstoke sta­tion, at the branch’s north­ern end, sits on the Water­loo-Wey­mouth and Water­loo-Ex­eter lines, with a line also head­ing up to Read­ing.

When the B-A opened it of­fered three re­turn trains daily, in­creas­ing to six by 1909. There were also a cou­ple of goods trains.

Some of the mo­tive power seen on the branch in­cluded an 0-6-0ST ‘Henry Ap­pleby’, which was the in­spec­tion train. The first train was then an O2 class 0-4-4T No. 203, its en­gine still fit­ted with safety chains.

In July 1904 two steam rail­cars were tri­alled, both H12 class (no 1 and 2) with hand-brak­ing and oil light­ing. They proved in­suf­fi­ciently pow­er­ful to cope with a curved rul­ing gra­di­ent of 1-in-50 and needed bank­ing from Bas­ingstoke shed. Their short ex­is­tence on the branch ended in Au­gust 1904. All LSWR steam rail­cars con­tin­ued to use the branch for 1,000mile tri­als, some­times cou­pled up in pairs.

Plat­forms 1 and 2 (left) at Al­ton are for na­tional rail ser­vices, while Plat­form 3 (right) is the pre­serve of the Mid-Hants Rail­way. 34007 Wade­bridge is about to run round to take out the 1600 Al­ton-Al­res­ford ser­vice ten­der-first on June 7 2013, while...

Above, left: The Wrecker was famed for “the most spec­tac­u­lar rail crash in cin­ema his­tory”. Above, right: Will Hay, Gra­ham Mof­fat and Moore Mar­riott in Oh,Mr Porter! The two films were both shot on the now de­funt Bas­ingstoke to Al­ton Light Rail­way.

A pair of rail­way bridges car­ry­ing the Mid-Hants Rail­way over roads along­side ‘The Butts’ in Al­ton. Al­ton sta­tion is half a mile to the right, while the junc­tion for the Al­ton-Bas­ingstoke line came just to the left of these bridges (with the light...

Look­ing through the old foot­bridge, from Al­ton’s Plat­form 2, to­wards the main sta­tion build­ing on Plat­form 1. The Bas­ingstoke trains would once have headed away from the cam­era.

Plat­form re­mains at Her­ri­ard, which was the only in­ter­me­di­ate sta­tion to have two plat­forms. A plat­form edge can clearly be seen (left), while a sec­ond plat­form can be dis­cerned un­der the hedgerow (right). The Sta­tion Cot­tages are in the dis­tance,...

The Sta­tion House at Bent­worth & Lasham is one of three at­trac­tive for­mer sta­tion houses on the route, all now pri­vate res­i­dences.

The Sta­tion Cot­tages at Clid­des­den, with the sta­tion house in the back­ground (right). The prin­ci­pal in­ter­me­di­ate sta­tions at Bent­worth & Lasham, Her­riad and Clid­des­den had sim­i­lar ar­range­ments of sta­tion house and cot­tages - all are ex­tant.

A rear view of the Sta­tion Cot­tages, Her­ri­ard.

The plaque to the Bas­ingstoke & Al­ton Light Rail­way be­low the Vi­ables Round­about, where a sec­tion of track (in­stalled in 1976) marks where the Bas­ingstoke & Al­ton Light Rail­way once ran into Bas­ingstoke.

South West Trains’ 1135 to Lon­don Water­loo on April 4 2017, with 444040 at the front, sits wait­ing to de­part from Plat­form 3 at Bas­ingstoke. This was once one end of the Bas­ingstoke-Al­ton Light Rail­way.

A plaque at Bas­ingstoke sta­tion com­mem­o­rat­ing the Bas­ingstoke-Al­ton Light Rail­way, which con­firms its two pe­ri­ods of op­er­a­tion and the fact that its rails had been sent to France dur­ing the First World War. Above it is a memo­rial to the staff of the...

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