The ‘Britannias’ may have been masters of their craft, but their introduction to the Southern and Great Eastern wasn’t all plain sailing. This is the late DICK HARDY’S account of how Stewarts Lane and Stratford overcame the glitches.
When the ‘Britannias’ arrived new in 1951, I was shedmaster at Ipswich, where I had been from April 1950. I knew perfectly well that we would lose some of our best work as the ‘Brits’ would be concentrated at Stratford and Norwich, whereas we had enjoyed a third of the crack jobs with the other two sheds. The operating people, along with our great chief Mr L.P. Parker, had fought the powerful Railway Executive at Marylebone for a share of the ‘7MTs’, having already produced the new timetable they intended to introduce, along with the engine and men’s workings which included, as far as Norwich (or London) work was concerned, about 460 miles a day for the engine over a far-from-easy road via Ipswich. As for Ipswich shed, it was essential to get some better work for our ‘B1s’. My friends in the Central Timing and Diagramming section came to the rescue and we gained a larger proportion of the Yarmouth work, including the ‘Easterling’ Down and Up from Liverpool Street worked by our men with their own nominated ‘B1s’. Despite the age of the old Ipswich shed, where coaling was done by hand, we had much to be thankful for as we had a full complement of staff in all grades. We had the best fitters and boilermakers you could ever wish for and the enginemen, in the ‘B1’ and ‘B12’ links, had their own engines. What a difference that made and how much pride in the job it created. I went round to Ipswich station on the first day that No. 70000 Britannia came down with the ‘Norfolkman’, with Driver Bill Redhead and Chief Inspector Len Theobald in charge, and very happy about the way things were going. A couple of days later Mr Theobald accompanied E.S. Cox, who was responsible for the design of the ‘Britannias’, to Ipswich where they left No. 70000, had some lunch and waited on the Up platform for the light engine for the 2.15pm London service to come through Stoke tunnel. Normally the engine would have worked through from Yarmouth and changed crew at the station, but in view of our visitor we turned out the booked engine from the shed, ‘B12’ No. 61535 with its own men and a cab that shone like a jeweller’s shop. She was in perfect order and so were Jim Calver and Eddie Simpson on their own ‘Old ’35’, and they gave their visitor a journey as near-perfect in every detail as ever could be, as was the final run up to the bufferstops in silence with the lever at about 15% cut-off and with L.P. Parker standing there, no noise coming from the motion, no tinkling snifting valve – a perfect demonstration of enginemanship and engine maintenance. That was the day that we showed Mr Cox, to us a mere ‘Midland’ import, a thing or two, and he was kind enough to write me a personal letter of gratitude, which I have always treasured.
On January 20 1993, ‘7MT’ pioneer No. 70000 Britannia was dressed up as ‘Golden Arrow’ celebrity No. 70004 William Shakespeare. Later that day, one of the nameplates was exchanged for one reading ‘Richard Hardy’, to mark his retirement from the Steam Locomotive Operators Association.