HARDY’S ‘BRITS’ – PART TWO
The recently passed DICK HARDY continues his stories of the ‘Britannias’ on the Great eastern main line, during his years as Assistant District Motive Power superintendent at stratford.
Legendary railwayman Dick Hardy continues his ‘7MT’ recollections
Ihave made no bones of our difficulties in maintaining locomotives in good condition at Stratford, although the ‘7MTs’ and the ‘B1s’ were kept up pretty well until our bad year of 1958. On the other hand, the Norwich engines were in remarkably good order. And so they ought to be, with the private army of excellent artisans who nurtured them right up to the end of steam with great pride. But in 1958, our shortages of staff, and the endless need to train anybody and everybody on diesel and electric traction, began to take its toll. To counter that, there was an acting inspector every day (bar Sundays) on the engine of the 9.30am Down ‘Norfolkman’ – a certain driver, Wally Mason, whose remit was Norwich right-time, come what may and never mind the fireman’s back. But what a wonderful job he did against the odds. And yet, in April 1958, there was an unforgettable day when the Great Eastern Line Manager had organised a special train to Norwich with a very, very sharp timing for the Crusader’s Union, of which Cecil J. Allen was a distinguished member. We had been given the tip to see off Type 4 No. D200 on its press trip later in the week. So that day, Sam Elgram, Norman Hockley and Inspector Percy Howard, with their own No. 70039 Sir Christopher Wren, showed what could be done with these marvellous engines – in the hands of the men who knew her intimately and whose pride and joy it was to rise to the occasion. The year rolled on and we did our level best to keep on top of the job, but at Norwich, life was very different. David William Harvey, the shedmaster, was, without a shadow of doubt, the best practical steam locomotive engineer that I ever encountered. Bill and I were great friends, but we had never worked together and we should certainly have had our disagreements if we had. Bill loved a problem, and no matter how long it took and how it affected the availability figures – or even created a shortage of power – nothing would deflect him from finding the true answer. We had no option other than to be different. We had to cut corners on occasions, while doing our best to cover the things that really mattered. We went to infinite trouble to see that men had their own engines and that they were encouraged to keep their footplates highly polished, but perfection was beyond us.
Here is an example of a little bit of deception that Bill would never have tolerated, but which answered well, took half an hour (instead of days), and everybody was happy… A new driver in the Norwich link reported that his engine, No. 70036 Boadicea, required a longer cut-off than was normal to work trains to time. Since I had been at Stratford, that engine had never given any trouble in the hands of Charlie Middleton, Claude Wilkinson, Bert Powley and (when Middleton moved up) Ted Whitehead – all of them first-rate enginemen who said she was the ‘Brit’ to beat all ‘Brits’. I made a point of seeing the driver, Syd Heath, and said we would do what we could. One of our inspectors – who had previously had No. 70036 as a driver – rode with Syd and told me that he pulled the engine up a little too short and a little too early, which made the acceleration slower than it should have been. He also said he would not willingly take advice. Under no circumstances would I authorise an unnecessary front-end examination of a good engine, and a psychological solution appealed to me far more. I got Arthur Day, the chief mechanical foreman – who loved subterfuge – to alter the cut-off indicator so that it was reading a shade low. Dick Elmer, the Stratford inspector, quietly told the other two drivers what had been done and to keep their mouths shut and Syd was over the moon. He still worked at 15% cut-off pulled up a bit too early but, in reality, he was cutting off at 18% and that made all the difference. “What have you done to my old engine, Mr Hardy? She’s a marvel,” he said when I saw him next, but I just smiled and quietly put the question by.
The extraordinary thing is that it was the Norwich engines that seemed to suffer the more serious derangements than those at Stratford. I well remember answering the phone at home and being told that No. 70012 John of Gaunt, hauling the 7.30pm to Norwich, had broken away from its train after passing Ilford, due to the fracture of the drawbar pin and the lack of safety chains between engine and tender (soon fitted to all ‘7MTs’). The train, with the tender attached, was quickly brought to a stand by the automatic and full application of the vacuum brake. But the steam brake on the engine was useless as the steam escaped immediately from the brake cylinder. However, the driver reversed his engine and, with great care, brought it to a stand near Seven Kings station. The ‘Brit’ footplate extended back to the tender front, in a similar manner to many ex-GER engines, and was therefore unlike the standard LNER arrangement – of a hinged fallplate between engine and tender. A point that could well have saved the fireman’s life had he been firing at the time. However, there were more urgent matters to be tackled. To save the boiler, and its firebox, the fire was dumped into the hopper ashpan and thence onto the track, where it was immediately extinguished by the Ilford Fire Brigade. Somebody got No. 70012 dragged off the main line; somebody else did the same with the tender and either Liverpool Street or Stratford rustled up another engine. This was all done with the absolute minimum of delay and away went the Norwich men – none the worse for wear, but with a story to tell for the rest of their lives. Railwaymen and teamwork were at their best that evening!
I had been appointed District Motive Power Superintendent at the beginning of 1959 and immediately took the decision – which hurt me keenly – that all our ‘7MTs’ should be transferred to Norwich, so that Bill Harvey had the lot. We lost 13 of our best, but that meant 13 fewer large engines to maintain, and it also broke down our regular manning. But it had to be done and that was that. Norwich gave each engine that needed it a thorough going over and after that, we got whatever engines Norwich chose to send us for our Norwich, March, Clacton and Parkeston jobs. This worked pretty well, although we did have some trouble with Norwich engines and men on their own workings. The incident that I shall never forget was with one of our old engines, No. 70041 Sir John Moore on a Clacton job in 1960. It was very rare indeed that a fusible plug, in the firebox of an engine in service, melted through shortage of water in the boiler. If this was due to the neglect of the enginemen, it constituted a major crime for which they would be held responsible.
Old ‘Guardsman’ Smith at Stewarts Lane, a First World War veteran, was asked what would happen to the guardsman who fell off his horse at the Trooping of the Colour. He opined in his genial way that it was “nearly as bad as dropping the fusible”. Over the years I, like so many others, have been in some tight corners when the water has been far too low for comfort. But this is the extraordinary case of No. 70041, by then a Norwich engine in good condition, running short of water and dropping two plugs on Brentwood Bank. The train was the 4.36pm Liverpool Street-Clacton, and the load a mere nine coaches – about 300 tons. The crew were Stratford men, in what was still called the ‘1500’ (‘B12’) link. I interviewed both men the next day, separately, in my office at Liverpool Street. I did so without an inspector present, to get at the facts. The steepest part of the climb to Ingrave summit at 1-in-87 is a long, left-hand curve approaching what we called the seven-arch bridge, and it was near the summit that the melting of the lead in the front and middle plug took place. The train was travelling at about 40mph and the driver managed to get over the top and down to Shenfield before shortage of steam brought the engine to a stand in the station – and he did well to do that. There was enough steam left to get the engine into the yard and the remains of the fire dropped, while the passengers transferred to the 4.56pm Liverpool Street-Clacton – which made a special stop and, as a matter of interest, reached Clacton ‘right time’. Sir John Moore was dragged to Stratford and the firebox examined by the district boiler foreman, who found that the firebox was slightly scorched – so there was no doubt that the firebox crown had been uncovered for much of the climb to Ingrave. But how could this happen with a free-steaming engine, in firstclass condition, with a nine-coach train, in the hands of normally capable enginemen? Next day, both men were unwise enough to try to confuse the issue – and the driver, in particular, should have known better. He maintained that he had no difficulty at any point of the journey and that the water level remained constant at about three quarters of a glass. Both gauge frames had been examined and found to be in good condition, so there was no question of a false level. However, after I had seen his mate, I recalled the driver. He admitted there had been fluctuations in boiler pressure and he was not sure about the water level. The fireman confirmed that No. 70041 had come on to the train at 4.32pm, and at very short notice – owing to the failure of the booked diesel No. D5505 – but said that there was half a glass of water, 245lb/ sq. in of steam and a medium fire all over the box. However, upon leaving Liverpool Street, the fire was clearly too thin as steam dropped back immediately, nor did it rally much when coasting from Bow Junction, through Stratford and onto Maryland Point. I now asked the fireman to tell me, step by step, where he had used the injector. He used it sparingly and then shut it off at Romford, with well under half a glass, and it was not applied again until they were at the top of the bank, a few seconds before the failure. Even then neither the driver nor fireman would admit to a shortage of water in the boiler. But it was impossible for me to come to any other conclusion, other than that the water had been allowed to become dangerously low and that both, normally competent, men were responsible for a serious failure – subsequent cancellation and delay to other trains. I had to tell them, in no uncertain terms – which did not endear me to them – and I was obliged to discipline them severely, which gave me no pleasure whatsoever. However, neither of them asked for a hearing or appeal – with a union advocate to a higher independent level of management – against the severity of the punishment, as they were perfectly entitled to do.
Nevertheless, this was an example of the enormous value of having been through the mill for many years – and having had both very good and very bad trips over the same road going back to 1945 – so that one knew, from that wonderful friend ‘Experience’, what could and could not happen in such circumstances.
And now, my readers, I will let you off the hook and – although it is right for you to know about such things – we will turn to something very different and far more enjoyable. When I came to Stratford in January 1955, the ‘Brits’ were in the hands of some of the best main line drivers, still in their early 50s, that it has ever been my pleasure to meet. Although, inevitably, there were maybe three out of 36 who were not quite up to the mark – but they got by pretty well. Their seniority was late 1918 or early 1919 and they had mostly joined at the minimum age and before the introduction of the eighthour day brought a flood of new starters, many of whom were older in age, especially those who had served in the First World War. In 1955/6, the Norwich link was No. 12, but there were four suburban passenger links above it, as well as the optional Electric Link and the huge No. 1 Mills gang – into which a good proportion of those relatively young drivers opted to move when they came off the fast trains. This enabled us to appoint men as inspectors who had ‘done it all’ and through their personality, knowledge and vast experience they were just the men to get on an ailing engine and use their influence to put matters right and regain any time lost. I promoted Bill Shelley and George Warren – who had shared No. 70039 – along with Ernie South. We also had three acting inspectors, to deal with the very tough situations that faced us all the time. They were all first-rate men. But there was one man who had no wish to become an inspector, and who will never be forgotten as a character and a remarkable man. That was one of the drivers of No. 70037, and his name will come to mind for everybody that knew him: Fred Griffin. Fred had style and presence, but he was in no way conceited, neither did he play to the gallery, nor was he a dandy. He always wore washed, ironed and spotless overalls, a white collar and tie. Indeed, everything about him was as clean at the end of the day as it had been at the beginning. How he did it I shall never know, for no man worked harder on his cab fittings and even on the paintwork and the burnished parts of his much-admired No. 70037. Fred polished his cap every day, as did many other men, but it also carried the highly burnished brass GER badge, the ‘Bat’s Wings’ – once worn by many GER enginemen. ‘Brit’ No. 70037 was a splendid performer and, to her own men, a cut above the others. But it was nearly ever thus and a mere ADMPS had to be very careful about what he said and what comparisons he made. For Archie Clarke on No. 70038, he would have me up against the wall if I had dared to rate any ‘7MT’ as superior to his own. He was the ‘foreman’ on ‘38’ in the same way as Fred was on No. 70037, Dick Brock on No. 70001 or Ernie Odell on No. 70002. Most men carried on in this way, but now and again somebody moved up from the ‘1500’ gang who did not quite fit and, when the famous Walter Lee took Griffin’s place on ‘37’ sometime in 1956, we feared the worst – and got it! Walter had vast knowledge and experience, but he was not a gifted engine driver. He felt that the world was against him and it must be said that he was the biggest menace to foremen and chargehands that I ever met in my career.
"FRED HAD STYLE AND PRESENCE, BUT HE WAS IN NO WAY CONCEITED, NEITHER DID HE PLAY TO THE GALLERY"
"WE’RE NOT HAVING ANY OF YOUR ‘1399’ HABITS ON OUR ENGINE – AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT!"
As for No. 70037, he informed me in his usual stentorian tones, the engine was a disgrace and that, “Griffin, Rolstone and Sampher ought to be ashamed of themselves.” He said that he had booked several cards of work and he was not prepared to take the engine until his demands had been fully met, but they never were. Eventually, in late 1958, he moved up to the ‘L1’ link where he finally took his engine under protest but, by the end of 1958, the diesels were very much upon us and the need for good and experienced instructors was vital. The choice fell on me to select and decide who to take, as we had the outstations [sub-sheds] to consider as well and I had already turned down Walter’s application out of hand. And yet the wise council of Fred Harvey, the chief inspector, persuaded me to change my mind. I cursed myself, but Fred was right and Walter proved to be a ‘poacher turned magnificent gamekeeper’. He put his victims through the wringer, but they knew their stuff and for the first time in years there was a smile of genuine pleasure on his face. But then Walter was not born to be an engineman, although he would never, ever have admitted it, nor would he have lasted as a foreman or a locomotive inspector, but instruction and training was his forte.
Another of our men, Albert Page, was as near to the archetypal Cockney as you can ever get. He was a splendid engineman and a grand mate, he had plenty to say, loved to create friendly mayhem with some outrageous remark and never loitered on the road. He was rarely, if ever, in trouble. He had had the excellent ‘B1’ No. 61399 in the ‘1500’ gang, and mid-way through 1955 he moved up onto No. 70001 Lord Hurcomb. One day I happened to be in London when the Up ‘East Anglian’ ran in with Albert Page in charge. His relief was Dick Brock, another great character, and he noticed at once that ‘Pagey’ had had a cup of tea en route, and the contents had swilled over the highly polished top of the brake pedestal – both tea and brake handle being close at hand. Dick looked at the tea stains critically and said very seriously, but actually in jest, in his gargling Norfolk-Cockney voice, with some verbal emphasis: “Look at this bloody mess, ‘Pagey’. And if you’re coming to work opposite us, we’re not having any of your filthy ‘1399’ habits on our engine – and don’t you forget it!” Albert’s reply was as amusing as it was unprintable for he was a man of instant and comical repartee, as was his mate Charlie Gunner – a pillar of the Mutual Improvement Class which, at Stratford, was still in its prime. Albert wore a well-worn cloth cap and did not run to a white collar and tie, although he did button his shirt. He was very conscientious and knew exactly what he was doing, so that a day’s work (or a journey with him in my case) was both satisfying, entertaining and a pleasure. He walked quickly and with splayed feet, and he had a wonderful smile that would suddenly appear and shine like the sun from his pugilistic face. One time I was standing not far from the pathway in front of the New Shed (built in 1871) at Stratford looking in the opposite direction, when a loud and very Cockney voice behind me barked without preamble: “‘ere, Guv, I bleedin’ want you!” (Only he didn’t say bleedin’!) I swung round in high dudgeon and who should confront me but Albert Page and that beatific smile, which in less than an instant turned my face from a scowl to a happy expression. I wonder where the huge Jubilee Shed would be now – the offices, the New Shed and the vast allocation of engines, at its pre-war peak, some 500 engines nearly all gone – and what would the thousands of men employed in the area have to say? Those ‘Brits’ did such splendid work and engendered such great pride in the men who worked on and maintained them.
DOG’S HIND LEG
I later visited the shedmaster at Colchester, Jim Bosley, who also looked after Parkeston, Clacton and Walton-on-the-Naze, and walked up to the station to catch the next Clacton Up – which would certainly be hauled by a ‘7MT’, but I never expected to see a Parkeston man in charge. He was an old Ipswich fireman who had ‘B12’ No. 1564 and ‘B1’ No. 1059, the ‘Pride of Ipswich’; a man I had known since the early Fifties and who retired as a running foreman at Ipswich: George Lown. I went up to join him and he sat me down in his seat while he picked up the shovel. I had hold to Maryland Point, just short of Stratford, where I always handed over to the driver. It was a perfect journey, Witham, Chelmsford, and possibly Shenfield visited briefly, with a fast but comfortable stop with the brake handle so nicely at hand. For all that, you had to remember to open the large ejector very, very slightly for it had a habit of jamming in the closed position if you didn’t. It was a lovely late summer afternoon and the run down Brentwood was fast, with just a touch of steam and a touch of brake for the ‘Dog’s hind leg’ at Gidea Park, and then towards the journey’s end through those well recalled stations. A journey to remember, and my last but one, until 11 years after I retired… Part Three: A surprise driving turn on Southern metals.
The engine that dropped a plug on Brentwood Bank, No. 70041 Sir John Moore, backs onto a train at Cambridge on April 4 1953, alongside relief duty ‘Brit’ No. 70013 Oliver Cromwell.
Archie Clarke’s pride and joy, No. 70038 Robin Hood, departs Norwich on August 13 1957.
No. 70001 Lord Hurcomb enters Witham with the 9.45am NorwichLiverpool Street train on October 19 1957.
Fifties Brentwood Bank: A well looked-after No. 70037 Hereward the Wake digs in with a Down express on September 5 1953.
No. 70039 Sir Christopher Wren arrives at Cambridge with a relief train to the 10.55am to Liverpool Street on April 3 1953 – Good Friday. Note the Great Eastern Railway Brake Third Corridor carriage at the front of the train.
Dick Hardy’s association with the ‘Britannias’ continued well into the preservation era. Here he leans from the cab of No. 70013 at Ardleigh, north of Colchester, on July 2 2011.