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.

Steam Railway (UK) - - Contents -

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.



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.


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.

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