A trib­ute to renowned pho­tog­ra­pher Colin Gar­ratt

Steam Railway (UK) - - CONTENTS - SR

Colin’s de­ter­mi­na­tion knew no bounds. He trav­elled widely to track down and record steam trac­tion in all cor­ners of the globe and was, without doubt, one of the great rail­way pho­tog­ra­phers of the 20th cen­tury.

I had the good for­tune to know Colin for 40 years. We first met in the late 1970s, shortly af­ter the for­ma­tion of the British Over­seas Rail­ways His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, which later be­came a char­i­ta­ble trust.

He was al­ways a keen sup­porter of the trust’s ac­tiv­i­ties, and was es­pe­cially pleased when we saved for­mer North Western Rail­way, later Pak­istan Rail­ways ‘SPS’ 4‑4‑0 No. 3157; it was a class he knew well from his trav­els and it is now housed in the Science & In­dus­try Mu­seum, Manch­ester.

Born near Le­ices­ter on Au­gust 16 1940, he would cy­cle around the area in the post‑war era look­ing for rail­ways and van­tage points from which to ob­serve them. The rou­tine sig­nal to re­turn home for sup­per was the ap­pear­ance of an LMS Gar­ratt 2‑6‑2+2‑6‑2 haul­ing a long train of coal wagons, en route from the East Mid­lands to Lon­don.

Colin would of­ten travel to far­away places on the British rail­way net­work, us­ing cheap foot­ball spe­cial tick­ets, but on ar­rival at the desti­na­tion he’d head for the lo­cal lo­co­mo­tive sheds, while ev­ery­one else headed for the match.

Dur­ing his teens, he worked for British Rail­ways as a clerk at Le­ices­ter Mid­land lo­co­mo­tive shed, where he would be al­lowed onto the foot­plate for oc­ca­sional rides along the Mid­land Main Line.

One story he of­ten re­lated to me con­cerned a for­mer Lon­don Til­bury & Southend Rail­way 4‑4‑2 tank en­gine at Le­ices­ter shed, that was only used in emer­gen­cies and was only steamed once a year for test pur­poses.

This ma­chine was re­ferred to by the shed staff as ‘Mrs Simp­son’, a ref­er­ence to King Ed­ward VIII’s mistress, later the Duchess of Wind­sor, who never went out. Steam­ing this lo­co­mo­tive was re­ferred to as ‘ex­er­cis­ing Mrs Simp­son’.

In the early 1960s, he de­cided to start a pho­to­graphic ca­reer and chose the im­mi­nent demise of steam trac­tion on rail­ways, both home and abroad, as his tar­get sub­ject.

Over 40 years, he trav­elled to all parts of the world seek­ing out in­ter­est­ing and of­ten rare ex­am­ples of steam lo­co­mo­tives still at work. The ex­pe­di­tions were funded through an ar­range­ment with Agfa, the well‑known Ger­man film com­pany, which en­cour­aged up and com­ing pho­tog­ra­phers with such spon­sor­ships in the 1960s and 1970s.

From the Seven­ties on­wards, he or­gan­ised au­dio/video shows of his work, which at­tracted huge au­di­ences and in­tro­duced the gen­eral pub­lic to an as­pect of Bri­tain’s rail­way his­tory that they had per­haps not con­sid­ered be­fore: that of the ‘British Over­seas Rail­way’ – the vast amount of track mileage con­structed across the globe by British en­gi­neers and over­seas rail­way com­pa­nies.

He also dis­played con­sid­er­able flair and imag­i­na­tion: he used flash guns on many oc­ca­sions to cap­ture sparks be­ing emit­ted from the chim­ney of a Bald­win in some far flung part of the world, or took pho­to­graphs from ab­stract an­gles to cre­ate what might be bet­ter de­scribed as art, rather than his­tor­i­cal record.

He had many in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ences while film­ing steam abroad, in­clud­ing be­ing ar­rested in sev­eral com­mu­nist coun­tries and hav­ing a run‑in with the po­lice in Syria, where he was in­ter­ro­gated by a se­nior po­lice­man, who could not un­der­stand how any­one could be in­ter­ested in old steam lo­co­mo­tives, but still of­fered him mint tea and hard‑boiled sweets!

He was re­leased when the po­lice­man re­alised he was just a harm­less, ‘mad English per­son’, with a funny in­ter­est in steam lo­co­mo­tives.

Some of his later trips took him to more re­mote places, such as the ex­pe­di­tion to Alaska to find the for­mer New York El­e­vated Rail­road For­ney 0‑4‑4Ts that had been pur­chased by a min­ing com­pany dur­ing a gold rush and aban­doned on the shore of a lake in the early 1900s, along with a quan­tity of rolling stock.

There was also the trip to the Azores to find and pho­to­graph the two British‑ con­structed broad gauge lo­co­mo­tives, once used on the har­bour sys­tem there.

One of the strangest sto­ries he told me was of a Manch­ester‑con­structed Beyer Pea­cock 4‑6‑0 ten­der lo­co­mo­tive in Ar­gentina which was used in a naval dock­yard and was out of bounds to any­one out­side the mil­i­tary. Colin man­aged, af­ter pro­tracted ne­go­ti­a­tions, to be al­lowed to pho­to­graph the lo­co­mo­tive for an hour only, on the strict con­di­tion that the ma­chine was sta­tion­ary on sid­ings just out­side the naval yard.

In the 1980s, he set up ‘Mile­post 92 & a Half’, a pho­to­graphic li­brary of his work and that of a num­ber of other well‑known rail­way pho­tog­ra­phers, in­clud­ing the late Rev­erend Mace and Henry Pri­est­ley. He worked with the late Colin Nash and Mike Free­man, who as­sisted in the run­ning of the busi­ness.

It did well ini­tially, but af­ter rail pri­vati­sa­tion there were fewer clients for com­mis­sioned rail­way pho­tog­ra­phy and the li­brary found it much harder to find new work.

Sadly, Colin suf­fered for many years with Parkinson’s dis­ease and, later on, other com­pli­ca­tions, which led to his death on Oc­to­ber 6 2018.

When the his­tory of rail­way pho­tog­ra­phy is writ­ten in years to come, one of the names at the top of the list will be Colin Gar­ratt, who did so much to pre­serve a pic­to­rial record of the rail­way.


Colin Gar­ratt 1940-2018

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