Posts Tagged ‘Southern Electric’


May 30, 2016

I’m afraid this refers to a train – one of the old Southern Electrics. I was raised in Sussex and the main lines had been electrified in the 1930s. By the time I was a train spotter in the late 1950s the electrified lines and trains were well established. We ‘experts’ knew, more or less, what we could expect to see when and where. We all had our favourite types. For me it was the style known as 6 PUL – a 6 coach unit with one of the six being a Pullman car. They had been built for the Brighton line electrification which fully opened in 1933. My best mate, always known as Boz, had a preference for the Portsmouth line electrics which were a little newer. By the time they were built the greater flexibility of four coach units had been realised and also they were gangwayed right through the train – they had a corridor right through and they were classed as 4 COR.

I grabbed a not very good photo of one of these units at my local Three Bridges station.


I think this was in 1969 and I used Kodachrome film which I never found as good as Agfachrome.

This is the back of the train – the red square in the destination indicator tells us this but the front would look otherwise identical. Some people referred to these units as Nelsons which may have been because they were built for Portsmouth services or it may have been in reference to only having one window for the driver – the other being replaced by the route indicator and being akin to the blind eye of the Admiral.

A lousy photos, but happy memories.

A 2-HAP at Gatwick

July 19, 2015

Whilst rummaging in our loft recently I came across a few negatives which I had taken back in the early 1960s. This one shows a train with a 2-HAP unit leading. The location is Gatwick Airport station.


It isn’t the best photo ever and the negative is certainly dusty. But it takes me back those fifty years.

What was amazing was that these trains, which hark back to Victorian practices, were still being built new at this time. The HAP name to these 2 coach units referred to half of them (one coach) being equipped with a lavatory like the earlier 2 HAL units. But the P ion the end indicated that these had an updated pneumatic braking system. So yes, trains in the 1960s were still being built with compartments and an entire absence of loo facilities for 50% of the passengers (75% of those not travelling First Class).

The other thing that baffled me is the route number. This train is on a route 10. Now I’d have said I knew all the route numbers for that area in the 1960s, but I certainly didn’t know that one. And when I looked it up I wasn’t surprised for route 10 was from Holborn Viaduct in London to Littlehampton via Herne Hill, Streatham Common, Selhurst, Quarry and Horsham. This was no ordinary service train but a weekend special to take Londoners to the Coast. That might explain why a type of train normally used in Kent was heading to the Sussex coast.

Dr Beeching and his political master got rid of such trains. They said it was stupid to keep trains that only found occasional use on summer weekends and spent the rest of the week stored on valuable land which could be sold off. My reasoning at the time said he was wrong for many of the special trains that used to go down to the coast were composed of trains which were used for weekday rush hour services. If you needed the trains for that it seemed a good idea to use them for other purposes. And we used to watch a near continuous stream of these trains, all packed to the limit with people off for a day at the seaside.

But of course, the politics of the time dictated that railways were ‘of the past’. With trains like the “ HAPs I suppose they were. The trains stopped and each 2 coach train (they were mostly 12 coaches long) was replaced by up to 50 more cars.

I still feel convinced it was a mistake to stop them.

So I apologise for a lousy photo – but maybe some of you will agree with me that it was a mistake to abandon well used trains and force people to use cars instead.

A Top Train

January 7, 2015

I was a train spotter in the late 1950s and early 1960s – all 50 or more years ago now.

I lived in Sussex and my most local lines had been electrified in the 1930s. They were part of the Southern Electric network.

So electric trains were the ordinary, everyday fare for me when I went train spotting locally.

There’s a saying people have, often about music which goes, ‘I know what I like’. A musician friend of mine tells me, from time to time that what they mean is, ‘I like what I know’.

That was probably true of trains as well. I certainly liked what I knew and I remember our old green Southern Electric trains with enormous affection.

Back at Christmas a book about those electric trains came my way (well people know what I like). One photo in the book really moves me. It represents, so very much, what I loved about those long gone trains.

This photo was taken by John C Morgan. It is far too high a quality to have been taken by me or my dad. And thanks, John, I love it.


The unit in the foreground is what was called a 6-Pul. That meant it had six carriages and one of them was a Pullman car. The Pullman can easily be spotted because it is in the brown and cream livery of the Pullman Car Company. These units were built in the early 1930s and ran express trains from London to the Sussex coast. On the whole, they didn’t stop at my most local stations which meant they were trains I saw thundering through.

This train is carrying route identifier 52. This means it was a Hastings to London train. It is 12 coaches long and the rear unit would have been a 6-Pan and would have been attached to the front unit at Eastbourne.

These trains were visible from our ‘camp’ which was quite near Lewes.

And what neat, tidy looking trains they are. I still think they represent what a train should look like, both in shape and colour.

By the way, the same book has another picture of a 6-Pul unit in Brighton station. You may have seen this very train before on this blog for it was a train I travelled on – a farewell rail tour for the original 1930s Brighton trains.


This one was taken by Charles Firminger. My pictures of the train were taken using monochrome film so I am pleased to see this one.

And thanks to Santa for bringing me this gift.

An unidentified rail vehicle at Wimbledon

November 19, 2014

It’s 1969. I’m a student and had just bought (second hand) my Canon Demi camera. Why I was at Wimbledon, I don’t know. It had been a trainspotting haunt for me seven or eight years earlier. I had almost certainly travelled along the West Croydon to Wimbledon line, probably just to see it. Anyway, whilst waiting at Wimbledon, this train came through.


The leading vehicle was outside my experience – probably an engineer’s saloon. I can see it is attached to a standard electric train of the era. This lets us see its flat rather than curved sides which gave it the potential to be a go anywhere vehicle. I have to say it looked very smart in its fresh, bright, British Rail livery.

45 years on I still wonder about its origins and purpose. Maybe some other nerd will be able to tell me more.

Here’s hoping!

The Queen of Sheba

September 25, 2014

According to the King James bible (1 Kings Chapter 10) The Queen of Sheba visited Solomon in Jerusalem and that version of the bible uses these words.

And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart.

Of course the word train meant a retinue or following – which is really what it still means but meanings are often forgotten and for many the word train, conjures up a railway train.

Jokes have often been made about the Queen of Sheba being an early railway user but in one case a name stuck.

I was looking through some teenage photos of mine and came across this one.


It isn’t the best photo you ever saw, but units like this Southern Electric suburban one were known as ‘Queen of Shebas’ because they were deemed to be very great trains.

I now quote from another bible – one of my old train spotting books.

No further new suburban stock appeared until 1942, when a new four-car unit, 4101, was built to Mr. Bulleid’s design, followed later by 4102 to 4110. The bodies are built with steel sides and wooden roofs, and seat six passengers on each compartment seat, whereas all earlier stock only accommodated five.

It was that six a side seating which gave them the name great. They had a huge carrying capacity. Whereas similar, older trains had seats for 280 people, a Queen of Sheba could seat 456 – a massive load, by comparison.

I travelled only very rarely on a Queen of Sheba and I have to say they were profoundly uncomfortable. The 12 people in each compartment had to lock knees with the person opposite. The seats were very upright and narrow and it was all very cramped.

But they were designed to cope with the huge rush hour crowds in London – and actually, they proved to be a bit of a nuisance and designs soon changed. The problem was station time. With all those dozens of single compartments, potential passengers walked up and down the platform seeking a seat or a suitable compartment. Trains ran late because they spent too long at stations. Future builds took out the compartments and each coach became an open saloon with a central gangway. This meant passengers had less seats, but they could get on and then find a seat, or stand in the gangway. That enabled trains to keep to time.

But the Queens of Sheba served their time, running for about thirty years,

Here’s a better picture from the same train spotting book – and to my mind the old Queen looked far better in the plain green livery.


And here’s the front of this – the first train spotting book I ever had – and an old one even then.


It’s battered, but much loved.

A 4-LAV at Gatwick Airport

September 10, 2014

My childhood home, once in the peace and quiet of a village, got attacked on two fronts.  Crawley New Town arrived from the south and east and reached within a couple of hundred yards of our village home. And then Gatwick Airport was built to the north and the ‘country’ end of the runway was little more than a mile from the house.

Gatwick Airport train station proved to be quite a good train spotting venue although that was quite a distance from home – 3 or so miles.

I was there on 1st May 1966 which was a Sunday. This was very much at the end of my train spotting career. Twenty days later I had my first date with the girl friend who became and still is my wife. I was on the very cusp of adulthood and for once I’ll quote the bible.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

And maybe that was why I had a camera. I could pretend I was recording a passing scene which, in a way, I was. This was one of the pictures I took that day.


It shows one of the Southern Electric units that were built when the Brighton line was electrified in 1933. By 1966 these units had past their use by date. They did feel like something from a past age and I loved them for it.

They were classified as 4-LAV. The four indicated they were a unit with four carriages. The LAV indicated (would you believe) that it had a lavatory. Yet three of the coaches were plain compartments with no side corridor or anything. If you were in one of those and needed the loo you’d have to have waited until a stop and then dashed along the platform to the one carriage which had toilet facilities. And then, at one time, you’d have had a choice of two, depending on whether you were a first or third class traveller. Amazing!

These units spent more than thirty years trundling up and down the line between London and Brighton. This particular unit was on service 14 which was the hourly service from Victoria to Brighton calling at Clapham Junction, East Croydon, Purley and all stations to Brighton.

The well-constructed timetable meant you could change at key stations and get a quicker train for much of the journey.

The old 4-LAV units were soon swept into oblivion by the new gangwayed throughout trains. They, in their turn, have been swept away, having been castigated as ‘slam door trains. But these old ones live on, and are loved, in the memory.

Oh, by the way, in the background of my photo there is a 2 BIL unit. These were slightly newer than the LAVs and had 2 carriages with a lavatory in each – 2 car Bi lavatory sets.


Other things of interest in the photo are the smoke deflectors under the footbridge – Gatwick Airport Station dates from the 50s when there were still plenty of steam trains about and the rather traditional style signal box incorporated into the new station when it was built.

My Life in Tickets (4)

December 21, 2012

My previous life in tickets entries have looked at special, enthusiast trains. This time I’ll look at a day spent on ordinary service trains. This was a fairly regular habit during those half fare days of the early 1960s. For the sum of four shillings (that’s 20p) you could buy the right to travel all day in a defined area. My most local area was wonderful, containing a real mix of possible trains on a circular route, with a branch that enabled you to see historic gems of the railway world. I lived on the edge of Crawley (Ifield was the local station) and the route was in Sussex.


I see that on this occasion I was but the second child to have bought such a ticket from Ifield. I wonder if a travelling companion had ticket number 1. We can also see that since the ticket was printed, the price had been upped from 3/9 (nearest is 19p) to that 4/- figure.

If we look at the stations on the back, we can see that the route had been extended a bit as well.


Yes, Horsted Keynes has been added to the route.

Let’s take a tour, starting at Ifield. We’d have caught an electric train (they all were at Ifield) to Horsham. As we approached Horsham we’d have done our best to spot any trains Parked up in the sidings and also any steam locos on the little shed at this town. Our train was heading off to Bognor – not on the ticket, so we’d have changed and caught the steam hauled train which puffed and wheezed its way down the Adur Valley to Shoreham and on to Brighton.

We could have stayed on this train to Brighton and we’d have known our timetable to ensure maximum mileage, but I’ll imagine we changed at Shoreham so that we could take a train to Worthing. This was essential for spotters, since it took us past the Lancing Carriage Works where two elderly steamers operated. If possible we’d have chosen a stopping train for they were likely to be slower when passing the vital train spotting places giving us more time to spot and jot.

But for the return, we could catch an ‘express’ between Littlehampton and London. That way we could have the pleasure of a ride in a 6-Pul unit. And this would have taken us round the Brighton avoiding Cliftonville curve although we’d have to return to Brighton later to see the loco shed and the works shunter. But we’ll just stop at Hove and then Haywards Heath. The next stop for the express was out of area, so we changed and pottered along the peculiar Horsted Keynes branch. This was always a line that posed the question, ‘Why?’. Building the line was probably done for territorial reasons. Lines were built by one company to serve hopeless areas, so that another company couldn’t build the line. The particular ‘why?’ here was why was the line electrified? It had one intermediate stop, at Ardingly. Actually, ‘at’ Ardingly is out by quite a way, but the station was named Ardingly and then it got to Horsted Keynes. Or rather Horsted Keynes was its name. This had been a junction station with the equally unremunerative East Grinstead to Lewes line. That had finally been closed in 1958 leaving just this odd branch left. But Horsted Keynes had become an attraction for the preserved Bluebell Railway came there. Actually, I can’t remember when British Railways allowed Bluebell trains into the station. A temporary halt had been built just down the line. But we spotters could go and see the vintage trains – which actually were little different from other trains and locos we’d see on the journey.

So, back we went to Haywards Heath where we could catch a train down to Brighton – with so much spotting to do. And at Brighton we’d see number 32635 which looked and was identical to Stepney the Bluebell engine. We’d certainly go to Hove and back because that way we’d see more of the engines in Brighton Shed.

From Brighton we’d travel up to Three Bridges and change there for an Ifield train. At which point we’d probably decide to go round the loop again, missing Worthing and Horsted Keynes.

It made a grand day out – and do you know, we’d probably have wandered down to the beach in Worthing or Brighton. It wasn’t all trains.

A Bil and a Hal

December 7, 2012

If the title means anything to you then you, surely, are a real nerd. They are trains.

I was brought up in Sussex. The Southern Railway had electrified the main lines in the 1930s. It meant that most of my train travel was on electric multiple unit trains. They had no hissing monster of a loco at the front. Indeed, they were just carriages with some electric motors out of sight somewhere and a driving cab at each end. In virtually every way they were better than the steam hauled trains they had replaced.  They were cleaner and quicker. They didn’t need to carry fuel so they didn’t need frequent top ups of water or coal. They were efficient in terms of running costs but also enabled very fast turn rounds at terminus stations. One train could make more journeys in a day than the steamers they replaced. They were cheaper to crew since only a driver was needed. The controls were such that if a driver happened to fall ill or even died, the train would stop. It really is hard to think of any way in which the electric trains were not better, except for an emotional response to steam which suggests it has life.

The strange thing about the stopping service trains is that they were classified by lavatories. Trains that came through my most local station (Ifield) were composed of units called 2-Bil or 2-Hal. In earlier days there might have been 2-Nol but I don’t remember them.

The 2-Bils were older and I preferred them. The 2 meant they had 2 carriages per unit. Each carriage had a corridor along one side giving access to compartments with seats for 8 people. At one end of each carriage there was a lavatory – making two such facilities in all. They were Bi-lavatory units shortened to Bil.

The 2-Hal units also had two coaches but one of the carriages had no corridor meaning each compartment could seat 10 people. But those people had no access to a lavatory. Only Half the carriages had a lavatory so they were 2-Hal.

Those 2-Nols had no lavatories at all.

There was another type of unit used on London to Brighton trains called a 4-Lav. That had four coaches to each unit but actually, only one of them had lavatory facilities. It had two ‘smallest rooms’. One was for first class passengers and the other was for the hoi-poloi!

One day in 1969 I was waiting at the level crossing gates at Portslade and West Hove station.  There were two trains in the station. The leading unit on the train heading for Worthing was a 2 Bil. The rear unit on the Brighton bound train was a 2-Hal. I captured a photo of the two together.


The Hal has a hideous all over yellow end. It no doubt helped safety for it to be visible but aesthetically, I found it awful. The smaller, discreet yellow panel on the Bil was nothing like so bad. A few years previously they’d have had no yellow on them.

It is interesting to note that the Bil carries a number 1 code which was the all stations train from Brighton to West Worthing. It has the all clear from its semaphore repeater signal at low level. There’s another signal off shot at the top of the post. That would have been visible to train drivers on non-stopping trains.

The station building is also interesting for I’m fairly sure it was designed by well-known architect, David Mocatta in the 1840s.

By the way, on the basis that we like what we know, I love the trains and I am filled with utterly useless knowledge for I could still recognise these trains a mile off – and they don’t exist any more.

More from that Pul/Pan Farewell Tour.

October 30, 2012

I thought I could add some more on this tour, having located notes and photos. It seems we had a bad start to the journey with a half hour signal stop. Engineering works had closed one of the down lines and a train break down caused problems for another.

The non stop from Brighton to Victoria took us more like an hour than 50 minutes, although I’m sure a 50 minute journey was planned.

My photos were taken on a blue metallic box camera. It used 120 sized roll film and took 12 square images on a film. These I contact printed. So, they suffer from many handicaps. One is that I was young and didn’t compose decent photos.  But for what they are worth, here they are – from 24th April 1966.

6 Pul (former 6 Cit) unit 3041 at Eastbourne – 24th April 1966

At Eastbourne

3041 at Ore on the same Pul/Pan tour. We passengers all had to disembark whilst the unit shunted to the down platform.

3041 on the up platform at Ore

At Brighton with my friends Bob and Nick.

My Life in Tickets (1)

October 26, 2012

How wonderful it is to be a sad, older nerd. Once upon a time I was a young nerd. Whenever possible, I saved tickets from days out. I can now look back 40 or 50 years and use the tickets to recall the old memories.

My ticket for the Pul/Pan Farewell tour of 24th April 1966

Let’s start on 24th April 1966 and I could say it was a sad day for me for it was the day of the Pul/Pan Farewell rail tour. Let me explain why it was sad. A somewhat pompous friend once said to me – it was about music, ‘when people say they know what they like, they really mean that they like what they know’. He was probably right about music. After all, very few people would say they like opera but when Nessun Dorma was used as a football world cup theme, it became immensely popular and the three tenors became top celebrities.

I’d say he was right, too, if we talk about train enthusiasts. I certainly liked what I knew. For me the ideal train was a green painted electric unit. Green that is, except for one coach which was a brown and cream Pullman car. For all of my life (OK, I was only 17 at the time) the fast trains in my area had been like that. I knew them and I loved them.

But these trains were already at least 15 years old when I was born. At aged 34 and, no doubt, with well over a million miles under their wheels, they were worn out and being replaced by new trains which, to my eyes, were not as smart and didn’t have the Pullman car. The Locomotive Club of Great Britain probably took a gamble organising this tour. Electric units were generally considered soulless and most enthusiasts weren’t that bothered about them. But they went ahead and organised a trip to mark the end of the line for these units. The unit chosen, number 3041 was actually a one off. It had a slightly different shaped front elevation from all the other similar trains. Most people would never have noticed but those of us in the know could spot this particular unit a mile off. So this day really marked the end of my favourite trains. None were saved for preservation although many of the Pullman cars do still exist. For me it was the demise of old friends and the day out was a requiem for them.

I was not alone for my friends Bob Moore(who actually preferred the 4Cor units which I thought were much inferior) and Nick Hall were with me. It was a grand day travelling lines all of which were very familiar to me. From Victoria in London we’d have passed through a station which was probably then known by the rather long name of Three Bridges for East Crawley then it would have been the three Balcombes – tunnel, station and viaduct over the ouse before Haywards Heath. At Keymer junction we’d have forked left for the journey to Lewes and then there’d have been a favourite stretch of four miles from Lewes on to Glynde. This Was favourite, because it was the stretch we could see from our annual camp on Beddingham Hill. The passing trains, about a mile away were very regular in their activities. We could set our watches by them.

Continuing, we squealed around the rarely used Eastbourne avoiding curve and went straight on to Bexhill, Hastings and Ore where this photo was taken

6 Pul number 3041 on the Pul/Pan farewell tour. The photo was taken at Ore

The train then went back the way it had come, but this time took in Eastbourne and an extra reverse before reaching Lewes. Here we reversed again turning right at Southerham for New HAVen and SeaFORD. Capitals emphasise the way the locals say those names.

Then it was a reverse again, to Lewes and Brighton for a non-stop, 60mph run to Victoria – 50 minutes.

There’s plenty I don’t remember from 46 years ago but I do remember having a very enjoyable day.