Posts Tagged ‘train spotting’

An M7 tank again

October 2, 2015

The old M7 tanks were designed at the end of the 19th century. They were steam locos and built for hauling passenger trains in south west London. They were an immediate success and 110 locos of the type were built between the first in 1897 and 1911. But they became utterly redundant from that job as lines were electrified and they migrated to other areas to haul local passenger trains on branch lines. They survived a very long time. The last M7 loco was withdrawn from service in 1965.

Two of the class have been preserved. One of them is based on the Swanage Railway and is still in regular service. When built, in 1905, she was number 53 of the London and South Western Railway. But much to my delight she is running in the form and colour I knew in the early 1960s – so she is number 30053 of British Railways.

image002 Here she is shunting down onto the train at Swanage. Tank engines were designed to run either way round equally well, but they still look better with the boiler leading. Once attached to the train we see her bunker first.


Like any working steam loco she has a fierce fire burning under the boiler.


Here’s the front end again.


Here we see the loco number and another little plate which says 71B. That little plate was called the shed plate and the 71B was code for a depot where the loco was based. In this case it means Bournemouth which is where locos on the Swanage branch would have been looked after.

Now to be a true train spotter for a while.

This was one of my spotter’s books from 1962


We can see I had deemed it important enough to fork out half a crown on this publication – and here’s a bit of one page in the book.


First of all 30053 is underlined which meant I had seen it. And the shed it was allocated to was 75E.

Time to look at another page in the book.


This shows us the codes for sheds and names them. 75E was Three Bridges which was my most local shed. It is also underlined which means I had visited that shed. 30053 was one of my home engines when I was a spotter. I have a feeling it was usually at the sub shed at Horsham and worked trains between Horsham and Guildford.

I feel privileged that I can still enjoy seeing this old friend hauling trains.


Train Spotting Days

July 29, 2015

Now I’m the first to admit that collecting train numbers is entirely pointless. But I go on to say that it isn’t any more pointless than kicking a leather airbag around a field or collecting used postage stamps. Hobbies are hobbies and do not need any other purpose. But train spotters get a bad name and are deemed odd.

Let’s say that when I took up the hobby, back in 1959, it wasn’t odd or unusual although it was almost exclusively male. Platform ends up and down the country had gaggles of boys, avidly noting the numbers written on trains. It may seem pointless, but knowledge and skills were being honed all the time.

Let’s take a typical day out train spotting for me. I lived in Crawley, thirty miles south of central London. As an under 14 year old I could buy what was called a shopping ticket to London which cost me half a crown (12½p). So a day would start by walking to my local station and purchasing a ticket. It wasn’t valid before 9.30 so I’d have caught the first train after that. I’d have hoped for an empty compartment, but I definitely wanted a seat on the right hand side facing forwards. This gave me the best chance to spot any unusual steamers on Three Bridges or Redhill shed but as these were fairly local, the chances would be that I’d see only old familiars. Memory needed to be good for you didn’t want to spend time recording numbers of engines you’d already seen.

On arrival at Victoria I’d have bought an underground ticket and taken the circle line round to Paddington and then gone one stop on the Metropolitan to a station called Royal Oak. This was out in the open and within sight of the ends of the main line platforms at Paddington. It had the advantage of a steam engine servicing depot just opposite the platforms and an easy view of all trains going in and out of Paddington. I was never alone there. Here were always other youngsters to chat to. If I felt inclined, I might take the underground again and get to Stratford in East London. This was a station where the underground reached the surface and shared the station with the main line trains out of Liverpool Street. Sometimes I might alight at Kings Cross where I could visit the three main line termini of Kings Cross, St Pancras and Euston which were all within walking distance. The hazard here was that I had to hold a valid ticket since this meant leaving the underground network.

Euston and St Pancras I found very dull. The stations may have been magnificent and they had an air of expectation  about them. But that expectation never seemed to be fulfilled. Trains were so few and far between. Kings Cross seemed much more lively.

As one got a bit bolder further London adventures could take place. There were sheds to ‘bunk’. Bunking a shed was to visit it without permission. So sometimes I’d get to Willesden Junction station from where I could take in Willesden shed where I could cop a load of ex LMSR engines and then I could walk to Old Oak Common and see the GWR engines. Old Oak Common was ‘easy’.  You bribed the gate man by purchasing a staff magazine which cost 3d. Willesden was more of a nightmare but worth the risk of a telling off from a shed foreman to see the range of engines there.

I remember I went to Plaistow shed once – on the old London Tilbury and Southend network, especially to see a loco now preserved and called Thundersley.

Despite what people might think, train spotting was a social activity. I had friends who were also spotters and we went to places together and then you met people who had the same interest. There was always company, chatter and general excitement. Most of us stuck fairly well to the rules and certainly we were all big supporters of the railways and truly wished them well at a time when the whole network  seemed under threat.

I’m glad I was a spotter. I learned so much from doing it. My geography and history really improved because I could see the reasons for things. I became a regular reader of the Railway Magazine which did much for world geography, economics, engineering etc.


This May 1962 issue – when I still travelled legally for half fare, has a wonderful Isle of Wight train on the cover. The loco was over 60 by then and carriages were not far short of that, certainly in style.

I still buy a copy from time to time.

An M7 tank

August 18, 2014

Guess what? An M7 tank is a railway locomotive. My knowledge of and interest in them stems back to early days. Indeed I have a record that says the first number I ever collected as a train spotter was number 30051 which was an M7 tank.

Look at that! I became a train spotter on 13th April 1960 and there’s the first number I recorded.


The M7s were designed at the end of the 19th century and originally they were built to haul suburban passenger trains in and out of Waterloo station. But they proved useful, later on, on rural branch lines and many of these engines survived into the 1960s. Sadly, very few survived after the 60s but one remains and runs on the Swanage Railway. Sadly, the day I visited recently it was out of use and parked over an inspection pit. Maybe some fault had developed that needed attention.

The old girl still looks fine, though. She’s parked up with a couple of diesels both of which are in there 50s as far as age is concerned.


At the moment 30053 is in the livery I remember as a train spotter. She looks just wonderful to me.

This photo dates from August 4th 2014. Locos in service that day carried a wreath marking the 100th anniversary of Britain’s declaration of war – the First World War.


Aha, that’s the single line token that gave the driver permission to travel from Harman’s Cross being passed to the outstretched arm of the signal man.


September 6, 2013

Back in about 1962 my dad got the Bedford Dormobile. Before then, holidays meant ‘camp’ and that still continued, but we also started to go further afield and that included a tour north. We just got into Scotland. My dad took us as far as Lockerbie which is some 17 miles from the England/Scotland border.

It was my first trip into Scotland and it very much was in the train spotting era. I made my way to the station – and I have no photos to prove it.

But there, shunting, was a rather nice little engine. It was the only engine I ever saw numbered in the 50 000s and we can see it underlined in my Winter 1961/62 issue of the Ian Allan ABC – London Midland and Scottish Regions.


With no photo of my own, I’ll add a photo of a similar engine from the same ABC book.


The photo, I see, is by D. A. Anderson

Because of this visit, Lockerbie was a place that mattered to me and we sometimes stopped there when we visited Scotland. In August 1998 I even visited the station.


Of course, there was no longer an old lady of a steam engine shunting. The line was electrified and clearly I didn’t have the patience or inclination to wait for a train.

This was a first holiday with a digital camera. I took tiny photos and thought it absolutely wonderful.

By the way, Lockerbie is a pleasing enough place. You don’t have to be a railway nerd to enjoy it.


My Ian Allan ABCs

December 20, 2012

Back in the 1950s and 60s, Ian Allan’s lists of locomotives were the train spotter’s bible. The right collection of books could tell you everything you wanted to know about just about everything that moved on the railway network. Train spotters get derided these days but back then an awful lot of us did it. We stood on platform ends or over-bridges and jotted down those numbers on trains and engines. Back home we’d underline the numbers in our ABCs. That was harmless and simple. But it also led to travel and travel is said to broaden the mind. Armed with our loco-shed book we could head off for places where we had a chance of seeing different engines from those that operated the home lines. The geography of Britain became known to us – at least by railway. We could read maps and timetables. We could ask the professional railwayman questions in a vaguely intelligent way. Above all there was camaraderie at the end of the platform. Friends were instantly made, albeit, probably, only temporarily.

But back to those ABCs. Yes, I still have them. This is just a small selection.


I lived in Sussex so I was a ‘Southern’ enthusiast but as travel became wider, the hard backed ‘combined volume’ with all regions in it became an essential. Let’s peek inside that Combined Volume.


There’s a page of Southern steam locomotives. If they are underlined, I had seen them. If the number is crossed out, I had learned that the loco had been withdrawn from service. I reckon about thirty of those locos still exist, preserved in some form or other.

If we go to the electric units, I had seen all of them.


All but one of these underlines had been copied from a previous book. When I started this book, I only ‘needed’ one more 2-Bil and that was number 2025.

I obviously ‘copped’ it during the life of this particular book.