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Railway Vehicle Preservations

Ten Years On ...

by Gordon Maslin.

The following is taken from three issues of “Railway Vehicle Outlook” originally printed in 1978. Written on what was then our tenth anninversary. It is reproduced word for word and it is remarkable how many of the comments made remain true to this day. It makes fascinating reading another 26 years later…….

It is sometimes difficult to realise we are now ten years old. Did we ten years ago consider where or what the situation would be in 1978. I, for one, certainly never imagined we would be so well established, especially considering the frustration of the early years. Therefore a record of those years should be presented, after all a glance at the membership records shows that only four of the founders remain and many new members have little or no knowledge of how it came about. The June 1967 issue of the Railway Magazine carried a letter from the late D. Noel Draycott headed “A steam Railway for North London”. Yours truly answered that appeal and started what is now known as RVP. D. Noel Draycott was a well known figure in preservation at that timeand the idea was to promote a pleasure / museum centred on the Lea Valley regional park. To this end a meeting was arranged in the Tea room overlooking the west side of Liverpool Street station. Our talk was sufficient to convince me that the idea was good and I promised to do what I could. (This proved to be the only time we ever talked directly as, tragically, he died several months later). In the post came a list of other interested persons and I met the majority through the following summer months, and in the most interesting of places i.e. Liverpool Street Tea room, Waterloo station concourse and Stratford buffet on platform 10. Long were the discussions, many the ideas, and everybody wanted it to happen. Then came the sad news and the scheme died with the man, or so I thought. Early in 1968 two letters came to me, one from Andy Flynn and the other from Bob McMillan, requesting information on what was happening. To clear the matter a meeting was arranged at Coleridge Avenue on 20th March where the decision was made to form the Lea Valley Railway Carriage and Wagon society. As the majority of interested parties were new to railway preservation, it was felt that a scheme such as that previously mooted could not be handled and our aims were limited to preserving wagons and coaches. The normal things now happened - formation of the constitution, election of officers, regular monthly meetings and the commencement of our own bank account. (It is perhaps interesting to note that only two members were over 21 years of age, myself and Ken Horling - our first chairman). Enthusiasm was not lacking and our monthly meetings were eagerly awaited. Then came the frustrations. Our eagerness to progress saw many visits to coaches. A GNR six wheeled passenger / brake at Hitchin, a GER bogie coach at Barnet, a LNWR full brake at Wolverton and two GER coaches at Stratford. All to no avail, nothing came our way. 1968 stretched into 1969 and still no vehicle.

By this time our membership had grown and one of these members was Robin Doust, founder of the Kent and East Sussex scheme. Robin brought to our attention the existence of a LSWR “milk van” at a place called Tisbury in Wiltshire. A visit was arranged and as a result negotiations started with British Railways and SCATS who were using the vehicle. These negotiations turned to out to be rather protracted so members started looking elsewhere. In the summer of 1969 Gerry Ward and Loren Field requested that we look into the possibility of preserving the last remaining LTSR coach - the main problem was that the body and underframe were separated. The bosy being on a farm in Corringham and the underframe being used as a flat wagon in the mobil refinery at Thameshaven. The body was being used for the classic purpose, a chicken hutch, and was due for demolition in the near future. It was agreed that we attempt this project, though there were some who had misgivings. The first job was to secure both parts and approaches were made to both Mobil and the farmer owning the body. The body was quickly purchased and Mobil proved willing to release the underframe. The first set back came when Mobil informed us that the underframe had been destroyed in a shunting accident, and that the contractor had the remains in his scrapyard. In Novemebr 1969 the situation was as follow. The LTSR coach body had been moved by Lorry to Basildon and the underframe remains were in a scrapyard at South Fambridge. The “Tisbury Van” negotiations were nearly complete and arrangements made for it to go to the newly opened depot at Quainton Road. The LTSR body now proved to be a hinderance and it was decided to pass it on to Loren Field and Gerry Ward to preserve and, hopefully, restore.

At this time (Feb 1970) an approach was made by the Treasurer to Mr Ney, manager of William Cory and Sons of Rochester, resulted in them offering one of their wagons. The members readily agreed and a visiting party chose No.69, a seven plank coal wagon built in 1923. Things happened rather quickly now. The LSW van negotiations were completed and the purchase price paid. A home was found for the wagon on the Kent and East Sussex line. Feb 1970 saw two working parties to Tisbury preparing the van for movement. They were bitterly cold weekends and one member suffered from exposure resulting in a dash to a doctor. Nevertheless the van was dug out of thirty years of rubbish and got ready for transporting to Quainton. March saw Hallet Silverman Ltd moving the LSWR van to Quainton Road, a two day job, and W French limited moving the Cory wagon to Tenterden and returning with two spare Maunsell wheels. At the same time an approach to British Railways concerning an ex GER “sand wagon” at Chelmsford proved abortive due to lack of cash. Indeed the movement costs of two items had reduced the society’s finances to very low levels. The monthly meetings continued and several visits were made to the vehicles cleaning and painting. The regular members had time to spare, a good bit different to today’s continuous frenzy. The 1970 Annual General Meeting proved to be lively. A proposal by myself to change the society’s name to Lea Valley Railway Group did finally get through. The “Group” as it became known began to make its mark. Bob McMillan was magazine editor and started “Railway Vehicle Outlook”. A motif of receeding railway wheels adorned our headed paper and the group joined the ARPS with the new Chairman, Robin Doust, informing the preservation movement of our arrival.

In March 1971 my resignation of the Treasureship was the direct result of an announced decision to withdraw the steam locomotive at Rye House Power station. In April the “7597 Fund” was formed to purchase and preserve in working order a Robert Stephenson and Hawthorn 0-6-0 side tank locomotive No7597. The Group continued with the restoration of the “Tisbury Van” and the coal wagon. The first of the Quainton work weeks took place and two fully restored pairs of Maunsell wheels were fitted and the brake gear overhauled. The Cory wagon had one of its side doors repaired and preparations made to renew the rotten flooring. Meanwhile the “7597 Fund” was off to a good start. Adverts and appeals in the Railway magazines started the cash flow. A visit was arranged to Rye House and a British Rail fitter and boilersmith inspected the locomotive. The invitation to tender arrived in July and a hurried visit to the bank secured a loan sufficient to cover the purchase price. At the last minute CEGB withdrew and 7597 was returned to use covering for the diesel which had to be hurriedly loaned to Barking Power Station. November saw 7597 on the tender forms again and this time things went well. The Fund’s tender was accepted and with the help of the bank loan the locomotive became part of the preservation scene. Work on the loco started immediately and carried on throughout December, January and February. During that time the question of a home arose. The first AGM had decided on the Kent and East Sussex but they turned the loco down on weight reasons. After some deliberation and negotiations, a ballot of the owners chose the Stour Valley depot at Chappel, Essex. So in March 1972 loco 7597 was moved from Rye House to Chappel, stopping off at Bishop’s Stortford to attend a railway exhibition.

In May 1972 at the Lea Valley Railway Group’s AGM, a proposal for the amalgamation of the group and the “7597 Fund” was carried and the Fund agreed several months later. The summer of 1972 proved to be a long holiday. Weekend after weekend the regular “Fund” gang made their way to Chappel. The working hours were broken up by mid-day chips and either film shows or pub crawls. Everything was concentrated on 7597. Our bank loan was cleared up during May leaving only the problems of financing the repair work. Shortly after our arrival SVRPS Engineer Kim Malyon decided that 7597 needed a new smokebox front and into the shed she went. Activity was evident through June, July and August. Jobs completed during this time were too numerous to mention but the ultimate reward came on Friday 24th Septemeber 1972 when 7597 was brought to life for the first time in private ownership. Members feelings that Summer were not entirely euphoric as agreement had been reached to almalgamate with the Lea Valley Railway group. This was passed at our second AGM held at the Charing Cross hotel. This AGM also agreed the future livery of 7597, a livery that has still to be fully applied. Other problems that summer were not of our making. SVRPS had supplied us with a loan agreement which was accepted by the Fund as being suitable. Shortly after 7597’s arrival an altered agreement was circulated to all loco owners at Chappel which was not acceptable to the Fund. Many fund members felt we had been taken for a ride and the relationship with SVRPS turned from friendship to antipathy almost overnight. The immediate problem of the loco agreement was sorted out but only after several meetings with other loco owners and SVRPS. One outcome of this problem with the loco agreements was that the 7597 fund became corporate members of the SVRPS. Another outcome was the formation of a cliquish feeling within the fund. In fact there was now a deep rift between the fund and SVRPS. We learnt a lot that summer! Still that was behind us now as 7597 sizzled in the bright sunlight. The boiler passed its test and members enjoyed themselves driving up and down the yard. That day was the only time I have heard 7597 work hard. With brakes hard on, full throttle 7597 performed for Radio London in an effort to entice members of the public to visit Chappel.

After the euphoria of the September and October Open days Fund members faced up to the practical problems of preservation. Stour Valley Engineer Kim Maylon wanted the trailing wheel bearings re-metalled but following close inspection it was agreed to re-metal all the bearings and profile the wheels. So up went 7597 on to blocks and so started the long drag - the period November 1972 until April 1976. Through the winter of 72/73 the regular fund gang trekked down to Chappel. Lifting ’97 proved to be the easy bit. Cleaning and painting went on and the metalwork changed from greasy muck to bare metal to red oxide. The bearings were badly worn and these went to South London for re-metalling. The wheels were loaded onto a lorry and headed North to Corby for profiling of the tyres. The axle boxes were machined and new face plates welded on. Careful thought went into to the lubrication system and improvements made included lubrication to the wheel bosses and the fitting of drain plugs and oil nipples to the axle boxes. Winter turned to summer and the wheels returned from Corby and almost immediately went West to Swindon for the journals to be skimmed. By this time members now boasted three homes as Chappel and the Robert’s residence became the weekend haunts. What the Robert’s family thought of the regular weekend invasion of scruffy urchins we never dared ask, but the home comforts of 26 Queens Rd were greatly appreciated by all. The other side of society activities began developing. Film shows were given in the winter times and the sales teams visited several exhibitions raising money for our restoration projects. We were pouring money into 7597 and it had to come from somewhere.

Now the drag started. The initial rush and basic restoration work lasted until the autumn of 1973 when work ground to a halt. We were now waiting for machine time in the workshop and this was not available due to the tremendous effort being put in to the restoration of the Greene King S15 locomotive. So we waited. The previous autumn saw the first of the coaches preserved. Stour valley wanted several of the Kings Cross suburban coaches for use in their plans to run branch trains. For at that time there was a very real possibility of the Sudbury line closing. So following inspection E46139 was purchased and the Fund entered into its first guardianship agreement. The coach entered Chappel yard on the first track slew during April 1973 and when work stopped on 7597 efforts were diverted to this coach. The exterior was thoroughly cleaned and the bright blue paint shone. The roof panels were stripped to bare metal and repainted and the interior was given a good cleaning. Time was now found for other Fund projects and 1973 saw the start of what has become a major money earner. In our search for vacuum brake equipment enquiries were made abroad and that summer saw vacuum ejectors coming in from South Africa and Tasmania. The first of our Quainton weeks was held when a small gang had a “holiday” working on the LSWR van. Two visits were also made to Tenterden when the floor of the Cory wagon was replaced. So as 1973 passed on we looked back on a year of great variety and good results.

The Gresley bug now began to bite and longing eyes were cast at British Rail tender forms. For some time several members had been paying in to a small account of their own with the aim of getting a club car for use by fund members. The fund itself was in urgent need of a stores van as the LSWR van and the S coach were full of spares and materials. On one long weekend a group of Fund members headed North to inspect a number of vehicles; Knottingley, to see a riding van, York to see a POT (Post Office Tender), Leeds to look up the N7 loco bound for Chappel, though a buffet car was also inspected. The outcome early in 1974 was the purchase of three Gresley vehicles now easily recognisable as the Knottingley coach (18033), POT (70268E) and buffet car (9122E) on our stock list. As only the POT was Fund property no major cash crisi occurred and the £400 outlay proved to be worthwhile. To find a home for these was the next problem and we turned to our CEGB friends at Rye House who very kindly, mainly through the efforts of the late Ralph Sutton, agreed to lease us a siding at the power station. Thus began an association that lasted until 1978. Members eyes were renowned for their rovability for even as early as 1972 other locos had been the subject of discussion; a pannier tank from London Transport, a large RSH 0-6-0t at Whittle, Northumberland and now eyes looked to the Midlands and at Hams Hall power station. Visits by members confirmed that only one of their three RSH locos, which were the same type as 7597 was workable. The other two would eventually be disposed of, and therefore several members agreed to form the “13 group” with the eventual aim of purchasing 7846 for the fund. It proved to be quite a short wait for in April “13 Group” purchased 7846 from Hams Hall. A subsequent ballot of owners saw 7846 join the Fund stock list shortly afterwards moving South to a temporary home at Rye House power station. In the meantime 7597 was still up on blocks at Chappel. Work had not stopped but had slowed down considerably and the working members found it easy to drop tools and go out for rides, to the newly started Colne Valley railway, or to the North Norfolk (would you believe to look at a prospective RSH loco purchase?). Eventually patience gave out, the lathe was comandereed and the bearings were skimmed out to size. This was the turning point and now we were putting the engine back together instead of pulling it apart. The bearings were bedded on to their journals and the reconstruction work started. Bearings, axleboxes (with rear oil pots), spring hangers, top coat paint everywhere culminating in the lowering of 7597 back on to its wheels early in 1975. But we are pushing on too fast for 1974 still deserves a few more lines yet.

It had become a custom for fund members to have an annual day out. In past years visits had been made to the Keighley and Worth Valley and North York Moors Railways and 1974’s visit was to the Lakeside railway. Six members headed north from Euston to Lancaster where a hired van conveyed them to Hatherthwaite. Here the members inspected the locomotives and rolling stock finally taking a ride to Lakeside and back and then back to Carnforth for a look round and then home enjoying a meal on the train. Other relief from Chappel were two working weeks at Quainton. Here the atmosphere changes to a pleasant easy going pace where there was no need of daily papers, television, etc. Work was our amusement and a few pints in the evening. We cooked our own evening meal on a portable gas stove and bloated bellies were the norm after our efforts. The “milk van” being an all wood job proved interestingly different and no effort was spared in getting it just right. New headstocks, body framing, panels and mouldings. Specially made mouldings for the cornice rail and stove enamelling of the roof fittings indicate the standard we were aiming for. At one time it was thought that it would go to the Stockton and Darlington celebrations but we were reluctant to allow it to travel by rail and no money was available to move it by road so it stayed at Quainton. With 97 back down on its’s wheels, members quickly put all of its fitting back on. Coupling rods, sand boxes, brake rigging went back into position. During the march open day at Chappel, 7597 was filled with water and a fire lit. Slowly it was warmed through for the tubes had been cold for over three years. A live steam test was scheduled for the following morning and this would see us back in operation or so we thought. Early the next day the fire was built up and the steady increase in temperature matched our rising elation until we went for a cup of tea and our three year drag was extended by another 12 months. A tube blew! In fact the next two days saw a great deal of effort to get 97 working but in the end rotten tubes defeated all efforts. Now here was a problem. An expensive and time consuming overhaul was insufficient and a new set of tubes were needed. The old tubes came out double quick and agreement was reached with the Stour Valley RPS to split the cost 50/50. The removal of the old tubes showed us other problems and the summer months of 1975 were spent replacing the upper supply pipes inside the boiler, fitting the new tiubes amd doing a lot of odds and ends.

Away from Chapel the LSW van at Quainton received its regular attention with one of the sliding doors being rebuilt and new panels and mouldings fitted. Our desire for perfection here resulted in us restoring what had already been restored as new methods gave better results. Gresleyitus was still inflicting us and the POS 70294E joined the fold. This unique vehicle was complete except for exchange apparatus but the TPO section of the post office were very helpful and a complete set of vehicle and lineside equipment came our way. With the POT 70268E we now boasted the only ex LNER mail train in existence. The year 1975 was significant in many other respects. For some time the newsletters had carried comments on our name and the image we projected. The outcome was long discussions and eventually at the AGM a change of name. The 7597 Fund now became Railway Vehicle Preservations. At the same time a club badge was called for and designs submitted by members resulted in our first pictorial ballot. The design which now heads our paperwork and lapel badges proved to be the almost outright choice. Earlier in the year a group of members succeeded in purchasing a 52 foot Gresley Brake coach. The normal ballot had 62565 on to the stock list and this is still the only short bow ended Gresley coach in preservation. It joined the other stock at Rye House waiting, for what was not yet known. So 1976 was almost upon us and members were very active and now looking forward to seeing 7597 in steam.

(and that sadly is where we have to leave the story - it was continued in a later edition of Outlook which I don’t have a copy of. Would members at that time please check to see if they still have a copy as I’d very much like to complete the story. In addition does anyone want to continue the story to cover the next 26 years?).