Bedford Past Meetings 2024

4th June 2024: The Midland Heads for Wales, Part 1 Hereford–Brecon - Chris Jones

Chris took as his topic the Midland Railway’s advance to Swansea, following on from his talk on the Central Wales Line, and how the LNWR got to Swansea in 1873. The Great Western Railway was already there after its take over of the South Wales Railway (which had opened the first line to Swansea in 1850). Finally the Midland Railway, not wanting to be left out of the "Dash for Swansea", took the hard way, via running powers, takeovers, even renting shed space and almost entirely single line working.
The story began in Hereford where the Midland arrived by running powers to find the Hereford, Hay and Brecon Railway ripe for a takeover. Chris explained the complex arrangements at Hereford and the various loops and link lines culminating in 1893 with at last MR trains running into the GWR Barrs Court Station leading to the closure of the bleak Moorfields and the attractive Barton. We then journeyed on towards Hay, our trip being enlivened with superb photos from the late Alan Jarvis collection loaned by the SLS. Chris thanked the many organisations and individuals who had helped him with his research.
The line to Brecon carried considerable freight and was at its zenith around the time of WW1. The four interchanges at Eardisley, Hay, Three Cocks and Tallylyn added to the bustle and activity on the line and all were illustrated in the pictures which included ones loaned by Oakwood press. The websites of Glasbury and Talgarth villages had also produced some real gems of photos to add to the interest. The through carriage arrangements were noted but it was agreed that there was never a through coach from St Pancras...
The Dowlais tanks were not missed as Mr Jarvis was on hand to record their passing. This traffic helped the line greatly in the late 50’s early 60’s but was not enough to save it. It also seemed that WR acquisition of former LMS lines was a death sentence. This was a fate that should have befallen the Central Wales line, except that under a Labour Government it ran through three marginal seats.
After a thorough exploration of the complex arrangements at Talyllyn we went on through the tunnel to Brecon and finished up with two extra items. Firstly, some Peter Handford audio, recorded on a train to Brecon which featured the immortal shout out of “Talyllyn” - remember when station names used to be called out by porters with regional accents - and, finally, the TWW film of a trip in 1962 on the line was shown with the reporter (Gordon Tucker) settled comfortably in apparent luxury first class seat.
A first class talk so we await Part 2, to take us on from Brecon to Swansea.

7th May 2024: Shildon–Stockton: The real Stockton & Darlington Railway - Dennis Lovett

Bedford enjoyed a return visit by Dennis Lovett whose subject this time was the Stockton to Darlington Railway and his usual style of excellently presented PowerPoint slides gave great coverage to the subject. Dennis is a joint author for the excellent Middleton book series and concentrates his work on the Northeast. He is always a welcome visitor to the branch and no doubt it adds to the sales of these still reasonably priced books.
Our story began with the background to transport in the North East with wagonways and early attempts to move coal and limestone to the Tyne ports. The list of eminent men who thought all this out (Pease, Stephenson and Hackworth) led to locomotives and the first full passenger and freight railway opening in 1825. My own local Mumbles Train of 1807 only carried passengers as the goods failed to show up then.
We followed the route from Shildon with pits, early waggons and inclines to the fore. Via an excellent and very clear timeline to the present day. This required sheds loco works and housing and luckily some has survived for public gaze today like Hackworth’s house part of Shildon works and a onetime pub now as a sign of the times an exotic restaurant which was said to be the world’s first railway station. The new Locomotion hub looks worth a visit too. Modern works like Hitachi and new depots show how the industry continues with photos both past and present.
Heritage and tradition continued on our way until finishing our journey at Stockton.
The many Maps and much photography in colour made it all very professional and enjoyable. So we are grateful for Dennis giving his time freely and continuing the tradition with these books started by Vic Mitchell who I once had the privilege to meet. (CHJ)

As part of the Stockton and Darlington Railway Centenary Celebrations, on 1st July 1925 S&DR 'Locomotion' heads a recreation of one of the first trains, as part of the parade. Photo: LCGB, now NRM, Ken Nunn collection  

2nd April 2024: A Two Parter, by two of our Local Supporters
The Smallford Station Project

First off was Alastair Cameron with an informative talk on how to save and open to the public the remains of a local railway station - with support from the local council and much volunteer time, both young and old, a great deal can be achieved. The station in question is Smallford, which was a simple roadside station on a single line route, the St Albans to Hatfield line of the GNR, opened in 1866 and closed to passengers in 1951 and freight in 1965. The line has become a walking and cycling route.  A supporter’s group was formed partly inspired by a local postman who had single handedly restored a nearby halt at Nast Hyde. Volunteers have cleaned up the platform and put in lamps and seats. There is a small car park and opportunities for food and interpretation via the retired goods van soon to be installed enabling the group to display some of its relics collection some of which were dug up locally including a lump of Barnsley coal much coveted by the GN for its engines. There have been opportunities for local youngsters to help with excavations and artwork. Alastair showed a range of photographs and there was an opportunity for discussion after, which produced a lively exchange. Branch sporters were obviously pleased to learn more of a local project so we wish them well and thanked Alastair. Details if the project can be found at

69631 passing Hill End - the next satation along the line - as the 6.10pm Hatfield to Salvation Army Sidings light engine on 28th August 1056. On its way to pick up the ‘The War Cry’ magazine and other publications from the Salvation Army sidings. Photo Peter Bland

Oxford to Cambridge

Next up off the bench for the second half was local rail expert Richard Crane who took us along the route of the Oxford to Cambridge Railway, showing how the line has changed over its long history featuring closure and resurgence. Starting at Oxford Rewly Rd terminus which like other line structures lives on in preservation. The route towards Bletchley featured stations, some closed and others reopening as part of East West Rail. We saw how Chiltern Trains had transformed part of the route when opening up from Marylebone to Oxford and Chris Green was praised on this occasion as on many others during the talk. What would we have done without him and the late Adrian Shooter. It seemed under Green anything was possible in the way of special trains. By way of the HS2 interchange now ready to go or “some day after a while” (john Mayall)! I was pleased to see that the box at Claydon lives on in preservation as in a photo with me on the track — Don’t try this today!
At Bletchley we heard about specials and the changes to motive power not forgetting the Flyover. Richard was on home ground towards Bedford where the car train passed (It’s going past as I write these notes). The problems of east/west were again aired between shots of the stations on the route with arrival at Bedford St John’s. We dashed on towards Cambridge especially enjoying shots of the last remnant of Cap’n Peel’s little line with its listed loco shed lurking in a Potton ex market gardener’s yard for all to see. At Old North Rd Station, the last but one stop before Cambridge was reached, an amazing restoration has taken place. Look it up and look out for an open day. Thanks to Richard for another well-planned tour of a much-missed line which will yet rise in some form from the ashes. (CHJ)

Mabel Clements looks on as M79900, one of the two Derby Built Single Unit Motor Brake Seconds, leaves Verney Junction on a Buckingham to Bletchley working in the early 1960s. Photo: Harold Clements.

5th March 2024: An 11th Colour Rail Journey - Paul Chancellor

How grateful we are for the work being done to save such a valuable asset as railway history in mostly colour slides but also B and W prints. As their site says 148,806 images and growing. Old as well as modern traction so recording railway history as it happens.

Paul’s journey was mostly “1964 an interesting year”. This was when your scribe took up his hobby so the wait was worth it.

The journey was nationwide showing the shear range on offer to just view or purchase for you own use or in my case to embellish talks. Not only but also all those liveries garish among them that we had forgotten or are trying to forget

1964 and what a year it was with rails ripped up on line closures in a bad year as I well remember in South Wales

It was also the era of the enthusiast tour where in those halcyon days we detrained onto the ballast in our thousands to wander and photograph at will as our train waited by a sleeper placed across the far end of a decaying branch line. So, we were treated to many tour views.

The whole show just exuded variety from traction to liveries to settings

It was truly a tour of Britain starting in Penzance and ending in Banff with its curious terminal building. There were DMU’s of all hues and Paul covered all forms of these and EMUs on the tour. Steam was not neglected even if most machines were getting rather run down by then. So, we saw a Grange at Oxford, a contrast of grubby Class 56’s at Dowlais Cae Harris and 02’s on The Isle of Wight

'Blue Pullman' unit at Bristol Bath Road depot. 129 Colour Rail - Image courtesey and copyright

Ex NER Q6 0-8-0s at Tyne Dock 459 Colour Rail  - Image courtesey and copyright

Odd one of or twos of shunters were included in strange mysterious depots like S169 in Yeovil sleeper depot. Or The Pug at Neath probably as it attempted to get to Swansea Docks

In London we saw assorted steam and electric traction including even an “ugly” Q.

We romped on up Britain by way of Leamington over to Holyhead and east to Saltney. Up the hills to Parsley Hay and it seems no part had been missed on the tour from highlands to lowlands and collections praised for their diversity and the foresight of the many collectors who have given their work to Colorail so the journey can continue

My favourites—sea sun and sand at North Blythe with a Q6 and a B3 at Sunderland

The journey ended with a selection of traction that had survived the cutters torch and can now be enjoyed on main line or heritage sights

We hope Paul will be back to share more memories on a 12th journey (CHJ 12/03/24)

6th February 2024: Blue is the Colour - Richard Crane

With apologies to football fans, well Mr Crane especially. Richard can always come up with those missing railway topics which can turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. Despite his warnings that we would doze off or need matchsticks to prop our eyes open I detected no such malaise in our audience. It was enlightening and instructive to remember an era that is passed but has recently been creeping back. Wall to wall blue was the order of the day as we moved through the traction classes. Richard as usual had thoroughly researched his topic and left no stone unturned. Starting with XP64 from 1964 he revived our corporate memories. Steam at least as liveries were concerned had mostly had its day so it was a brief look a Caley colour and some LNER stuff.

LNER A4 4468 Mallard at NRM, York - Image courtesy Richard Crane

So on via the new Pullmans and even blue Sealink to entering the world of diesel classes from 01 on to infinity class 45 saving the best until last perhaps from that blue era.

Class 45 (D) 97 at Flitwick - Image Courtesy Richard Crane

All were described though some are best glossed over. So as not to offend supporters do book Mr Crane for your next talk so you can challenge him on his views of the disgraceful reputation of some classes and the well-deserved reputation of others. His own and others pictures were featured and we saw Cl 27 and 28 featured at Bedford.

In my case a Cl37 glimpsed and heard toiling up a Welsh valley is my desert Island locomotive.

What was clear from his talk was that the plethora of unnecessary classes was an outdated desire to provide often freight shunting and class 8 goods workhorses for a traffic that was about to fall off a cliff. Even “super Shunters all 3 of them. Then there was the Western region and its isolationist policy regarding Hydraulics. All good stuff and enjoyable.
Things continued with Electric locos and electro diesels of which many less were built and so a good percentage are still at work. The preserved last 4VEP looks splendid in its new livery but as yet unable to move under its own power.

Moving away from the blue era “Sectorisation” produced some interesting  liveries and we looked at several examples some attractive others less so.

Moving nearer to today blue has been creeping back via Scotrail and Pendolinos. The Lumo looked striking DRS got my blessing and a CL88 at Chester looked good.

A final flush of blue steam repaints brought us back to earth.

Richard is to be relied upon to give us a thoughtful evening with the audience wide awake throughout. (CHJ 08/02/24)

2nd January 2024: Nothing Stays the Same -  Mike Corbett

The branch welcomed a new speaker Mr Mike Corbett. He had a 50-year career as a railwayman mostly in depot and works management. He was a senior engineering manager at Wolverton works when he retired. He describes himself as a people man so most of his pictures featured works colleagues and visitors. It was refreshing to see groups of smiling teams all getting on with running the railway in its various guises. Mike went as an engineering graduate to Crewe in the late 1960’s just missing out on the steam era. He began in an era with no or early “clunky” computers. He still attends the annual Crewe works dinner the longest running Railway dinner started in 1884. However, he did get to star with a champion of the steam age when he was project manager for the restoration of Flying Scotsman to main line running in 2016 for the NRM.

Mike spent time at Finsbury Park looking after the racehorses of the east Coast mainline—The legendary Deltics. People pictures featured including one of railway and “top Shed” sage Peter Townsend. Things followed by time in the Liverpool Street Division with a yellow van. Here he met legends like Bill Harvey.

We were amused by the sight and story of a Cl 47 being used to support the ailing CEGB generating system at West Thurrock for a while and of course being up on blocks.

He spent a good deal of time helping to set up the new Diesel depot known as “Crown Point” near Norwich. In an awkward spot and difficult to operate it was a success but not after he showed us disparaging cartoons from the local press about late trains etc. The depot carried out many wheel set jobs each year.
Norwich Crown Point - Image courtesy Mike Corbett

He then went to Chart Leacon NSE depot in the 1990’s managing 600 staff. More bogie changes and electric circuit works. Pictures included a certain M Bentine who we all failed to recognise. The Christmas card had even been saved for posterity.

Opened by Sir Peter Parker who featured in photos along with other photos of staff and visitors. Open days of the old fashion type where in a range of pictures along with visiting celebrities like Toya Wilcox and Steve Bruce. We are grateful that Mike got his camera out and captured these scenes. He even went to France on an exchange with engineering graduates.

Mike finally moved to Wolverton opened in 1838 and still going-just. He was innovative in recording paper and aural archives. More pictures followed even of the annual sports day and the offices. His involvement with safety improvements was noted including “toolbox talks!
The lift shop Wolverton Works - Image courtesy Mike Corbett

We saw a model engine made by apprentices and now in MK museum and Mike also saved the alternator testers now on the SVR.

Finally, we heard about and saw his connection with The Royal Train.

This was a very rewarding illustrated talk with many anecdotes including shots of those much-enjoyed open days that used to happen. This all showing that we must not forget that the railway is still run by well-trained and caring people and so we look to a further visit and the sight of more saved images of long retired rail workers. (CHJ 14/01/24)


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