In 1955, two things happened which were to have a profound effect on my life.
MILE POST ONE
Although born, and spending my early years in a house backing onto the former L&Y line from Liverpool to Manchester, I did not have much interest in the trains. Both locomotives, with barely visible lettering LMS, and carriages were filthy, outside and in. My father’s job carried a generous expense allowance to run a car, so journeys by train were infrequent, but sometimes when my mother was carrying out one of her interminable searches for shoes/gloves/hat/handbag or whatever to match her new dress (not even afternoon tea at the Khardoma compensated me for the tedium of these excursions) she and I travelled from Fazackerley to Exchange Station in a clapped out non-corridor 3rd class vehicle (which some years later, I suspected of being of L&Y origin) still smelling faintly of urine and vomit from the previous Saturday night’s occupants. These trips came to an end when the upholstery, which appeared to be woven horse-hair, infected one of my chubby little legs with impetigo. Henceforth, she decreed trips “up to Town” would by by tram, risking the possibility of picking up a “Scotland Road flea.”
Trains were not therefore high on my list of interests – I was much more taken with the steam lorries which hissed and rattled over the hump-backed bridge next to the house, en route to Hartley’s Jam factory. From a very young age (I do not remember being given it – it was always just “there”) I had a Hornby “0” gauge clockwork 0-4-0 in maroon LMS livery, a goods brake van and two wagons. I was not impressed, the loco looked nothing like anything which ever passed our house, and the play value was minimal. This “disappeared” – there had been complaints that it took up too much room when set up, to be replaced by a Hornby Dublo 3-rail “Duchess of Montrose” with two carriages, and an N2 both in early BR livery, and 3 or 4 goods trucks. This lot could be used on the dining table, and cleared away quickly. I was still not very happy – the collection did not look much like the railway I was familiar with.
Then my father changed jobs and we moved to Harrogate, initially to a temporary home in a flat over looking the famous “200 Acre Stray” – a large green expanse with a railway running through it in a shallow cutting. Soon after we moved in, I went out to explore (we were not wrapped in cotton wool in those days, for over two years in Liverpool I had been walking over a mile to and from school, through a maze of suburban streets and along a very busy main road. The only warning I was given was “Do not talk to strangers. Gipsies will try and kidnap you to steal your clothes”).
I heard a train starting from Harrogate station, so hurried to the railway side. I was astounded. A beautiful, clean, green locomotive, called Flamboyant, pulling elegant brown and cream carriages, some bearing names, each with a table carrying a pink shaded lamp. I realised that railways did not have to be dirty, ugly and boring. It was some time before I found out what I had seen. A Peppercorn A1 Pacific, on the Up “Queen of Scots” Pullman. On 1/- per week pocket money, and with a poorly stocked local library, I began to learn more. It was the first step to becomimg a railwayman for over 30 Years, but I was still dissatisfied with my train set. Why, at such an early age did I think that the A1 was a better looking locomotive than the “Duchess”?
MILE POST TWO
- H. Smith used to hold book sales a couple of times per year, of damaged stock, publishers remainders and items which had just remained unsold for too long. These were displayed on atable near the front of the shop, but at this time Smiths were running down their subscription library, and sales were almost continuous. Prices were cheap -often pence – within pocket money range, and amongst the Barbara Cartlands, Agatha Christies, and Peter Cheneys, one might find the odd Conan Doyle, C. S. Forrester, Freeman Wills Croft, or R. Austin Freeman. Amongst the dross on one particular day was “Modelling the Old-Time Railways”. Thus I saw for the first time pictures of work by Peter Deny, John Ahern and Beal himself. These were the type of model railway that I wanted, locos with tall chimneys, polished brass domes and safety valve casings, elegant single driver locomotives, luxurious clerestory roof carriages in elaborate liveries, clourful private owner wagons, all running through realistic surroundings. Station platforms, peopled by railway workers in neat uniforms, gentlemen passengers, top hatted and frock coated, ladies in long dresses and big hats, horse-drawn vehicles in the gopds yard, ans Hansom Cabs outside the station. Beal’s book showed how the late Victorian/Edwardian railways looked, and how they could e reproduced in miniature, fro making horse-drawn vehicles to altering modern model figures with wax to backdate their clothing. I still have one o two I made 60 years ago, and I still use Beal’s method of laminating layers of card with shellac to make rolling stock bodies.
I had t have this book, it was reduced in price from 17/6d (about £16 at 2018 values) because of a torn dust jacket, but still way beyond my means at 7/6d. I pleaded in vain for an advance on pocket money, but then my mother (who was not a “reading woman” apart from magazines), remembered she had an unused book token… Thus I obtained one of te most important books in my life. It strengthened my desire to work on the railway, and encouraged an absorbing, stimulating and frustrating hobby. Despite having little knowledge, no money, few skills and liited resouces of patience, I was determined to do my damnedest to build the model railway of my dreams. Over 60 years, three moves of town, five house removals retirement to another country and il-health, I still am! And it is all due to “Modelling the Old -Time Railways”.