FNRM Logo

The Friends of the
National Railway Museum

South of England Group
Vice Presidents: Richard Hardy; Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA




Last Update

           TALK SYNOPSIS

28 April 2012
Return to Index

Diary of Events

News
Press Cuttings
Visit Reports
Lecture Reports Product News

Briefings

Living North Eastern

David Thomas

16 April 2012

David, joined by his wife and son, gave an enjoyable talk about his family connections with the North Eastern Railway and its successors, over an 80 year period, interspersed with more general information on the development of those railways. He grew up in York with the smell of locomotive smoke and oil permeating the house – not because they were close to the railway, but the smell coming from his father's overalls! This was especially the case on Monday wash-days.

David's family originated from the Dales; his great-grandfather, William, living in Gilling on the Thirsk to Malton line (opened in 1853).

His father, John, didn't remain in the village, joining the NER in 1889 as a cleaner. He soon fell foul of the bosses when he was involved in a runaway engine which finished up in the turntable pit. This led to his suspension. However, evidence from those involved, supported by a character reference from his local vicar, showed he wasn't solely to blame and he was re-instated. Subsequently he was promoted to fireman in 1892 and driver in 1900, David showing a photograph of him standing proudly in front of his Class “C” engine. The promotions and increased income enabled him to marry Elizabeth in 1901 and buy a home at 172 Bishopthorpe Road, York.

This was a time of much change. The locomotive works at York closed in 1905, their last job being the conversion of BTPs to the 209 class 0-6-0. There quickly followed the Class R locos allowing an acceleration of trains, the restructuring of the NER locomotive department in 1910, a change of C.M.E. (Raven) and the building of superheated 3 cylinder Z class 4-4-2s. All the development came to a shuddering halt with World War I.

In June 1916, Lord Kitchener was travelling from Kings Cross to Thurso. His train was held at York while a following train arrived to deliver an important message. Jim had the job of taking Kitchener's delayed train to Newcastle. He did a good job making up some lost time although the riding in the train must have been rough. Despite this, both John and his fireman were presented with a gold sovereign for their service by one of Kitchener's adjutants. This was Kitchener's last journey – he was lost at sea the following day on HMS Hampshire while sailing to Russia for a diplomatic visit.

Jim was John's second son born in 1904. On leaving school he took a variety of jobs – assistant to a local butcher, the manufacture of shells, and then as a telegraph boy, before joining his father in April 1919 at York shed. This was a time of unrest in the industry, with little time to recover from the war before the railway companies were grouped into the Big Four; the NE joining the LNER. One of the impacts of this was that NE locomotives worked through to London on the East Coast line. However, double heading was often necessary and it wasn't until the Raven and Gresley Pacifics came that the issue was addressed.

Meanwhile Jim had been promoted and in 1925 fired an engine taking one of the exhibits to the 100th anniversary celebrations for the Stockton & Darlington Railway. He went on to fire engines on other routes, although the Woodhead route was not one of his favourites. Not only was it difficult, even with a O4 ex-ROD, but he also disliked the local Wath men. Jim's regular engine was No 2168, a Z Class. The tender was changed for a larger one in 1928 so that it could pilot the Flying Scotsman service if needed. Even so, it still retained some of its NE livery – its “Z Class” marking still showing up on its buffer-beam in a 1930s photograph. It finally finished its days at Heaton shed and was cut up in 1947 at Darlington.

In July 1930, while working a train on the East Coast route, over the Scrooby water-troughs south of Doncaster, John was hit by debris cast off from a passing train. It was probably a lump of coal which had been washed off the other locomotive's tender by excess water. It came through his engine's spectacle plate and hit him on the head. He never really recovered, and died a few years later.

In 1930, Jim was passed as a driver but he continued firing for several further years. He met his wife, Rene, and was married in 1936, setting up home at 41 Nunethorpe Grove. This was the same year that York received its first allocation of A1 and V2 locomotives. However, Jim was more familiar with less glamorous types. In the winter of 1940 he found himself on a Q6 allocated to a York to Newport (Stockton) freight which got stuck in a snowdrift at Eaglescliffe. It was several days before he got home. By coincidence near the same spot on another train, he was faced with a large white horse standing in front of the train which seemed to have no intention of moving. He opened the cylinder drain cocks, which served the purpose of startling it into movement, but it went running in front of the train over the nearby viaduct, closely followed by the Q6 and its train.

The Baedeker raids on York in April 1942 caused some major damage, including to Jim's house; luckily the family were in the Anderson shelter when the raid was on. As a result, they had to move in with John's widow (David's grandmother) for a little time, before finding themselves back in Gilling East. David remembers it being so silent compared to the metropolis of York. After that they took lodgings at Ingleton before returning back to a rebuilt 41 Nunethorpe Grove. That was not the end of the war for the street. In March 1945, a Halifax bomber from 426 squadron based nearby, crashed into the street. It destroyed two houses and damaged a further nine.

Post war, the LNER didn't really get the chance to start its recovery before nationalisation came. It was around this time that David would occasionally accompany his father round York sheds which were just receiving the first Thompson A2s and Peppercorn A1s. The Ian Allan loco-spotter books were now available and, like so many of us, these stimulated David into taking more interest in the railways. His father could never understand the interest in number collecting, but he did give him a ride on the footplate of his J94. Jim, like all footplatemen, received free travel concessions for journeys in the NE region. It was on one of these concession holiday journeys that David was offered a ride by one of Jim's colleagues on B1 No 1288 between Malton and Whitby. In the following decade many of the stations and lines in the East riding were close; Gilling being an early casualty in 1953 with the line following in 1962.

Meanwhile Jim was extending his sphere of operations, being cleared to run on the East Coast Route to Kings Cross. On one of these journeys, David was a passenger on his father's train which, despite some on-route delays, arrived right-time at the terminus. David joined Jim and his fireman for a drink and was amazed that the fireman managed to down two pints before he an his father had even been served. It was soon after this that the diesels took over operations, and Jim moved on to English Electric Type 4s and Deltics, before finally, in 1967, being allocated D8309 for use on officer special workings. However, he didn't do this long as he had already applied for retirement. In retirement he was amazed at how much was achieved by the railway preservation movement. He paid a visit to the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, which is when he told David about his involvement in the equivalent event 50 years earlier. Jim died in 1986.

So ended David's description of his family's connections with the NE Railway. David didn't follow his father and grandfather's in that line, but he has been closely associated with the NRM, being one of the people to initiate the volunteer coordination programme, something he still assist with.