The Romance of Steam on the London, Chatham and Dover Railway
11 February 2007
We welcomed Alan Postlethwaite, author of several
books about steam on the Southern Railway. Alan took his photographs
mainly between 1958 and 1961 using a Voitlander 2¼" square-format
camera. In those days he was somewhat limited in his ability properly
to process the shots, with the result that some 1200 negatives were
stored in his loft for many years. However, retirement day finally
dawned, and Alan started the mammoth task of carefully printing what, by
then, was valuable archive material. He is determined that the
photographs reach as wide an audience as possible and this was the
driving force behind him writing his books. Alan also drew on this
extensive photographic library to develop the illustrated talk he gave
us on the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, most appropriately in this,
the 150th anniversary year of its establishment.
Alan commenced by giving a brief history of the development of the
company between its formation in East Kent and its final merger with the
South Eastern, to form the S.E.C.R. in 1899.
We then got the opportunity to see the images Alan had taken of
aspects of the railway as it existed in the 1950s and '60s. Even at that
time, much of the infrastructure had remained little altered from the
days of the L.C.&D.R. It's sobering to realise that we are now
nearly as far in the future from when the photographs were taken, as
Alan was from the time of the L.C.&D.R. when he took them!
To make the presentation a little different from the normal slide
show, Alan went through the sequence of 39 frames twice - the first time
with a commentary written in verse. We then took a much closer look at
each in turn. Alan explained the significance of aspects of the verse as
it related to the photograph. The audience were also invited to expand
on their knowledge of the scenes, several being familiar with the
localities. The photographic journey started at London Victoria and took
in Herne Hill, Sydenham Hill, Maidstone, Chatham, Faversham, Margate,
Ramsgate, Canterbury, and Dover. The audience dwelled on the shot of the
old Ludgate Hill looking towards Holborn Viaduct, showing the original
descent into Snow Hill Tunnel, with the cantilevered signalbox spanning
the descending line. There was some discussion over why this line was
electrified (third rail, of course) when the original Snow Hill line was
just steam hauled. Does anyone have any answers?
All the photographs were beautifully crisp, including some excellent
studies of the characteristic semaphore signals used on the line. Such
sharpness was commendable when one realises that the camera Alan used
only had a maximum shutter speed of 1/200th of a second.
The final frame showed the old Blackfriars Bridge, before the
removal of one of the spans, and the wharf underneath it which served
the pool of London. At that time, the old wagon turntable on the
riverbank and its associated hoist, were still extant - at the spot
where tourists now wander to Tate Modern and The Globe Theatre - how
times have changes in the intervening 50 years!