The Friends of the
of England Group
|16 March 2014
Diary of Events
Running my Own Railway
10 March 2014
John gave his talk without notes or accompanying slides, keeping the audience fully engaged with his anecdotes. He started by noting that railways have had a strong impact on his family, in the case of his maternal grandfather, literally, as he died when a sack fell on him at a railway granary store. A a member of the Plymouth Brethren, another member took responsibility for his widow, John's Grandmother, and her children. This involved some of them moving temporarily to Darlington, where the sons became apprentices in the workshops and the daughters were trained for domestic service. It was during this time that John's mother saw the 1925 celebrations and was sufficiently impressed to keep the souvenir brochures, passing them to John when he was old enough to be captivated by the pictures. The result was inevitable – a Hornby OO followed, then an interest in the local station (they had moved back to Hockley in South Essex by then), leading into train-spotting. At school he was good at some things but useless at maths, but he and the maths teacher had one thing in common, they were both keen on railways. As a result, there was a school trip to Stratford depot.
After school, John went to help run his father's farm, until he married June in 1970 and moved with her to his own farm in Suffolk which, just by chance was next to the East Suffolk line. Some time later, John's own son got the railway bug and befriended the local signalman. Shortly after that, the signalling on the line was to be modernised with the loss of all the local boxes, so John and the local signalman got together to try to save the 'box. By this time John was already assembling a collection of railwayana. His first item was a gauge glass retrieved from No 65503 on the scrap line at Southend. He also acquired several Beccles station totems and a Southwold Railway station hand bell via a local antiques salesman. This got him hooked on collecting signalling equipment starting with an ex-LMS pegging instrument. Within a few years one room of his farm house was full of railwayana.
The next big step was made by June who saw a waiting room building at Brampton station and said that would make a wonderful summer house. John approached BR to try to buy it and was told they would contact him; nothing happened immediately. Meanwhile John had an offer of another farm, Mangapps, at Burnham on Crouch in Essex and stated the move back to the county of his birth. In August while the move was taking place, BR rang him and said he could have the building provided he moved it in three days. That was impossible, so he thought he had lost it. However, some months later while he was passing near his old farm, he saw the waiting room in a neighbours yard. The neighbour was Jim Prior, then Northern Ireland Secretary. Like John, he wanted to use the building as a summer house, but affairs of state had got in the way, so he offered it to John – finally he had it and moved it back to Mangapps.
In the mid 1980s, friends suggested he open his collection to the public. At the time farming was taking a downturn and the government was all in favour of farmers diversifying. Even his land agent thought it was a good idea to use an old barn as a museum for the public.
Meanwhile, John had been reading about the closure of the goods facilities at Norwich and the unknown fate of a 0-4-0 DM shunter D2325. When he was next in Norwich he had a look in the vicinity of the old Victoria Station and came across an old railway yard with a mixed collection of portacabins and vehicles. In the middle of this was the 0-4-0 shunter. John found the owner of the site and found out that he had bought to loco to prevent it from being cut up and after a bit of haggling and the promise from John that he wouldn't sell it on for scrap, he got it. The problem was then how to move it. Luckily, John knew a local business man who was just starting out in heavy-haulage, primarily to move railway carriages. H got him to try his hand at moving the shunter. Moving it down from Norwich went smoothly, but then came to question of where to put it at Mangapps. The temporary solution was to locate in the farm workshop, but this meant laying some temporary rails across the yard, an up a sharp incline into the building. It proved a struggle to get up the last bit and, following advice to “give it a bit of welly”, he shot up the incline and just managed to stop a couple of inches before demolishing the end wall of the workshop.
So he had a locomotive, how about at track and some wagons. A local sugar-beet factory was having a clear out and offered to sell, at a knock-down price, some old private-owner wagons, rails and chairs. The latter turned out to be ex-GER 1880 vintage, so a real bonus for the fledgling museum. But the train of wagons would need a brake-van. He approached the editor of “Rail” magazine, who referred him to a Mr Myers at BR Derby. He offered John a selection of brake vans, but all were stored at Tinsley Yard, the concentration point for this type of vehicle. John went up and chose one. The asking price was a standard £650 – the normal procedure of tendering being dispensed with as scrap merchants were just not interested in them because of the large amount of concrete dead-weight in their chassis. The problem is Tinsley Yard wasn't road connected. No matter for an extra £10 BR offered to run it over to the nearby Sheffield Freight-liner yard and lift it onto his lorry. John hired a haulier and at the appointed time they were waiting at the freight-liner yard, but no brake van! It turned out that there was a permanent way possession between Tinsley and there, meaning that the brake van was making a 20 mile detour around the outskirts of Sheffield. Finally it turned up and was loaded onto the lorry. The driver wasn't too pleased but was pacified when he was offered a few free wooden sleepers for his trouble! Then back to Mangapps. Unfortunately there had been very heavy rain overnight and by the time they got there, the drive and yard were a sea of mud. Needless to say the lorry got bogged down. Using the the farms own tractors they managed to separate the lorry tractor unit from its trailer and drag it into position for off-loading. A wooden-bodied luggage van also arrived on the same day had had similar problems; at one point the van and the trailer unit it was on were leaning at a very precarious angle, but with a bit of a heave from the farm tractors, they righted without mishap. He had even acquired another locomotive, 03399, in the meantime. One day, while he was out spraying the fields he stopped by a local house for tea. The lady of the house said she had noticed his diesel locomotives and suggested he speak to her brother, who owned two steam engines. John didn't need too much persuasion and quickly found out that both were 0-6-0 tanks, perfectly suitable for his planned sites, and what's more, the owner was under notice to quit his current site. They arrived at Mangapps quickly afterwards in 1987
By late 1989 John had a very reasonable collection of railwayana, rolling stock, locomotives and track, which should attract visitors. But then came the bureaucratic bit – getting the planning consents. He started by asking for a meeting with the local council tourist officer, who was only too happy to visit and brought the planning officer along as well. Surprisingly, both were happy with John's ideas, but the problem wasn't with the developments on the site, it was the access road – and approval for that rested with the County Council who had a policy that no new entries could be made off de-restricted country roads. Luckily, Nicholas Ridley took a decision while he was at the Environment Department, to remove some of the powers of the County Councils. John's local council contacts made him aware of this and suggested he slap in a planning application quickly, which they promptly approved before the County Council know what to do.
Then, out of the blue, came a call from a manager at Liverpool Street, who said that he was planning the celebrations for the centenary of the Southend line. They were planning special trains but needed some extra attractions at the Southend area. Would John be interested in hosting visitors to his collection? John contacted his local volunteers to help and got a couple of vintage buses to help ferry the visitors, but was then told by the BR people that there would be 500 people on each train – more buses were needed, but they helped to provide them. On the day, five double deck buses arrived, full to capacity. He had a few demonstrations of signalling, but couldn't give much by way of rides as the lines were not cleared for passengers. Something had to be done to regularise this, if repeats and general public openings were to be held.
He got in touch with the Colne Valley Line management to seek advice. They recommended he go to the Department of Transport inspector, Major Peter Olver. He came on a visit to Mangapps, June picking him up from the station and having absolutely no difficulty identifying him from the other passengers. Major Olver was very helpful and gave permission to build about ¼ mile of track, all that was then easily possible without having problems with public footpaths. Once it was ready, Major Olver came back to inspect and all the volunteers turned out in crisp BR uniforms, all standing to attention. He was happy with the state of the line, but John owned up to the facing points lock not being fully installed. Major Olver said that was no problem, just clamp it temporarily until you get a permanent installation, then just write to let him know – no need for further inspections, and he got his Light Railway Order.
Trains on the ¼ mile of track then provided
reasonable trips for visitors, but John was still not satisfied.
He would really like a longer run, but the public footpath was a
problem. The solution was to put in a sharp curve and gradient and
pay for the path to be deviated by a small amount. The result was
a ½ mile run. It will be difficult to extend any further as not
only would they need to cross the footpath, but a high-pressure
gas pipeline and drainage ditch. With the legislation changing,
this will require a Transport and Works Order, which will be
costly and prone to all kinds of objections – so the ½ mile of
track is it, although there is also a short branch they can use on
The Museum was now becoming well established. Having started as a collection of signalling artefacts, it had grown to become a functioning railway. In 1992/3 he was invited to join the Association of Railway Preservation Societies. During his address to the AGM that year, he noted that all his signals were on show to the public – unlike the NRM – Andrew Dow, then Director of the NRM was guest speaker! But he parted on good terms with Andrew. He must have, because in 1996, Richard Gibbon telephoned to ask if John would be interested in having the Haddiscoe Junction signal box which was, at that time, located at the Science Museum. The Science Museum were willing to de-access it and pay for the move, but John had to organise the move itself. The problem was it was 70 yards inside the building and to get it out involved moving it past several major exhibits, such as Puffing Billy. With the help of a local builder, who helped to remove the 'box roof, and the haulage firm, they spent a full 24 hours jacking, winching and rolling the 'box out of the hall. It must be one of the few signal boxes which has moved past a locomotive, as well as past Buckingham Palace! He had a lot of help from the NRM and Richard hosted a visit for John and his volunteers to the NRM after the exercise was complete. The visit included a tour round the NRM reserve collection and during this visit, John said to Andrew Dow that it needed to be on public show but don't worry about presentation and interpretation. This must have had an effect, because the Warehouse came about soon afterwards.
During his time building up the collection and operating the railway, he has met a lot of fascinating people. One of these was a neighbour who was deputy head at Shoeburyness. He invited John to look round the site, especially the railway items. One of these caught John's eye, a continental van. It had been left stranded in UK when WWII broke out. It still had its RCH number and had been requisitioned to work on the coastal defence trains. For some reason it was never returned to its owners, French Railways, after the war. He successfully managed to have it transferred to Mangapps. This got him a suitable area to display some of his foreign collection of railwayana, but there still wasn't enough space. So more recently he visited Canada and northern USA and found a caboose available at Fairfield, Iowa. With the, then, regular shipping of Class 66 locos across the Atlantic, it proved possible to get the transfer across to UK. The move was organised by Andrew Goodman who for some strange reason seemed to be in the locality at the time, but wasn't letting on why. I suspect it had something to do with two streamlined locos which are just about to return to North America, but John's lips are sealed. I suspect the caboose will not be the last of John's collection.
The Mangapps railway is open every Saturday and Sunday for visitors and John noted that there will be a major event there this coming August Bank holiday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the railway.
For more information see Mangapps
Railway Web site