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Lecture Reports

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The Romance of Steam on the London, Chatham and Dover Railway - Alan Postlethwaite
11/02/2008
  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 South Eastern and Chatham Railway 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 is 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.