Rail and Shipping Entwined is based on notes for a 2017 talk written for the Gloucester Branch of the World Ship Society
Back in 2016 – back in the old Pop Inn – I gave a talk entitled Warships on the Rails. Part way through this I realised that not everyone in the audience understood some of the railway terminology that I was using and so this talk aims both to demystify some of that and also see how shipping has shaped railways in Britain and vice versa.
One of the first questions to ask is why bother with either rails or shipping. Early hunter gatherers could walk, run or climb to wherever they wanted to go on land. But as a safer and more comfortable alternative to swimming, boats were invented. Either dugout canoes as seen here or vessels made of animal skin on wooden frames or even using woven reeds. However, this primitive technology was challenged by the need to move heavy objects over long distances. One instance of this in Britain was the construction of Stonehenge in the years before 2 000 BC. Stonehenge comprised not only Sarsen stones found nearby in Wiltshire but Bluestones from the Preseli mountains in Pembrokeshire. The Bluestones may have been considered holy by the builders of Stonehenge, who left no written records. Apart from the question of why, the question of how the Bluestones were moved is also a matter of conjecture. One modern attempt at reconstruction used a sloping ramp and primitive ropes to hoist a monolith into a boat, but moving such a large, heavy object on land with tree trunk rollers or a sled greased with animal fat would also have been problematic and required large groups of well organised people.
Even more organised than their eventual Iron Age adversaries were the Romans, who invaded Great Britain in 43AD and consolidated their occupation by building long, straight roads. These allowed legions of soldiers to move rapidly about what they knew as the Island of Tin both on foot and with chariots and supply wagons. Pax Romana Britannica was to last four centuries and left its mark on the so-called Dark Ages which followed – literally in the case of Roman Roads. Not only did they become the basis for the A road network we know today but sections of paved Roman highway have been discovered with the ruts of chariot wheels. Wheels on axles rolling on a firm stone surface offer less resistance than a greased sled or a monolith being rolled on logs – allowing horses to do more useful work. Wheels spaced a standard width – or gauge – apart also meant that the ruts that they created helped to guide similar following vehicles. In the case of the Roman chariots – usually pulled by two horses – the gauge was 4 feet eight and a half inches.
Twelve hundred years later, 4‘ 8 ½” was still a popular gauge in the coal mining areas of Britain, most notably on the eight mile long wooden railed route between Tanfield Colliery and the River Tyne in County Durham, dating from 1647. This had to twice cross the deep valley of the Beckley Burn, once on the 102’ span of Causey Arch, completed in 1727. This remains the oldest surviving railway bridge in the World and was the largest single span bridge in Britain for 30 years. As early as 1568 however, German miners in the Lake District were using primitive wooden wagons on wooden rails known as “hunds” and more advanced wooden railways – with horses hauling loads far heavier than was possible on muddy tracks – were operating in Nottinghamshire and from Broseley in Shropshire to the River Severn by 1605. As wooden rails quickly wore out under wagons laden with ten tons of coal, they were often covered – or plated – in thin sheets of iron, which further reduced rolling friction but wore out the wooden wheels more quickly. The men who installed these rails became known as “platelayers” – a term which stuck right into the 20th Century.
Iron wheels were first used on a wooden railway at Prior Park near Bath in 1734 but as these tended to buckle the thin iron plating, wooden rails were replaced by cast iron. The first iron rails were cast in Coalbrookdale in 1767, and in this picture some have been placed on stone blocks rather than wooden cross members – or sleepers – as was the case with the earliest wooden railways. This practice was associated with Benjamin Outram, who may or may not have given his name to the term “tramroad”. The plain iron wheels, guided by flanges cast into the rails, were too narrow for use on ordinary roads. However, plain iron wheels tended to bind against the flange of the plate rail and mud and stones could easily accumulate and derail the wagons. In 1789 though, Benjamin Outram and Samuel Jessop faced opposition to building a flanged wagonway along a turnpike road to serve the Charnwood Forest Canal near Loughborough. Their solution was to bury edge rails in the road and use wagons with flanged wheels to run along it. A similar edge railway was serving the Aire and Calder Canal near Wakefield in 1798. The Surrey Iron Railway with its flanged cast iron rails and plain wheeled wagons was sanctioned by Parliament in 1801 and completed in 1803 while by 1811 nearly 150 miles of flanged plateway connected canals, collieries, iron and copper works in South Wales. Similarly, the Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad opened in 1811 but in 1861 it closed and the plates were scrapped. By this time, a more coherent network of edge railways was spreading across Britain – able to carry heavier loads faster due to the power of steam.
Once again, the development of railways in all their forms was accelerated by the rise of coal mining. Not only was coal a heavy, bulky fuel but by 1712 it was being won from ever deeper mines which were prone to flooding. In that year Thomas Newcomen introduced his coal fired atmospheric pumping engine, later to be improved upon by James Watt. At the height of the Napoleonic Wars and the resulting shortage of horse fodder, the transition from static pumping engine to steam railway locomotive was made by Richard Trevithick. In 1804 his four wheeled engine ran over nine miles of the Pen-Y-Darren tramway near Merthyr Tydfil. This journey took four hours and moved ten tons of iron and seventy passengers. Ten years later in 1814 however, a “travelling engine” named after the Prussian military hero “Blucher” ran at Killingworth High Pit in Northumberland. It was the work of 31 year old self-educated engine wright George Stephenson, who in 1819 would go on to build an entire railway from Hetton Colliery to the River Wear. His next commission was to build the World’s first public railway powered by steam locomotives from Stockton on Tees to Darlington and Shildon, which opened on 27 September 1825.
At the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, George Stephenson told his son Robert and a friend, “Now lads, I venture to tell you that I think you will live to see the day when railways when railways will supersede almost all other methods of conveyance in this country – when mail coaches will go by railway, and railroads will become the great highway for the King and all his subjects. The time is coming when it will be cheaper for a working man to travel on a railway than to walk on foot. I know there are great and almost insurmountable difficulties to be encountered; but what I have said will come to pass as sure as you live.” This was a bold prophecy during the golden age of canal building which had followed the Duke of Bridgewater’s canal being opened across Barton Aqueduct in 1761. At the same time too, John Loudon Macadam had revolutionised the method of road construction and Thomas Telford was known as the Colossus of Roads for his London to Holyhead route. However, canals were limited to level ground, usually along contours unless expensive locks or aqueducts were built. And like roads, which could slope up hills, canals were limited to the power of horses as steam engines were not yet compact enough for road or narrow water use.
But what of shipping at the time of the Stockton and Darlington Railway? As we have already seen, many of the pioneering horse drawn wagonways and edge railways had been built to link coal fields to rivers and coasts – often with the aim of transporting coal by coastal sailing ship to the City of London. London itself, as capital of England, Wales and later Scotland and Ireland, had grown in wealth and importance due to centuries of association with shipping. Sir Francis Drake’s galleon The Golden Hind (pictured) had become the first English ship to circumnavigate the World in 1580 and the Honourable East India Company had been trading since 1600 and would continue until 1874.
Indeed, one sturdy vessel that would epitomise the link between the coastal coal trade and Britain’s empire was built in Whitby in 1764. Named “Earl of Pembroke”, she was ship rigged with a broad, flat bow, a square stern and a deep, box like hold. This design was also flat bottomed, making it ideal for navigation in shallow water and beaching for loading, unloading and repairs. It was known as a Whitby Cat, hence the expression initially applied to a small harbour “there is not room to swing a cat in here” – nothing to do with cruelty to animals! As HMS Endeavour from 1769 to 1771 however, former Earl of Pembroke was commanded by Lieutenant James Cook on his first voyage of discovery to Australia and New Zealand – further expanding the British Empire with what would eventually become two Dominions.
The Royal Navy of this time was also dependent on the power of sail – Admiral Horatio Nelson using it to defeat the navy of Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 – although as early as March 1803 the pioneering tug Charlotte Dundas had pulled two 70 ton barges 20 miles along the Forth and Clyde Canal to Glasgow. This voyage took nine and a quarter hours at 2 mph but in the face of “ a strong breeze right ahead” which stopped all horse drawn canal boats. The Aaron Manby (pictured) became first iron hulled steam ship to cross the English Channel on 10 June 1822 but applying steam propulsion to ships only really came of age with the introduction of oil fuel, water tube boilers and steam turbines in the 20th Century. Before this time, ships burning even the most highly calorific coal would have to stop frequently to refuel which was a long and labour intensive process. In contrast, sailing ships such as the Cutty Sark did not need coal, fresh boiler water, stokers or engineers and could keep up a high average speed even on longer routes without the benefits of ship canals such as those at Suez or Panama. Britain’s new railways , meanwhile, were surrounded by coal, fresh water and repair facilities, their greatest challenge being to generate sufficient power to move trains of wagons or passenger carriages within the loading gauge – the limits of the bridges and tunnels over the line.
Although the Stockton and Darlington Railway of 1825 was a success in terms of moving coal, many trains were still pulled by horses and passengers were carried as an afterthought. George Stephenson’s next challenge however was to apply locomotives – as opposed to a series of static winding engines suggested as an alternative – to a high speed inter city goods and passenger railway between the Port of Liverpool and the booming industrial City of Manchester. Indeed, George Stephenson also faced competition from rival locomotive manufacturers Timothy Hackworth with his “Sanspareil” and John Ericsson with his “Novelty” but George Stephenson’s “Rocket” (pictured) triumphed mainly due to its use of a multi tube as opposed to single fire tube boiler. This maximised the surface area available to transfer the heat from the firebox gases to the boiler water and so made Rocket more powerful and efficient. As such, Rocket was the first really practical steam railway locomotive and the ancestor of all the others that followed for almost 150 years. But what were these locomotives like – and how could they be described?
Form follows function, so like Rocket, this locomotive has a wheeled trailing tender for the coal and water it needs. Water from the tender is moved to the boiler either by a pump or a steam injector. Coal from the tender is, in most cases, shovelled by hand into the firebox in the cab at the rear of the locomotive. Ahead of the firebox is the boiler, through which multiple fire tubes carry hot combustion gases to the smokebox at the front. The water is heated until it becomes steam which is collected in the steam dome at the top of the boiler. A pipe takes the steam to the cylinders where valves admit the steam to either side of pistons in turn. The pistons move back and forth and so turn the wheels through coupling rods. Incredibly, it was not until the December 1900 issue of “American Engineer and Railroad Journal” that Frederick Methvan Whyte devised a formal method of describing steam locomotives by wheel arrangements. This involved dividing the wheels into front carrying, driving and rear carrying wheels. Using Whyte notation, Stephenson’s Rocket can be seen as having no front carrying wheels, two driving wheels and two rear carrying wheels, thus making it an 0-2-2. 35029 “Ellerman Lines”, the sectioned locomotive seen above, meanwhile has four front carrying wheels, six driving wheels and two rear carrying wheels, making it a 4-6-2, also known as a Pacific.
Like its Rainhill trial rival “Sans Pareil” (pictured), “Rocket” applied the power of its pistons direct to cranks attached to one pair of its four wheels. However, while Timothy Hackworth’s machine had all four wheels made the same size and coupled by eccentric rods the pistons on “Rocket” applied to just one axle whose wheels were considerably larger than the other free-turning pair. Although the large powered wheels allowed a greater length of line to be covered for each stroke of the piston, the tractive force available for “Rocket” to pull a load was proportionately reduced: rather like a driver trying to start a car in high gear. In addition, as only one of two axles was powered, only a little more than half the engine weight was carried on the driving wheels. This relatively low ‘adhesion weight’ would ultimately limit the performance of “Rocket” in terms of the maximum load that could be started from rest or hauled steadily up an incline. In contrast, “Sans Pareil” for all its less efficient steam raising ability, applied all its weight to its powered wheels – where its piston connecting rod met the wheels further out from their centres, thus applying more torque at the expense of maximum speed. In this way, freight and passenger steam locomotive design was to diverge with the former maximising torque and adhesion weight and the latter maximising speed.
Furness Railway locomotive number 3 (pictured left) has four driving wheels and no carrying wheels at either front or back, thus making it an 0-4-0 in Whyte notation Furness Railway number 3 was built by Bury, Curtis and Kennedy of Liverpool in 1846 and can be seen to blend the best features of both Rocket and Sans Pareil. The advantage of an 0-4-0, 0-6-0 or even 0-8-0 wheel arrangement is that the entire locomotive weight is used to adhere the locomotive to the track. Indeed, the most-produced single design of British steam locomotive – the Ramsbottom DX Goods – was an 0-6-0. 943 examples were produced for the London and North Western Railway from 1858 to 1862.
However, at 0-8-0 or beyond the flanges on the leading pair of driving wheels can soon become worn by tight curves so more modern steam freight locomotives had front carrying axles to ease their progress and spread locomotive weights that would otherwise damage the track. 92214 seen here is a sister engine to 92220 “Evening Star”, the last steam locomotive built for British Railways. In contrast, Great Northern Railway Single Locomotive Number 1 was built in 1870 with a four wheeled bogie for high speed cornering, one pair of large driving wheels and a rear carrying axle. The addition of a pair of hinged rear carrying wheels allows the firebox to spread across the entire width of the locomotive and so burn more coal at once. But it has the disadvantage of further reducing the weight available to hold down the driving wheels. As a result, large wheeled Atlantic 4-4-2 and Pacific 4-6-2 arrangements could easily induce wheelslip when a locomotive was starting a heavy train. Avoiding wheelslip, and the resulting damage to locomotive and track, was thus a more necessary skill for express passenger drivers than those on more sure-footed freight locomotives.
Of course, 4472 Flying Scotsman is only the second most famous steam locomotive in the World. Thomas the Tank Engine was created by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry in 1946 and despite his blue paint was based on one of the E2 class of 0-6-0 tank engines built for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway in 1913. The advantage of carrying coal in a rear bunker and water in tanks on the locomotive itself was to increase adhesive weight on the driving wheels and to eliminate the non revenue earning tender. A tank engine also has very good outward visibility for the crew when running backwards and does not need to be turned at the end of its journey before return. On the downside though, tank engines can carry less coal and water than equivalent tender engines and so have to stop for replenishment more often: not always a problem when working short distances in a factory or on a branch line. In Whyte notation, a locomotive with side tanks rising from the frames has the simple suffix T. If a single tank is fitted on top of the boiler the locomotive is a saddle tank or ST and if there are water tanks on either side of the boiler (seen above) the locomotive is a pannier tank or PT.
Whyte notation could also be used to describe the more radical steam locomotives built for tightly curved and lightly laid railways – in this case the 3’6” gauge network of New Zealand. The E Class Double Fairlie is essentially two 0-4-0 tank engines bolted back to back while New Zealand’s later G Class Garratt comprises two Pacific wheel arrangements back to back, each supporting a full width water tank and cradling a coal bunker, cab, boiler and smokebox. In both cases steam travels from the boiler to the cylinders via sometimes problematic flexible pipes but in showing how the various components of a steam locomotive could be separated these articulated engines set the stage for diesel and electric trains. Also part of this design evolution was the 0-4-2T built by Thomas Green of Leeds for the Dublin and Blessington Steam Tramway. This had no turntables and used either totally enclosed tram engines or this kind of arrangement where the driver could stand with his back to the smokebox, looking forward and controlling the regulator and brakes. Britain’s first diesel shunter meanwhile was created by the London Midland and Scottish Railway at Crewe works in 1932. 1831 was nominally a rebuild of an 1892 vintage 0-6-0T built by the Vulcan Foundry and retained much of the frames and running gear. However, it was soon found that even a modest 400 bhp diesel engine applied by hydraulic transmission would cause its 4’ 7” wheels to spin.
More successful, and the ancestor of hundreds of similar shunters, was this Armstrong Whitworth diesel electric 0-6-0 fitted with a 6 cylinder Sulzer diesel engine of 280 bhp generating power to turn 3’ 6” diameter wheels. By its introduction in 1932, electric trains using overhead wires or energised rails had been at work for decades, requiring only the equipment to turn the available current into torque and control positions facing in either directions. One example of this was Metropolitan Railway Number 12 Sarah Siddons, built in 1922 by Metropolitan Vickers in Barrow in Furness to work on a 660 volt direct current four rail system. It ran on two four-wheeled bogies – like the New Zealand Double Fairlie we saw earlier. Electric trains had been invented in Germany, where locomotives were described using letters as well as numbers to indicate axles rather than wheels. As such, what would have been a 4-6-2 or Pacific in Whyte notation would have been described as 2-C-1. For that reason – and the fact that they were increasingly placed on multi axled bogies – diesel and electric locomotives attracted their own nomenclature. Rather than being simply described as 0-4-0+ 0-4-0, a diesel locomotive on a pair of four wheeled bogies can be further identified as having electric traction motors powering each axle (Bo-Bo) or a final drive from hydraulic transmission applying torque to a whole bogie (B-B)
While a diesel electric locomotive is essentially an electric engine with its own onboard power station and a diesel mechanical shunter had a gearbox very like a car or lorry, the diesel hydraulic transmission – as used on this Class 52 Western with two six wheeled bogies – is less familiar. It gets round the problem of an internal combustion engine fitted to a wheeled vehicle not being able to start under load by using an enclosed oil bath. The diesel engine turns a propeller on one side of the oil bath, forcing oil past the impeller. As oil, like any fluid, cannot be compressed, the torque is moved to the impeller which then turns the final drive to the bogie axles. Hydraulic transmission was favoured by the Western Region of British Railways as the Great Western Railway it replaced had little experience with electrification – unlike London Midland Region which had taken over from the London Midland and Scottish Railway in 1948. Introduced just weeks before Nationalisation, LMS 10000 was Britain’s first successful mainline diesel locomotive. Its 3’6” diameter wheels were turned by six traction motors – giving a Co-Co rather than C-C wheel arrangement – with electricity being generated by a 16 cylinder English Electric prime mover yielding 1 600 bhp at 750 rpm. LMS 10000 was soon joined by its twin, 10001, and together they could offer 3 200 installed bhp to power Anglo Scottish expresses.
But why would a nation literally built on coal which had invented the steam locomotive turn to diesel and electric power? Electric trains can be seen as an extension of steam with the firebox, boiler and chimney being at a power station and electric wiring and traction motors replacing coupling and connecting rods. They are also cleaner at the point of use and require less manpower – and skilled physical labour – to drive them. With no prime mover to carry around, the power available at the controller is only limited by the physical characteristics of the train enabling the electric to travel faster and haul heavier loads with less maintenance. The downside however is to invest in infrastructure which is only economically justified for heavily used routes.
Diesel locomotives meanwhile offered the prospect of similarly faster and heavier trains with less skill and physical labour required from a smaller number of operating and maintenance crew. Although some of the early diesels did produce smoky exhausts when badly maintained, there were no cinders and smuts emanating from the chimney, no clinker or smokebox ash to clear out at the end of the day and diesel fuel was easier, quicker and cleaner to move than coal. In an era of almost full employment when most British workers did not want dirty jobs, of the first Clean Air Acts and competition from road and air transport, British Railways had little choice but to modernise – although some diesels were handicapped by having to feature carrying wheels on the insistence of Civil Engineers who were worried about their axle loadings.
In the last sixty years more modern, efficient, quieter and cleaner diesel electric locomotives – such as this English Electric Class 50 Co-Co – have been built – sadly often abroad – to haul freight and to some extent passenger trains. However, rather than the concept of a locomotive at the front and carriages trailing behind that George Stephenson would have recognised, most modern passenger trains either semi fixed formation – with a locomotive at one end and a controlling trailer at the other – or a diesel or electric multiple unit. The 1960 vintage Blue Pullman and the Bombardier Voyager from four decades later are both diesel electric units but the Blue Pullman had its diesel engine above the floor behind the driver while the Voyager has one underfloor engine per carriage. So far we have seen how railways began life as ways of moving coal to ships and canal boats, then became a means of linking cities and moving goods and people more rapidly and efficiently than either. In turn, railways spread across the British Empire and the World, pushing forward the technology involved and allowing ever more comfortable and efficient trains to travel even faster. But trains and shipping also had a profound effect on each other.
During the Nineteenth Century, many English canals were purchased by railway companies merely to shut them down and avoid competition, or in some cases had railway lines built over them. Similarly, coastal shipping faced strong rivalry from long distance trains more impervious to bad weather. However, shipping could still reach – and even develop – places that roads and railways could not. One example of this was Forest of Dean Coal travelling by rail to Lydney docks for export to destinations like the Scilly Isles. In Scotland meanwhile, the railways themselves operated the ferries that made such towns as Rothesay on the Isle of Bute and Brodick on Arran viable. The railways were also keen to attract tourists to their own hotels on the Isle of Skye. The paddle steamer Waverley – built by the London & North Eastern Railway – reminds us of the times when the Caledonian, Glasgow and South Western and North British Railways all competed for passengers “goin’ doon the watter”. These voyages were not just the lifelines of remote communities but also provided entertainment and recreation in a time before mass media. In particular the Clyde ferries were allowed to serve alcohol that was otherwise forbidden on the Sabbath, hence the expression “steaming drunk”.
The River Clyde was also a centre of ship building and it was here from 1948 that Denny’s of Dumbarton built the Portsmouth to Ryde ferries Southsea, Brading and Shanklin – which survived into British Rail Sealink markings. Like Rothesay and Brodick, the Isle of Wight relies on ferries to bring large amounts of passengers and vehicles on and off the island although some railways did gamble on passenger and freight traffic that never reached its potential. One of the constituents of the Somerset and Dorset Railway, for instance, was built from Burnham on Sea (pictured) via Evercreech Junction in Somerset to Bournemouth with the intention of forwarding South Wales coal which would arrive by steamer. However, despite the Somerset Central Railway building a 900 ‘ stone pier into the estuaries of the Rivers Severn and Parrett, railway operations on this structure ceased in 1888 by which time the extension from Evercreech Junction to Bath Green Park had opened in 1874. The Somerset and Dorset then became regarded as a main line between the Midlands and the South Coast with the line to Highbridge and Burnham on Sea referred to as “The Branch”. Ships still docked at Burnham in the 1950s but the station finally closed in 1963.
The idea of developing Fishguard bay as a port meanwhile had first been suggested in 1845 although it was not until 1899 that the Great Western Railway and the Great Southern and Western Railway of Ireland jointly assumed control of the five year old Fishguard Bay Railway and Pier Company. Their plan was to develop both Fishguard and Rosslare at the south eastern extremity of Ireland. This meant the GSWRI building 37 miles of new line from Rosslare to Wexford and Waterford while the Great Western Railway built 10 ½ miles of double track avoiding line from Clarbeston Road to Letterston. Further away from Fishguard itself, new cut off lines were built between Llanelli and Neath to avoid Swansea and reach the 1903 Badminton line to London more rapidly.
The work at Fishguard was extremely costly. The western side of the bay chosen for the station and quay was a sheer cliff up to 200’ high and 1 800’ long. Two million tons of rock were blasted away to create a 180’ wide shelf, which was then widened into the bay with spoil. More spoil was then used to construct a 2000’ breakwater. It was intended to use the outer face of this as a deep water quay while Irish ferries and other smaller vessels could use the 350 acres of sheltered water it created to moor at a 1 100’ long inner quay next to the four platform station.
Fishguard Harbour opened in August 1906 with a day and night ferry service to Rosslare but it was not until 1909 that the first ocean liner called there. This was the Cunarder RMS Mauretania (pictured) en route from New York to Liverpool although passengers who took the special non-stop express train from Fishguard to Paddington would have made New York to London in a record 5 days, 3 hours and 32 minutes. Sadly though, few more Transatlantic liners would call at Fishguard, preferring to call at Southampton rather than Liverpool. One attraction of Southampton was that it was just across the English Channel from Le Havre where passengers from Continental Europe could board. The traffic to and from Ireland also diminished way below the port’s handling capacity and never justified the money spent on it. In contrast £ 1 280 000 of public money had been used by the London & North Western Railway to build the quays, station and hotel at Holyhead in 1880, but again only attracted White Star liners bound for Liverpool from New York for a short period.
Holyhead was the eventual destination for the Irish Mail, one of the World’s oldest named trains. This originally ran to Liverpool in 1849, changing to Holyhead with the completion of the route through Llandudno Junction and Bangor in 1859. This was a vital communications link between London and Dublin which had begun as a horseback postal service by Queen Elizabeth I in 1571 and became even more important after the Act of Union in 1800. Holyhead’s 1 ½ mile long breakwater made from 7 000 000 cubic yards of stone also hosted what became the two lowest numbered locomotives on British Rail under its Total Operations Processing System. 01 001 and 01 002 were 0-4-0 diesel mechanical shunters built by Andrew Barclay of Kilmarnock in 1956. These were small enough to work over all parts of the British Railways but were only rated at 153 bhp and could travel at no more than 14 ½ miles an hour. After working in Stratford Docks in east London, the former D2954 and D2955 survived as they were, at 25 ½ tons, the only locomotives light enough to work on the Holyhead Breakwater Railway which then closed in 1980. Both locomotives were then scrapped on site but were unique in carrying both TOPS numbers and the original black BR livery complete with “Lion on a Bike” crest.
Further north, Heysham Harbour was opened by the Midland Railway in 1904 despite a tidal range of 31’ requiring 53’ high quay walls. After 1923, the new London Midland and Scottish Railway concentrated its Belfast ferries there from Fleetwood. Boat trains including the Ulster Express then ran from Euston rather than St Pancras and reversed at Morecambe although more recently Heysham has become a port for the Isle of Man. This Norman Wilkinson poster shows the two funnelled Turbine Steam Ship Duke of Argyll, built in 1956 by Harland and Wolff of Belfast to serve both as a ferry and a cruise ship. It replaced the RMS Duke of Argyll built for the London Midland and Scottish Railway in 1928.
In reviewing services from the east coast of Ireland to the west coast of Great Britain I should also mention the ferry between Larne in Northern Ireland and Stranraer in Scotland and its further connection to Glasgow St Enoch station by way of the switchback route via Girvan. This was the haunt of the Irishman and Fast Belfast expresses while Glasgow Buchanan Street station was once the starting point for the Orcadian and John O’ Groats services to Wick and Thurso – a waypoint for thousands of wartime sailors en route to Scapa Flow in the Orkneys. Similarly, the Lewisman and Hebridean brought restaurant car glamour to the Kyle of Lochalsh.
Meanwhile The Port of Liverpool – serving both the Isle of Man and Ireland at various times – was a flashpoint for the rival claims of the London and North Western and Great Western Railways. The later LMS was to make the name London-Merseyside Express official in 1927 and also operated The Manxman, which incredibly featured through carriages to Swansea which were detatched at Stafford. However, it was the rivalry between the GWR and the London & South Western Railways was to lead to one of the most controversial train journeys of the 20th Century. At 0923 on the morning of 9 May 1904 Great Western 4-4-0 3440 “City of Truro” (pictured) left Plymouth with the Ocean Mails for Bristol. This comprised five bogie postal vans and an even longer sorting carriage with a total weight of 148 tons. On board were 1 300 bags of mail which had just arrived in Plymouth from San Francisco, bullion as payment to France from the United States for work on the Panama Canal and amateur railway timekeeper Charles Rous-Martin. Rous-Martin timed the run from Plymouth to Bristol at an average of 62 mph. But on the downward incline between Whiteball Tunnel and Wellington he recorded – with his manual stop watch – a speed of 102.3 mph. In The Railway Magazine of June 1904 however, this was only alluded to as a “the record of records” as the Great Western Railway did not want to appear reckless. At the time public opinion was against speed records after a crash at Preston in 1903 and on 1 July 1906 an LSWR boat train heading for Waterloo from Plymouth fatally derailed at Salisbury after approaching the station too fast. The Railway Magazine only confirmed City of Truro’s record in April 1908, the same month in which Charles Rous-Martin died of a heart attack. In fact the Great Western Railway would not officially claim the 102.3 mph record until 1922 and historians and engineers have argued since about whether a 4-4-0 with a nominal output of 1 000 bhp – the same as a later Class 20 Bo-Bo diesel electric – could have become the first manned vehicle to exceed 100mph and whether Charles Rous-Martin’s primitive timing was at fault. On 30 November 1934 the London and North Eastern Railway’s pacific 4472 “Flying Scotsman” became the first land vehicle to verifiably exceed 100 mph.
Meanwhile, on 12 June 1935, a GWR special Ocean Liner express ran from Plymouth to take passengers from the French liner ‘Normandie’ to London. The 79 000 ton ‘Normandie’ had just won the Blue Riband for the out and back Atlantic crossing on her maiden voyage, having passed Bishop Rock at the Scilly Isles, 4 days, 3 hours and 25 minutes after leaving the Ambrose Light Ship in New York. The new fastest ship afloat anchored in Plymouth Sound for passengers and mail to be landed before continuing her voyage to Le Havre. This photograph, which was published in the Great Western Railway Magazine, shows the ship at Plymouth with two of the Great Western Railway’s tenders alongside to unload passengers and mail. There were 1,600 passengers on board, of whom 358 had destinations in Britain and left the ship at Plymouth, and nearly 1,000 bags of mails were also brought ashore.
The GWR had two special boat trains ready on the dockside. The first train was comprised of four luxurious Ocean Saloons, a kitchen car, a brake first and a van. The train was hauled by 4094 ‘Dynevor Castle’ driven by Driver Bickley of Plymouth Laira shed and took 218 minutes for the 226¾ miles non-stop from Plymouth Docks to Paddington, with the Exeter to London section at an average speed of 69 mph. The GWR Magazine reported that the passengers fortunate enough to travel by this special remarked that although they had travelled the world over they had never before experienced such a wonderful journey. The second train also completed the journey from Plymouth Docks to Paddington in a fast time, taking 3 hours 56 minutes. Driver Bickley might well have been the William Bickley who is said to have been the fireman on ‘City of Truro’ when that locomotive achieved 102.3mph on 9 May 1904, again with a boat train from Plymouth to Paddington. It seems that William Bickley was later employed as an outside foreman at Plymouth Laira locomotive depot during the Second World War
Unfortunately however the SS Normandie did not survive this conflict. Having been interned in New York at the start of hostilities, she was under conversion to a troopship when she caught fire and capsized. Had this fire not broken out, the newly named USS Lafayette could have shortened the Second World War. In fact she was scrapped in 1946. By the end of the 1950s transatlantic liners were under serious threat from passenger jets, although the first railway company to invest in these aircraft was also the first to lose one. As well as operating trains coast to coast in its homeland, the Canadian Pacific Railway sailed ships from Montreal to Britain and from Vancouver to Japan, Hong Kong and The Phillipines while its airline was a rival to TCA, later Air Canada. Its de Havilland Comet 1a, an example of the World’s first production jet airliner to go into commercial service, was lost on 3 March 1953 when it crashed on takeoff at Karachi en route for delivery in Australia. CF-CUN, named Empress of Hawaii, was thus the first jet airliner involved in a fatal accident. It was not replaced.
Development of Southampton as a port was first suggested in 1836 with what later became known as the Outer Dock being completed in 1840, just as the London and South Western Railway arrived. Southampton Water, with its level bed, provides a natural shelter for shipping. Its tidal range is 13’ at most and its high water lasts for four hours. As far back as 1842 the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and the Peninsula and Oriental Steam Navigation Company began services to the West Indies and India and by 1847 the first liners of the Ocean Steam Navigation Company of New York had arrived. Even before the London & South Western Railway took over Southampton Docks in 1892 however, there were regular sailings began to the Channel Islands and the French ports of Cherbourg and St Malo. And perhaps the greatest collective achievement of the L&SWR, Southern Railway and then British Railways Southern Region was the Ocean Quay and Terminal. In the 1950s this was used by the 83 673 ton Cunarder Queen Elizabeth – like the Normandie later to be destroyed by fire in a harbour – and more recently by the 90 901 ton MS Queen Elizabeth. Southampton has also played host to the Royal Caribbean’s MS Harmony of the Seas which displaces 226 963 tons. In the post Second World War heyday of trans Atlantic liners however, trains from Southampton to Waterloo carrying passengers from the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth carried “Cunarder” headboards while those connected with the SS United States were known as The Statesman. There were also Normandy Expresses for those travelling on the ferries from St Malo, Le Havre and the Channel Islands. Just as Holyhead had its quirky Class 01 shunters, Southampton became strongly associated with three locomotive classes. From the top right, Normandy is one of William Adam’s Class B4 dock tanks built for the London and South Western Railway from 1891. These 0-4-0Ts also worked on the tightly curved Hamworthy branch near Poole up to 1959 and at Southampton Docks they were replaced by the Class USA 0-6-0 tank engines seen below. Class USA had been built for the US Army’s Corps of Transportation for use in France after D-Day but were purchased by the Southern Railway in 1946. However, their steel fireboxes needed replacing by 1962 when they were replaced by British Railways Class 07 diesel electric 0-6-0 shunters.
Hampshire’s premier port was also made famous in 1969 when John Lennon sang : Standing in the dock at Southampton / Trying to get to Holland or France / The man in the mac said, “you’ve got to go back“ / You know they didn’t even give us a chance.” The Ballad of John and Yoko was inspired by John’s sudden desire to marry Yoko Ono en route to visit his Aunti Mimi in Sandbanks, Dorset. Unfortunately their desire was thwarted by them not having their passports with them but as the song later relates they did “get married in Gibraltar near Spain”. The reference caused Spanish dictator General Franco to ban what was to be the final Beatles number one single in Britain, and also the first of the Fab Four’s to be released in stereo.
Had John Lennon just let his chauffeur drive him to Sandbanks though, he might have encountered one of Britain’s most remarkable train services. After the end of Southern Region steam in 1967, it was felt that continuing third rail electrification from Bournemouth to Weymouth was not economic but a through carriage service was needed for passengers catching ferries from Weymouth to the Channel Islands and France. The solution was to share a set of four unpowered trailer carriages with driving cabs – known as 4TC sets – with either an electric multiple unit or a diesel locomotive. From Waterloo the 4TC sets, coloured brown on the diagram, would be propelled by the blue 4REP electric multiple units as far as Bournemouth. The driver – shown in yellow – at the front of the 4TC would then had over to the driver of a Class 33/1 diesel electric Bo-Bo – green on the diagram – for the journey to Weymouth, including the final section through the town to the quay. For the return journey the Class 33/1 would propel the 4TC to Bournemouth and hand over to the 4REP. Standing for 4 car Restaurant Electro-Pneumatic, the 4 REPs developed 3 200 bhp and were popularly known as the Southern Deltics after the famous English Electric Co-Cos on the Eastern Region. This practice – and the street running – ended with electrification to Weymouth in 1988. As well as the sheer ingenuity involved, the 1967 Bournemouth-Weymouth solution also demonstrates the importance of multiple unit working in diesel and electric traction. Invented late in the 19th Century, multiple unit working allows compatible vehicles to be connected by cables and controlled from one cab. Although the same idea applied to auto trains formed by a tank engine remotely controlled by rodding from the cab of a driving coach, true multiple unit working can allow one driver to control a number of locomotives at the head of a train or more than one diesel or electric multiple unit set. This greatly increases the tractive effort available for a service without the need for extra train crews or communication between them.
Although ferries still cross the Irish Sea and leave Weymouth for the Channel Islands and France, cruise ships rather than true ocean liners now serve Southampton apart from the ferries to Le Havre. Despite the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 though, many of the routes once operated by British railway companies still serve the Continent of Europe. The routes from Dover to Calais and Folkestone to Bologne were originally established by South Eastern and London, Chatham and Dover Railways in conjunction with the Northern Railway of France. Newhaven to Dieppe meanwhile was pioneered by the London Brighton and South Coast Railway together with the Western Railway of France. The Great Eastern Railway meanwhile operated services from Harwich Parkeston Quay to Hook of Holland and Antwerp while further north the North Eastern Railway and Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway ran joint steamers from Hull to Rotterdam. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway also used Goole as a port for freight steamers to the Continent as did the Great Central Railway from the Humber ports of Grimsby and Immingham. In 1950 the 377 ‘ long steam ship Amsterdam entered service between Harwich and Hook of Holland as part of the British Railways fleet with a displacement of 5 092 tons and sleeping accommodation for 577 passengers. By 1958 the British Railways fleet comprised 116 vessels with a combined 69 718 net registered tonnage.
From the 1870s meanwhile, primitive ferries carried railway wagons across the Firth of Forth from Granton to Burntisland and across the Firth of Tay from Tayport to Broughty Ferry to avoid long circuitous inland journeys. In later decades both the Firths of Forth and Tay would acquire railway bridges but the value of the train ferry would be realised again during the Great War. In 1917 a three vessel train ferry was established between the new military port of Richborough in East Kent and Calais and in 1924 a civilian equivalent was set up between the more convenient ports of Harwich and Zeebrugge in Belgium. Each of the three original ferry steamers, which were 363’ long and 61’ 6” wide, was provided on the main deck with four railway tracks, accommodating between them 54 wagons, which converged to two tracks at the stern. Two of the three original steamers were lost during the Second World War and of the two vessels which replaced them, the diesel engined Norfolk Ferry – built by John Brown on Clydebank – set forth on its maiden voyage on 17 July 1951. The train ferries were designed to dock stern first against the outer end of a 120’ long 200 ton hinged bridge which could move up and down with varying tides. Once shunted on board, the white Societe Belgo-Anglaise Ferry Boats wagons were firmly shackled to the ship’s deck. The SBAFB wagons themselves were originally painted white and combined a Continental style pitched roof with a typically British short wheelbase and sliding doors. This example was photographed at Birkenhead in 1971 with a black solebar and bauxite brown body and roof, but in either livery these wagons mainly carried soft fruit into Britain and pottery and other fragile manufactured goods out. The Harwich to Zeebrugge train ferry was also used to transport British built restaurant and sleeping cars to the Compagnie Internationale des Wagon Lits.
The Dover-Dunkerque train ferry meanwhile began in 1936 and resumed after the Second World War. However, as both Dover and Dunkerque have tidal ranges as large as 25 feet, a Harwich style lifting bridge was not practicable. Instead, both ports acquired enclosed docks with lock gates, allowing water to be pumped in or out until the ferry vehicle deck lined up with the dockside rails. The dock at Dover was 414’ long, 70’ wide and fitted with a pair of 300 ton gates as well as a concrete floor to stop sea water flooding in through the fractured chalk below. Three 230 bhp pumps allowed water to be moved in or out of the dock at 120 000 gallons a minute. The three final Dover Dunkerque train carriers – Turbine Ships Shepperton Ferry, Hampton Ferry and Twickenham Ferry – were built by Messrs Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd at Walker on Tyne. They were 360’ long, 60’ wide and their four tracks could accommodate 12 sleeping cars or forty wagons. These 63’ long F Type Voiture-Lits of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagon Lits were especially built to fit the British loading gauge, measuring 9’6” wide and featuring nine compartments: single berth for First Class passengers or twin bunk berths for Second Class. These carriages had passenger access doors at one end only, the equivalent space at the other end of the vehicle being taken up by the attendant’s office and a boiler compartment.
On each side of the English Channel, the Night Ferry trains were supplemented by ordinary corridor coaches and restaurant cars but only the Wagon Lits themselves boarded the train ferries. The through journey from London Victoria to Paris Gare du Nord took eleven hours and through sleeping car trains began to run from London to Brussels in 1957. However, such was the growing popularity of cars, air transport and even British Rail’s own SRN4 hovercraft that the last Dover-Dunkerque Night Ferry train ran on 31 October 1980.
A similar fate was to befall the Golden Arrow. This was inaugurated in 1929 to between London Victoria and Dover connect with the Chemin du Fer du Nord’s Fleche D’Or express which had begun connecting Calais and Paris in 1926. The English Channel itself was crossed by the ferry Canterbury. Originally introduced as a First Class Pullman only service, both the Wall Street Crash and the rise of air travel forced both the Golden Arrow and Fleche D’Or to accept Third Class passengers from 1931. The Golden Arrow stopped running at the outbreak of War in 1939 but returned on 15 April 1946. A new set of Pullman carriages was introduced in 1951 as part of British Railway’s contribution to the Festival of Britain but the final Golden Arrow ran on 30 September 1972.
As well as the train ferry service to Zeebrugge that we saw earlier, Harwich Parkeston Quay would, by the 1920s, have services to the Hook of Holland, Vlissingen, Antwerp and Esbjerg in Denmark. The Great Eastern Railway had built its own corridor carriage train for this service in 1904 and during the LNER era its successor became known as the Hook Continental before merging with another train from Liverpool Street to become the Hook and Antwerp Continental. Like the Golden Arrow, all LNER Continental services ceased in September 1939 but were reinstated from November 1945. And once again, falling demand caused the Hook Continental to be withdrawn in May 1987. Having mentioned Esbjerg, this Danish port could also be reached, like Gothenburg in Sweden and Bergen in Norway, from Newcastle upon Tyne by way of Bergen Steamship and Fred Olsen Lines To help passengers from London, British Railways Eastern Region began running The Norseman from the summer of 1950. This was hauled from Kings Cross to Newcastle by a Pacific tender locomotive – such as A4 Class 60021 Wild Swan, seen here – before a 4-6-2 tank engine took it along the Tynemouth branch and a steep gradient to the Tyne Commisssion Quay. The Norseman stopped running in 1966.
Having looked at boat trains starting from London, the North Country Continental – inaugurated in 1885 – was one of the first long distance cross country trains in Britain. Starting from Harwich Parkeston Quay, sections were detatched for Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham en route to York. The North Country Continental also featured the first Great Eastern Railway Dining Car and in July 1891 and was the first British train to allow 3rd class passengers to dine. The old clerestory roofed six wheel carriages were replaced by purpose built elliptical roofed vehicles in 1906 but when the service was resumed after the Second World War it was a shadow of its former self. The Manchester portion also climbed 1 000’ from sea level to the Pennine’s Woodhead tunnel. The Ports to Ports Express meanwhile linked Newcastle Upon Tyne with Barry in South Wales from 1906. The route was later extended to Swansea and through coaches to Goole and Hull were detached at Sheffield, the service being operated by one six coach set of Great Western and one six coach set of North Eastern carriages. What made the Ports to Ports Express remarkable though were two sections of its route. The first of these was the line from Woodford and Hinton on the Great Central Railway to the Great Western at Banbury, opened as a strategic link in 1900. The second was the use of the single line from King’s Sutton via Chipping Norton and Bourton on the Water to Cheltenham South and Leckhampton – the Ports to Ports was its only express.
As was noted at the end of part one of this talk, the 1950s saw the introduction of jet propelled passenger air travel. Where Bill Haley and his Comets had arrived at Southampton aboard the Queen Elizabeth in February 1957 to riotous acclaim and travelled by rail to Waterloo, the Beatles invaded America in 1964 and then the rest of the world by air. In fact notice how on the way to the Ed Sullivan show John Lennon is holding a Pan Am bag to match the Boeing 707 that the fab four have just arrived on and George Harrison has a holdall with the BEA logo fused into the word Beatles. By 1964 the rich and famous had turned their backs on navigating the oceans. When asked how the Beatles found America, John Lennon replied “Turn left at Greenland”
The railways however pined for their old friends. Themselves now threatened by cars, lorries and motorways as well as air travel, the 1955 Modernisation Plan had envisaged a new diesel and electric future but among the new English Electric Type 4 diesels delivered from 1958, 26 used on expresses between Euston and Liverpool and were named after ships of the Cunard, Elder Dempster and Canadian Pacific lines Their nameplates were particularly well designed and are now keenly sought by collectors. D212 was named “Aureol” in 1960 after the 14 083 ton vessel built by Alexander Stephen and Son on the Clyde which spent the years 1951 to 1972 shuttling between Liverpool and Lagos. On 11 August 1984 however, D306 – later numbered 40 106 – became the first of its class to be named in preservation. It was named Atlantic Conveyor in memory of the 14 950 ton roll on roll off container ship sunk by Argentine Exocet missiles during the Falklands War of 1982. Built in 1970 by Swan Hunters on the Tyne, Cunard’s Atlantic Conveyor epitomised a new way of moving cargo that allowed consignments to be moved securely and efficiently from manufacturers to consignees without being broken down into smaller loads for dockside cranes and stevedores to handle. In 2010 ISO shipping containers accounted for 60% of the world’s seaborne trade and by 2012 there were over 20 million of them in varying twenty foot equivalent units. Although the concept of containerised freight dates back at least as far as wooden boxes that could be craned from Liverpool and Manchester Railway wagons to horse drawn carts, modern metal shipping containers came of age in the Korean War of 1950-1953 and were officially defined their modern form from 1968. British Railways operated its first Freightliner train from London to Scotland in 1965, the millionth container was moved in 1972 and Freightliner as a company itself was privatized from Railfreight Distribution in 1996.
Perhaps the most exciting development in container traffic in Britain in recent years has been DP World’s London Gateway on the north bank of the River Thames. Construction of the deep water port began in February 2010 and its first phase opened for business when the 58 000 tonne MOL Caledon docked on 6 November 2013 with containers full of fruit and wine from South Africa. More automated than its rival ports of Felixstowe and Southampton, London Gateway is less affected by bad weather and includes an onsite logistics park. This allows containers bound for London to be sorted and opened and the goods transferred direct to vans to take them to factories and shops. Containers landed at London Gateway for destinations further away in Britain can be forwarded either by the A road and Motorway network or by rail. London Gateway can accommodate trains 35 bogie wagons long, optimised either for the Continental W10 loading gauge which applies to the West Coast Main Line to Glasgow or for the smaller W8 loading gauge for the East Coast to Doncaster and Leeds. In the latter case, special low-liner wagons are used to reduce the overall height of the containers relative to the loading gauge..
Meanwhile, on 10 April 2017, London Gateway saw the departure of the first train from the United Kingdom to China. British soft drinks, vitamins and baby products were among the 30 containers on the three week journey via the Channel Tunnel and Kazhakstan but despite the need to tranship containers between different railway gauges the operators, including DB Schenker, claimed that using the Silk Road rail link was faster than shipping but still cheaper than air freight. As we have seen, speed and the ability to deliver goods far inland has always been a trump card for railways. But for sheer quantity and size, modern container ships are going to be hard to beat. Christened on 8 January 2015, the MSC Oscar took the title of largest ship in the World at 197 362 deadweight tons and with a 19 224 twenty foot equivalent container capacity, a length of 395.4 metres and beam of 59 metres. To put this into perspective, the MS Harmony of the Seas weighs in at 20 236 deadweight tons and is 362.12 metres long with a 66 metre maximum beam. Or in short, as modern consumer demands increase with technology, the answer to the question of freight and passenger movement will always be a mixture of rail and shipping entwined.