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  CHURCHDOWN SCHOOL RAILTOURS 1978-79

 

  At the end of the 1970s Churchdown School had a thriving Railway Enthusiasts Club which not only organised weekly meetings (usually with slides – we never managed to build the model layout we always talked about!) but also organised some memorable railtours.  
 
   
  TORBAY EXPRESS  30 SEPTEMBER 1978  
 
   
 

As the sun sets slowly on the other side of ex GWR 2-8-0 5239 at Kingswear, the Churchdown School Torbay Express headboard - made by my father George Drewett - is positioned ready for the run back to Paignton.

 
 
   
  As the sun sets slowly on the other side of ex GWR 2-8-0 5239 at Kingswear, the Churchdown School Torbay Express headboard - made by my father George Drewett - is positioned ready for the run back to Paignton.  
 
   
  The first of these was the Torbay Express from Gloucester to Paignton and Kingswear on Saturday 30 September 1978. Here’s how Mr Don Biddle (Head of Geography and Bulleid Pacific enthusiast) Mr Roger Jermy (Head of Biology and sometime railway author of Oakwood Books) and Mr Ray Iles (Nowadays CDT, then Boy’s Crafts) described the day out in the 1979 edition of the Churchdown School magazine, Chant:

Have you ever hired a train? No? How unusual. Well, admittedly it’s not an everyday thing but – it does happen.

Among the staff of Churchdown School are several ‘young’ rail enthusiasts – steam of course! What else can offer the thrill of living power on rail with hot ashes, acrid smoke, sparks, steam and glowing fireboxes? However, nostalgia aside, three of us were sitting in the staff room one day quietly sipping a powerful brew called tea and musing over past vagaries and successes of steam locomotives and railway trips when suddenly, like a shaft of light from heaven – the thought struck us – why not have a rail trip of our own? It seemed so easy – all you did was hire a train from British Rail, fill it with people, tell BR where we wanted to go, point it in the right direction, and that’s that.

Six months later with nearly 600 people on Gloucester station at 8 o’clock one bright Saturday morning our very own train was waiting for us! – the intervening weeks had been very busy with the preparation of sales propaganda, booking forms, booklets describing the route [ I’ve still got mine! ] opening of a bank account and the organisation of refreshments, raffles and issues of tickets. A notable moment was the signing of the contract with British Rail and the arrival of the tickets with Churchdown School, Torbay Express rail excursion printed on them – we were committed; we had to find at least 550 people to cover the hire costs! Fortunately, after one sticky patch when numbers hovered around the 450 mark and when mortgaging our homes seemed imminent, numbers rose steadily and with a few days to go we were solvent.

We left Gloucester spot on time at 8.15 am and with Class 47 diesel (yes) locomotive 47 131 showing its paces and covering long stretches at 90+ mph we were in Paignton by 11.00 am The weather was of that rare British type known as Cool Temperate Maritime which freely translated means brilliant sunshine, showers, nimbo-stratus and gale force winds in that order and frequently! However there was so much to do and 600 folk suddenly melted away into Zoos, shops, putting courses, coffee shops, museums, along the sea shores and further afield to Torquay and Kingswear and other destinations unknown – we hoped that a good time was had by all.

At 5 pm and now with bright warm sunshine, came for many of us the highlight of the day. Our carriages were linked up to a preserved Great Western steam locomotive No. 5239, a 2-8-0 tank owned by the Dart Valley Railway Society which was to take us for the 5 miles along the beautiful Dart Valley to Kingswear. This locomotive had spent much of its 40 years of working life pulling heavy coal trains in South Wales and now lovingly restored by The Dart Valley railway it showed us what steam power was all about. The 5 miles of track to Kingswear is one of difficult curves and gradients and it was very impressive to see and hear No 5239 pulling this heavily laden train of 11 coaches – some 350 tons – so easily. I think there were many converts that evening as a result of this sparkling performance.

At 7 pm we were back in Paignton and linked again to our diesel locomotive, which hurried us back to Gloucester arriving at 10.20pm, spot on time. We would like to express our thanks to the BR drivers for their fine performances, to Messrs Pembridge and Adams of BR Gloucester for their help and kindness in the planning and preparation of the trip, to Dart Valley Railway Society for the nostalgia, to the Wirral Railway Circle for the excellent headboard [ This is where Mr Jermy came from originally ] , to the Parent Teacher Association and to all our colleagues and friends who so ably assisted us on and before the day. A sum of 110.00 was presented to The Library Appeal Fund as a result of this trip. Nervous tension, ulcers and mortgages aside, we may even attempt another one!

 

My own special memory of Churchdown School's Torbay Express was the making not only of the headboard but the bracket that held it to the front of the locomotive. For my metalwork teacher father this was not a difficult project - once a suitable locomotive had been measured up! This research was made during a visit - after school - to Gloucester Horton Road locomotive depot ( formerly 85B but by then GL ) and I clearly remember the thrill of - legitimately - being allowed to walk up and down the ranks of towering Peaks, Duffs ( Class 47s) and other classes before being asked to help hold a tape measure against the yellow front of 47 079 "George Jackson Churchward", the original D1664 number protruding through the blue paintwork in the low evening sun.

 
 
   
 

A clearer picture of 2-8-0 5239 - later named "Goliath". Note the red route availability spot by the cab. Built to haul coal in South Wales, the 42xx class were just as restricted as "Castles"

 
 
   
  A clearer picture of 2-8-0 5239 - later named "Goliath". Note the red route availability spot by the cab. Built to haul coal, the 42xx class were just as restricted as 4-6-0 "Castles"  
 
   
  As well as all the usual terms, conditions, timings and practical information in the official tour programme ( which cost 5 pence! ) the teachers also provided a description of the route to Kingswear:

GLOUCESTER - BRISTOL

For the first part of our trip we cross the lowlands of the Severn Plain with the Cotswolds escarpment rising prominently to the east and the Forest of Dean uplands to the west. The plain is relatively flat and is a region of mixed farming with much interest in dairying, and nearer Bristol, market gardening and fruit growing. On the poor, ill-drained lands near the Severn you will be able to see the Nuclear Power Stations at Berkeley and Oldbury. At Bristol, look out for the High Speed Inter-City trains.

BRISTOL - TAUNTON

The landscapes here are much more varied. To the west lie the Mendip Hills made of carboniferous limestone with their well-known cave systems, beautiful dripstone formations and underground formations.

Between Weston-super-Mare and Bridgwater especially we cross the Somerset levels - this is some of the flattest and lowest land in the country, rising only some twenty feet above sea level and requiring extensive drainage through an intricate system of ditches and rhynes. This is an area famed for its dairying, leather goods ( Clarke's Shoes at Street ) and basketry. Look out for the Quantock Hills lying to the west a few miles south of Bridgwater.

TAUNTON - EXETER

We now travel through the lowlands of Central Somerset and East Devon - notice how the clay soils change to the reds of the sandstones as we travel southward. At Norton Fitzwarren, just outside Taunton, you will see the buildings of the Taunton Cider Company and the junction of the West Somerset Railway - a thriving preserved steam railway. To the west you may be able to see the edge of Exmoor, one of our National parks - a bleak dissected plateau - rising to 1700 feet at Dunkery Beacon, whilst to the east lie the rolling Blackdown Hills, rising to just over 1 000 feet. This is rich farmland and the vales provide excellent dairying, mixed farming and orchard land.

As we climb to Whiteball Tunnel we cross the site where the Great Western locomotive "City of Truro" reached a speed of 102 mph - the first ever to reach the magic 100 mph.

 
 
   
 

 
 
   
 

Ex Great Western Railway 4-4-0 3440 "City of Truro" is seen visiting Toddington in 2004

 
 
   
  EXETER - PAIGNTON

We leave Exeter and follow the long wide estuary of the River Exe down the coast. Like the Teign and Dart estuaries to the south, this is is an example of a "ria" or drowned estuary caused by a rise in sea level from melt water released at the end of the Ice Age, 10 000 years ago - these rias provide well-sheltered waterways and you will see a wide range of boats here. Along the coast the railway follows the sea wall and between Dawlish and Teignmouth there is some spectacular railway engineering through numerous tunnels and cuttings. To the west you may glimpse the bleak eastern edge of Dartmoor contrasting with this area which is the true milk producer of Devon. The coastline is very attractive and this and the exceptionally mild winters and warm summers attract over 1 1/2 million visitors each day.

PAIGNTON - KINGSWEAR

The train leaves Paignton Station along the BR line heading towards Goodrington first passing over the level crossing at the end of the platform. For the first 3/4 mile the line runs parallel to the BR line to the carriage sidings.

By the time we reach Goodrington we can see the sea but at the same time it signifies the start of a very stiff 2 1/2 mile climb to Churston mostly on gradients of about 1 in 70. To the left of the train are the golden sands of Goodrington and to the right the red sandstone cliffs, a feature of South Devon. Across the bay one can see to the left Torquay and right Brixham and Berry Head.

The train crosses Broadsands Viaduct and after passing through a deep cutting suddenly emerges on the even longer Hookhills Viaduct high above the bungalow estate which has developed in the valley leading to Broadsands beach. Once again in a cutting the train veers inland to reach the summit at Churston station. The Brixham branch used to run from this station.

From here on it is almost all downhill, first in rolling country much weeded, sometimes in cuttings, sometimes embankments until we reach the 495 yard Grenway Tunnel. We emerge to the spectacular views of the Dart Valley with views upstream to Dittisham and downstream to Dartmouth. The line crosses Maypole Viaduct and drops down to river level veering away from the shore past Longwood Creek and Noss Creek. As the train runs along the water's edge Dartmouth Harbour can be seen and Britannia Royal Naval College on the hill over the river.

The train slows down approaching Britannia crossing, a small halt alongside the level crossing carrying the main road from Torquay to Higher Ferry seen on the right.

The train continues for a further 3/4 mile, eases around the right hand curve and enters Kingswear station, still at the water's edge.

 
 

   


  YORK  4 JULY 1978  
 
   
 

 
 
   
 

47 089 "Amazon" stands at York on 4 July 1978. This was one of my first railway pictures with my first "proper" camera - a second hand Voigtlander. I soon switched to Canon!

 
 
   
  Although the Torbay Express was the first pure Churchdown School rail excursion, the edition of Chant 1979 also reminds me that there were two other excursions to York. The first of these, as I described at the time, was by a party from Churchdown School sharing an excursion train with other school groups.

At around twenty to twelve on 4 July 1978 BR diesel electric 47 089 "Amazon" pulled our train in to platform 15 of York station, marking the start of our six hour visit. I had taken roughly three and a half hours for the 13 coach train to travel up from Gloucester, giving us a view of British Leyland’s Longbridge plant, Spaghetti Junction, Derby and Sheffield. There were many things to do in York. Some elected to remain on the station and ‘spot’ the many different locomotives, such as the famous "Deltics" and their replacements, the 254 variant of the High Speed Train. At no more cost, the National Railway Museum was just a short walk up Leeman Road.

The collection varies from time to time, but on that particular day "Green Arrow", "Mallard" and an LNER dynamometer car were on view among other things. Near Skeldergate Bridge over the Ouse there is one of Britain’s largest "O" gauge model railway layouts. It belongs to the York Model Railway Company and for 40p a view of its pre-war LMS models is afforded. We returned to Gloucester at about 10 pm that evening in the same coaches, pulled by the same locomotive, somewhat tired but happy with our excursion.

 
 
   
  YORK  JANUARY 1979  
 
   
 

 
 
   
  Class 45 and 46 locomotives - collectively known as "Peaks" - handled Gloucester - York trains well into the 1980s. This Class 45 was seen near Washwood Heath - the home of carriage and wagon builders Metropolitan Cammell - on 20 June 1982.  
 
   
  January 1979 meanwhile saw a party from the Railway Enthusiasts Club return to York on a Saturday service train – probably formed of similar Mark 1 or Mark 2 open or even compartment carriages. Martin Imber wrote:

"The first engine 45 016 broke down on the Barnwood end of the [Gloucester] loop line and an hour later was replaced by 46 046. A few hours later we arrived in York, after an interesting trip, and our party headed for the depot. We were shown around by a man who was on "Jim’ll Fix It". Then we cabbed a Deltic, 55 012 "Crepello". We then made our way to the National Railway Museum [next door] where we saw the Mallard, the fastest ever steam loco; a cut away steam locomotive, Ellerman Lines, and the APT-E Advanced Passenger Train Experimental which is gas turbine powered. As well as the 30 or so steam locos there is a multitude of diesel and electric locos eg a Class 52 Western (a very popular class) Western Fusilier, and a Class 76, ex 76 020, now in the original black livery and old number 26020. This class is still in service and was based on an LNER design. We then went back to the station where the early arrivals saw 55 012 again, but I only saw 55 011 – "The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers" ( the Deltics 55 001 – 55 022 are a very popular class). There were also a few High Speed Trains and trains hauled by more common locos. 46 046 hauled us back to Gloucester."

 
 
   
 

Class 55 "Deltic" 55 012 "Crepello" stands at the north end of York station

 
 
   
 

Class 55 "Deltic" 55 012 "Crepello" stands at the north end of York station

 
 
   
  THE CENTURION  12 MAY 1979  
 
   
 

The Centurion headboard close-up

 
 
   
 

The Centurion headboard close-up

 
     
 
The pound note that my father had pressed into the palm of the railwayman who had shown us around Horton Road depot in mid 1978 turned out to be a good investment as the headboard bracket was needed again in May 1979. This time the destination was Chester, and as there never had been a direct Gloucester - Chester express in steam days the railtour was dubbed "The Centurion". The surviving tickets pictured below were kindly donated to me by Tony Comber - now also an accomplished railway modeller - in 2011.  
     
 

The pound note that my father had pressed into the palm of the railwayman who had shown us around Horton Road depot in mid 1978 turned out to be a good investment as the headboard bracket was needed again in May 1979. This time the destination was Chester, and as there never had been a direct Gloucester - Chester express in steam days the railtour was dubbed "The Centurion". The surviving tickets pictured below were kindly donated to me by Tony Comber - now also an accomplished railway modeller - in 2011.

 
     
 

The Centurion picked up at both Cheltenham and Gloucester before travelling via Newport Maindee Junction, Shrewsbury and Chirk - although engineering work forced us to return via the Severn Tunnel and compelled train engine 47 002 to run round its blue and grey stock at Gloucester to take the Cheltenham passengers home! What most passengers did not realise however was that 47 002 and the empty excursion train almost never made it from the sidings north of Cheltenham into Lansdown station itself. A vacuum pipe leak left the train blocking the southbound line until Messrs Comber and Jermy managed to repair it with an elastoplast from the buffet car first aid kit. A replacement vacuum pipe was then fitted for the remainder of the journey.

With one railtour already under his belt, Dad was able to concentrate on the artistic side of the Centurion headboard. The title was lovingly sign-written in Roman font and the Centurion figure on the left balanced the Churchdown School Railway Enthusiasts Club badge on the right. After the headmaster had had issues with the Club using the school badge supported by heraldic lions in the manner of the 1956-66 British Railways totem I had designed our logo with a nod to the streamlined LMS "Princess Coronation" pacifics and the original "Deltic". Another nice touch was the use of the school colours - black, blue and white - although this was somewhat obscured by dead insects on arrival at Chester.

 
 
   
 

47 002 arrives at Gloucester from Cheltenham. Note the antique rolling stock on the left!

 
 
   
  47 002 arrives at Gloucester from Cheltenham. Note the antique rolling stock on the left!  
 
   
  RAILWAY ENTHUSIASTS CLUB REPORT FOR 1979  
 
   
 

47 002 about to position its train at Chester ready for the return journey

 
 
   
 

47 002 about to position its train at Chester ready for the return journey

Click on picture for more about Class 47 diesel electrics

 
 
   
  The Churchdown School Magazine "Chant" carried this report from Mr Roger Jermy:

1979 proved to be another successful year for the club. After a visit to the York Railway Museum and Motive Power Depot in January, a railtour, "The Centurion" was run on Saturday 12 May , with Chester as the destination. About 400 people travelled on the train and enjoyed the attractions of this historic city. Some took part in the special events organised which included coach trips to the Zoo, a cheese farm and Botanic Garden, or a riverboat trip. Some of the club's enthusiasts visited local railway installations or travelled on the Merseyrail network. Grateful thanks are offered to British Rail, Gloucester, for their assistance in the organisation of this trip.

Regular lunchtime meetings have been held on Fridays and have attracted members of both sexes. These meetings have included film shows, slide sessions, viewing of videotaped TV programmes and talks ranging from "Old Tramways" to "Railway Modelling Techniques." Films have been kindly loaned by various Tourist Offices and Embassies, manufacturers of railway equipment and various British and foreign railway organisations.

 
 
   
 

The headboard back in place for the return journey

 
 
   
 

The headboard back in place for the return journey

 
 
   
  WHERE ARE THEY NOW?  
 
   
 

47 079 "George Jackson Churchward" the only locomotive I have helped measure.

 
 
   
 

47 079 "George Jackson Churchward" the only locomotive I have helped measure.

Click on picture for more about Class 47 diesel electrics

 


   
  All the preserved locomotives mentioned in the above accounts have happily remained in preservation ever since, but what of the motive power that was – at the time – in regular service?

45 016 Outshopped from Derby Works December 1960. Allocated to Derby (17A) Renumbered from D16 April 1974. Withdrawn from Toton October 1980. Cut up by Vic Berry of Leicester August 1983.

46 046 Outshopped from Derby Works October 1962. Allocated to Gateshead (52A) Renumbered from D183 February 1974. Withdrawn from Gateshead May 1984. Cut up BREL Doncaster November 1985.

47 002 Outshopped from Brush Loughborough ( Works 417) June 1963. Allocated to Finsbury Park (34G) . Renumbered from D1522 February 1974. Withdrawn from capital stock during 1991. 47 002 - unofficially known as "Sea Eagle" from its time at Tinsley in 1989 - was finally scrapped by C.F. Booth of Rotherham in June 1994.

47 079 Outshopped from Crewe Works March 1965. Allocated to Severn Tunnel Jcn (87E) Named "George Jackson Churchward" May 1965. Renumbered from D1664 February 1974. Nameplate altered to "G J Churchward" in March 1979 and removed August 1987. Survives as 57 009 "Freightliner Venturer". The conversion to Class 57 status - with substitution of the original Sulzer engine with a General Motors powerplant - took place at Brush Traction Ltd, Loughborough in 1999.

47 089 Outshopped from Crewe Works May 1965. Allocated to Newport (Ebbw Jcn) (86A) Named "Amazon" November 1965. Renumbered from D1675 January 1974. Withdrawn from Bristol Bath Road June 1987. Cut up by Coopers Metals, Brightside, April 1989.

47 131 Outshopped from Brush, Loughborough ( Works 493) March 1964. Allocated to Bristol. Bath Road (82A) Renumbered from D1722 May 1974. Withdrawn from Bristol Bath Road February 1987. Cut up by Vic Berry of Leicester July 1988.

55 011 Outshopped from English Electric Vulcan Foundry Newton-le Willows (Works 2916 D568) August 1961. Allocated to Gateshead (52A). Named "The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers" May 1963. Renumbered from D9011 February 1974. Withdrawn from York November 1981. Cut up at BREL Doncaster. November 1982.

55 012 Outshopped from English Electric Vulcan Foundry Newton-le Willows (Works 2917 D569) September 1961. Allocated to Finsbury Park (34G). Named "Crepello" September 1961. Renumbered from D9011 February 1974. Withdrawn from Finsbury Park May 1981. Cut up at BREL Doncaster September 1981.

The Class 76 DC electrics also went for scrap after their Woodhead tunnel route from Sheffield to Manchester closed in 1981.

 
 
   
 

The worksplate on 26020 / 76 020 the Class 76 preserved at York

 
 
   
 

The worksplate on 26020 / 76 020 the Class 76 preserved at York