Meetings reports

Meetings reports

Saturday 9th November 2019

'Backtracking around Plymouth'

Bernard Mills

On 9th November Bernard Mills took the West of England branch ‘Backtracking around Plymouth’, a talk based on one of his books that covers the western side of the city in some detail. Photos were shown in a ‘Then & Now’ format, often in a series of views illustrating the changing scene over the last sixty years.

The talk featured today’s main line from Plymouth station to Saltash across the River Tamar in Cornwall, a journey of only about five miles, but this was supplemented by visits to several branches. Hence we were taken down the long closed line to Millbay station, and then into the docks were we saw many views, particularly of a Class 03-hauled brake van tour in 1966 and the last passenger train at the former Ocean Terminal, a DMU railtour in 1970.

We also saw authorised photos of the railway system in Devonport Dockyard, a location where photography is usually forbidden, before visiting the rarely photographed branch to the Bull Point RN Armament Depot.

Throughout the evening we visited many signal boxes and other ‘insider’s views’ included the booking office at Saltash in 1965 when Bernard was working as Area Relief Clerk.

Bernard’s talk was fascinating and we hope that he will be able to come back to give us another look at the railway in his home city – his books are well worth investigating as well!

Saturday 11th May 2019

'Strictly Freight Only Part 2'

Brian Ringer

On 11th May the West of England branch welcomed the return, after exactly a year, of Brian Ringer with Part 2 of his ‘Strictly Freight Only’ talk covering the history of railfreight in the UK.

Brian spent much of his BR working life on the freight side and was able to give us an insider’s view of the business, and we were given many anecdotes relating to his career.

He started by providing a detailed examination of Train Ferry operations from the First World War through to their demise with the opening of the Channel Tunnel. He also showed slides of how the ferries were loaded and other views taken ‘on board’ during a trip with prospective customers.

After detailing the troubled history of Chunnel operations, he explained what happened during the ‘Sectorisation’ period, highlighting both the successes of Trainload freight and the problems of handling wagonload business in the Speedlink era.

He then took us through the privatisation era, including a survey of the activities of the different companies that have handled freight traffic in the last twenty years.

Our grateful thanks go to Brian for a presentation that was both illuminating and entertaining; several of the audience commented on how much they had learned from his talk.

Saturday 13th April 2019

'Saltash Auto to HST'

Terry Nicholls

On 13th April the West of England branch welcomed the return of one of our founding members when Terry Nicholls presented ‘From Saltash Auto to HST’.

As a born and bred Plymouthian, Terry explained how his early interest in railways led to him working St Budeaux signal box before he’d even left school, and one of his first photos was taken from the box depicting an auto train passing in 1957.

When joining the railway he worked firstly at Millbay before moving to Laira shed and we heard anecdotes of working at both locations as well as seeing examples of his burgeoning talent as a photographer.

His career then took him to Bristol where he worked firstly for the Divisional Locomotive Engineer before moving to Bristol Control.

His photographic ability meant that he was called upon to record various accidents in the area and we also saw staged photos of potential work hazards that were taken for training purposes.

He was able to record the very first HST engine change at Bristol, which had to be undertaken by a steam crane! The acrophobic amongst us shuddered when we saw views from the Royal Albert Bridge when Terry achieved a life-long ambition to walk across it, not over the decks but rather the main tubes!

His final career move took him to Swindon Control from where he retired in 1997, but a long family tradition (particularly on his wife’s side) of working on the railway continues with his son now an IET driver.

Our thanks go to Terry for a truly fascinating evening’s entertainment.

Last updated: 13th November 2019