Maurice Burns remembers in words and pictures the day when he visited the Settle and Carlisle line to record the end of an era which had transformed societies across the world, and also looks at subsequent anniversary runs leading up to this August’s Great Central Railway End of Steam gala featuring 1T57 veteran Oliver Cromwell.
The days leading up to the end of steam operation on British Railways 50 years ago on August 11, 1968 will always live in the memory for those who witnessed it.
The week before had seen the final regular steam passenger working. Remarkably, steam was used right to the end to transport ordinary passengers six days a week from Preston to Liverpool and Blackpool.
I was one of the ‘Master Neverers Association’ (MNA) gang who endeavoured to clean the last operational engines to make sure they would finish their days with some pride. The MNA was well-known for its cleaning exploits between 1965-68, when hundreds of locomotives received attention from these very unofficial cleaners.
Indeed, one of the many engines cleaned was ‘Black Five’ No. 45318, scheduled to haul the last train – the 9.25pm Preston-Liverpool Exchange on Sunday, August 3.
Its headboard, made by enthusiasts, was simple. It said: ‘The End’.
For more than 140 years steam locomotives had been used to haul scheduled passengers trains, but now it was over.
The day before the ‘Fifteen Guinea Special’, I went to Carnforth to see Britannia No. 70013 Oliver Cromwell and check that it was cleaned and take some last pictures, my favourite being after dark, viewed from the roof of Carnforth shed.
The engine later that night moved to Lostock Hall shed at Preston, then on to Manchester to pick up the special-diagrammed IT57.
On the Sunday, I opted to see this train on the Settle and Carlisle line, at photographic locations that were my favourites. I wanted to enjoy the day, and as the special did not pass Blea Moor until 1.24pm there was time to meet old friends in the Station Inn, Ribblehead, for a pint to commemorate the end of BR steam.
These were special friends who had gone to great lengths to clean many engines in their final hours and take superb pictures. We posed for the last pictures together, to mark the historic occasion, and as the photograph indicates, everyone was in fine spirits for such a sad occasion.
This group of hardy MNA souls decided they would meet at the Ribblehead pub every year on August 11 and they have achieved that goal ever since for 50 years.
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