END OF BR STEAM: Seeking out steam’s last stands

The big anniversary this summer is the 50th anniversary of the end of British Rail main line steam culminating in the legendary ‘Fifteen Guinea Special’ of August 11, 1968. Trevor Gregg recalls in words and pictures his trips to North West England to capture on film some of the steam specials that ran during those last few months of BR standard gauge steam operations, after the rest of the UK had switched over to diesel and electric traction.

The closure of Carlisle Kingmoor (12A) at the end of 1967 marked a big change in my ability to see and photograph BR steam workings. Carlisle was relatively easy to reach from my home in Blyth – a short bus trip to Newcastle and then a train journey along the Tyne Valley.

By then, steam haulage had vanished from the Eastern, Western and Southern regions. At the beginning of 1968 steam workings were essentially confined to the Lancashire area bounded by Carnforth to the north, Liverpool to the south, Manchester to the east and Blackpool to the west.

An army of lineside photographers travelled to the North West in the final months of BR main line steam to capture as much of it in camera as they could before it was all gone. LMS ‘Black Fives’ were at the fore in those twilight months. Here, LMS ‘Black Five’ 4-6-0 No. 44809 stands at Manchester Victoria on June 15, 1968, just two months away from the official end of steam on the national network. T OWEN/COLOUR RAIL

Day trips to Manchester were possible but anything further west or south required an overnight stay. I had just finished school and as I was now a student my time and funds were somewhat limited.

I knew that steam operations would cease on August 4 and I had already decided that for the last week I would take a holiday based in Preston to see and experience the end of steam. For the months leading up to this holiday my plan was to try to see some of the numerous specials organised to mark the end of BR steam operations.

The year started off very slowly without any steam photographic activities. At the end of January I was photographing the last days of passenger services on the Aln Valley branch in Northumberland.

This trip was followed by my first visit to Keighley on March 23 to see the progress on the reopening of the Worth Valley branch as the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway. The visit was also to see the arrival at Keighley of LNER A3 Pacific No. 4472 Flying Scotsman that, in its fifth year of private ownership, was working ‘The Bronte’ railtour.

Stanier 8F No. 48773 makes a spectacular departure from Bolton with the ‘Lancastrian Rail Tour’ on April 20, 1968. Built by North British in 1940, the following year it was requisitioned by the War Department and sent to the Iranian State Railways, where it was involved in a collision with a camel. After service in Egypt, it was repatriated to and initially used on the Longmoor Military Railway, before entering BR stock in 1957. During its last few years of service, No. 48773 had a diagonal yellow stripe painted on its cab-side to indicate it was unable to operate south of Crewe, as its top feed was deemed to be out of gauge under the new 25kv AC overhead electrification. It hauled its last BR train on August 4, 1968 and was subsequently bought by the Severn Valley Railway. Currently out of ticket, it is on static display in the Engine House museum and visitor centre at Highley.

It was the weekend of April 20 before my first 1968 foray after main line steam, when there were two specials working on the Saturday.

Last remaining Britannia

The first special was the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society ‘Lancastrian No. 2 Rail Tour’ that featured Liverpool Edge Hill’s (8A) LMS ‘Black Five’
No. 45156 Ayrshire Yeomanry, the last survivor of just four ‘Black Fives’ that were given names. The engine was working on the section between Liverpool to Wigan and then onwards to Fleetwood.

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