As the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group (NELPG) celebrates 50 years since it was formed on October 28, 1966, its volunteers past and present can be proud of achievements in locomotive restoration beyond their wildest dreams.
Maurice Burns takes a nostalgic look back at how it all began, the successes and the challenges of being involved in so many locomotives that once operated in the North East and that are to be celebrated in a new book telling the inside story called Keeping North Eastern Steam Alive, for which all royalties will go towards NELPG.
Fifty years ago, on October 28, 1966, enthusiasts booked a room in a pub called the Bridge Hotel, next to George Stephenson’s High Level Bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne, in the hope of forming a preservation society to save one of the last North Eastern Railway J27 0-6-0s and Q6 0-8-0s, then nearing extinction.
On that night they decided on the name, the ‘North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group’, they formed a committee and made a collection. Due to most of their money being spent on Newcastle Brown Ale, however, this managed to raise just 15 shillings (75p). The enthusiasm to save a J27 had no limits, but the hard reality was that with a membership of less than 100 people, and only word of mouth able to tell the world, cash income was pitifully slow to accumulate.
Members began to get used to NELPG’s first treasurer, Kevin Hudspith, saying in his broad Geordie accent “The fund now stands at…”, but, after three months, the figure he announced was only £108 in total and £1400 was needed quickly. There were so many preservation appeals for more glamorous engines than a rusty buffer J27, even if it was one of the last pre-Grouping North Eastern Railway locomotives still working. At the time the group was formed, the last survivors of classes J27 and Q6 were still in regular service moving coal from pits to power stations or coal staiths as they had done for over 50 years.
Read more in the latest issue of HREnjoy more Heritage Railway reading in the four-weekly magazine. Click here to subscribe.