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Retford Memories

by Peter Chadwick



Peter's reputation as a redoubtable character was well known to Chime Editor Nigel Wilson when he first met him at a European regulatory meeting some years ago where he was terrorising some leading academics with his practical engineering skills. Nigel got to know Peter and found he had one of the most remarkable memories for matters radio, inland waterways, Gilbert and Sullivan, stationary engines and railways. While enjoying the delights of H.M.S. Pinafore earlier in 2005, Nigel persuaded Peter to put some of his memories down on paper which are reproduced here and which we hope you will enjoy.


In 1955, no-one worried when three or four 8 year olds packed up some sandwiches and lemonade on a Saturday morning, and caught the 8.08 am (as it was in those days - no 24 hour clock - that was a foreign thing!) from Worksop to Retford for a day's train spotting. On occasion, one would go alone, and join the crowds of youngsters thronging the London end of Platform 1 at Retford, conveniently using the ladder of the somersault shunting signal to reach the wall. The train fare for a Child's Cheap Day Return was 1/3d, or about 6p: this was about the same price as a pint of beer, although at that stage, we probably didn't know that!


The 8.08 nearly always consisted of a B1 and 5 Gresley corridor coaches: occasionally, there was double or triple set, and occasionally, Thompson stock. The B1 was, from memory, either a Sheffield Darnall or a Lincoln loco: the 8.08 worked through to Lincoln, although a number of trains along the original GCR line went to Cleethorpes via Grimsby.


61264 at Retford Retford boasted two sheds, both designated as 36E. One was the original GCR shed, while the other, close to the station, was the ex-GNR shed. The GN shed was home to Retford's three B1's - 61211, 61212 and 61213 were all resident there for some years. Considering BR in the mid to late 1950's, they were reasonably clean, too. The other locos at the GN shed were 0-6-0s and 2-8-0s - I don't remember any 2-6-0s. The 0-6-0s were probably Gresley J6s, although there could have been the earlier Ivatt version, and the 2-8-0s were were one of the O2 variants. I vaguely remember the odd Pom Pom and some J39s. The GC shed was the home of ex GC 2-8-0s of the various forms - Robinson, Thompson and Gresley rebuilds. I seem to remember some Austerity 2-8-0s, but where they lived, I can't remember. The freight engines seemed to vie with each other as to how dirty they could be. However, they were kept busy with the output of all the coal mines in the North Nottinghamshire coalfield.


B1 61264 probably looking even smarter than her classmates at Retford in the 1950s,
seen with the GCR TPO set on a clear winter's day 25th Jan 2004 at Quorn & Woodhouse.
Photo: © C.N. Wilson


The London end of Retford's Platform 1 (this was before the current arrangement where the Worksop - Gainsborough line dives under the ECML: in the days of which I am writing, they crossed on the level) was ideal, as you could spot both the GC and GN lines. The trains from the Worksop direction left the GC line at Whisker Hill Junction, and followed a succession of very tight curves with a 15mph speed limit to reach Platform 1 of Retford station: this was the main 'up' departures platform. Platform 1 A was an extension which curved back to join the GC, and allowed Gainsborough-bound trains to pull forward and release Platform 1 for an up main line train when required. Incidentally, at this stage, some Lincoln- bound trains did go through Cottam and cross the River Trent there, although the bridge was always worked single line: one supposes that maintenance was at the absolute minimum - shades of Network Rail?


There was a period around lunch time known to the spotter's as 'dead hour'. The morning trains from both London and Yorkshire had passed, and there was little freight on a Saturday on the GN main line. This didn't apply to the GC, however, and on summer Saturdays there was a large amount of excursion traffic. Clearly, at some stage, Sheffield must have really been scraping the barrel as hard-pressed Pom Poms came bucketing through on 12 coaches.


The 'express of the day' on the GC was the Harwich Parkeston Quay to Liverpool boat train. It ran from Harwich through March, Sleaford and Lincoln, and changed to electric haulage at Sheffield Victoria. At this stage, the usual haulage was either a B2 or a B17 - I can't remember which, but 'Doncaster Rovers' was very commonly employed. When taking water at Worksop on the return working (it didn't stop on the outward working), it always seemed to be blowing off while in the station. In later years, this became a Britannia and eventually a diesel working.


Leeds and Hull workings seemed to be the prerogative of the Peppercorn A1s: because of engine changing at Grantham, there were a limited number but you saw them pretty often!


I saw most of the A4s during this period, with the exception of 60012, Commonwealth of Australia. This one I did see in 1955, at Haymarket shed. I persuaded my father to take me on a railway tour to Scotland - over the new Sheffield-Manchester electrified line, and then up to Glasgow. At Wreay, the Jubilee failed with brake trouble, and after about an hour, most unusually for that part of the world, a Franco Crosti pulled us to Carlisle. I can remember arriving very late in Glasgow with double-headed Jubilees, one of which was Warspite, but the other one is unknown. At Edinburgh, we visited Dalry Road shed, where I saw my first Midland Compound, and Haymarket, where a somewhat dour Scots driver was deputed to take us round, and 'show the wee laddie the engines'. Questions about conjugate valve gear failures (I was a precocious child!) led to a rapid thawing, and he took us to see 60012, which he said had been stopped 'on shed' for some months. I was also allowed to press the button which filled up 'Dandy Dinmont's' tender with coal, ready for an Aberdeen express. The return from this holiday was via York and the railway museum...


Some of the other lads got more venturesome, and would go to Doncaster. This gave the opportunity of finagling one's way into the works, and in one or two cases, getting a totally illegal footplate ride form Doncaster to Retford. This was a more expensive trip, of course and the Doncaster station staff weren't as tolerant of hordes of trainspotters as were the Retford-staff. But they did get to see some ex LNER tank locos, which were very rare at Retford. Other rarities were GC Directors - they didn't seem to do on the original GC mainline - and the ex GC tank locos stabled around Sheffield. The Doncaster trippers managed to see 60009, which was quite a rarity south of Doncaster, although I had seen it in about 1954.


In 1958, I moved to Retford Grammar school. With a large number of pupils going to the Grammar School and the County High School for girls, the 8.08 from Worksop and the corresponding 4.12 return from Retford were very well patronised. The girls were always segregated into the front of the train in the morning and the rear at night: this became much easier when DMUs were introduced as each group had a 2 car DMU to itself! However, for a long time (right up to about 1963 or so from memory), the 4.50 Retford - Sheffield Victoria was a Retford-originating loco-hauled train, usually with an 0-6-0. With no prefects to enforce segregation, often non-corridor stock, and in any case, a very light passenger loading, the 'ten to five' had its adherents from both schools! The worst of the DMUs seemed to be the Cravens, which suffered a lot from vibration. In the bad winter of 1962/3, DMU failure was fairly common, and by that stage, some of the B1 weren't in too good a condition. As a result, we managed a number of days off school..... The DMU's appeared to have good strong windscreens - one day, we were doing about 60mph on the down line through Checkerhouse, between Retford and Worksop, when a pheasant hit the windscreen. It left a little blood, but considering the shock loading and the effects of pheasants on car headlamps at that speed, it still surprises me that the windscreen didn't break.


Retford station in 2005

Platform 1 of Retford station 50 years on, seen from the window of a Rail Touring
Company Special heading for York in May 2005 where we were to be hauled by
76079 and 45407.
Photo: © C.N. Wilson


While waiting for the 4.12, it was usual for the up 'Elizabethan' to pass, and to this day, I remember that it always seemed to be going much slower than other up trains. The Tees Tyne Pullman always seemed to go through at speed. As mentioned earlier, it was about this period that the Harwich-Liverpool boat train changed to Britannia haulage. BR Standards didn't ever appear in any numbers, while quite a few of the 'rarer' ex LNER types such as the K4's and their rebuilds to K1/1 under Thompson appeared on running in turns from Doncaster after works attention. I even remember an ex GE B12 appearing on a Lincoln - Retford - Doncaster local. As far back as 1952 when I started school, there was a regular 'fish' express from Grimsby: always double headed with a pair of B1s and about 35 fish wagons (with the brake van almost in the middle to allow rapid detachment of vans) it would take precedence over the local passenger trains, and it wasn't uncommon for a train to be held in Retford station while the fish roared through. It joined the GC Extension over the junction at Waleswood, and eventually finished dropping off fish vans in Swindon, via Leicester, Woodford, Banbury, Oxford and Didcot West Junction.


Worksop boasted ex LMS visitors, usually Stanier 2-6-4 tanks from Nottingham on the branch line from Nottingham through Mansfield. The odd 2-6-2T appeared: I remember a 2P on one occasion, but as there was no turning facility at Worksop, the use of tender engines was probably unpopular. A regular 'turn' was for a Stanier 8F that came from somewhere around Dinnington with a coal train: it joined the GC heading east through Shiroaks and then turned off at Worksop West Junction in the Mansfield direction. Where it went after that, I never did know!


Worksop East signal box had a lever for the level crossing gates rather than the wheel arrangement more common on the GC. The Down outer distant was a hard pull, too. My father knew one of the signalmen there, so I frequently got the chance for a visit. The LMS branch train from Nottingham ran round in the station, requiring the release of the lock on the ground frame at the west end of the station. Usually, the ex LMS loco and Stanier coaches then shunted across the level crossing and into a siding on the down side for an hour or more, which was probably another reason for a tank engine to be preferred.


For a time, there was a fast morning Sheffield connection from a down Leeds express, which dropped off 2 or 3 coaches at Retford. One of the B1s would then set off non stop for Sheffield - most unusual! Practically every GC line train stopped at Worksop, Kiveton Park, Kiveton Bridge and Darnall: a few added Shireoaks, Kiveton Park and Woodhouse. Incidentally, the 'school trains' stopped at all stations, as there were pupils travelling from Kiveton Park: they lived just in Nottinghamshire, and so travelled to their nearest Nottinghamshire grammar school, even though it was a lengthy journey. The same happened with pupils in Saxilby who happened to live in Nottinghamshire, even though the Lincoln schools were nearer.


The removal of the Master Cutler from the GC Extension to run via Retford into Kings Cross saw the regular introduction of diesels. Up to that time, we had seen the odd one: Deltics had been around, but the re-routing of the Master Cutler saw the D200s. It also saw a period of unreliability almost beyond belief. It was a standing joke at the time that the working timetable had a star in it for 'engine catches fire at Retford' and a dagger for 'engine fails at Newark'! It was one of those failures that saw the 9F 90mph down Essendine, and the subsequent worries about what would happen if that happened regularly and a connecting rod came off! It was reputed that one of Retford's B1s (61212) had put up a fine show, running right through to King's Cross and had held time. This takes some believing, although a good run through Grantham would be possible, allowing Stoke to be stormed, and then the run through Essendine would have allowed high speed. The climb to Peascliffe Tunnel would have been hard work, although the Cutler only loaded to about 8 Pullman cars. The Master Cutler failures always seemed to happen such as to make us late home in the afternoon by blocking part of Retford station! Another occasion when that happened was when one of the wagons of a down express freight decided to try and take the other side of the island platform to the rest of the train. Luckily, no one was on the platform, as a number of wagons ran up the ramp and careered along the platform until the brake pipe severance stopped them.


By the time I left school, steam was running down very rapidly. I remember seeing an Austerity on a freight at Retford in about 1965, and being surprised that there were any steam locos left round there. The Leeds and Hull trains by then were mainly class 31 (as they became) hauled, and in those days, the 6.10 Leeds and Hull (ex King's Cross) train (dividing at Doncaster) had a real restaurant car where you could get a good meal!


Sic transit Gloria mundi....


Written by Peter Chadwick.
First published in Chime 138, Christmas 2005
More Retford Memories from Chime 146, Autumn 2007.

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