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A fond farewell to golden age of steam
IN the summer of 1967, Dorset said goodbye to the era of the steam train.
Schoolboy Andrew Britton – who had loved watching the trains and meeting their drivers – was among those who were struck by how drab the world seemed the next day.
Now he has told the story of his favourite railway line in his book Waterloo to Weymouth: A Journey in Steam.
“It was Britain’s last steam mainline, which finished in July 1967,” he said.
“I never thought it would end but it did.
“I woke up on the day after, July 9, and that was it, they were gone.”
Andrew fell in love with the Waterloo to Weymouth line during family holidays from the Midlands to the New Forest.
They would pitch their tent or park their caravan as close as possible to the railway lines near what was then Beaulieu Road station.
Andrew would wave to the drivers, who would not only wave back but eventually invited Andrew along to see the engines.
“They would throw a lump of coal with a note saying ‘Come up to Bournemouth station tonight with your dad’,” Andrew remembered.
He was allowed to turn the engines on the turntable at the Bournemouth Central sheds and would be given a ride on the footplate between the sheds and the old Bournemouth West station.
“One of my relatives was an engine driver in Weymouth and I used to like to go to the Weymouth shed as well,” he said.
Andrew’s book takes the reader the full length of the journey from Waterloo to Weymouth and incorporates many colour photographs, drawn mainly from the last years of steam.
As well as the trains themselves, there are plenty of views of the stations and surroundings as they were then. Andrew conjures up the atmosphere of the stations and scenery on the journey.
He starts at Waterloo, where railway enthusiasts are clustered with their tape recorders, home movie cameras and trainspotting books, and documents the trip to Weymouth, where the train runs along the quayside and is often held up by parked cars.
“Along the quayside, it was really romantic,” Andrew remembered.
“When they were getting rid of the engines at Weymouth, my father managed to save some artefacts. I’ve got six locomotive chimneys, a number plate, name plates and lamps.”
Andrew watched the steam trains from the late 1950s until they disappeared overnight in July 1967.
After that, the 200 engines were sent to Barrie Island in South Wales for cutting up and scrapping.
Andrew’s father was involved in efforts to restore one the engines, a Merchant Navy Pacific that had pulled the Bournemouth Belle.
Eight of the engines are currently with Swanage Railway, and all 200 were eventually bought out of the scrapyards.
Buying one of them cost from £4,000-£6,000, but restoring them is the real challenge.
“To restore one is about three-quarters of a million pounds,” said Andrew.
But, he insists, the expense and the back-breaking work of restoring the engines is worth it.
“They’re living, you can smell and hear them. They’re temperamental,” he said.
“I’ve driven them on the Swanage Railway. Each one has got its own character. “ He said Weymouth had changed drastically since the disappearance of steam.
“The tracks down to the Quay are there but disused,” he said.
“The engine shed is now a housing estate.
“The station has contracted enormously.
“The goods yard is part of B&Q. It’s a mere shadow of its former self.”
“The wooden railway station was eventually demolished by British Rail and replaced. It had wooden platforms and a superb canopy.
“It was a cathedral to steam,” said Andrew.
“It breaks one’s heart but I cherish the memories and I wanted to share all those memories through the book with the people of Weymouth and Bournemouth and show the children what it was like.”
Waterloo to Weymouth: A Journey in Steam costs £19.99 from the History Press.
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