INTRODUCTION BY DAVID HEY
During the Fifties, train spotting was the most respectable of pastimes. It gave small boys a chance to learn something about railways: train timetables, shed allocations, loco classifications, geographical distribution and a wide-eyed appreciation of 19th Century civil engineering. The hobby was a miniaturised encyclopaedia with established traditions, conventions and boundaries, all of which gave youngsters a semblance of meaning - and, more importantly, a grasp of our history.
However, if I had to find a down side, it is that most parents viewed 'bunking' sheds and 'cabbing' engines as the dirtiest pursuit imaginable, which it was! When offspring came home 'mucked-up' to the eyeballs after a day's spotting, parents had reasonable grounds for complaining. But since the hobby offered no other evidence of nonconformity or adolescent tantrums they should have at least been grateful that we weren't carrying knives, or buying drugs from scumbag dealers on street corners.
Of course, parents knew precious little about our commitment to train spotting. By the mid-Sixties, steam's demise was gathering momentum at an alarming rate and with clear signs of imminent separation just a few years away the pursuit of 'cops' took on a whole new meaning. When the 'Duchesses', 'Kings' and A4 'Streaks' were assigned to the scrap heap, it became a race against time as uncontrollable as the wildest edge of obsession. The end of steam was something from which most of us would never recover, but as the world was so full of other things to do during the 1970s we didn't take much notice of modern goings-on - train spotting belonged only to our childhood.
As a consequence, a lot of boys ignored the 1970s railway scene entirely, which, thinking back on it now, was a simple coping mechanism. But time is a great healer, because when the Eighties came along we looked at the railway scene in an entirely new light. Until then we hadn't articulated any thoughts that our old railway photographs was worth anything. We had a feeling that, after the end of steam in 1968, our collections contained everything they ever would. Nonetheless, many of us felt uneasy that our photos were just sitting there in a cardboard box gathering dust at the bottom of a wardrobe. So with a renewed sense of urgency we began photographing trains again - albeit ten years too late. The 1970s had come and gone, and much of our railway heritage had disappeared with it.
This brings me to the fantastic railway photographs of Andy Sparks - I say fantastic, because unlike most cameramen who displayed an abject lack of empathy for railways as a whole, Andy set about recording the railway scene in an entirely different way. Using the railway as a vague backdrop, he had a clear agenda: he wanted to record the activities of rail passengers catching trains and station staff going about their everyday duties, all of which dispels the myth that a prerequisite for taking a good railway photograph is that it should include a train. However, unlike the voyeuristic stitch-up artists of the paparazzi (who photograph people in an exploitive frame of mind) Andy has managed to capture something quite remarkable - a slice of 1970's railway history and northern life now long since gone...
Most of the the images featured on this page can be found in two superb books by Andy Sparks: British Rail Northern Scene 'Coast to Coast' and British Rail Northern Scene '1970s Railway Album'. Incidentally, I am not affiliated with the sale of these books in any shape or form, merely drawing attention to a refreshingly different style of railway photography that I wish I'd thought of myself - plus the photo captions in both books are gems...a rousing trip down memory lane! A slice of Andy's stories appears below and his email address is posted at the bottom of the page.
(Above-Below) This photograph was taken at Stalybridge station during the winter of 1974. It was used in my GSE Art portfolio (Edgerton Secondary Modern, Denton, 1975). I christened it 'Industry Personified'. The mill chimneys, gas lamp and the pollution-laden skies are long gone. I wonder what today's sixteen-year-olds would produce to illustrate this title. (Below) Arnside - Summer 1974. Wet summers are not a new phenomenon. An appropriately dressed lady meets her friend, who's just arrived from Lancaster aboard the afternoon train to Carlisle. Note the maroon enamel Arnside Station sign, soon to be replaced by a far less attractive 1970s B.R. corporate black on white version. In addition you can see the barred doors on the Carlisle based Class 108 diesel multiple unit. They were designed to stop people hanging out of the windows, but made it very difficult to open the door when having to reach from the inside to outside.
(Above-Below) Easter 1976. An early evening d.m.u. to Glasgow leaves behind plenty of noxious clag as it departs from Edinburgh. This shot clearly shows how much cleaner second generation units are. The lady in black had waved farewell to her similarly dressed friend and was heading back into the city centre.(Below) August 1979. Southern Region Kent Coast e.m.u. 7164 blends in well with the light and dark shades created by London Victoria's magnificent train shed. The electric unit has now passed into history, but the station environs will live on for many generations to come.
(Above-Below) London Waterloo - August 1979. The rush hour is about to start and this Class 33 had recently brought in empty stock for a service to Salisbury. The station worker caught sight of me taking this photo at the moment of pressing my Pentax SP1000 shutter... his facial expression improved the photo considerably.(Below) 'Through the bars' - Bury Bolton Street station, winter 1977. A pair of Class 504 EMUs prepare to depart with a train bound for Manchester Victoria. At the time Bury's new interchange was in the early stages of development, and this station's days were numbered, with dereliction followed by demolition thought to be in prospect. However, today it is still possible to recreate this photograph, with just one main difference - locomotive-hauled trains (including Black 5s, Pacifics and heritage diesels) have replaced the 504s. The station is now the headquarters and operating hub of the modern East Lancashire Railway. I wonder if the Mk 10 Jaguar, URN 679, still exists.
(Above) 'Going on Holiday'; Manchester Victoria, July 1979. These lucky people are taking a break on the station concourse bench, before heading towards Platform 11 for the train to their North Wales holiday resort. There is no risk of their cases bursting open en route, the heavy- duty supplementary straps will see to that. The seated lady has her holiday sandals on and her newly set hair rollers protected by a tightly tied headscarf…she obviously wants her hair to looks it's best on the first night at the digs. It looks like the lady who is standing is not with the group and has been given the job of looking after the cases while her husband has gone to check up on the train times. The gentleman, complete with well polished shoes, at the end of the bench appears to be lightly laden indicating he is on a day trip. His packet of raisins will provide him with sustenance on the journey and was probably purchased from the adjacent Findlays kiosk. The hardwood L. & Y. booking office windows can be seen in the background…window No. 5's sign indicates that tickets for destinations beginning with L to Z plus Blackpool and Southport can be purchased there. This enabled queuing on busy days to be kept to a minimum.
(Below) 'Heading Home'; Stalybridge, winter 1974. This lady makes her way out of the gloom of the glazed brick-lined subway, where she will board the 'Paytrain' bound for Guide Bridge, Denton, Reddish South and Stockport. Today she would be an easy target for a mugger… her handbag and shopping basket could easily be snatched. This photo clearly shows how carefree people once were.
(Above-Below) 'Tickets Please'; Birkenhead Park station, summer 1979. Since the earliest days of passenger railways, ticket collection ensured people paid for their journey - 'Revenue Protection' in today's language. During the 1970s the programme of station cost-cutting included the phasing out of this practice. While it did cut manpower costs, it also made free travel an easy option for the less honest passenger. This narrow minded 1970s thinking must have cost B.R. more in lost income than they saved on manpower. Today's train-operating companies have recognised this loophole and now take action to minimise the risk people travelling without paying. (Below) Whilst two passengers wait at Sheffield Midland for the next train to Rotherham a friendly member of the station staff keeps them entertained; July 1979. They look quite comfortable sat on the trolley. I, plus hundreds of other enthusiasts, can certainly vouch for the comfort of these once common perambulators. I've spent many hours perched on them whilst spotting and waiting to take the ever illusive master shot. The pair of Class 114 Units stabled on the station's 'centre roads' would later on in the day be utilised on a stopping train service to Lincoln Central.
(Above) 'Star Performer' - Manchester Victoria, summer 1979. The lady obviously enjoys life and provides her customers with those vital added ingredients - good humour and friendliness. At the North's major railway stations, boxes of chocolates (for the wife, girlfriend or mother), sweets, chewing gum, pipe tobacco and cigarettes (including 1970s favourites such 'No.6', 'Park Drive' and 'Woodbines') could be readily obtained from these handy little shops. Today they have all been swept away and at the few stations that still have places to buy something for the journey they are far less friendly places… corporate uniformity, commercial pressure having largely stifled the personal touch.
(Below) Nos 76016 and 76025 have just coupled up to a lengthy Dodworh Colliery to Fiddlers Ferry HAA coal train at Penistone yard; May 1979. The train had recently been brought into the yard by a Tinsley allocated Class 37 which had powered it over the non electrified Dodworth/Barnsley branch. The increased track to overhead wire height (for rail staff safety reasons) can clearly be seen. This health and safety consideration shows just how advanced the 1940's design of the Route really was. It's interesting to compare how much the pantograph height varied dependant on location.
(Above-Below) Just as the 1966 Inter-City visionaries intended - an immaculately presented E3070 (85015) and rake of Mark 2b's pull out of Manchester Piccadilly with the 17.40 to London Euston; June 1973. This scene makes a clear statement - trains are now bright, clean, fast and modern. People liked the new experience and went on to make full use of what Inter-City had to offer. (Below) Manchester Victoria station frontage; August 1979. Curiously this photo almost looks as if it was taken quite recently. The people's clothes and hairstyles would not appear out of place in a modern station/street scene. Only the familiar FX4 taxi's "R" reg. (1975/6) number plate suggests that the photo may be older than it looks. Perhaps in a couple of years time when all the old style taxis have been pensioned off this scene will reveal its true age? If you can spare a few moments see if you can spot a few more tell tale 1970's ingredients tucked away in the detail - there are a few. I've included this shot to show that not everything within the northern scene has significantly changed over the last thirty years.
(Above-Below) I think this photograph says why the Class 55 'Deltics' were - and still are - a class above all the rest. Magnificent! You can almost here the thunder of the loco's Napier engines being engaged as 55013 'The Black Watch' departs from York with the 08.40 Kings Cross to Newcastle train on Sunday 8th July 1979. By the time this shot was taken the train was one of the few remaining timetabled 'Deltic' hauled services linking London with Newcastle, most had been entrusted to the 'Inter-City 125' Class 254 units. (Below) On a Sunday afternoon in August 1978, three horse riders skirt Reddish Depot's boundary fence. Today this location is virtually unrecognisable; a housing estate has been built on the land.
(Above-Below) On a dismal November day in 1979, the driver of a Gateshead allocated Class 47 'Generator' hauling this Liverpool Lime Street to Newcastle working waits for the flag from the guard prior to getting the train underway. This atmospheric shot shows that you do not always need a sunny day to create something a bit special (if I do say so myself) - the L.N.E.R. lantern covers are what really makes this picture.(Below) This once commonplace sight of mail bags being loaded onto a train is now very much a thing of the past. This postal worker certainly has his work cut out with this trolley load. Despite having his hands full he's managing to smoke his 'No.6' cigarette without any difficulty. Notice the spotter (and his bicycle), who's keeping his eyes peeled for the next piece of railway action. You can also just make out the driver (behind the sign) climbing into the cab of March (MR) allocated 37023, prior to taking the mail/parcels train to its next port of call. Andy took this photo at Peterborough whilst touring the East Midlands, using a Runabout/Rover Ticket, during August 1978.
(Above) Selby summer 1979. A great deal of the infrastructure in this view had probably changed little since Great Northern Railway days. Out of shot, to the left, is the impressive Victorian built swing-bridge which until the 'Selby Diversion' (to avoid coal field subsidence) carried E.C.M.L. trains across the navigable river. The refurbished Class 110 'Calder Valley' unit goes unnoticed by the couple as it approaches the station with a Hull - Leeds service. Incidentally, the vehicle approaching is an example of the now rare Triumph 2500 motorcar, which was considered to be very desirable at the time.
(Below) Back in the 1960s and 70s, holidays and days out included trips to Blackpool aboard a 'Black Five' hauled train of mixed B.R./L.M.S coaches, in later years a 'White Stripe' Class 104 d.m.u. En-route, near Clifton Junction, stood the towering C.E.G.B. Agecroft power station. It had its own a fleet of 0-4-0 saddle tanks that pushed long lines of 16 ton coal wagons through a tippler. The coal then went by conveyor belt across the line to boiler house. From quite an early age I began to keep my eyes pealed for the little steam shunting locos as we flashed by. Interest in the place never waned; as soon as I was old enough I made my way, complete with camera, to this super pocket-sized industrial railway. By the mid 1970s I'd become a regular visitor, the team that worked there were very friendly. They let me photograph every aspect of the railway's operation and partake in as many cab rides as I wanted! This shot was taken at the system's mini motive power depot on a Sunday afternoon during the winter of 1973, one of my first visits. 'Agecroft No. 3' is in the foreground, 'No. 1' is having some cylinder attention inside the depot building.
(Above) My visits to Agecroft triggered an interest in other industrial railway systems. With the help of the Industrial Railway Society's bumper directory of Britain's then vast array of lines I was able to sample quite a few of them. I thought the best were those operated by the National Coal Board (N.C.B.), Central Electricity Generating Board (C.E.G.B.) and British Steel Corporation (B.S.C.). Many railway systems still used steam power. However, being a fan of diesel locos, I didn't focus entirely on those that used steam. This shot was taken inside the confines of B.S.C. Shotton during the winter of 1975. It shows North British 0-6-0 '2' waiting its next duty. Across the tracks stands '26', also awaiting another task. The steel works was an amazing (slightly fearsome), busy, sprawling place, which certainly made full use of its sizeable diesel fleet.
(Below Left) Unlike today, football matches were a sure Saturday afternoon event for the smallest through to the largest of teams. In this photograph taken alongside the Manchester Victoria to Bolton line at Clifton Junction just before Christmas 1976 one of the smaller teams are caught in action. Supporters are in short supply, clearly this failing doesn't apply to the players and linesman's concentration which is so intense they do not notice the Preston bound Class 25 hauled parcels train rattling past. Check out the player's trendy George Best and 'Department S' haircuts, complete with matching sideburns - they are in stark contrast to the linesman's old duffle coat. (Below Right) The CFPS's Whistler magazine
On a final note, my thanks to Andy Sparks for filling in my missing years; his photographs provide an enjoyable and thought-provoking journey through a period of economic, political and social change during the 1970s. Even as a small boy, the thirteen-year-old Andy was aware that Britain's economic changes would eventually impact on our railways - and thank goodness he did. For in his quest to record the scene, Andy adopted a photo-journalistic approach to the subject, capturing perfectly all the key ingredients of Britain's railways during the 1970s, much of which was swept away by this decade of change. Fast-forward thirty-odd years, and Andy has taken on the role of editor of the Class Forty Preservation Society's (CFPS) excellent quarterly magazine, 'The Whistler', in February 2007. This periodical is packed with articles and photographs spanning the six decades since the English Electric Type 4 (Class 40) was introduced. The magazine also contains anecdotes, curiosities, information and news, and is free to members of the Society. It can also be acquired from Ian Allan bookshops at Birmingham, Cardiff, London Waterloo and Manchester, the National Railway Museum and several preserved railways. It is also available on this link - CFPS's website.
(Below) The quintessential young spotter on the rear cover of Andy's second book 'Coast to Coast'...both books are available direct from History Press (Sutton Publishing) and Amazon.
If you wish to discuss the contents of Andy's page and books the email address is below. Please note - this is not a 'clickable mail-to link via Outlook Express: