This article was kindly submitted by Civic Society member Michael Green. It provides a fascinating insight not only into steam locomotives but their impact on the local landscape and the excitement that their appearance would engender amongst many of the town’s local inhabitants.
The recent visit to Statfold Barn Railway with members and friends of the Society was the third I have made, and the magic rather than diminishing with each just increases. Quite rightly, it has been described as a treasure on our doorstep and, thankfully, it is not a hidden one due to the kindness of Graham Lee who arranges open days and allows private visits such as that from the Society.
The Society is justly proud of the work done there to rescue and preserve our heritage and, of course, it is a living museum with the opportunity to travel on a private railway pulled by a steam engine. It was while travelling behind Alpha on the visit that I was again vividly reminded of a place in Tamworth famously associated in times past with steam engines too.
The place and an important part of my Tamworth heritage was an insignificant piece of land lying between the low and high levels to the south east of the station and now occupied by a mobile home park. In the 1950s it was affectionately referred to as the Stationfields and, at that time, was a place of pilgrimage for trainspotters from throughout the Midlands and elsewhere, its attraction being the position which gave a view of the wide variety of steam engines both on the high and low levels.
On Saturdays and during school holidays it was necessary to have arrived and picked your spot before the double headed ten to ten from Birmingham arrived disgorging droves of “Brummies” as we called them. It was 1/4½d (about 7p) for a child return. The best place to set up for the day was roughly halfway between the bridges under the low and high levels. It was vital to be with a friend or in a group since, if trains were signalled both ways on either level, someone would have to go under the appropriate bridge in case trains crossed so that the one on the far side could be “spotted”!
It would be easy to think that trainspotting was the preserve of boys but this was not the case. While in the minority, girls were also to be found amongst the trainspotters. Unbeknown to me at the time, my future wife was one of them!
On the low level, there were two “up” lines to London and two “down” lines to the North West and Scotland. The trainspotters developed their own special names and expressions. Sometimes nicknames were used so the signals on the two up lines were nicknamed “Baby (pronounced Babby) Clangers” on the slow line and “Daddy Clangers” on the fast or main one. While there were only two down lines there were, in fact, three signals because of the link from the fast to the slow or local one and these were called “Main” “Main to Local” and “Local”. A signal was “pegged” when it went up and the accompanying shout would indicate which it was. As soon as the engine was in view there was a further shout of “sighted” and then the cry of “Scot” or whatever class of engine it was when it could be identified. Of the two levels the low level was undoubtedly the premier one with its famous expresses like the Royal Scot (London–Glasgow), Irish Mail (London-Holyhead) and Mancunian (London-Manchester), drawn by engines from the upper echelons of the locomotive hierarchy, each class of which had its own special name (the Coronations were called “Semis”, the Princess Royals “Prinnies”, the Royal Scots “Scots”, the Jubilees “Jubes” and the Patriots “Pats”).
“Local” and “Baby Clangers” were on the lines used by local stopping trains and goods traffic. That did not necessarily mean that these lines were unimportant! Almost unnoticed a pair of engines would creep up to “Local” and remain there for what seemed an eternity. One could see that the second engine was a Britannia class or “Brit” on its way to Crewe works for overhaul. Experience told you that it would be from the Eastern region. Excitement mounted as one waited for “Local” to go up to see which one it was! The other slow line could also provide excitement. The nine o’clock passenger train from Tamworth to London was sometimes pulled by an engine from a northern shed overhauled at Crewe which one would not usually see. It was some years after I had finally finished trainspotting that I “copped” my last Scot, The Green Howards (46133), on one of these.
The high level was largely the domain of the work horses of the region and were mainly the 3F 0-6-0s known as “Duck 6s” and the Stainer 8F 2-8-0s called “Consols” (I don’t know why) pulling differing numbers of wagons in those days principally filled with coal.
If you were a regular and dedicated trainspotter at the Stationfields you could “cop” all the “Pats”, “Prinnies” and “Semis” and a lot of the “Jubes”. You could possibly “cop” all the Scots as well. There were those who visited “Fudger’s Junction” though. This was the mythical place where you could “spot” every engine! Those who visited it were ruthlessly ridiculed.
Every trainspotter had his Ian Allan “ref” which listed all the engines, in my case, of the London Midland Region. This was precious and kept at home. All the numbers spotted in the day were listed in a note book and, in the evening, these would be checked with the “ref” and the “cops” (engines seen for the first time) underlined in it.
Those were indeed halcyon days. The only bit of bother was the occasional appearance by the owner to assert his ownership. He was Charlie Jenkins who would shoo everyone off. Needless to say, as soon as he had gone, all reappeared!
There were two other individuals connected with the Stationfields whose names stand out. The mentor for young trainspotters was Dennis “Buster” Bromley. He knew everything about trainspotting and the engines and was much envied as he lived at the top of Marmion Street within easy reach of the Stationfields. He was a great source of intelligence. It was known that the engines pulling trains in the morning could return in the evening so if a rare one had gone through he would let us know and we would make sure we were there to see it return. The second was Mr Burrows who specialised in photographing engines. He would come amongst the spotters selling his photos at 6d each. I often wonder what happened to those priceless negatives.
Not only was the Station Café a popular haunt for motor cyclists during the 1950s but trainspotters would gravitate there too during quiet periods. As I recall it, its interior was best described as functional with a counter, tables and chairs, table top football, a pinball machine and, of course, the juke box which has been mentioned elsewhere.
Today, as I walk across the mobile home site, images from those bygone days flow through my mind. I see the signals and those Leviathans of steam sometimes pulling as many as 17 carriages. However, one image always causes a shudder. I see the mid-day Royal Scot pulled by the double headed diesels numbered 10,000 and 10,001. Little did I realise in the 1950s that I was seeing the heralds of the demise of steam and the shape of things to come!
There are excellent pictures of Tamworth’s old fine Livock designed station and steam at Tamworth on the warwickshirerailways.com website: http://www.warwickshirerailways.com/lms/tamworthlowlevel.htm