Fred Dibnah

Charismatic Engineer, Steeplejack and British television personality Fred Dibnah was Born 28th April 1938. As a child, Dibnah was fascinated by the steam engines which powered the many textile mills in his home town of Bolton and developed a keen interest in mechanical engineering, Steam Engines and chimneys and the men who worked on them. He began his working life as a joiner, before becoming a steeplejack. From age 22, he served for two years in the armed forces, as part of his national service. Once demobilised, he returned to steeplejacking but met with limited success until he was asked to repair Bolton’s parish church. The resulting publicity provided a welcome boost to his business, ensuring he was almost never out of work.

Dibnah’s interest in steam power stemmed from his childhood observations of the steam locomotives on the nearby railway line, and his visits to his father’s workplace—a bleach works in Bolton—where he was fascinated by the steam engines used to drive the line shafting. He later became a steam enthusiast, befriending many of the engine drivers and firemen who worked on the nearby railway. As a teenager he met a driver who invited him onto the footplate of his locomotive and who asked him to keep the boiler supplied with fuel. Dibnah became so enamoured with steam engines that he eventually looked for one he could buy. He learnt of a steamroller kept in a barn near Warrington and which the owners had bought from Flintshire County Council. He had the boiler pressure-tested and, despite it being in poor condition, bought it for £175. He towed it to a friend’s house, spent a fortnight making various repairs and drove it to his mother’s house in Bolton.

After he married and bought his own property on Radcliffe new Road, he cut an access road to the garden of his new house and moved the steamroller there. Restoring the engine took many years, as Dibnah had to create his own replacement parts, using Victorian engineering techniques and equipment he built in his garden. The boiler was in poor condition and needed serious work, but Dibnah used local knowledge and was eventually able to build a new boiler. Once restored, he used the 1910 Aveling & Porter steamroller together with a living van he bought and restored, to take his family around the local steam fairs In 1978, while making repairs to Bolton Town Hall, Dibnah was filmed by a regional BBC news crew. The BBC then commissioned an award-winning documentary, which followed the rough-hewn steeplejack as he worked on chimneys, interacted with his family and talked about his favourite hobby—steam.

He made many more Television programmes about Steam Engines & Locomotives and In 1998, he presented a programme on Britain’s industrial history and went on to present a number of fascinating series, largely concerned with the Industrial Revolution and its mechanical and architectural legacy. In mid-2000, Dibnah was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Technology for his achievement in engineering by Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, and on 19 July 2004 he was made an honorary Doctor of the University by the University of Birmingham. He was also awarded an MBE for services to heritage and broadcasting. He said “I’m looking forward to meeting the Queen but I shall probably have to get a new cap. And I’d like to meet Prince Charles because we share the same views about modern architecture.”On 7 July 2004, Dibnah went to Buckingham Palace to receive his award from the Queen.

Sadly Fred’s health was failing at this point although filming continued at various locations around the country, with sons Jack and Roger, who had become essential members of the tour, providing much-needed support for their father. By the end of July, the crew had filmed only 34 days with Dibnah, out of a planned 60. It was becoming more difficult by the day for Dibnah to fulfil his filming duties and the crew decided to cut short the schedule and he died shortly after on 7 November 2004 and is sadly missed. He is survived by his five children from three marriages.


Gare de Montparnasse

The Montparnasse derailment occurred on 22 October 1895 after theGranville–Paris Express overran the buffer stop at its Gare Montparnasse terminus. With the train several minutes late and the driver trying to make up for lost time, it entered the station too fast and the train Westinghouse air brake failed. After running through the buffer stop, the train crossed the station concourse and crashed through the station wall before falling 10 metres (33 feet) onto the Place de Rennes below, where it stood on its nose. A woman in the street below was killed by falling masonry. The driver was fined 50 francs and one of the guards 25 francs.The train was outside the station in this position for several days and a number of photographs were taken. At least one photograph is out of copyright and is used as the cover page of a book by John Taylor and on the front cover of Mr. Big’s album, Lean into It.

On 22 October 1895 the Granville to Paris express was composed of steam locomotive No. 721 hauling two baggage vans, a post van, six passenger carriages and a baggage van. The train had left Granville on time at 8:45 am, but was several minutes late as it approached its Paris Montparnasse terminus with 131 passengers on board. Trying to make up lost time the train entered the station too fast, at a speed of 40–60 kilometres per hour (25–37 mph), and theWestinghouse air brake failed. Without sufficient braking the momentum of the train carried it slowly into the buffers, and the locomotive crossed the almost 30-metre (100 ft) wide station concourse, crashing through a 60-centimetre (2 ft) thick wall, before falling onto the Place de Rennes 10 metres (33 ft) below, where it stood on its nose. A woman in the street below was killed by falling masonry; and two passengers, the fireman, two guards and a passerby in the street sustained injuries. The woman, Marie-Augustine Aguilard by name, had been standing in for her husband, a newspaper vendor, while he went to collect the evening papers. The railway company paid for her funeral and provided a pension to care for their two children.

The locomotive driver was fined 50 francs for approaching the station too fast. One of the guards was fined 25 francs as he had been preoccupied with paperwork and failed to apply the handbrake. The passenger carriages were undamaged and removed easily. It took forty-eight hours before the legal process and investigation allowed the railway to start removing the locomotive and tender. An attempt was made to move the locomotive with fourteen horses, but this failed. A 250 tonne winch with ten men first lowered the locomotive to the ground and then lifted the tender back in to the station. When the locomotive reached the railway workshops it was found to have suffered little damage. The train was outside the station for several days and a number of photographs were taken, such as those attributed to Studio Lévy and Sons, L. Mercier, and Henri Roger-Viollet. The Lévy and Sons photograph is out of copyright and is used as the cover page in the book An Introduction to Error Analysis by John Taylor. The picture is also featured on the front cover of American hard rock band Mr. Big’s 1991 album, Lean into It. It also appears as a dream in the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret and its film adaptation, Hugo. It is referenced in the television series Thomas and Friends in “A Better View For Gordon” and depicted in the comic book The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec.

Anniverary of the Rainhill Trials

Sans Pereil

Stephenson’s locomotive “Rocket” won the Rainhill Trials On 8 October 1829 . Stephenson’s Rocket was an early steam locomotive of 0-2-2 wheel arrangement, built in 1829 at the Forth Street Works of Robert Stephenson and Company in Newcastle Upon Tyne, specially for the Rainhill Trials held by the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1829 to choose the best design to power the railway. Though the Rocket was not the first steam locomotive, it brought together several innovations to produce the most advanced locomotive of its day and became the template for most steam engines in the following 150 years. It had a tall smokestack chimney at the front, a cylindrical boiler in the middle, and a separate firebox at the rear. The large front pair of wooden wheels was driven by two external cylinders set at an angle. The smaller rear wheels were not coupled to the driving wheels, giving an 0-2-2 wheel arrangement. As the first railway intended for passengers more than freight, the rules emphasised speed and would require reliability, but the weight of the locomotive was also tightly restricted. Six-wheeled locomotives were limited to six tons, four-wheeled locomotives to four and a half tons. In particular, the weight of the train expected to be hauled was to be no more than three times the actual weight of the locomotive.

Stephenson realised that whatever the size of previously successful locomotives, this new contest would favour a fast, light locomotive of only moderate hauling power. His most visible decision was to use a single pair of driving wheels, with a small carrying axle behind giving a 0-2-2 arrangement. The use of single drivers gave several advantages. The weight of coupling rods was avoided and the second axle could be smaller and lightweight, as it only carried a small proportion of the weight. Rocket placed 2½ tons of its 4¼ ton total weight onto its driving wheels,a higher axle load than the rival locomotive Sans Pareil, even though the 0-4-0 was heavier overall at 5 ton, and officially disqualified by being over the 4½ ton limit. Stephenson’s past experience convinced him that the adhesion of the locomotive’s driving wheels would not be a problem, particularly with the light trains of the trials contest. Rocket uses a multi-tubular boiler design. Previous locomotive boilers consisted of a single pipe surrounded by water. Rocket has 25 copper fire-tubes that carry the hot exhaust gas from the firebox, through the wet boiler to the blast pipe and chimney. This arrangement resulted in a greatly increased surface contact area of hot pipe with boiler water when compared to a single large flue. Additionally, radiant heating from the enlarged separate firebox helped deliver a further increase in steaming and hence boiler efficiency.The advantages of the multiple-tube boiler were quickly recognised, even for heavy, slow freight locomotives. By 1830, Stephenson’s past employee Timothy Hackworth had re-designed his return-flued Royal George as the return-tubed Wilberforce class.

Rocket also used a blastpipe, feeding the exhaust steam from the cylinders into the base of the chimney so as to induce a partial vacuum and pull air through the fire. .the blastpipe worked well on the multi-tube boiler of Rocket but on earlier designs with a single flue through the boiler it had created so much suction that it tended to rip the top off the fire and throw burning cinders out of the chimney, vastly increasing the fuel consumption. Like the Lancashire Witch, Rocket had two cylinders set at angle from the horizontal, with the pistons driving a pair of 4 ft 8.5 in (1.435 m) diameter wheels. Most previous designs had the cylinders positioned vertically, which gave the engines an uneven swaying motion as they progressed along the track. Subsequently Rocket was modified so that the cylinders were set close to horizontal, a layout that influenced nearly all designs that followed. The cylinders were also connected directly to the driving wheels, an arrangement which is found in all subsequent steam locomotives.The firebox was separate from the boiler and was double walled, with a water jacket between them. This firebox was heated by radiant heat from the glowing coke, not just convection from the hot exhaust gas.Locomotives of Rocket’s era were fired by coke rather than coal. Local landowners were already familiar with the dark clouds of smoke from coal-fired stationary engines and had imposed regulations on most new railways that locomotives would ‘consume their own smoke’. The smoke from a burning coke fire was much cleaner than that from coal. It was not until thirty years later and the development of the long firebox and brick arch that locomotives would be effectively able to burn coal directly.Rocket’s first firebox was of copper sheet and of a somewhat triangular shape from the side. The throatplate was of firebrick, possibly the backhead too.

When the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was approaching completion, the directors of the railway ran a competition to decide whether stationary steam engines or locomotives would be used to pull the trains. So the Rainhill Trials were run in October 1829 in Rainhill,Lancashire (now Merseyside) they featured several tests for each locomotive which were performed over the course of several days.The Rainhill stretch of the Railway was very level for a mile or so: a perfect site for the Trials .. The Rainhill Trials were arranged as an open contest that would let them see all the locomotive candidates in action, with the choice to follow. Regardless of whether or not locomotives were settled upon, a prize of £500 was offered to the winner of the trials. Three notable figures from the early days of engineering were selected as judges: John Urpeth Rastrick, a locomotive engineer of Stourbridge, Nicholas Wood, a mining engineer from Killingworth with considerable locomotive design experience and John Kennedy, a Manchester cotton spinner and a major proponent of the railway Locomotives were run two or three per day, and several tests for each locomotive were performed over the course of several days.The Rainhill stretch of the Railway was very level for a mile or so: a perfect site for the Trials.

The locomotive Cycloped was the first to drop out of the competition. Built with “legacy technology”, it used a horse walking on a drive belt for power, and was withdrawn after an accident caused the horse to burst through the floor of the engine.Next to retire was Perseverance. Damaged en route to the competition, Burstall spent five days repairing it. When it failed to reach the required 10 miles per hour (16 km/h) on its first tests the next day, it was withdrawn from the trial. It was granted a £26 consolation prize.Sans Pareil nearly completed the trials, though at first there was some doubt as to whether it would be allowed to compete as it was 300 pounds (140 kg) overweight. However, it did eventually complete eight trips before cracking a cylinder. Despite the failure it was purchased by the Liverpool & Manchester, where it served for two years before being leased to theBolton and Leigh Railway.The last engine to take part was Novelty. In complete contrast to Cycloped it was cutting-edge for 1829, lighter and considerably faster than the other locomotives in the competition. It was accordingly the crowd favourite. Reaching a then-astonishing 28 miles per hour (45 km/h) on the first day of competition, it later suffered some damage to a boiler pipe which could not be fixed properly on site in the time allotted. Nevertheless it continued its run on the next day, but upon reaching 15 mph the pipe gave way again and damaged the engine severely enough that it had to drop out.So, the Rocket was the only locomotive to complete the trials. It averaged 12 miles per hour (19 km/h) (achieving a top speed of 30 miles per hour (48 km/h)) hauling 13 tons, and was declared the winner of the £500 prize. The Stephensons were accordingly given the contract to produce locomotives for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway.

In 1980 the Rocket 150 celebration was held to mark the 150th Anniversary of the trials. A replica of Novelty was built for the event, which was also attended by replicas of Sans Pareil and Rocket (plus coach).The Rocket replica bent its axle in Bold Colliery railway sidings during the event and was exhibited on a low loader carriage.The event was also attended by:Lion, at the time of Rocket 150 the oldest operable steam locomotive in existence. Flying Scotsman No. 4472, LMS 4-6-0 Jubilee class No. 5690 Leander, Sir Nigel Gresley No. 4498, GWR 0-6-0 No. 3205, lMS Class 4 MT 2-6-0 No 43106, BR 92220 Evening Star, the last steam locomotive to be built by British Railways,LMS 4-6-2 Princess Elizabeth No. 6201, Class 86 locomotives 86214, Sans Pareil and 86235. In a recent (2002) restaging of the Rainhill Trials using replica engines, neither Sans Pareil nor Novelty completed the course. In calculating the speeds and fuel efficiencies, it was found that Rocket would still have won, as its relatively modern technology made it a much more reliable locomotive than the others. Novelty almost matched it in terms of efficiency, but its firebox design caused it to gradually slow to a halt due to a build up of molten ash (called “clinker”) cutting off the air supply. The restaged trials were run over a section of line in Llangollen, Wales, and were the subject of a BBC Timewatch documentary.

Stockton and Darlington Railway

The world’s first public passenger railway, The Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) in north-eastern England was Opened September 27 1825, it was built between Witton Park and Stockton-on-Tees via Darlington and connected to several collieries near Shildon. 26 miles (40 km) long, it was also the world’s longest railway line at the time. Planned to carry both goods and passengers, the line was initially built to connect inland coal mines to Stockton, where coal was to be loaded onto seagoing boats. Over the next 38 years the S&DR steadily expanded into a substantial network serving south and west Durham, Cleveland and Westmorland and running trains across Cumberland to within a few miles of the west coast. It was taken over by the North Eastern Railway in 1863, but by agreement continued to operate independently for a further 10 years. Much of the original 1825 route is now served by the Tees Valley Line, operated by Northern Rail.

At the time steam locomotives were a new and unproven technology and were slow, expensive and unreliable. The initial impetus for steam power had come during the Napoleonic Wars, when horse fodder had become very expensive and had still not settled down, while improving transport and mining methods was making coal more plentiful. However, many people weren’t convinced that steam engines were a viable alternative to the horse. So at first, horse traction predominated on the S&DR, until steam could prove its worth. The first locomotive to run on the S&DR was Locomotion No 1, built at the Stephenson works though, in the absence of Robert, Timothy Hackworth had been brought in from Wylam. (On Robert’s return he took charge of maintenance at the S&DR’s Shildon’s Soho works.)Locomotion No 1 used coupling rods rather than gears between the wheels, the first to do so. The official opening of the line was on 27 September 1825. The first passenger train took two hours to complete the first 12 miles (19 km) of the journey and most of 600 passengers sat in open coal wagons while one experimental passenger coach, resembling a wooden shed on wheels and called “The Experiment”, carried various dignitaries.

An experimental regular passenger service was soon established, initially a horse-drawn coach with horse provided by the driver. While passenger carrying was contracted out, locomotive coal trains were either paid by the ton, contractors providing their own fuel, which meant they tended to use the cargo, or by fixed wages, which meant they did not bother to economise.Three more engines were built similar to Locomotion then, in 1826, Stephenson introduced the “Experiment” with inclined cylinders, which meant that it could be mounted on springs. Originally four wheeled, it was modified for six. Not all engines came from Stephenson. In 1826 also, Wilson, Robert and Company, of Newcastle, produced one for the line which, rather than use coupling rods, had four cylinders, two to each pair of wheels. Possibly because of its unusual exhaust beat, it became known as Chittaprat. After suffering a collision it was not rebuilt. These early locomotives were slow and unreliable and Hackworth set out to produce an improved design and in 1827 introduced the Royal George, salvaging the boiler from the Wilson engine. He also invented a spring-loaded safety valve, because drivers had been tying them down to prevent them opening when the loco went over a bump. Steam traction was expensive in comparison to horse drawn traffic, but it soon proved that it was viable and economic. Steam locomotives could haul more wagons and haul them faster, so in a typical working day the expensive steam engine could haul more coal than the cheaper horse. It soon became apparent that mixing faster steam-hauled and slower horse-drawn traffic was slowing the operation down and so as steam technology became more reliable, horse-drawn traffic was gradually abandoned.

At first, the organisation of the S&DR bore little relation to that of most modern railways and was run in the traditional manner of the wagonways of the time. The S&DR merely owned the tracks and did not operate trains; anyone who paid the S&DR money could freely operate steam trains or horse-drawn wagonloads on the line. This separation of track from trains resembled the canals, where canal companies were often forbidden from operating any boats. There was no timetable or other form of central organisation. Trains ran whenever they wanted and fights often broke out when rival operators came into conflict over right-of-way on the tracks. This chaotic situation was tolerable on completely horse-drawn traffic wagonways, but with faster steam trains it soon became unworkable, as the faster speeds meant a collision could have serious consequences. With the advent of steam, new operating methods had to be developed.The S&DR proved a huge financial success and paved the way for modern rail transport.The expertise that Stephenson and his apprentice Joseph Locke gained in railway construction and locomotive building on the S&DR enabled them to construct the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the first purpose-built steam railway and the Stephensons’ Rocket locomotive. The company also proved a successful training ground for other engineers: in 1833 Daniel Adamson was apprenticed to Timothy Hackworth and later established his own successful boiler-making business in Manchester. The S&DR was absorbed into the North Eastern Railway in 1863, which merged into the London and North Eastern Railway in 1923.Much but not all of the original S&DR line is still operating today, together with the later lines to Saltburn and Bishop Auckland, but the rest of the substantial network the S&DR built up has been closed and dismantled.

Severn Valley Railway Autumn Steam Gala

This years Severn Valley Railway Autumn Steam Gala takes place from Thursday 21 September until Sunday 24 September. During the gala The  home-fleet of engines will be in steam, including: ex Port Talbot saddle tank GWR 813, 1450, 0-6-0 15xx class 1501, GWR 28xx class 2857, 7714, GWR 78xx Manor class 7802 Bradley Manor, GWR 78xx Manor class 7812 Erlestoke Manor, West Country class Pacific 34027 Taw Valley, Battle Of Britain classPacific locomotive 34053 Sir Keith Park & Ivatt class 4 43106. In addition the Railwayman’s Arms Wil be selling a number of guest beers during the gala, including Repton 4%, 1501 4.3%, Bluebell 4.6% and Erlestoke Manor 5% all brewed by Bewdley Brewery (try saying that after a few pints). After the Autumn Steam Gala the Battle of Britain class Pacific locomotive 34053 Sir Keith Park will also be departing from the Severn Valley Railway. The home fleet will appear alongside visiting locomotives for the Autumn Steam Gala Which this year include:

Southern Railway Maunsell ‘Schools’ class locomotive No. 926 Repton
The 1913 Great Eastern Railway (GER) Wordsell Y14′ class 0-6-0 Locomotive No. 564 (LNER J15 class)
‘P’ class locomotive No. 323 ‘Bluebell’ courtesy of the Bluebell Railway
Small England’ No. 2 Prince courtesy of the Talyllyn Railway

Charles Collett (GWR)

GWR 6024 King Edward I

The great Western Railways’ Chief Mechanical locomotive Engineer Charles Benjamin Collett was born 10 September 1871. He was educated at Merchant Taylors School and City and Guilds Engineering College before becoming chief mechanical engineer of the Great Western Railway from 1922 to 1941. He designed (amongst others) the GWR’s 4-6-0 Castle and King Class express passenger locomotives. Collett’s predecessor, George Jackson Churchward had delivered to the GWR from Swindon a series of class leading and innovative locomotives, and arguably by the early 1920s the Great Western‘s 2-cylinder and 4-cylinder 4-6-0 designs were substantially superior to the locomotives of the other railway groupings.In 1922 Churchward retired, and Charles Benjamin Collett inherited a legacy of excellent standardised designs. But, with costs rising and revenues falling, there was a need to rationalise the number of pre-grouping designs and to develop more powerful locomotives

Collett was a practical development engineer and gifted, technical Engineer who could look at existing designs and reliably improve them. he took Churchward’s designs and developed them – the Hall from the Saint class, and the Castle from the Star, in this way Collett was able to produce a standardized fleet of locomotives ideally suited to the GWR’s requirements. He was able to extract substantial performance gains out of the Churchward designs, and the Castle Class was testament to this.He was also responsible for more humble locomotives, such as many of the pannier tank classes. However he received criticism from contemporary engineers and later railway historians for undertaking very little innovation in his designs, instead sticking with Churchward’s style in every case. Arguably this meant that by the time Collett retired the superiority of Great Western locomotives was lost to more modern designs, particularly those of William Stanier, who worked at Swindon before moving to the LMS in 1932, and took Churchward’s style with him but developed it in line with the progression in steam technology.

By 1926, something bigger than the Castle class was required to haul heavy expresses at an average speed of 60 mph. Great Western’s General Manager Sir Felix Pole told Collett to proceed with the design and construction of a “Super-Castle”. The result was the King class 4-6-0 design which emerged from Swindon works in June 1927. This had dimensions never previously seen, and represented the ultimate development of Churchward’s four cylinder concept. It was the heaviest (136 tons), and had the highest tractive effort (40,300 lbs.) of any 4-6-0 locomotive ever to run in the United Kingdom. However Because of its weight, the King class was restricted to a limited number of routes.

Charles Collett sadly passed away 5 April 1952 but many of his designs are still in steam thanks to the dedication and hard work of many steam railway enthusiasts at various heritage lines such as the Great Central, North York Moors, East Lancashire, Severn Valley and Bluebell railways


Severn Valley Railway On the Buses

Severn Valley Railway London Transport on the buses event takes place at Bewdley Station on Sunday 10 September 2017. This year it featured the 1914 built London & North Western Railway (LNWR) Leyland ‘Charabanc’ (reg. No. CC1087) from the London Transport Museum in 1924 LB5 ‘Chocolate Express’ livery, which was based at Euston Station in London running bus services in Watford and was used for pleasure-trips around North Wales . It was also requisitioned by the War Office in March 1915 for troop transportation in London. Also present were 1962 London Transport AEC Routemaster RM1005 with Euro 6 engine, Registration: 5 CLT and The first production AEC Routemaster RM 5 from 1959. Registration: VLT 5. In all Bewdley Station has up to 25 historical and modern vehicles in attendance, From a Daimler Metrocam to a 1953 Guy Special.