Part Six ~ Eastern Region
By April 1963, steam working from Kings Cross had been reduced to a handful of regular workings, mainly on Leeds trains. The diesels had gained a substantial foothold, in fact Kings Cross 'Top Shed' closed to steam working just two months later. I bade farewell to my all-time favourite main line on the 6.12pm from Kings Cross on Friday 14th June with A1 Pommern. The terrible run-down of steam, witnessed in later years, was not seen at Kings Cross, and just weeks prior to closure, 'Pacifics' were being turned out and performing immaculately. The last steam-hauled named train from 'The Cross' was the 9.20am to Leeds Central and Bradford "The White Rose". The Pacific returning on the 3.26pm from Leeds, which carried the same name, but was a semi-fast on a Saturday. As an aside, on the 20th April, I returned South on this train which, after suffering several delays, saw No. 7 leave Grantham and run the 29.10 miles to Peterborough start to stop in 28mins and 3sec with a minimum speed of 50mph at Stoke Summit, and a max of 93 on the world-famous descent.
The starting time of the down train was ideal for me as I lived in South London at the time, an added attraction was its non-stop run to Doncaster. I travelled on it on two consecutive Saturdays, the 20th and 27th April, the loco being, of course, Sir Nigel Gresley. Regular readers of the nostalgic monthly magazine 'Steam World' can experience the scene as, coincidentally, there is a super colour picture of Sir Nigel getting under way from Kings Cross with the 27th April train. It's in the October 2005 edition on pages 4 and 5. No. 60007 in fine condition and against a background of diesels, proudly heads "The White Rose".
So, here we have No.7, again with just the driver and fireman on the footplate on two non-stop runs to Doncaster, only one week apart. The load, formed of 'BR Standard' stock (as it was known then, 'Mark 2s' had yet to appear) was virtually identical in both cases. Assuming Sir Nigel was in just about the same mechanical condition for both runs, it's very interesting to compare them. Also of interest is that it escaped that sad last weekend of steam at Top Shed, as it was being pampered in Doncaster Works receiving a 'casual light' repair. It entered the works on 28th May, just one month after my trips on "The White Rose". Emerging on the 21st June, No.7 went to its new home at New England (Peterborough) as effectively steam was banned south thereof from the 17th June. Hopefully, it didn't acquire the usual grotty external condition associated with New England's locos. As we've seen, four months later found it stored in Scotland. There was no evidence of it being due for works attention in its performance, as we shall see.
On both occasions "The White Rose" left punctually, entered smoky Gasworks Tunnel, and climbed slowly past the boxes at Belle Isle and Copenhagen Jn, (no sign of Sir Alec Guinness and his hilarious bunch of scoundrels!) before entering Copenhagen Tunnel (is there any other start quite like that?). Sir Nigel was now getting into its stride, and both trains passed Finsbury Park virtually neck and neck. From there onwards things quickly changed. The first train went ahead in the Wood Green 'dip', achieving a maximum of 65mph there, topped the climb to Potter's Bar at 60mph and was 1¾ minutes early. The driver of the second train was quite content with a much slower climb, and given a minute 'recovery' time passed Potter's Bar on schedule (52mph). The descent to Hatfield produced virtually the same maximum speed, but again the second was slightly slower, in fact the first train accelerated to 80mph before disaster struck, or was it? The brakes came on, and we came to a 22 sec stop at Stevenage, a temporary restriction lay ahead, and we'd probably overhauled the preceding train as it cleared. The driver of the second train, with his slower descent, managed to avoid being stopped at the signals. So now we have both drivers, with the same load, and arguably the finest Pacific loco in traffic on BR, facing a long and almost continuous descent for the next 20 miles. Both passed Hitchin late, so do they go as fast as they can downhill while they can, or just fast enough to regain the lost time? They should both have known about the temporary speed restriction in advance. I will leave readers to form their own opinion as to the most sensible driving method. Suffice to say, after a maximum of 91mph at the foot of the descent, the first "White Rose" was still over a minute late passing Huntingdon, the 'Hump' at Milepost 62 was topped with a minimum of 69, and a swift dash to 90mph at Connington South Box, meant it passed through Peterborough North just over 4 minutes early, but the schedule gave 4 minutes recovery at that point. Run No.2 was about 10mph slower at Tempsford, topped Milepost 62 at 65mph with a surprising maximum of 92 mph at Connington South, passed under Perterborough North's overall roof 1¾ min early, again bearing in mind the 4 mins extra allowed here.
There was now no need for energetic ascents to Stoke, the first achieved a maximum of 79mph with 53 at the summit, the second just short of 70mph dropping to 62mph at the top. A further 2 mins extra again here, with the trains passing 8½ and 5¼ mins early, with No.7 and her crew clearly in command. The long descent to Carlton was marred by another temporary restriction at Hougham, and I'm sure both drivers accounted for this in their ascents to Stoke. Sir Nigel accelerating into the 70s before yet another temporary check at Crow Park. Both achieved the same maximum (72mph) before easing for Retford, where 3 more recovery minutes were granted, to find the first "White Rose" pass 7¼ mins early, the second just 1½ mins 'BT'. After the now virtually 'permanent' temporary slowing over the mining subsidence at Bawtry they came to a stand at Doncaster 8¾ mins, and 3¾ mins early respectively. I have calculated net times to Peterborough (76.35 miles, and passing at the 1963 reduced speed) of 71 mins (No.1) and 75¼ (No.2) and Doncaster (155.95 miles) 147 mins and 154 mins. Personally, I'm of the opinion that BOTH loco-crews and Sir Nigel did a first-class job, and delivered their passengers before the advertised time, bearing in mind the imminent closure of 'Top Shed', the speed restrictions etc.
This is the final part of my series, and I've described Sir Nigel at work on all the former BR Regions, some of the runs were indifferent, some excellent, but they certainly outline its work before today's regime. While my firm favourites will always be the A3s, I can honestly say that no other loco has given me more 'entertainment' than Sir Nigel Gresley, and long may it continue to do so. I was delighted when The Trust decided to take it to Grosmont and the NYMR, which is my favourite heritage railway. As I type these notes, thanks to the hard work by the Grosmont team, it's about to emerge for another stint on the NYMR, so if you haven't experienced it climbing their 1 in 49 either from the train, or the lineside, then I thoroughly recommend you do so.
(Actually you can look forward to a final instalment from John's articles in the Summer of 2008 - Ed.)
Researched and written by John Wickham.
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