We have been chugging along here at STEAM and Mid-November is already upon us. Peter Quilley spends a lot of his time with us on one of STEAM’s locomotives, King George V. He enjoys talking to visitors about engines and how they work. Recently he, and other volunteers have begun giving drop-in spotlight tours. If you are in on a Meet the Railway Worker’s Saturday, you should pop along to our tours! Peter has written a few of his treasured memories and shared his account, below, of how his love of engines grew.
A Former Platform Soul – Peter Quilley
6000 King George v at Didcot, August 1985.
My lifelong interest in railways started with an aunt taking me in a pushchair to the local station in northeast London to watch the steam trains coming and going to Liverpool Street. Fast forward several years and together with two or three like-minded friends, I’d spend my Saturdays touring the London termini collecting engine numbers. After a while we realised that you could see many more engines at the depots where they were serviced. However, to visit these sheds required a permit which could only be issued to a supervising adult and none of our fathers was the least interested in trains. We soon learnt that many sheds could be entered unofficially via a back door route, such as a hole in the fence, a process known as ‘bunking’. My favourite ‘bunk’ was the ex-GWR shed at Old Oak Common. In the late 1950’s and early1960s its fleet of express passenger and mixed traffic engines with their brass safety valve covers and copper-capped chimneys were still kept immaculately clean. We learned be wary of the dangers of ash pits, moving locos and scalding steam and were never ejected from this shed, the railwaymen would simply ignore us. At other London sheds, if caught by the foreman we would be ejected, often accompanied by a stream of invective quite unsuitable for our young ears!
In on a gloomy October day in 1960 I visited Swindon works for the first time on a half-day excursion with the Home Counties Railway Club. The sheer size of the place was quite amazing, so many workshops, sheds and sidings, including the enormous ‘A’ Shop, where both new diesels were being built and steam engines continued to be overhauled. In the same year I met 3440 ‘City of Truro’ for the first time when she visit was put on display in Westbourne Park Goods Yard in West London. This was a seminal moment, I’ve followed her around the country during all three of her incarnations as a working locomotive, spanning half a century. Sadly, her career in this guise came to an end in 2011, but at least she is currently back home in Swindon where she belongs.
‘City of Truro’ with period GWR stock on the Severn Valley Railway, October 2008.
By good fortune, our physics teacher was the railway photographer, Peter Groom. “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” This was certainly true in Peter’s case, not only did he inspire a fascination with science, he mentored me and my fellow railway enthusiasts in the art of how to take pictures of trains. Collecting engine numbers now took second place to photography, both on shed and down the line.
Photographing on the Great Northern mainline, with my friend Alan (right) in March 1962. Picture taken using my camera by a third friend, Gregory. Note our smart appearance, complete with school ties, no anoraks for us young gentlemen!
The end of steam on the Western Region coincided to with the end of my schooldays, I progressed to university, embarked upon a career in education, married and had a family. 1968 marked the end of steam on the national network, diesel and electric traction had no appeal to me and my interest in railways was limited to the occasional visit to a preserved line or to mainline steam specials. I broadened my interest to encompass industrial archaeology, particularly the life and works of Britain’s greatest engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the architect of the Great Western Railway. Moving to Chippenham in 1976 gave me the opportunity to revisit Swindon Works on the annual open days, until it closed in 1985, and to visit the old museum in Faringdon Street. The Great Western Society was just down the line at Didcot and, in addition to their resident collection, they would also have interesting guest engines.
4073 Caerphilly Castle at Dicdot, April 1998.
In 2015 I saw an article in a railway magazine asking for volunteers to meet visitors to the museum and add to their experience by sharing their knowledge of the GWR and the days of steam. I was happy give it a try and be part of the ‘Meet The Railwaymen team’, even though I never worked on the railway. The sessions require a flexible approach, one moment you may be explaining to a child that a steam engine is basically a kettle on wheels, the next how the admission of steam to cylinders is controlled by the locomotive’s valve gear to a grown-up model maker. A young boy I met recently on the footplate of King George V was enchanted by his visit and exclaimed, “I love this engine, it’s beautiful”, which made my day. Passing on one’s knowledge and enthusiasm for the GWR and its locomotives to future generations makes volunteering at STEAM such a pleasure.