Trainspotter realises a 50-year dream

A 50-year quest came to a thrilling end for NIGEL PICKOVER when he travelled by train from Ipswich to York, ancient capital of England and the UK's undisputed railway headquarters.

Nigel Pickover

A 50-year quest came to a thrilling end for NIGEL PICKOVER when he travelled by train from Ipswich to York, ancient capital of England and the UK's undisputed railway headquarters.

IN the final decades of the magnificent era of steam-powered travel on Britain's railways, East Anglia was privileged to witness a new breed of mighty locomotives roaring along the main line.

From Ipswich to London, Colchester to Norwich, and all points in between, fast-moving “iron horses” with dynamic and exciting names thundered by - and railwaymen in this part of the world felt pride that they had their own fleet of shiny, new, powerful, locomotives to convey passengers on their journeys.

Other regions, including the prestigious west coast and east coast main lines, had boasted of their speedy locomotives for years. Now the Britannia class of “standard pacifics” - soon to become nicknamed the “Brits” - started to grace our railway lines.

The Britannia class - 55-strong and headed by number 70000 Britannia - were the most modern of the pacifics towards the end of the steam era and locos such as 70037 Hereward the Wake and 70007 Coeur-de-Lion became fast-moving sights and sounds across various regions, including East Anglia.

Most Read

Designed at Derby, they rolled off the production line from 1951 to 1954 - six years after the end of the Second World War - and a large number of the class stayed in the east just a decade or so until steam-powered railway transport in the UK went into decline.

Before the sad but inevitable extinction of steam, in August 1968, the East Anglian Brits, together with others which had been running on the south coast, or in Wales and Scotland, were moved to the North West of England, for one final hurrah.

And that's where I came in …

For in 1960, when I was aged five, my family moved to the Fylde area of Lancashire - and a life-long love of steam locomotives began.

I was lucky for so many reasons.

Firstly, steam-powered railway transport was still at full throttle in that part of the world.

Secondly, we moved to a house close to the busy line into the resort's main station, Blackpool North.

Thirdly, the era of mass coach transport was yet to come… and dozens of steam-hauled specials poured into Blackpool on holiday weekends from Easter onwards, a stream of steam that continued into Autumn for the resort's world-famous illuminations season.

These trains, led by strange locos from faraway places, brought holiday masses from grimy Lancashire and Yorkshire mill towns to the excitement and candy floss of the coast.

Entire communities, sharing the same “Wakes Week” would travel together in one happy, holiday band.

But it wasn't just steam trains near our home. Thanks to our first car (a Morris Oxford), a family love of railways and a dad who was prepared to drive, we were able to travel to places like Crewe, York, Preston, Lancaster, Hellifield, Carnforth and Carlisle to see some incredible railway locations and the locos that worked there.

The sweet “smell” of steam, the clatter of a train scorching by and the oily, dark, attractiveness of an engine shed entered my life and stays with me to this day.

Can you imagine the thrill of a seven-year-old (wide-eyed and more than a tad scared), as A4 (Mallard-class) pacific 60019 Bittern hissed around the bend and sounded its shrill whistle as it entered York station, hauling an Aberdeen to London express?

Can you capture the gleam in the eye of an eight-year-old, racing down the stairs to alight on Carlisle station's platform, to be greeted by the dazzling sight of an apple-green Cornation class pacific, 46257 City Of Salford, with a bright-red sister engine alongside it - and a maroon one nearby?

Or maybe you could sense the joy of a nine-year-old, allowed into Blackpool to watch Alan Ball in early-career action for First Division Blackpool FC… followed by a sneaky visit into the railway shed next door to see a much-need Brit, 70044 Earl Haig.

On trips like these I grew to love the Brits, which had by now, joyously, been moved into the North West. They became my favourite engines of all.

I remember, so clearly, seeing 70019 Lightning blasting through Poulton-le Fylde, its red nameplate seemingly ablaze, as it tore its way to the seaside.

Into my book in following months came 70012 John of Gaunt, 70027 Rising Star, 70026 Polar Star, 70004 William Shakespeare (seen at Crewe) and 70009, Alfred the Great.

While these giants of the rails were being fed by burning coal and quenched by water by hard-working railmen, my imagination was fired by the power, the smell, the names, and the great journeys from faraway places. It was a line-side education that no schoolroom could provide.

As the numbers of all kinds of locos grew in my scruffy loco-spotters book, so did my tally of Britannias.

Then, as teenage years arrived, the steamers bade their farewell as did the Brits after less than two decades at the top. As boy became youth, steam became diesel.

When the last steam locomotive was de-commissioned and dragged away to its oxy-acetylene fate, I had one remaining number to “cop.”

Number 70001, Lord Hurcomb, named after a war-time minister and transport chief, had escaped my attentions and a gap remained in my Ian Allan spotters book.

A loco that had travelled up and down the East Anglian line so often, had been seen in Ipswich so regularly, had avoided my beady eye… and went to its scrapyard grave before I could get to it.

And that's where my sadness lay - until late 2007.

All through adult life I had talked about Lord Hurcomb and my real sadness at not seeing my last Brit.

But as the year drew to a close, and with the help of the formidable internet research tool that is Google … I started to look for any link to Lord Hurcomb.

Fairly easily, I found Geoff Plumb's railways website, Plumb Loco - and, sure enough, he had a picture in his archive.

Shorn of its nameplates, weeks before the railway grim reaper came to call, I could see Lord H, dirty and unkempt, pulling out of Chester on parcels train duty. It had been near me - I was just up the road, in Blackpool - but not near enough!

Then I had a stroke of luck … thanks to York's National Railway Museum.

The NRM's Cath Farrell started some detective work - and discovered that one of those missing Lord Hurcomb nameplates was in York - on a wall, in a distant part of the museum's vast “warehouse.”

With great joy, I realised that I would be able to see at least the last part of the locomotive and do as much as possible to complete my own Great Railway Journey.

So, just ten days ago I sallied forth - destination York - and the only way to go was by rail.

With East Anglia's new National Express rail services joining up with its NE counterpart on the east coast main line, I went north, via London Liverpool Street and King's Cross, for an overnight stay in York before visiting the museum.

And there, with the help of the NRM's guide Allan Birkinshaw, finally I was able to see and touch a tiny part of Lord Hurcomb.

For me, a tremendous moment, to you, an utterly baffling one, no doubt.

So now, my quest is over and I can let my loco numbers and names book rest in piece… even though it will only ever be a dotted line under the name of 70001 Lord Hurcomb!

Thanks to: National Express and Geoff Plumb, of Plumb loco: web link

Did you see Lord Hurcomb - have you any pictures of the mighty loco, any others in the class, or any steam train photographs you would like to see published, write to Nigel Pickover, The Evening Star, 30, Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN or e-mail me at


Many of the class were based at Stratford, or Norwich, to bring fast journey times to the East Anglian main line. Others ran on the south coast, in Wales and a group of five in Scotland.

70000 Britannia, and 70001 Lord Hurcomb were introduced in January and February 1951, respectively, and were based at Stratford.

Only one was un-named - number 70047.

Like almost all of its class, Lord Hurcomb was withdrawn at Carlisle Kingmoor depot (in August 1966), aged just 15.

Two of the class, Britannia itself and East Anglian favourite 70013 Oliver Cromwell are the only Brits to have survived. Oliver Cromwell will soon be in steam again - for the 40th

anniversary of the end of steam celebrations, at York, between May 24 and June 1.