Category Archives: Transports of Delight

Stitching a canal back together

Chesterfield Canal:  Hollingwood Hub

Chesterfield Canal: Hollingwood Hub

The Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour will visit the Hollingwood Hub centre to hear about the forty-year restoration programme that has returned all but nine miles of the Chesterfield Canal to navigation.

I remember the wrecked state of this canal in the 1970s, and I’ve marvelled at the inspiring work of the Chesterfield Canal Trust in bringing water and boats back to long-abandoned stretches of waterway.

The first practical preservation project was the restoration of Tapton Lock on the outskirts of Chesterfield, completed by the Chesterfield Canal Society in 1990.  This led to the restoration of Hollingwood Lock, near Staveley, in 1993.  By 1997, when the Society became the Chesterfield Canal Trust, further locks had been restored, and the visitor centre at Tapton Lock opened.

The section between Worksop and Shireoaks reopened in 1998, and the entire length from Worksop to the east portal of Norwood Tunnel, including twenty-two listed but dismantled locks, was restored to navigation by 2003.

Major landmarks in the restoration campaign were celebrated – the opening of the Shireoaks Marina by HRH the Duke of Gloucester in 2000, the completion of navigation between Chesterfield and Staveley in 2002, the opening of the Hollingwood Hub centre in 2011 and the opening of Staveley Town Basin the following year.

Several obstacles stand in the way of connecting the two restored navigable sections of the canal – a 1970s housing development at Killamarsh, the M1 motorway and the collapsed Norwood Tunnel.  The Chesterfield Canal Partnership, a consortium of local authorities working with the Trust and others, has developed feasible plans to deal with each of these difficulties over the nine remaining miles of abandoned waterway.

Restoring navigation north of Staveley, where an 1892 mineral railway bridge left insufficient headroom for canal traffic, necessitated constructing a dropped pound between two new locks, Staveley Town Lock, no 5a, and Railway Lock, no 5b.

The intention is to restore the surviving eastern section of Norwood Tunnel, leading to three ponds, created in the landscaping of the former Kiveton Park Colliery, capable of being developed as a marina.

Beyond a 400-metre intact length, the Norwood Tunnel is irretrievable because of subsidence, infilling by the National Coal Board and the construction of the M1 motorway in the 1960s.  Instead, a new surface channel is proposed, using an existing farm-road underpass to cross beneath the motorway, with a cutting and locks to reach the level of the existing tunnel and the summit pound at Kiveton Park.

Some aspects of the restoration plans were compromised by the announcement in 2012 of the preferred route for the HS2 railway line.  Four-and-a-half years of campaigning by the Trust, strongly supported by members of the public, contributed to the decision to reroute HS2 to an alignment to the east.

Forty years of hard work have demonstrated the practicability of restoring a completely abandoned waterway, yet there is still much work to do.  Other restorations, such as the Kennet & Avon, Huddersfield Narrow and Rochdale Canals, have led the way;  other mutilated waterways in the Trent Valley – the Cromford, Derby, and Grantham Canals – will return to navigation, even if they take decades to accomplish.

Hollingwood Hub is owned by Derbyshire County Council and operated by the Chesterfield Canal Trust as a resource for members of the public to use:  http://www.chesterfield-canal-trust.org.uk/restoration/hollingwood-hub.

The coffee shop is open from Wednesday to Sunday and on Bank Holidays.

The Chesterfield Canal features in the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour.  For further details please click here.

South Yorkshire’s other transport museum

South Yorkshire Transport Trust, Eastwood, Rotherham

South Yorkshire Transport Trust, Eastwood, Rotherham

The South Yorkshire Transport Trust at Eastwood, Rotherham, is a much more hard-core enthusiasts’ affair than its companion down the road at Aldwarke.

Its occasional opening days are populated by individuals of a certain age brandishing serious cameras – a stereotype I find it remarkably easy to fit into – and these events seem to attract visiting vehicles from far and wide.

Formerly located in the former Tinsley Tram Sheds, in 2017 the collection moved to a former nut factory.  (There’s a health-warning about allergies at the entrance.)  It’s a businesslike location that already looks and smells like a bus garage – fragrant with diesel oil, rubber and sun-dried upholstery.

The core fleet is considerable and includes an immaculate village bus of 1963 from Cyprus, an American school bus dating from 1989, as well as buses that operated away from South Yorkshire – Devon General, East Kent, Eastern National, Lothian and Greater Manchester.

There is an impressive collection of South Yorkshire double-deckers mostly from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, many of them awaiting full restoration.

In some cases, their parlous condition is the result of vandal attacks when they were stored in the open.  The Eastwood site offers much better security.

Among the stars of the collection is Sheffield 874 (7874 WJ) of 1960, a tram-replacement vehicle that notched up sixteen years in public service followed by over forty years in preservation, and has run in every single one of those years.

If South Yorkshire ever instigates an authentic heritage bus service, as London has, here is the fleet.

The Trust’s website is at http://www.sytt.org.uk.

South Yorkshire’s transport museum

South Yorkshire Transport Museum, Aldwarke, Rotherham

South Yorkshire Transport Museum, Aldwarke, Rotherham

South Yorkshire has two transport museums which grew independently out of an early project to turn the former Sheffield Tramways Company’s Tinsley Tram Sheds into a museum on a nationally significant transport-history site.

At the present time the oldest purpose-built tram depot in the UK is a tile-warehouse, and there are two separate collections of buses and other transport memorabilia within a couple of miles of each other in the suburbs of Rotherham.

The South Yorkshire Transport Museum at Aldwarke is family friendly.  There’s plenty for children to do, and much to entertain kids of all ages.

If you’ve lived in South Yorkshire and are over forty this place provides the disconcerting experience of finding once-familiar objects preserved in a museum.

It has a rich collection of buses, most of them well preserved and the rest under restoration, from across South Yorkshire, as well as tower wagons, towing trucks and other vehicles including two milk floats.

Some of the buses are available for hire, and do a roaring trade in weddings and birthdays.

There’s even a matchstick model of a railway locomotive.

Tucked away in a corner is the lower saloon of a Sheffield tram, no 460 built in 1926.  It’s a rare survivor, sold rather than scrapped in 1951, and now repainted in an approximation of the authentic livery.  Step inside to look at the models and memorabilia and hear an evocative sound-recording of trams in motion that makes up for its incomplete state.

There’s also a café, serving hot and cold drinks, sandwiches and snacks, and a shop full of souvenirs and arcana to satisfy the most deep-dyed transport enthusiast.

Visitor information is at https://sytm.co.uk/visit/opening.html.

Tinsley Tramsheds

Former Tinsley Tramsheds, Sheffield

Former Tinsley Tramsheds, Sheffield

The most substantial remnant of Sheffield’s first-generation tram system is the original depot at Weedon Street, Tinsley, built in 1873 for the Sheffield Tramways Company when it opened its first horse-drawn line.

This very early tramway was founded by the railway contractor Thomas Lightfoot, who also built the Douglas horse-tramway that opened in 1876 and still operates in the Isle of Man.

When the Sheffield Corporation took over the horse-tram company, its first electric trams, inaugurated in 1899, ran between Weedon Street and Nether Edge, with a depot at each end, and for the first few years vehicles were maintained and eventually built at the two depots – mechanical parts at Tinsley, bodywork at Nether Edge – until a purpose-built works at Queen’s Road opened in 1905.

The National Tramway Museum’s photographic library shows the atmosphere of Tinsley Tramsheds up to the end of the 1950s:  http://ntm.adlibhosting.com/detail.aspx?parentpriref [insert ‘Tinsley Depot’ in search box].

A well-made film of a tram-journey from Beauchief to Weedon Street in 1960 ends with Roberts car 523 disappearing into the tramsheds:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0a28Q_78eM  [at 16:45 minutes].

Almost all Sheffield’s trams, including the very last in service and those in the final closing procession in October 1960, ended up at Weedon Street, from where they were towed across the road to Thomas W Ward’s scrapyard.

Sheffield people customarily referred to “tramsheds”, though all of them across the city were substantial brick buildings.  Apart from Tinsley, they have either disappeared or survive only as sad facades.

At one time Tinsley Tramsheds was home to Sheffield’s bus museum, until a schism led to one collection moving out to Aldwarke near Rotherham to become the South Yorkshire Bus Museum [http://sytm.co.uk/visit/opening.html] and the other, the South Yorkshire Transport Trust, eventually moving to Eastwood in a nearby part of Rotherham:  http://www.sytt.org.uk.

Little remains of the tram-depot interior:  the tracks, inspection pits and overhead gantries that gave exterior access to trams at upper-deck level have long gone.  Urban explorer reports show empty graffiti-covered spaces [https://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/main/industrial-sites/32188-attercliffe-tram-sheds-sheffield-december-2015-a.html#.WPS3tYWcGUk], and the tile-depot that occupies the first two bays looks like, well, a tile-depot:  http://www.tiledepot.com/pages.php?pageid=3.

A glass-half-empty report from the Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society suggests that the building is deteriorating:  http://hhbs.org.uk/2017/07/01/trams-to-tiles.

Nevertheless, this Grade II-listed relic of transport history, located between the Meadowhall shopping centre and Sheffield’s new Ikea store, close to a retail park and the Sheffield Arena, could be smartened up by a savvy developer.

Cracks in the tarmac of the forecourt show that the track-fan and stone setts survive, at least in part, waiting to be exposed.

The interior is a flexible space with scope for adaptation, and the exterior is capable of restoration as one of the few historic sites remaining in the Lower Don Valley.

Exploring Australia: XPT trains

NSW TrainLink XPT power car 2000, Sydney Central Station

NSW TrainLink XPT power car 2000, Sydney Central Station

Three times I’ve travelled by train from Melbourne to Sydney – never, as it happens, in the opposite direction.

I wrote up the first journey in a blog article about my introduction to travel in Australia in 2010-11 [http://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?p=851], when I was completely oblivious of the border between the states of Victoria and New South Wales.

The second time, the border was very obvious, because I took the train only as far as Albury, where until 1962 you had to change trains because the two states’ rail systems were built to different gauges:  http://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?p=2245.

By my third trip, early in 2017, I felt I was beginning to find my way around.  I’m used to the fact that the daytime train from Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station doesn’t always leave on time.  Indeed, it often doesn’t arrive until after it’s due to depart.

There’s a good reason for this.

The New South Wales’ Railways XPT trains that operate the inter-state TrainLink service are based on the British High Speed Train.  The sound of the power cars’ Paxman engines is immediately recognisable to British ears.

These Australian workhorses have been in use since 1982, whereas the British version began operating in 1976, and with overhauls and modifications both continue to give sterling service.

The Australian-built version was adapted at the outset for the different conditions down under:  the engines are down-rated and the suspension enhanced to cope with inferior track and longer distances;  the Australian power cars have headlights at roof level to cope with the darkness of the empty rural areas at night.  The trailer cars are completely different from the British Mark III carriages, designed instead under licence from the American Budd company by the Australian builder Comeng.

The astonishing thing about these 35-year-old veterans is the intensity of their schedules.

While one unit runs seven days a week between Sydney and Dubbo and back (287 miles each way), the others run an intensive seven-day carousel between Sydney and Melbourne, Grafton (in the north of New South Wales, 432 miles each way), Melbourne again, Casino (north of Grafton, 500 miles from Sydney) and Brisbane (over the border in Queensland, 614 miles each way).

During this weekly routine each unit is serviced at Sydney only three times.

There isn’t a great deal of leeway, which explains why departures from Southern Cross are often delayed.

Until they are replaced sometime in the next few years, these tough trains earn their keep and represent outstanding value for money.

Nottingham Midland

Nottingham Station (2017)

Nottingham Station (2017)

I’m no fan of Twitter.  My Twitter account @Mike_Hig aims to be the most boring in the world.  I have six followers.  I rely on journalists and others to wade through the twitterings of the twitterati to alert me to the glimpses of sense and wit that intelligent, sensitive people actually broadcast on Twitter.

By this means I was impressed by some of the Twitter comments about the recent fire at Nottingham Midland station.  Several people made appreciative observations about the building, including Lisa Allison @LisaJaneAllison, who wrote, “This makes me sad, it’s really sad to see the damage done to #NottinghamStation because of the fire. It’s such a beautiful building.”

It is indeed a beautiful building, all the more thanks to a comprehensive £150-million refurbishment in 2013-14:  https://www.networkrailmediacentre.co.uk/news/terracotta-decorations-complete-gbp-60m-redevelopment-at-nottingham-station#.

The present Nottingham station of 1904, presenting a grand frontage with a porte-cochère to Carrington Street, replaced an earlier station that fronted Station Street.  It was the Midland Railway’s response to the opening four years earlier of the grand Nottingham Victoria Station which served its competitors the Great Central and Great Northern Railways.

The Carrington Street entrance building, bridging the Midland’s tracks, served to hide the fact that the Great Central’s trains crossed over the platforms of Nottingham Midland on a lengthy viaduct.  Its alignment is now used by Nottingham’s NET trams.

The brick and terracotta façade was the work of the same local architect, Albert Edward Lambert, who had designed Nottingham Victoria.  He collaborated with the Midland Railway house architect, Charles Trubshaw, who had also designed the stations as Bradford Forster Square, Sheffield Midland and Leicester London Road, as well as the Midland Hotel in Manchester.

The architects made full use of the repertoire of Edwardian Baroque – rustication, pediments, Gibbs surrounds – and provided elegant Art Nouveau wrought-iron gates, all intended to outdo Victoria Station across town.  The platform buildings, in the same brick and terracotta, provided public facilities in rich interiors with glazed tiles, coved ceilings and elaborate chimney pieces, some of which survive.

When the lines through Victoria closed in the 1960s, Nottingham Midland became the city’s only railway station.  Remaining services that had used Victoria were shoehorned into Midland’s platforms, and trains between London and the North via Nottingham were forced to reverse, whereas before Beeching there was a direct line via Old Dalby.

The recent restoration is a matter of pride to Nottingham people.  The taxis have been turned out of the porte-cochère, which is now a light, spacious if sometimes draughty concourse leading to the dignified booking hall.  Nottingham station is a place to linger, even if you’re not catching a train.

It’s gratifying that more than one Twitter user thought of the building when they heard of the casualty-free fire.

Friday January 12th 2018 was a hectic day in the centre of Nottingham.  A police crime-scene had cut the tram service at Waverley Street north of the city-centre shortly before the station evacuation blocked tram services to the south and jammed road traffic in all directions.  Then a city-centre power cut blacked out the shops and much of the Nottingham Trent University campus, and caused the Council House clock to chime and strike at the same time, confusing people with a plethora of bongs.

As another delightful Twitter user that day remarked, “Nottingham needs a KitKat this morning…”

The tour Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) is based in Nottingham.  For further details please click here.

Nottingham Victoria

Victoria Centre, Nottingham (1978)

Victoria Centre, Nottingham (1978)

In the closing years of the nineteenth century a huge hole appeared in the centre of Nottingham.

This became the city’s Victoria Station, connected through tunnels north and south to the new main line of the Great Central Railway, with an additional connection on a viaduct to the Great Northern Railway line heading east to Newark.

The GCR London Extension was a prodigious engineering feat from end to end, and the Nottingham station, with its tracks below street level, made a greater impact than any of the company’s other new stations.

Over a thousand houses, two dozen pubs and a church were swept away and replaced by a grand brick entrance building with a hundred-foot clock tower and a splendid hotel alongside fronting Mansfield Road, designed by a young Nottingham architect, Albert Edward Lambert (1869-1929).  Below street level, there were twelve platform faces with avoiding lines for through goods trains and two turntables for locomotives.

The Great Northern was determined not to run its trains into a station called Nottingham Central, and printed the name ‘Nottingham Joint Station’ on its tickets and timetables, until the Nottingham town clerk ventured a diplomatic solution.  Because the opening day, May 24th 1900, was the Queen’s eighty-first birthday, he made a proposal virtually impossible to refuse:  as the Great Central station in Sheffield had been ‘Victoria’ for years, the Nottingham station was duly named after the Queen.

Britain’s last main line, London Marylebone to Manchester London Road, had a short life:  it was far better engineered, at least as far as Nottingham, than any other railway in the country, because it was intended to link with the Channel Tunnel (commenced in 1881 and abandoned a year later) and so to Paris.

The GCR and its successor, the L&NER, put up strong competition:  its services to Sheffield, Leicester and London were significantly faster than those of its rival, the Midland Railway.

Nevertheless, in the post-war decline of railways in Britain, the GCR lost out to its older rivals;  express passenger services ended in 1960 and the main line passenger services south of Rugby was abandoned in 1966.

Nottingham Victoria Station itself closed a year later on September 4th 1967, and for a short while services from Rugby to Nottingham ended at Arkwright Street station, perched on a viaduct half a mile out of town:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvvO9GkjtK0.

The land on which Victoria Station stood was far too valuable to leave unused, and the Victoria Centre, consisting of shopping malls, a bus station and a twenty-six storey apartment complex, opened in 1972.

The only parts of the original station to survive are the clock tower and the hotel, now the Hilton Nottingham:  http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/united-kingdom/hilton-nottingham-EMANOHN/index.html.

The magnificent train shed, with its overall roof, footbridges across the tracks and spacious staircases to platform level, is still mourned by Nottingham people and rail enthusiasts.  There is poignant footage of its declining years [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D60XNfJPk8M and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-FQeUKrnNM], and the station is described and amply illustrated at http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/n/nottingham_victoria/index.shtml.

By the magic of digital technology Nottingham Victoria lives on in visualisation – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JZTk0Nij-E] – and simulation – [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gZ_ukwNMWw].

The tour Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) is based in Nottingham.  For further details please click here.

Great Northern Goods Warehouse, Derby

Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse, Friargate, Derby (1977)

Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse, Friargate, Derby (1977)

The largest building in Derby has stood derelict for over fifty years, and figures in the Victorian Society’s 2017 Top 10 Endangered Buildings list:  http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/the-great-northern-railway-warehouse-in-derby-on-its-2017-top-10-endangered.

When the Great Northern Railway extended its line from Nottingham through the middle of Derby in 1878, it made two grand statements of its arrival in the headquarters town of its competitor, the Midland Railway.  The most visible invasion was the elaborate pair of bridges across Friargate itself, slicing across a Georgian street.

The passenger station itself, built on the viaduct alongside the bridge, was undistinguished, but the vast goods warehouse, visible from the passenger platforms, was given a dignified architectural presence by the architects Kirk and Randall.

The rectangular footprint of the warehouse is extended by a triangular extension housing railway offices and a residence for the goods manager.

When I first explored it in 1977 – before security fencing prevailed – it was empty and derelict but largely intact.

The Derbyshire Historic Building Trust reports a site-visit in September 2016 – https://www.derbyshirehistoricbuildings.org.uk/single-post/2016/05/12/GNR-Site-Visit – and there are recent urban-explorer reports showing the current condition of the building at http://www.ukurbex.co.uk/great-northern-railway-bonded-warehouse-derby, https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/great-northern-railway-bonded-warehouse-derby-october-2014.t92710 and https://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/main/industrial-sites/26846-northern-railway-warehouse-derby.html#.We2aA7pFzIU, and a more comprehensive survey at http://derbyinpictures.com/home/friargate_station_and_goods_yard.

Though the Great Northern Warehouse is inaccessible, the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour includes other sites on the former GNR Derby Friargate line – the Friargate Bridge and Bennerley Viaduct.  For further details please click here.

Great Northern Goods Warehouse, Manchester

Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse, Peter Street, Manchester

Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse, Peter Street, Manchester

One of the weird complications of the geography of Victorian railway development is illustrated by the short length of Great Northern railway track that used to exist in the centre of Manchester, fifty-odd miles away from any other Great Northern route.

The Great Northern Railway, a primary component of what became the East Coast Main Line from King’s Cross to Edinburgh, gained access to Manchester and Liverpool by its membership of the Cheshire Lines Committee, in conjunction with the Midland Railway and the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire (later Great Central) Railway.  The Cheshire Lines’ passenger terminus was Manchester Central station, now the conference centre.

From the approaches to Manchester Central the Great Northern ran an independent short spur (yellow in the Railway Clearing House map of 1910:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_Central_railway_station#/media/File:Manchester_RJD_47.JPG) into their Great Northern Goods Warehouse on Deansgate, which advertised the company’s presence grandly with tiled friezes on all four sides, “GREAT NORTHERN COMPANY’S GOODS WAREHOUSE”.

Goods trains entered the warehouse at viaduct level, and carts gained access by means of a carriage ramp.

Not only did the five-story fireproof brick warehouse provide interchange with Manchester’s roads, but it also picked up traffic from the truncated Manchester & Salford Junction Canal, built in 1839 to link the Rochdale Canal with the River Irwell, through two lift-shafts dropped twenty-five feet to the canal tunnel beneath the streets.

The canal connection closed in 1936, and the spaces below the warehouse were adapted as air-raid shelters during World War II:  http://www.subbrit.org.uk/sb-sites/sites/m/manchester_salford_junction/index.shtml.

The warehouse itself closed in 1954 or 1963 (sources differ), and was converted into a cavernous car-park, until in 1996 planning permission was given for conversion to a leisure and retail development which controversially permitted demolition of the listed carriage ramp, much of the train deck and associated buildings on Peter Street.

The distinctive frontage of railway buildings on Deansgate survives, and at the southern end of the site stands the huge Beetham Tower.

Two sections of the canal tunnel remain:  that under the Great Northern Goods Warehouse may become accessible to the public;  the other section under the former Granada TV studios is intact but inaccessible.

Manchester Central

Manchester Central

Manchester Central

Like most Victorian cities, Manchester had more railway termini than it really needed – Victoria and Exchange, which connected end-on, London Road, latterly known as Piccadilly, and Central.

The last built was the shortest lived.

Manchester Central station was opened in July 1880, serving the Cheshire Lines services of the Midland, the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire and the Great Northern railways, which had operated into a temporary terminus, known as Manchester Free Trade Hall Station, since 1877.

Sir John Fowler’s train-shed at Manchester Central, with ironwork by Andrew Handyside of Derby, has a span of 210 feet, only thirty feet narrower than St Pancras.  Unlike St Pancras, the arch is not tied beneath the platforms because of the structure of the huge brick undercroft, which bridged and connected with the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal.

The original intention to fill the station frontage with either a hotel or an office-building never came to anything, and until the station closed on May 5th 1969 its façade was no more than a temporary wooden structure.

Charles Trubshaw’s Midland Hotel (1898-1904), a bombastic but loveable essay in terracotta – “probably the most beautiful building in the whole city”, according to the initial publicity material, “a vast and varied affair” in Pevsner’s description – was built on a two-acre site across the road looking over St Peter’s Square, linked to the station by a covered way.

After rail-services were diverted away from Central Station in 1969 it stood neglected, used only as a car-park for some years, until in 1980 the Greater Manchester Council, in conjunction with a private developer, transformed it into an exhibition hall, G-MEX, the Greater Manchester Exhibition Centre.

The architects for the G-Mex conversion were Essex, Goodman & Suggitt.

Its use as a concert venue declined after the opening of the Manchester Arena in 1995, and G-MEX was rebranded under its original name, Manchester Central, in 2007-8:  https://www.manchestercentral.co.uk.