Monthly Archives: October 2021

St John the Baptist, Tuebrook

Church of St John the Baptist, Tuebrook, Liverpool

George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907) was a major figure in the second generation of Victorian architects in Britain.

Apart from his exceptional artistic acumen, which led him to collaborate with like-minded artists in a range of media, he had two outstanding qualities.

First, he capitalised the personal connections he grew up with in Hull, where his father was a physician at Hull Royal Infirmary.  He became the pupil of the great Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), whose uncle was the first of three successive generations to serve as vicar of St Mary Lowgate Church in Hull’s Old Town from 1816 to 1883.  Bodley’s sister married Scott’s brother Samuel, a doctor, in 1846.

One of his early commissions, St Martin-on-the-Hill parish church, Scarborough (1861-2) was financed as a memorial to her father by Miss Mary Craven, the wealthy daughter of a Hull surgeon.

Bodley had a knack of attracting commissions from wealthy patrons seeking a rich architectural expression of their High Church principles. 

Five years later, the £25,000 cost of his church of St John the Baptist, Tuebrook, Liverpool (consecrated 1870) was borne by the wife of the first vicar, Rev J C Reade.

Later commissions included St Augustine, Pendlebury, Salford (1870-1874, £33,000) for the banker Edward Stanley Heywood and Holy Angels, Hoar Cross, Staffordshire (1872 onwards, £28,500), a memorial to the late husband of Mrs Emily Charlotte Meynell Ingram.

His final, posthumously completed commission was St Chad, Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire (1905-1910, £38,000) for the brewer Michael Bass, 1st Baron Burton.

Even later than this, a decent Gothic parish church could be built from scratch for less than £8,000.

All these churches are now listed Grade I.

The current Buildings of England entry describes St John the Baptist, Tuebrook as “large, unshowy, but dignified and sensitive…a key work in Bodley’s oeuvre”.  Its exterior is distinguished by its irregular polychrome banding, and the exterior and interior proportions are at the same time dignified and simple. 

The richness of the interior comes from the fittings which Bodley and his practice partner Thomas Garner provided – the marble font and pulpit, the screens painted by Kempe, leading to the choir and sanctuary, where the woodwork of the choir stalls and organ case is oak, stained black, painted and gilded, and the stained glass of the east window and the window to the south of the chancel designed by Bodley and Kempe in collaboration with William Morris. 

The reredos, also designed by Bodley, replaced the original in 1870-71, before the Bishop of Chester, Rev John Graham, would consecrate the church.  There is uncertainty about whether Bishop Graham objected to the original reredos because of suspicions that it had previously belonged to a Roman Catholic chapel, or whether Bodley had manipulated the postponement to make time for improvements to the heating system and the organ.

Bodley’s wall-decorations, painted by his assistant Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907), had deteriorated by the turn of the century, and Father Brockman, vicar in 1905, commented, “It costs a good deal to live up to Mr Bodley.”  After Bodley’s death in 1907 his surviving partner, Cecil Greenwood Hare, revised the decorative scheme and this was restored by Stephen Dykes Bower (1903-1994) in 1968-71.  It is now once again in need of restoration.

Bodley designed the Vicarage, built in 1890, and also, in a corner of the churchyard, a curious and little-noticed feature, the mortuary house on Snaefell Avenue.

The rescheduled ‘Unexpected Liverpool (June 6th-10th 2022)’ tour includes a guided tour of St John the Baptist, Tuebrook.  For further details please click here.

Best buy: British Railways Class 20

Great Central Railway, Loughborough: British Railways Class 20 locomotive D8098

Many of the new diesel locomotives that British Railways ordered to replace steam were either useful for tasks that were no longer needed or simply useless, yet the solution to the need for a flexible, adaptable, light freight locomotive already existed.

While such white elephants as Class 17 (1962-65) and Class 14 (1964-65) were devised, ordered, constructed and found wanting, the first batch of 128 English Electric Type 1 locomotives, later designated Class 20, had been built between 1957 and 1962.

They conformed to the misguided thinking of the time, ironically – a design based on the American switcher, rated at 1,000hp with a maximum speed of 75mph, lacking a train-heating boiler and so unsuitable for passenger trains except in hot weather.

The cab filled one end, and much of the locomotive frame was given to a long bonnet which concealed the single English Electric power unit, its weight providing adhesion for hauling heavy loads.

By the mid-1960s British Rail were lumbered with various patterns of unsuitable locomotives as the need for light freight locomotives declined, and the Class 20 proved adaptable to a range of purposes.

Crucially, they were capable of operating as multiple units – two or three locos driven from one cab – so they could handle heavier loads without increasing crew costs.

Marshalling them in pairs nose to nose provided the driver with maximum visibility of the road ahead in either direction.

Some even appeared on passenger trains, in tandem with other classes fitted with heating boilers.

Indeed, in 1966 BR ordered another hundred Class 20s to replace the ragbag designs that had to be junked quickly.

They lasted well, and turned up in unexpected places, such as the construction phases of the Channel Tunnel and High Speed One.  Of the original 228, 39 are still in existence.

They have proved popular with the leasing companies that supplement current operators’ traction needs, such as Direct Rail Services and Harry Needle Railroad Company (HNRC).

And they are usefully employed on heritage railways. Known to enthusiasts as “Choppers” because their exhaust resembles a helicopter, their noise is instantly recognisable, redolent of a particular period of British railway history, shortly after the demise of steam.

Buyers’ remorse: British Railways Class 14

PeakRail, Matlock, Derbyshire: British Railways Class 14 locomotive D9539

Apart from the profligate construction of untried and untested designs, the other problem with British Railways’ hastily ordered diesel fleet in the 1950s was the failure to visualise the changes that were about to overtake the transport industry.

When the order went out to replace steam locomotives with diesel, the British Railways Board ordered one-for-one replacements.

There seems to have been little appreciation that the growth of road transport and the government’s huge post-war investment in motorways would inevitably rebalance the opportunities for railways to make money into and beyond the 1960s.

So there was no long-term need to replace hundreds of small steam shunting engines with a diesel equivalent, and many of these new locomotives lay idle in store or were scrapped without being much used, whether or not their designs had proved fit for purpose.

British Railways Class 14, built at the BR works at Swindon (1964-65), was an attempt to construct a light shunter with better visibility than the steam locomotives it was intended to replace.

Twenty-six were ordered initially in 1963, followed by a further thirty before the first actual locomotive was completed.

Like the ubiquitous and highly successful 08 family of shunters, Class 14 had steam-locomotive driving wheels and connecting rods to provide adhesion and stability, but they were underpowered for some of the tasks that were available to them.

They were withdrawn from service from 1970 onwards, not because of design deficiencies but because the work for which they were intended – shunting single-wagon loads, pick-up goods trains and short-distance freight – disappeared in a very short time.

Unlike the lamentable Claytons, the Class 14 found a ready market among industrial users, particularly collieries, where many of them worked for twice or three times the length of time they were in the BR fleet.

Latterly, they have proved popular on heritage railways, where they are adept at hauling light passenger trains at relatively low speeds. Of the 56 locomotives built, nineteen still exist in preservation and another five have been exported.

Buyers’ remorse: British Railways Class 17

Ambergate Station, Derbyshire: British Railways Class 17 Clayton locomotive (1963)

Once when I was a teenager, out for a bike ride with my mates, I stopped to take a picture of the formerly triangular Ambergate Station, where the former Midland Railway main lines from Derby to Manchester and Sheffield bifurcated.

Decades later, I showed this image to an evening-class group in Matlock and, while the nice old ladies listened patiently, the rail enthusiasts in the audience began to make ecstatic noises.

It turned out that the locomotive in the picture was a considerable rarity.

Even I could see it was non-standard, painted in red ochre, with a centre cab and long bonnets concealing the engines.

This was an example of British Railways Class 17, known colloquially as “Claytons” after their manufacturer, one of a number of pilot designs commissioned after the decision was taken to replace steam traction with diesel under the 1955 Modernisation Plan.

The Claytons were a notorious result of indecisive and confused planning, undue haste to deliver untested innovatory designs, and the sheer stupidity of ordering off-plan without waiting for a prototype to be completed.

Built by Clayton Engineering Company and Beyer, Peacock & Company between 1962 and 1965, the design was an attempt to devise a single-cab locomotive with adequate visibility for the driver.  It failed.

Earlier prototypes had followed the pattern of the American “switcher” shunter, with a cab at one end behind a single large power unit.  Like the steam locomotives they replaced, which traditionally placed the cab behind the boiler and firebox, they gave the crew a limited view of the road ahead.

Providing adequate sight-lines from the Claytons’ single central cab necessitated twin power units, low enough for the driver to see past them, and these were inadequate and unreliable.  Indeed, the sightlines were still unsatisfactory because the length of the bonnets masked the track immediately ahead of the front buffers.

Some of the later deliveries of Class 17 were immediately withdrawn from the active list and stored.

After the last of 117 Class 17 locos had been delivered in 1965, the first withdrawals took place in 1968, and by 1971 they were all scrapped except one, D8568, which was sold for industrial use and is now based at the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway, Oxfordshire, where it operates from time to time.

Change at Matlock

Matlock Railway Station, Derbyshire

One of my very first adult-education lecturing jobs was at Tawney House Adult Education Centre, Matlock, in 1972.

At the time I was teaching in a Nottingham grammar school, so my weekly trips after a day in school began with a diesel railcar journey to Matlock station, by then the stub end of a singled branch line that had once been the Midland Railway main line from Derby to Manchester.

A persistent local rumour said that the town wouldn’t have retained this vestigial rail link had not Alderman Charles White secured the former Smedley’s Hydro as a county hall for Derbyshire in 1955.

In the mid-1970s Peak Rail [https://www.peakrail.co.uk] began to implement a scheme to restore the entire missing railway between Matlock and Buxton as a heritage line with scope to carry heavy freight through and out of the Peak District National Park.

In the years since, that scheme has been repeatedly revised.  The current railway runs from Matlock to just south of Rowsley, and its next development phase envisages extending north to Bakewell.

When in 1991 the Peak Rail services reached Matlock, they were obliged to terminate at the boundary with Network Rail, and a temporary station was constructed, a quarter of a mile north of the historic station, and named Matlock Riverside.

Eventually, in 2008, following completion of the Matlock A6 road bypass and the construction of a Sainsbury’s store in the former Cawdor Quarry, Peak Rail negotiated a fifty-year lease into platform 2, the former down platform of Matlock Station, so that it’s now possible to travel by National Rail to Matlock from afar, cross the footbridge and continue with Peak Rail north to Rowsley South.

The route along the wide Derwent valley is attractive, but nowhere near as spectacular as the old main line further north and west which is now the Monsal Trail. Peak Rail specialises in on-train catering [https://www.peakrail.co.uk/fooddrink], and the extensive former marshalling yard at Rowsley contains a number of interesting preservation projects, including the Heritage Shunters Trust – an entertaining memorial to one of the cheerfully loopy episodes in the history of British Railways.