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A dirty old time; The age of steam may have been golden - but it was also filthy.


THERE never actually was a golden age of steam - a grimy age is more realistic.

But that makes the memories of when steam trains ruled all the more special, according to a life-long fan.

Mike Thorne, a grandfather-of-two, from Solihull, is one of many steam buffs who have been sharing memories as the 50th anniversary of the notorious Beeching Report arrived last week.

Beeching, who chaired the British Railways Board and lived for a time in Solihull, compiled a report which led to a savage axing of train routes and stations, together with more than 60,000 job losses.

Some rail campaigners marked the milestone with protests at 35 stations nationwide, claiming rail firms seem "intent on resurrecting the ghost of Dr Beeching by embarking on a new era of cuts".

Others used the occasion to reminisce, including Mike, who went to school at Hobmoor Road Junior School and Central Grammar School and later worked in various management positions at Rover.

As a schoolboy in 1950 Mike liked nothing more than to watch the magnificent hunks of steel steam through the stations in Birmingham. Train spotting was all the rage, but enthusiasts frequently felt the long arm of the law.

He said: "Together with most boys of my age, I lived for the moment when we could race off to our favourite local station.

"Birmingham was a particularly favoured place for train spotters. Even in the austere days of post war Britain, immaculate engines could still be seen at the head of chocolate and cream coaching stock heading out of Snow Hill station.

"New Street station had a much less attractive aspect but, fortuitously, what it lacked in appearance, it more than made up for in atmospherics.

"Obnoxious smells emanating from smoky locomotives, snorting horses, fish dock odours and innumerable bags and parcels piled up in every available corner all combined to give the station its unmistakable ambience.

"But perhaps the most enduring memory of all was the sheer filthiness of the place. Everything one touched was liberally coated with the grime only large rambling railway stations seemed to generate.

"And boy, New Street generated it in prodigious quantities! New Street was at the con-fluence of the North-South and North East.

"This attracted spotters like 'wasps to your jam sandwich' and the sheer number of spotters on summer Saturdays was a source of constant irritation to railway police and operating staff alike.

Platforms "A battle of wits between spotters and police usually ensued, with tactical withdrawals and local skirmishes occurring all over the platforms and vantage points which formed the battlegrounds of New Street station.

"No sooner were spotters moved on from one location than they promptly popped up in any one of a dozen others."

And before Beeching's axe fell Mike, who grew up in South Yardley, remembered how football matches at Villa Park and St Andrews also provided opportunities for train spotting. He said: "My home was midway between Stechford, the ex-LMSR station on the London to Wolverhampton main line and Acocks Green which similarly served the ex-GWR.

"A short ride on one of Birmingham City Corporation's smart dark blue and cream No. 11 Outer Circle buses would bring the delights of either region's locomotives within easy reach.

"Train spotting at Tyseley, although on the same main line as Acocks Green, was always more productive as some of the trains which had originated in the holiday resorts of South Wales and particularly the South West of England, and which had utilised the North Warwickshire line through Stratford upon Avon and then Shirley, could also be seen.

"A similar situation sometimes pertained in winter when Villa Park and, to a lesser extent St Andrew's football grounds, hosted teams from far afield and 'football specials' would then work in to Birmingham." The devastation wreaked by the Beeching cuts may have brought back some harsh memories on its anniversary last week.

But the axe failed to shatter the proud memories of those who lived through the golden age of steam.


GRAND: The front of New Street in 1965

ON TRACK: A steam train at Snow Hill Station on November 13 1954.

LONG GONE: Above and below, inside the old New Street Station

MEMORIES: Harborne Station in Birmingham in 1950

ABOVE: Snow Hill on November 13 1954, and, below Dr Beeching
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 31, 2013
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