by Richard Hardy.
The modernisation of British Rail -
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And so we stumbled through 1958 and our performance sank to the depths. This could not last and early the following year, Ronnie Ewer was moved on and I took his place on a temporary basis. Not for the first time was Terry Miller, then Motive Power Officer at GE Line HQ, to intercede on my behalf. I was responsible, to some extent, for the deplorable state of affairs but his view that we could rise to the occasion prevailed. Overnight, I had the chance of achieving my ambition to take charge of what had been the Stratford District, one of the roughest assignments of its kind on BR. I was given the opportunity, denied to my predecessor, to make changes and the first priority was to bring in new blood to take charge of the maintenance of both steam and diesel traction at Stratford, whose performance affected the running of the District as a whole. This was done overnight and in a way that scandalised the Staff (Personnel) people, not for the last time I have to say, for we were on the verge of a crusade that had to stop at very little.
At the same time, Jack Brown, who had come to Stratford as Shedmaster on promotion from King’s Cross in 1957, decided to take a position with the Railway lnspectorate where he was greatly respected. We knew what lay ahead for the Shedmaster and we needed a man whose attributes included courage, honesty, determination and bulldog tenacity as well as the flexibility of mind to anticipate the need for change in many things. The man we appointed was not the senior, nor was he the best engineer. In the past, his impulsiveness had led him into some strange situations but he was the man for Stratford and never once throughout those years of change did I regret my choice, for Norman Micklethwaite never gave up, however hard the going, and he lived for the job.
As I had moved up, there was a vacancy in my old job as ADMPS. As I was not permanently appointed, my vacancy could not be filled. I was then thirty-
And then there was the final vital link in the chain, Les Thorn. We had to have a diesel specialist who would take the burden off my shoulders. We also needed a railwayman in this job, a man with the experience to understand the practicalities of locomotive maintenance and running and who would be respected not only by the Stratford foremen and staff but by the Service Engineers as a man who understood the new machines and their ways. Les had to be resilient enough to act as the buffer between occasional warring factions and to withstand the pressures of our style of management and this he did with both expertise and humour. Not only was he blessed with the essential Stratford Running Shed background but his ever increasing technical knowledge enabled him to meet the requirements of the Great Eastern Line engineers who included, as their diesel specialist, Dick Stockings from English Electric. He too was a tower of strength and support who stayed with the railway until he retired.
So much for the technical and managerial side but do not forget that in those days all footplate staff came under my control as did the shed conciliation staff (many of whose jobs would disappear) a total of more than 3000 men. The footplate staff, under the direction of the Shedmasters and the locomotive inspectors, were to undergo a period of change as dramatic as the maintenance staff and, as this story unfolds, my readers will understand the enormous challenge of those exiting times. We had to get the best from steam up to the end but never at the expense of compromise. To achieve this ideal, we had to be ruthless in our determination to eliminate what was dear to our hearts as soon as was practicable and we were helped by the certain fact that had modernisation not come to Stratford when it did, we would have gradually gone under. We could have reverted to the level of those post war years of shortage and strife, where the Stratford workshop staff were frequently in dispute leading a crusade against the conditions of service of Running shed artisans throughout the country. For example, at the end of the Work to Rule in 1947, there were 313 locomotives stopped for repairs at Stratford out of a total of some 550. But matters be an to improve and a new spirit of understanding between management and staff was gradually created which, by 1959 was sufficiently strong to take as triumphantly through the next four years during which the ways, skill and habits of a lifetime were to be changed, step by step and without serious trouble.
On 26th January 1959, when I took charge of the District, we had some thirty main line diesel locomotives accommodated in the Railcar shed. It was overcrowded, the pits were dirty, it was ill-
It may seem unbelievable today but, on the Eastern Region, from October1957 until 15th June 1959, all electrical maintenance on diesel locomotives at Stratford Shed was carried out by Works staff on an 08:00-
So it was up to us. Accordingly and at the suggestion of Jim Groom, boilermaker and Chairman of the Staff side of the Workshop Committee, we set up, without authority, a small training school on the premises in which to convert boilermakers and fitters to electricians, the instructor being the self same J. J. Groom, who had made a life long study of electricity. It was he who prepared the training schedule, who discussed it with those possibly affected and who got, by some extraordinary means, the full Cooperation of the AEU, the ETU, the Boilermakers’ Union and the NUR, which would have taken months through the proper channels. He persuaded the 470 artisan staff to agree to the principles involved and, in a few days’ time, he was installed in what was immediately known as “Faraday House”. It had once been a corner of the enginemen’s dormitory, used by the “Fen Tigers” before the abolition of the Whitemoor -
Predictably, we were instructed to close “Faraday House” but somehow we lost the letter, for there were other matters to be settled. Fitters and boilermakers could be trained as Electricians in the Works school. Electricians could eventually be trained as fitters and take dual status. Some fitters and boilermakers had to stay on the considerable steam work and some of the latter were exposed to the rigours of Messers Stones’ steam heating boilers. But there was much work that did not require a craftsman’s skills which enabled us to absorb the Tubers, the Fitters 2 and a host of other men, for we were in no position even to consider making men redundant, short staffed as we were. We agreed with Jim Groom and his people the tasks that could be undertaken by semi skilled electricians and fitters. Once settled, which took some time due to opposition from the AEU, it was but a short step to start to convert men against the day when they would be needed in the new diesel depot. So Tuber Dave Oddy, Secretary of the Workshop Committee became Electrician class 2. Once these principles had been accepted, “Faraday House” had served its purpose and we were able to persuade the CM&EE’s Department (again thanks to the intervention of Mr. Miller, the new CM&EE) to take Groom as an Instructor in July 1960. He was to return to us as a Foreman the following year for, after thirty years of life in the shed, his work as the leader of the artisan staff had been fulfilled.
1959 passed quickly, the new sheds grew up on the site of 6 -
In time, the General Manager agreed to put back the date of opening and we approached the day with ever increasing confidence, tinged with some well hidden apprehension, for, once again, we were in the van. One has to appreciate that, in those days, there was no private army of supervisors in charge of those 470 artisans. In fact, in 1955, when I went to Stratford as ADMPS, there was a Chief Mechanical Foreman, his assistant and a District Boiler Foreman, responsible for the boilers in the largest District on the eastern Region. That was all. From 17:30 until 08:00, unsalaried Chargemen Fitters or Boilermakers made all decisions, men of great capability but who did not have a Foreman’s authority. Occasionally they found themselves overruled by the Chief Running Foreman who had no maintenance responsibility but who had to meet traffic commitments. This could not be allowed to continue and I got agreement for the appointment of three shift maintenance foremen, an innovation that was greeted with derision by many of our horny handed sons of toil. (‘More bleedin’ money down the drain”). But we were right.
I must stress that craft demarcation was strictly maintained at Stratford in steam days. No chargehand fitter gave instructions to a boilermaker but the manner in which men were being trained successfully in other crafts encouraged us to take another novel step which would cut across the accepted tradition even more sharply. Early in 1960, at the instigation of the Shedmaster, we set up a “Think Tank” of management and staff to decide how the new shed should be manned, both as to artisans and to shed grades, such as shed labourers and cleaners. The group, all of whom had been relieved of their normal duties, examined every aspect of the working, allocated duties and then placed several hundred men in their new positions. In so doing, they had agreed, without dissent on the principle of what we came to know as the Group System in which newly appointed shift foremen were responsible for all artisan activity on their shift. None of us expected this to be well received on the shop floor but we had passed the point of no return and, yet again, we were in the lead.
The GE Line gave us a guarded nod and no more, so we were on our own. No’s 2 and 3 were opened in August1960, three months before the North East London Electrification which was to relieve us of a large number of suburban steam locomotives. Each shift Foreman had a clerk. Each group had a chargehand, six fitters, four electricians and a boilersmith, together with semi skilled and unskilled support staff, our ultimate aim being four groups on each shift. The chargehands, although not paid the dual craft rate, were on the top Running Shed rate whilst some of the older steam men who were not suitable for absorption were given a personal allowance until they retired. And so we started and never looked back, although there were certainly difficulties.
There were no formal mess rooms in the old Stratford. Huts, shanties, air raid shelters, even the cleaner out of blastpipes had his own little palace, a quiet retreat far from the madding crowd. Did not Jim Groom, in his days as welding specialist and shop steward have his own suite of offices down 14 road, known as “No. 14 Downing St.”? And now, every user of No’s 1,2 and 3 sheds had to eat and relax in a common mess room, but, in conditions of tidiness and order that were unbelievable. However, the boilermakers on Stone and Spanner boiler maintenance in the Group Scheme had lost their own chargehand. They no longer came under the direct control of the District Boiler Foreman, and more serious still, they had to use the new messrooms with other grades instead of the exclusive coach, which had seen duty since before the war. And on such a detail, the Group Scheme nearly foundered. A fortnight later, we met the staff to discuss lack of progress. But we got 100% support and never looked back.
Tidiness and order, a new attitude of mind that had to be seen to be believed. We should never have achieved this, had we not waited until August 1960 nor, indeed, had I not visited the Running Sheds of the Swiss Federal Railways in Zurich during a visit to Sulzers at Winterthur. What the Swiss could do, so could we. We engaged no fewer than 36 adult cleaners on the locomotives alone, working in shifts. The fitters mates cleaned the engines, the engine rooms and the catwalks. The shed floors and pits were given constant attention and somebody discovered some polishing machines “Down the Broadway”, which were immediately purchased and set to work to such effect that there were rumours of men going base over apex on the shine they produced. Shall I aver forget the little Pole, a shed labourer, who cleaned No. 3 on shifts. He treated the place as his own and whoever was rash enough to drop a cigarette end on “his” deck had to pick it up and put it in the litter bin. We gave Zurich points and a beating but at a cost which could not be sustained in the years ahead. Our locomotives were a picture and those that worked into London were dealt with by Harry Hotlick and his gang who cleaned them from the platform. Up above at Broad Street, we could see the beautifully kept Finsbury Park Brush Type 2’s and as we could never stomach the thought of playing second fiddle to the GN, this spurred us to fresh endeavours. Despite the difficulties that we still faced with steam and our imperfections, we knew that the past was buried, that we had made a fresh start and that we were winning. And all this reminds me of the fearful scene that I created when I found a milk bottle on Jack Barker’s desk. Here was a mechanical Foreman of the best depot in the country and that was his contribution to perfection!
Jack very soon moved on to take charge at Ripple Lane; the trusted and respected Earnie Gill took his place. Cyril Lawson the electrical specialist, Bill Longmuir, Las Gibbs and Tommy Newman had started the shift jobs. Then Las moved over to take charge of No. 1, the railcars, the shunters and his team of dual trained artisans, which brought Jim groom back into the fold. Let us not forget that Earnie Gill still had responsibility for over sixty steam locomotives in the summer of 1962 and you may wonder how on earth we managed until steam faded quietly from the scene in September. Well, of course, we managed and the Line helped us with the last of our “temporary” transfers. By February 1963, Stratford had 121 diesel mainliners, 59 shunters, 20 Rolls Royce units and seven Met. Cams with 94 engines between them. There were now 421 workshop staff against an establishment of 470, and 180 against 190 in the shed conciliation grades. Every redundant man had been trained to fill a new role and the technical side of the Human Revolution was well on its way when I left the District to become Locomotive Engineer of the ER in January 1963.
So much for the workshop staff; restrictive practices a thing of the past, well-
We left D5500 in the works at Stratford in October1957, whence it was reluctantly handed over to the Running Department three days later to work the 1O36 Clacton. By the middle of February 1958, 41 drivers had been passed out on the 1250 hp Brush, which was the basic locomotive for training purposes until superseded by the 1365 hp variety. By then, we were through the very early stages, which were akin to the early days of motoring and we could look back on some of our more amusing experiences with relish. When, under training, Driver Jack Sheppard omitted to lift the release catch to allow his Toffee Apple” control handle to locate the reverse position, he grasped and then turned the firmly locked “Toffee Apple” until it came off in his mighty hand -
However, by January 1959, we had made slow but steady progress with driver training, but had along, long way to go to achieve the fluidity that was needed. Apart from the opening of the No’s 2 and 3 sheds at Stratford, our targets were the inauguration of electric traction in North east London by November1960 and the complete elimination of steam traction by September 1962. The training of the future electric drivers had to be carried out at Clacton, as the only 25 kV stretch was between there and Colchester. So, for several months, Hartford; Bishops Stortford; Enfield; Wood Street and some thirty Stratford men who had opted for the electrics, “took over” a small hotel as their base during the week. Not a bad way to pass the summer at three weeks apiece. But the turns of these men had to be covered at their home depots in many cases by men from Stratford where some eighty men were already under diesel training.
Clacton was the least of our problems and one tended to forget the task that faced the country sheds that had to cover their vacancies without resource to Stratford. The older men at Colchester, for example, who had to learn the electrics, some five or six different types of diesel, as well as assorted shunters, while still driving steam locomotives. At Stratford on any one day in 1959, there would have been some 750 drivers and passed firemen on the roster. Some would be training, some on holiday or spiv day, a few might be sick or absent. As older men retired, others would move up from link to link, so having to learn new routes and to work on different types of diesel. Out of 750, there were some 650 men spread over the fourteen suburban passenger, main line passenger, freight and local freight links. It was my cherished ideal to have every driver capable of handling every class of diesel mainliner. We did not quite do this in the four years, but we got within striking distance by 1962. But what can this mean in practical terms?
It has to be remembered that training was foreign to steam men. They had learned on the job, month by month, year by year. They were expected to get on a strange engine, get cracking without delay and keep time on the blackest of nights. And now they had a week at the llford Training School under the direction of Alfred Punter, a scholarly and able ex driver turned terrifying schoolmaster and administrator. Some found it hard, most got by remarkably well and all enjoyed the two-
So it was the 1365hp Brush for three weeks and a week’s conversion to another mainline class. By 1960, we had Type 2 (250/1365 hp) Brush, Type 3 and 4 English Electric (1750 and 2000hp), Type 2 1160hp Sulzers and for a mercifully short time, the North British (NBL) l000hp with a MAN engine. Then there were the two Type 1s, NBL and BTH, both with Paxman engines. You might say that it would not be necessary to train more than a limited number on each class, but you would be wrong. A running foreman wanted men who would work any engine and so utilise his men to the full. Now he was constrained by the limits of diesel knowledge. Stratford men would take a Type 4 to Norwich and back, relief on arrival at Liverpool Street. But the relief might only know the basic Brush. The London foreman might persuade the link 12 men to stay on (at a price) or he would have to find another driver to move the Type 4 on its release, nothing but a nuisance and, in men’s eyes, rank bad management. How could this happen? Because there were only five 2000s and they were needed for train working, so conversion courses were in abeyance for the time being. Because the diagrams were cyclic, the next working could be Temple Mills to Whitemoor in Link 9 and their relief at Temple Mills on arrival, in Link 4. “Why not put the Whitemoor jabs in the Norwich Link?”, you might say. “Simple, a stroke of the pen.” But you are dealing with men who have spent years waiting to go on the best-
We were right too in ensuring that running the railway with all its problems was every bit as important as the careful and thorough initiation of modern fraction. There were a thousand things to attend to beyond the scope of this article, but it is essential, with mixed fraction, to remember that same hearts are fainter than others. In 1959/60, drivers who had spent years cleaning, labouring or laid off for months on end in the Slump were coming onto passenger work in their late fifties. These were the men who started in 1923/4 and who had had the worst of all worlds. Such men might get a fortnight of diesel comfort, followed by a week of roughish steam. Faced with the latter, some tended to loose time unless somebody saw to it that they didn’t. The part played by our locomotive inspectors during this difficult period was of the greatest value.
Daily, the Chief Locomotive Inspector, Percy Howard, and I searched the logs and reports for time lost by “Loco”. His men had already started their day, but all were prepared to stay late to ride with those who had dropped the odd minute the evening before. In more recent years, Inspectors have had more than their share of paper. None of ours were scribes, but they were liked and respected. They could get on an engine with a crew in difficulties and command the situation at once. They stood no nonsense, for they had done it all themselves. They were good with diesel and electric traction and they were immensely valuable to me. Only really serious matters were reported formally and they had the strength of character to deal with men on the spot. Every minute of their day was productive and they kept their eyes open. So did I! Here is a copy of my note to Percy Howard:
“Dr. W. Wayrnan, Clacton, worked the 13:56 Liverpool Street — Clacton 02/03/62. I was at Bounds Green and there were three people in the cab. The man in the centre saw me and vanished. Please find out who he was and whether he had a pass. If not, have him done well and truly.”
He hadn’t and he was done, force nine, and so was the driver!
Why did Driver Wayman have a second man? It was winter and there was a steam heating bailer to be attended. I had tried, without success, to arrange regular manning of diesels on main line passenger work, but, immensely co-
However, we introduced single manning quietly in March 1959 on the Southend parcels, a van train that incorporated a fitted goods brake van, which was heated in the traditional manner. A Paxman Type 1 with a single cab and high bonnet worked this job. The men who worked it were in the junior passenger train link. The reason for the change was carefully explained to each driver in turn by Dick Elmer, the respected Stratford Locomotive Inspector and all went smoothly. The time was yet to come when Type 1s were turned each trip to be cab leading. With the summer service of 1959 and as steam heating was not required until September, single manning was introduced within the mileage and time agreements. Again, the drivers accepted this and one or two, with noisy mates, were glad to get a bit of peace and quiet. But there were difficulties to be foreseen and changes to be made for, as ever, it is detail, the basis of train working, which must not go by default.
On the Great Eastern section, locomotives were coupled and uncoupled at passenger stations by the fireman or second man. On the GN section, for example, the passenger shunters did this work. At Liverpool Street, the shunters on duty had some spare capacity at times, but hooking up to trains, except when shunting, was not their province and one could expect some resistance from both staff and Station Master. But the single manning agreement made it clear that there must be two men on a light engine at all times, but, between station limits, the second man could be a driver, fireman, guard or shunter. This had its little pitfalls, as do so many agreements worked out in the corridors of power. On the reasonable assumption that the second man would do the hooking up, we were left with the fireman, whose grade we were aiming to eliminate. A driver would never hook up, except in emergency, nor a passenger guard soil his uniform, shunters were in short supply unless more jobs were created, so it had to be the fireman, after a brief experiment with adult shedmen from Stratford. Not too clever really. Some refused to do what they regarded as shunter’s work and had to be dealt with very firmly. But, as always, when the difficulties are properly anticipated, common sense prevailed and a potentially serious problem, with many complications, was overcome.
To continue to next section:
Part 3 of the Human Revolution