Locomotive Performance

Day Trips to Kent in the 1950's

I954 was the year that I first travelled by rail in the South East. Subsequently I had a number of day trips, and two weekends, 1956 and 1957, chasing my favourite locomotive class, the Maunsell "Schools" 4-4-0's. The 1956 weekend has already featured in an earlier edition of Locomotive Performance, under the title "Steam from Tonbridge: 1956".

30th August 1954: During a short break in London with my mother, I was taken to Margate on a day excursion. We travelled outwards  on 34091 Weymouth on the 10.35am from Victoria. I had only just started train timing, and I recorded station start, stop, and passing times only. From those it is clear that we ran fast, at 75 mph or more, through Farningham Road. I remember that there was a lot of slipping when starting. The load was 11 coaches and we were 2 late into Margate. 34091 Victoria to Margate [view log of 34091]
30th August 1954: We returned from Margate on the 3.22pm ex Ramsgate, a 9 coach train which made 11 intermediate stops after Margate. With loco 34083 605 Squadron, we took 2 hours 30 minutes for the 78 miles, arriving Victoria 3 mins early.  [view log of 34083]
22nd June 1955: During my GCE O level examinations, my parents insisted that I had a day off revision, and suggested that I should have a day out. So, up to Euston on the 8.30am from New Street, over to Charing Cross, and off to the south east on the 11.15am Charing Cross to Folkestone and Ramsgate. I travelled as far as Deal. The loco was 34066 Spitfire, instead of the "Schools" that I had hoped for. The 10 coach load was reduced to 4 at Folkestone, and the running was adequate to keep time throughout. Top speed was 70 mph at Hildenborough.  [view log of 34066]
22nd June 1955: At last, my first run on a "Schools". 30924 Haileybury was on the 2.42pm Margate to Cannon Street, via Redhill. This was the return working of the Bricklayers Arms loco off the 9.15am down from Charing Cross. With a light load of 162/175 tons as far as Ashford, 30924 put in a business like performance up the the grades averaging 1 in 70 from Deal, Walmer, and Martin Mill. I learned immediately that a Schools could make a lot of noise.  We reached 70 mph below Smeeth. I changed at Ashford in order to catch a fast train up to London, to enable me to head home on the 6.55pm ex Euston. [view log of 30924]
22nd June 1955: At Ashford, I joined the 5.11pm to Charing Cross, the 3.25pm ex Margate. The loco was 34083 605 Squadron (again), with load 11. The loco put in a very respectable performance, arriving Charing Cross right time, despite 3 signal checks en route. Maximum speed was 75 mph at Headcorn. [view log of 34083]
20th April 1957: What was intended as a two night stay in Tonbridge, in fact ended up as two nights on a bench on Waterloo station. I couldn't find a B & B. Having come up from Birmingham, via Peterborough (60014 to Kings Cross), I travelled down to to Tonbridge on the 3.25pm Charing Cross to Hastings. With an 8 coach load, 30929 Malvern put in an everyday performance.  [view log of 30929]
21st April 1957: My first experience of a "Standard 5" in the south east was from Tonbridge up to London Bridge on the Sunday 7.35am from Ramsgate. 73081 had a 374/395 ton load, and reached London Bridge in 36 min 11 sec (34.5 mins net), with 36 mph at Sevenoaks tunnel, 47 mph at Knockholt summit, and 76 mph at Grove Park. [view log of 73081]
21st April 1957: 30928 Stowe then took me down to Ashford on the 11.12am from Charing Cross, a service that had booked stops at New Cross, Hither Green, Orpington, and Tonbridge (but not Sevenoaks). Initially the running was poor, but from Tonbridge to Ashford, Stowe took 28 min 44 sec, with 71 mph at Staplehurst, and 62 mph at Chart summit, which was more like it. [view log of 30928]
21st April 1957: Then from Ashford to London Bridge on the 11.25am ex Ramsgate, hauled by 34082 615 Squadron. With a load of 10 for 328/340 tons, the running was modest, though sufficient for timekeeping. 72 mph was reached at Headcorn. [view log of 34082]
21st April 1957: Then I got 73081 again, this time working back to Kent on the 3.15pm Charing Cross-Margate. With 10 coaches, the loco gave a solid performance throughout, with good running from Tonbridge to Ashford. [view log of 73081]
21st April 1957: Then back from Ashford once again. The 2.36am from Margate arrived with a very crowded 7 coach train, behind a Standard 4MT class 75xxx 4-6-0. I squeezed into the rear coach, where the corridor was on the milepost side. The running was modest, but sufficient for timekeeping. But it was only when we were going round the Tonbridge curve, where I could see the locomotive, that I realised that there had been a loco change at Ashford, and that we now had a King Arthur 4-6-0 up front. This turned out to be 30794 Sir Ector de Maris. This was my only King Arthur run in the South East. The loco was not extended, but kept the easy schedule, arriving London Bridge on time. [view log of 30794]
22nd April 1957: On my final morning, and after another night on a Waterloo bench, I did a return trip down to Hastings. The Schools class were shortly to be usurped from the line they had served with such distinction for 20 years. 30905 Tonbridge was on the 10 coach, 8.25am ex Charing Cross, a train which stopped at all stations after Tonbridge. We reached 73 mph at Hildenborough, and climbed well from Tonbridge up to High Brooms. A check outside West St Leonards caused a late arrival. Earlier, we ran easily out to Sevenoaks on a generous schedule. [view log of 30905]

22nd April 1957: I returned to London on the 11.10am from Hastings, a service which ran non stop from Crowhurst to Tunbridge Wells. 30900 Eton had a 10 coach load of 320/335 tons. A good climb to Wadhurst tunnel, 36 mph, was followed by an extraordinary run to Sevenoaks. We  took the 30 mph  curve at Tonbridge east at exactly 50 mph. Smoothly as well. This enabled the driver to give the fireman an easy time up to Sevenoaks tunnel. With a check at Orpington, we were right time into Waterloo East. Top speeds were 71 mph at Robertsbridge and 70 mph at Grove Park. [view log of 30900]
19th May 1959: With the "writing on the wall" for Kentish steam by 1959, I had a final trip from Charing Cross to Folkestone and back. Outwards, I chose the 1.08pm from Charing Cross, "The Man of Kent". 34027 Taw Valley, now in rebuilt form, had a 10 coach load of 337/350 tons, and an easy 68 minute schedule to Ashford. No effort was made to pull back the time lost by a signal check at St Johns, and p.w. slowings at Knockholt and Paddock Wood. We could do no better than 34 mph at Elmstead Woods, and 67 mph at Headcorn. So we were 5 late into Folkestone. A poor show. [view log of 34027]
19th May 1959: Intending to return to return to Charing Cross on the 3.25pm ex Margate, due off Folkestone Central at 4.50pm, I awaited it's arrival. But at 4.37pm, in came 30932 Blundells at the head of an 8 coach relief.  This was a bonus. Well in one sense it was, since at Ashford we turned right on to the Maidstone line, the only time I travelled on it. But the grubby  Blundells was never extended, and in any event we had many checks from Maidstone onwards. In fact we took 117 minutes to reach Waterloo East, so from a performance point of view very disappointing [view log of 30932]
I was a great fan of steam on the lines in the South East, but in the period 1954 to 1959, the running was variable. The schedules, particularly on the Victoria to Margate route via Chatham, were very lax. Though this did generally mean that timekeeping was good. The most enjoyable runs I had were 30924 from Deal to Ashford in 1955, and the subsequent run up to Charing Cross on 34083. The two 1957 runs on 73081 in 1957, and the run up from Hastings on 30901, also in 1957. But I regret never travelled on the 5.06pm or 6.03pm from Cannon Street to Hastings, which, with their 11 coach loads, really tested the Schools.