Manchester Mayfield

Mayfield Station in Manchester was opened in 1910 to ease overcrowding at London Road (Now Piccadilly) next door.  It closed to passengers in 1960.  From 1970 it was used as a parcels depot until 1986 when when rail services ceased.  Since then, apart from the occasional arts festival, use as a film location and illegal raves it has stood derelict.  Various redevelopment plans have been proposed for the station and the surrounding area.  Most involved total demolition but the latest plan includes retaining the station building.

I joined a tour on a wet and cold Saturday morning, for a chance to see inside this imposing building.We started at platform level.  Unfortunately the overall roof was demolished a few years ago, apart from a small section of the steelwork. Hydraulic buffers:Apparently this area of “platform” was occupied by a family of Mallard last summer:Underneath the platform level was an enormous goods depot, and we had a good look round in the dark: An entertaining and informative tour which I highly recommend, you can book here.

Highgate High Level

We start with a history lesson:  When the main line railways reached London in the 1830s and 1840s, they avoided high ground at Highgate, Finchley and Edgware, leaving these rural areas without any train service.  In the 1860s and 1870s branch lines were built from Finsbury Park to Edgware, High Barnet and Alexandra Palace.

In the early 1900s electric trams and nearby tube lines made the steam trains to King’s Cross less attractive and the lines began to lose business.  In the 1930s the newly formed London Transport developed a plan to take over these lines and join them to the tube network.  The Northern Line was to be extended from Archway to a deep station at Highgate and onwards to the surface at East Finchley where it would join and take over the steam railway lines.  Another branch of the Northern Line was to run from Moorgate to Finsbury Park and take over the line from there to the existing Highgate station and on to East Finchley.  Work started in 1937 on this project and tube trains reached Finchley in 1939.  The Victorian station at Highgate was completely rebuilt ready for tube trains from Finsbury Park, but the war disrupted the work and the tube trains never came.

After the war, priorities were different, and much of the work was not resumed.  Finally, in 1954, the last train ran to Alexandra Palace via Highgate.  The line from Finsbury Park survived for freight and stock movements until 1971 when the tracks were removed.  Haringey Council took over most of the trackbed and converted it into a Parkland Walk.  Highgate High Level platforms, which have tunnels at each end, were left out of this scheme, and with no further use for the tube station that never saw a tube service the site was allowed to return to nature.

Visiting the area in the late 1970s I was always intrigued by this tube station with no trains.  Finally in 2017 I was fortunate to be able to join one of London Transport Museum’s Hidden London Tours and get a look round at last.  Here’s the southbound side of the island platform, looking from the remains of the Victorian platform:The tunnel mouths at the north end of the site:A view along the platform:One of the Victorian station buildings remains standing:A view along the northbound platform.  As you can see, a building has been constructed on the trackbed:At the south end of the site, where there were no buildings on the platform, the trees have completely taken over and there’s no sign of any railway at all:It’s hard to believe that this forest is growing on a railway station platform. After walking through the forest you reach the end of the platform, and the southern tunnel mouths:The tunnels are home to six species of bats and so are off-limits to all visitors unfortunately.  A fascinating tour which I highly recommend – Take care in the mud!

After the tour I took a stroll along part of the Parkland Walk, from Highgate up to Alexandra Palace.  The route is partly in wooded cuttings and then later on a viaduct:The Palace has been well looked after in recent years:

Amberley Museum

Amberley Museum is located in an old chalk quarry in Amberley, West Sussex.  The museum aims to document the industrial history of the South East and features a large number of exhibitions on various topics.  I’ll start my small selection at the rural telephone exchange: … which has working equipment inside:There are many other telecommunications exhibits including this collection of dials, complete with a backwards one from New Zealand:Moving on to road transport, we have a classic AA box:An Austin 7:And a recreation of a bus garage:Next, it’s electricity – a small substation:Control panels from a power station and a network control room: … and a collection of domestic plugs and sockets:In the narrow gauge railway exhibition is this 1ft 10in gauge loco built for the Guinness Brewery in Dublin:and a wagon from London’s “Mail Rail”:Outside, you can ride round the site on their narrow gauge railway:This tunnel, where the chalk was mined, starred as Main Strike Mine in the James Bond film A View To A Kill:The original industry at the site was the mining of chalk and converting it into lime in these kilns:Finally, a visit to the Museum of Roadmaking: An excellent museum and there were lots more things to look at that I haven’t shown.  If you’re going, allow most of the day!



Steam On The Dock

Billed as the UK’s only inner-city steam rally, this weekend saw the return of Steam On The Dock to Liverpool’s Albert Dock.  Glorious sunshine brought the crowds out on Sunday despite the chilly breeze. In addition to the traction engines and steam lorries there were a couple of preserved steam tugs:… and a steam engine belonging to the Festiniog Railway was giving rides along a short length of temporary track:Having seen all the exhibits my next move was across the road to the splendid Baltic Fleet for a pint:

Tees Transporter Bridge

Opened in 1911, the Tees Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough is the last remaining transporter bridge in the UK still providing daily public service. As well as ferrying pedestrians and cars across the Tees, the bridge is now a tourist attraction and friendly and knowledgeable bridge staff and volunteers will take you on a tour which includes a lift up to the top and a walk across the bridge.  In the past the upper walkway was a route across the river for those who couldn’t afford a ride in the gondola.  Here’s a couple of views from the walkway: This dredger passed under my feet as we walked across:… and once it was clear the gondola came across:At the Port Clarence (northern) end, I could just see Shell’s Brent Delta oil platform which arrived last week on the largest ship in the world, for dismantling.  (You may have seen it on the TV news.)Back on the ground it was time to go for a ride.  The gondola is suspended on thirty cables, and runs on sixty wheels at the top.  I got to press the button on the little remote control that sent us across the river, the biggest thing I’ve ever driven, I think!The winding house across the road provides the power to move the gondola. Original (no longer used) motor on the right, new one on the left, cable drum in the middle:The original control panel:Having completed the excellent tour I took a stroll through the industrial wastelands downriver to see if I could find a good angle to photograph the bridge.  I couldn’t:Note the gondola in the process of crossing in this last picture:Middlesbrough itself has a number of interesting buildings, here’s a small selection starting with the former National Provincial Bank: The impressive town hall is undergoing refurbishment:Finally, a shot from the train of another large bridge.  The Newport lifting bridge opened in 1934 a little upstream from the transporter, and took some of its traffic away.  I believe it no longer lifts.

Kempton Park Waterworks

Located in south west London, this museum features the largest working triple-expansion steam engine in the world, so when I discovered they were having a steaming day while I was in London, I had to visit.

The building was constructed in 1928 and housed two large triple-expansion steam engines which were used to pump the water uphill to a reservoir at Cricklewood:The engines were shut down in 1980 and electric pumps on the site still send the water to Cricklewood.  One of the engines has been restored to working order, while the other one is available for tours.  This is the working one, you can get an idea of the scale from the people on the ground level.  This picture was taken from the top walkway of the other engine:Round the back of the working engine this is one of two “barring engines” used for starting:In the 1930s when the time came to expand the capacity, instead of adding the planned third engine in the space between the others, two more modern steam turbines were installed.  Surprisingly, these could pump about the same amount of water as the big engines:(Yes, they had visiting Morris Men!)The site generated its own electricity, and still has a couple of mercury arc rectifiers in operation.  The flickering glow of these holds a strange fascination:I must say I had expected a fairly quick in and out, half an hour should easily cover everything, but the guided tour of the non-working engine took well over an hour, all of it fascinating.

One fact I learned from the tour guide is that the two engines are mirror images of each other.  This must have meant that when the factory made a casting for a part, instead of making two the same – one for each engine – they had to make mirror images.  The only reason I can think of is it made the engine hall more aesthetically pleasing.  Part of the spare-no-expense attitude of the time perhaps; apparently the opening ceremony was catered by Fortnum & Mason.  I wonder what they would have done for symmetry if the planned third engine had been installed in the middle.

A final picture, of the crest and at the bottom the gauges that still show the flow of water to Cricklewood.  The “hoops” displayed on the wall below the crest are spare piston rings from the three sizes of cylinder in each engine:


Chiltern Bubble Car

Chiltern Railways operate trains from London Marylebone to Aylesbury, Oxford and Birmingham.  In addition to their main routes they are responsible for the short branch line between Princes Risborough and Aylesbury.

Faced with a shortage of trains a few years ago they acquired some single car first generation diesel units, known to railway enthusiasts as bubble cars, and refurbished a couple to use on this branch line during rush hours.  This released a longer more modern train to operate elsewhere.

It has been reported that the bubble cars will cease working in the May timetable change, so I decided to go for a farewell ride on the oldest passenger trains on the mainland rail network.

The empty bubble car arrives at Princes Risborough to commence its afternoon duties:Ready for passengers at Princes Risborough:The other end of the route at Aylesbury:The guard on the service seemed unsurprised that half the passengers were railway enthusiasts there for the ride, in fact he invited us to do another round trip.

A final picture in the darkness at Princes Risborough:There were other things to see at Princes Risborough while I waited for the bubble car:  Just to show that Chiltern isn’t all about antique trains one of their expresses whizzed through, hauled by one of the newest locos on the network, a class 68.  (Sadly it was a bit too fast for my photographic skills.)And on the other side of the station, the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway were working extending their preserved line to a new platform adjacent to the main station which they hope to open later this year:


A trip to Greenwich gave me a chance to visit some of the excellent museums there.

I think last time I visited the Cutty Sark it was still sitting in the water.  Nowadays it’s high and dry:An interesting exhibition and a chance to walk on deck, inside, and below the ship: I strolled into Greenwich Park, passing various buildings housing more museums: And at the top of the hill is the Royal Greenwich Observatory, a cluster of observatory buildings: The most famous thing here is the actual meridian line, which every tourist has to take a picture of:Inside, a fascinating exhibition showing the clocks and telescopes used here.  I was amused to learn that when they upgraded the meridian telescope they built the new one next door and moved the meridian a few yards: Finally, this piece of a prehistoric meteorite is about 4.5 billion years old, and you’re allowed to touch it:

Down Street Station

Down Street station, located in a side road off Piccadilly, opened in 1907 on what was then the Great Northern, Piccadilly, and Brompton Railway, now part of London Transport’s Piccadilly Line.  The station’s quiet location in an area where residents already had their own transport resulted in disappointing passenger numbers, and so it closed in 1932.

In the build up to the Second World War the Railway Executive Committee, formed to coordinate railway transport in the event of war, required a safe headquarters location and in early 1939 Down Street Station was chosen, and converted to provide bomb-proof and gas-proof offices and accommodation for forty staff.  The headquarters was in use from the start of the war until the end of 1947.

During a period in 1940, Winston Churchill slept in one of the offices here while the Cabinet War Rooms were being strengthened against large bombs.

After the REC left, Down Street returned to civilian use providing ventilation for the Piccadilly Line.  Recently the London Transport Museum have started organising tours of the station, and I was lucky enough to join one.

The instantly-recognisable ox-blood tiling marks out the surface buildings.

…and the exciting prospect of going in through the normally-locked door.

Once inside, it was a short walk down the spiral stairs to access the tunnels and platforms of the station.

The partitions forming offices in the pedestrian tunnels were all gone, although we could see where they had been by marks on the floor and ceiling, and the informative guides had pictures showing what it would have been like.  On the former platforms the walls were still present, including a wall separating us from the trains which whizzed noisily past every few minutes.  (At some points in tour we had to stand in pitch darkness with all lights off while the trains passed, to ensure we didn’t distract the train drivers.)  Most rooms were empty, with just a few remains to show what they were used for.

We could see plenty of signs on the walls, both original and from the wartime use.

… and also a more modern sign which seems a little out of place.  (The Piccadilly didn’t get to Heathrow until 1977.)

An excellent visit which I highly recommend.  The museum organise tours of other interesting locations under the Hidden London banner and I hope to do some more before too long.

Queen Street Mill

A train ride to Burnley and then a short bus trip to the outskirts took me to visit another steam mill engine.  This one’s a bit special, though, because it is still in use.

On arriving at Queen Street Mill Textile Museum we were a little concerned as there was no hint of any smoke from the tall chimney:x823-d-dscn0031x823-d-dscn0010rBut once inside we found the beautiful engine which dates from the 1890s was operating today:x823-d-dscn0011 x823-d-dscn0015rx823-d-dscn0013 x823-d-dscn0019In the weaving shed, the noise was deafening, although only a couple of the 320 looms were actually operating:x823-d-dscn0021 x823-d-dscn0020 x823-d-dscn0022The boiler house contains two boilers, only one of which is now used, and it was down to the skill of the stoker here that we hadn’t seen any smoke when we arrived:x823-d-dscn0026 x823-d-dscn0027r x823-d-dscn0028This is an excellent museum, with knowledgeable staff happy to explain the intricacies of the equipment on display.  I was a little concerned that one of the reasons for visiting was that Lancashire Council has announced the museum will close in September.  Pleasingly, while we were visiting, the local paper published a story that negotiations are under way to save it.  It would be a great shame to lose the last surviving 19th century steam powered weaving mill.  Highly recommended.