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Operations in Nine Elms Motive Power Depot

In reponse to an email from Maxwell Jackson a number of contributors have provided some interesting insights into operations in the Depot.


Maxwell Jackson wrote : Iím really pleased to have discovered your website because I might be able to get some answers from people who know what they are talking about! Let me explain. Iím writing a thriller set in 1948 and thereís a section in which 70A features at some length. As a non-railwayman I am keen to maintain authenticity, so I would be very grateful to any readers who can put me straight on a few points. Here goes then.

- When was the coaling tower built?

- Was there a blacksmith at Nine Elms? Would he have fixed fire irons, barrows, lamps etc? If so, where was his forge located in respect of the shed buildings? Also, where were the stores...cotton waste, oil, sand etc.?
Jerry O'Sullivan says yes there was a big store for engine oil, paraffin, cloths, waste etc, Nine Elms had a large fitter crew for maintenance and repair, whether there was a blacksmith or not I am not too sure.

- I used to sometimes see three locos on the holding spur next to the main line. Was there a signalling system to call them onto the shed? Did they move round in convoy or coupled together? Was it usual to coal and water locos on their way out to a turn or as they came back in from a job?
Jerry O'Sullivan writes: usually all coupled together once in the loco they all uncoupled and went their way, we always coaled going in before squaring up, and usually topped up when going out.

- How did drivers know when to progress from the shed to the turntable and thence to the main line? Was there a clip-board call-on-man to get everyone in the right sequence?
Jerry O'Sullivan replies: no, when you knew roughly what time you were due out you moved up towards the turntable and waited til vic the turntable man brought it round and beckoned you on, then you were put on the outgoing road and topped up with water and coal as n...eeded, eventually stopping short of the top yard shunters cabin, when you sorted all the last bits out (like getting some whites and browns from the store, get the tea ) the shunter would book you out or tell you your due to go, then you moved round to stewarts lane sidings and waited for loco junction signal box to switch the road an clear the signals, then off you went to Waterloo, or Nine Elms Goods.

Timothy Crowley says: Yes Jerry, this was the usual proceedure, but you must remember there was the no.1 loco foreman and his assistant who was locally known as the "Runner". His duty was to see that the locomotives did depart to the top yard and would be offered on to the Loco Jnc Signal box. for retention at Waterloo Sidings until a slot was found to despatch loco(s) to Waterloo. One of the shunters was Tom Keat.

Jerry O'Sullivan added: that's right Tim, But having read the duty roster in the list clerk's office you knew what time you should present the loco at the top yard shunter's cabin prepared and ready to go, Len Trigg was alway's swanning about if you were behind fo...r any reason. But in the shed when getting on the loco to prepare her you never usually saw anyone but if for any reason you were not at the top yard shunter's cabin at the appropriate time, then the alarm bells would ring. The shunter I knew most was Ken - I can't remember his second name but I think he was once a fireman who failed his driving. Does that ring a bell with you Tim?

Timothy Crowley I was unable to complete the top yard shunter's name, which should have read Tom Keating, who has a son driving and attends our Nine Elms Reunion.

Jerry O'Sullivan I can't remember Tom as well as I do Ken, although there were, or had to be several top yard shunter's to go with the shifts. I spent nearly a week supping tea with them in the winter of 1961 when being spare as Tom Coles my driver was on electric duty. I was put on the points at top yard to send everything round the triangle as the coal hopper was having a makeover. That must have been the worst job I ever did. I thought old Len Trigg had put me on punishment duty as each day he pointed to the top yard and said go. They were sprung points and had to be held to send loco's round the triangle.


Jim Lester has written the following:

The fact that you have set your thriller in 1948 needs to appreciate that the nationalisation of the railways had just taken place and many old railway practises were eliminated and uniformity was the order of the new regime. Amongst these changes a radically new locomotive national locomotive numbering system evolved.

Duplication of locomotive numbers by the previous individual railway companies GWR, LMS, LNER, SR had not been a real problem however with 'post war' nationalisation this would change everything and the new system now divided the old railways into regions. The old Southern Railway, South Western section, locomotive numbers were added to 30000, (e.g. 736 = 30736). The South Eastern locomotive numbers were added to 31000, (e.g. 1786 = 31786) and the Brighton added to 32000, (e.g. 2424 = 32424).

Whilst later built Merchant Navy class' 21C pre-fix numbering system was abandoned the last two numbers were added to 35000, (e.g. 21C1 = 35001). Likewise the West Country/Battle of Britain original last two numbers were added to 34000, (e.g. 21C101 = 34001). The Q1 class locomotive's 'C' pre-fix was abandoned and their original numbers were added to 33000, (e.g. C1 = 33001). Finally the ill fated, short lived, precursor 'Leader' class was numbered 36001 from its conception before it and others in various stages of development were eventually scrapped. So, after all that, any mention of a particular member of a certain class for whatever reason it will need to be researched for correctness!

The coal hopper was built in the 1920's and most certainly was there until the end of steam!

There was a blacksmith's forge that would be used for all manner things including minor repairs when required, I believe it was located at the bottom end of the New Shed of 1910!

The Stores most certainly was at the bottom of number one road in the same shed. Where oil, paraffin, cloths, corks, red-lamp shades (if required), plus duty numbers that would be pasted to the headboard that you always brought with you, were available over the stores counter when preparing your locomotive. Name-boards for regular expresses such as the 'Bournemouth Belle', 'Atlantic Coast Express' and 'The Royal Wessex' were kept there and were usually attached to the out going locomotive smoke-box door either prior to leaving the shed environs or adjacent to the back of the stores by the cabin which booked engines in and out of the depot. Equally quite a variety of the 'Ocean Liner' boards were also to be found in the store and were duly attached to the train engines accordingly.

Stored sand naturally needed to be maintained in a dry condition and as such were provided with a large furnace that ensured free running sand for use in locomotive sandboxes at all times. The store was also to be found at the top end of number one in the New Shed. Until required cotton waste for cleaning purposes was initially kept in a box wagon over in the shed's number twenty-five road near the cleaner's cabin in my time.

Most incoming locomotives would arrive either coupled together or individually according to the density of the mainline movements at that particular time of the year. From Waterloo light-engines would normally be signalled down the 'Main Local' as far as Loco Junction, where they would come to a stand behind a ground-signal located between the 'Local' line tracks, once pulled 'off' it then took you down a deceptively steep track into depot, particularly 'greasy' in wet weather! Other light-engine movements from the direction of Clapham Junction would normally come via Nine Elms Goods then after reversing under the mainline, under the control of the two Viaduct signal-boxes, continued on up to Loco Junction and back down into the depot. Coupled locomotives would be uncoupled once inside the depot. All further movements were then deemed 'Permissive' (there were no more mechanical box operated signals) and Driver's would drive on the basis 'As far as the Line is Clear' and adhere to any hand-signals received during subsequent depot movements!

Generally water and coal was taken on arrival thus providing the necessary 'fuel' required to replenish almost empty tenders, this later would be used to prepare the locomotive when required. Once on the disposal pit, located on the turntable side of the coal-hopper, smoke-box, fire and ash-pan cleaning commenced.

However on occasions, such was the amount of locomotives that needed to be serviced at the same time, delays were inevitable as the pit facility was overburdened, indeed the normal outgoing pit road had to be utilised for the excess of incoming locomotives. As such outgoing locomotives would all use the 'Merge' road and take water on the corner of the shed then, under the control of the shunter, drop back under the hopper and top-up with coal before departure.

Quite a frantic business on occasions and all under the beady eye of the 'Motive Power Foreman's somewhat tormented assistant who was known as the 'Runner', an apt title as he chased crews and their locomotives all over the busy loco yard with clip-board in sweaty hand.

The turntable was actually a key-point of shed activity in terms of locomotives either requiring specific or routine maintenance and their positioning within the twenty-five road shed and equally those that would stand-over for several hours before their next mainline duty.

Movement from the disposal pit to the shed was normally undertaken by one of the 'Table Gang's dedicated Drivers and Fireman, these were usually Drivers that had unfortunately failed their medicals and were now restricted to such minor tasks within the confines of the shed. This was also the domain of the young 'Passed Cleaners' or junior 'Firemen' and would be some of the very first footplate duties that they performed!

Some crews that were performing 'In and Out' - Engine Requirements' stayed with their locomotives, as time was extremely limited in which to complete all the associated tasks. A quick can of tea and few sandwiches consumed on the footplate was sometimes the only opportunity for a short break, mind you it equally ensured that their locomotive's tools did not get pilfered in their absence!

Jim Lester - 70A



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