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Football Specials

We have recently received comments about mishaps which have said to have befallen a series of football specials. I know this story does not directly relate to Nine Elms, but the incident has been discussed on our website, and its conclusion is interesting - Shedmaster

Tony Griffiths tells of the chaotic events involving football specials:
I would like to find out if any of your viewers and ex Nine Elms crews recall and incident somewhen back in the 1960s involving four football specials returning from and evening match at Fratton Park, Portsmouth.

I think they were returning to the Midlands or North East. I have never found any reference to this incident but there must have been a lot of heated investigations as it caused such disruption to the normal services on the Portsmouth/Guildford line. My father was on duty at Rowlands Castle station when I heard about the beginnings of the disruption and I went down to the station. I was quite young, perhaps very early teens, and because we were on an electric line steam trains were quite a novelty unless engineering work brought diversions our way.

The first three specials were all headed by rebuilt WC/BB locos and the first, which came dawdling up from Havant was soon in trouble on the = bank between Idsworth and Buriton tunnel. These special were heavily laden, about eleven mark ones, and obviously the crews did not know the road. Telephones started ringing from Idsworth and Buriton signal boxes with the news that the first special had ground to a halt. The normal electric services, fasts and slows, made up of 4 Cor, 2 Bil and 2 Hal units found themselves with a new and unexpected vocation: that of bankers!

They appear to have stacked up behind the first special and pushed until they got the recalcitrant steamer onto friendlier gradients inside Buriton = tunnel. These were probably some of the longest trains on the railways! The second special came round by the brickworks curve at Rowlands Castle with all the appearance that tomorrow would do... and, sure enough, it too got stuck on the tortuous curves and gradients ahead. More 4 Cor, 2 Bil and 2 Hal units were pressed into banking duties! The third special appeared at an equally languid pace! The signal man at Rowlands Castle box gesticulated wildly to the crew to 'get their fingers out'... but to no avail: it too got stuck on the bank, and yet more 4 Cor, 2 Bil and 2 Hal units found themselves in for a long night.

Finally the last special, this time hauled by a Spam Can, came into the station at Rowlands Castle and stopped opposite the signal box which was about two thirds along the up platform. Here the crew received some pertinent information on the local topography, and I actually went up onto the footplate and, I think, shovelled a bit of coal into the firebox... I liked to be helpful in those far off innocent days. There was long wait while the line ahead was cleared of 'foreign material'. Finally, the Spam Can, with a full head of steam departed and, apparently with no great effort, got itself up the bank, through Buriton tunnel and on its way.

If I did note the names and numbers of the four locos that information has long since been lost and, as I said, I have never ever heard of any references concerning this disruption. Perhaps this incident did not involve any Nine Elms crews but the grape vine must have been busy in the subsequent days and weeks. Does anyone know of this incident?

Jim Rowe has replied:
Pehaps Tony is a "non footplate" person, thinking that crews would be permitted to drive over a route that they didn't sign for. That would never have happened. The crews could have been from Guildford or Fratton, as both depots signed the route. If they were Nine Elms or another depot that didn't have the route knowledge, they would have had a Route Conductor driver on the footplates. These could have been Fratton electric motormen who would also have previous steam experience.

There could have been another reason for the problem. During the 1960s some very bad coal was sent to loco depots, mainly the medium sized briquettes. These were ovals made from a mixture of coal dust and cement. The large briquettes were double house-brick size and good quality. The small ones (donkey's balls) were also good but a bit small. The medium sized ones were the poor quality. In some batches I think the mixtures were 80%/20% in favour of cement! As has been recorded elsewhere, they just wouldn't burn, no matter what firebed was underneath them. They just lay in the fire, glowing dimly.

The football specials had obviously made it south earlier. May I suggest that perhaps the locos were coaled at Fratton with something like the briquettes, and the crews, whoever they were, were doing their level best in preparing for the climb up Buriton bank? They would have known what was ahead of them and the fireman would be working hard to get a head of steam, full boiler and a hot fire as soon as they took the curve at Havant. If the coal was as I suggest, all the raking, darting and rocker-grate operation would make little difference. Stopping for a 'blow-up' or asking for assistance would be the only course of action available to the driver. I and many other ex-fireman on this site have had experiences with the briquettes and know how difficult it was to try and keep some steam pressure with a fire that was dead and couldn't be revived.

Alex 'Mac' McClymont has now wriiten his account which helps to clear things up - he was there!

I was on the Nine Elms website today and read the article on the Football specials on the Portsmouth Direct line -- well I am afraid that Tony Griffiths facts are not as he remembers.

The date was Saturday the 7th January 1961 Peterborough were playing Portsmouth in the early stages of the FA cup - which if I remember correctly Peterborough won 3-1. The truth of that day was the fact that I was the fireman on the first down special train - my Driver was Arthur Stanley my regular driver we had signed on at 10-19 am Special Duty No 1 the locomotive I believe was 34013 or 34014 not 100% on that fact - though I did write in my diary some loco numbers but not this time - I remember some photographers taking photos so maybe one will come to light of the locos on that day.

After turning the loco via the Farlington Junction Cosham Triangle we arrived back at Fratton Loco yard where we never took the coal offered from the Crane and coal skip which was rubbish -- and my Driver Arthur said we will park alongside that loaded 16 ton coal wagon which we climbed onto and threw by hand at the very a least ton and a half of coal onto the our tender. It was very good quality and I used it to make the fire up. We were the FIRST up return football special once we left we had a clear road all the way up and passed through Rowlands Castle at 50 mph on the permanent speed restriction of 50 mph -- the speed restriction was lifted to in later years to 60 mph. Petersfield was passed at nearly 80mph just above the line speed at the time -- we were expecting to get relief at Woking but instead we were stopped in the platform at Guildford and Nine Elms men relieved us which was unusual as Nine Elms at that time very few signed the Portsmouth direct line. We had no problems on the down or up trip.

The second train up was crewed by Driver Bert Heath and his fireman was Sammy Rowe. At Guildford after washing up in the drivers cabin I went outside to watch the second train to pass through but it never arrived and after making some inquiries found out that it had stopped for a blow up on Buriton Bank.The next time I saw Sammy he explained they had a tender full of crap coal and somewhere en route he had used the rocking grate to see if he could liven up the fire but unfortunately he lifted the catch too far and instead of the rocking the grate, he managed to get the grate jammed in the up position so a lot of the fire was lost into the hopper ashpan. Eventually he managed to rectify it but it was too late and the boiler pressure was back to less than 100lbs and the water level in the boiler was down in the bottom nut so Bert decided to stop for a blow up before going over the top of Buriton and putting the loco in danger of dropping lead plugs on the falling gradient towards Petersfield. But unfortunately, getting the loco back into a more suitable condition took a long time and by then Control probally took a hand in the situation and via the up intermediate block signals at Buriton which were controlled in the rear by the Rowlands Castle Signalman the driver must have been instructed not to move until assistance had arrived in the rear (of which I know nothing.)

Just a few observations as there was a queue of trains behind the failed train all the following trains would have slowed to a stop at Rowlands Castle where the signalman would have spoken to the drivers and explained what was going on -- there was no need for the Signalman to explain the road as all the drivers on all the four steam trains were Guildford men who were all familar with and signed for the road as were all the motormen on the 'juice' trains - the only instructions he would have given would have been to the assisting train and as near as possible the actual location if indeed that actualy happened - all the trains were made up of 11 coaches weighing about 370 tons and the loco was about 125 tons. If they did use a 'juice' train to assist it was probally used to push the ailing train over the top of Buriton bank or as far as Petersfield to continue its much delayed journey. The Peterborough fans must have endured 'Joy' that their team had won that day and dispair at the delay to their return train.

I cannot remember now but must assume there was at the very least a Buffet car in the formation of each train where the fans most likely drained the recources of the Buffet car and remembered very little of the experience.

Of the other crews on the 3rd and 4th trains I cannot remember who they were.

'Mac' McClymont

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