6201 – to Glasgow Central - Return of the Lady in Red

No part of the original 1936 WCML steam hauled record set by 6201 Princess Elizabeth was ever in danger of being broken during this 2006 celebratory run. Nor should it have been, after all the venerable lady is well past the magic three score years and ten! The celebrated 1933 Crewe built Stanier Pacific made a triumphant return journey to Glasgow Central commemorating those historic earlier achievements. November 16th and 17th 2006 will long be remembered by those privileged to have ridden, or indeed witnessed, a very special running of the ‘Mid Day Scot’
In the period prior to WWII the London Midland & Scottish Railway company were well aware of the need for a high speed service on their main route to Scotland. For as is well documented their rivals the London North Eastern Railway company had by 1936 already stolen a march on them. There was money to be earned on the lucrative routes between London and Scotland and the LMS management in general, and their Chief Mechanical Engineer in particular, were determined to have at least their share, and more if possible, of that business.

In July 1937 the streamlined Coronation Scot service was to be introduced and it would quickly establish it’s self with the travelling public as a 6 ½ hour success story. Those trains left London (Euston) and Glasgow (Central) simultaneously on weekdays departing at 1:30 pm and they were timed to conclude their journeys at 8pm. The service, which operated until the outbreak of war in 1939, was in all probability only made possible by Stanier’s LMS engineers and designers having been able to take into account and learn from the earlier performance of Princess Royal Class 4-6-2 Pacific locomotive number 6201 Princess Elizabeth.

The exploits of legendary Crewe loco-men Driver Tom Clark, Firemen Charles Fleet and Assistant Fireman Albert Shaw over the two days 16th and 17th November 1936 showed the ambitious LMS what could be achieved. The newspapers of the day carried banner headlines proclaiming, Railway Ambition Achieved, 401 Miles Non Stop, London – Glasgow Under 6 Hours. Indeed 6201 travelled city to city non-stop in a record time of only 5 hours 53 minutes. No doubt a few eyebrows were raised in the oak panelled board rooms of the other railway companies. More importantly Stanier and the LMS bosses realised that they were on the right lines with their advanced plans for the later to be unveiled Coronation Scot service.

The following day the crew made the return journey and Stanier Pacific 6201 once again proved that she was up to the task. Glasgow to London non-stop at an average speed of 70mph was the outstanding achievement. The news of the 802.8 mile round trip most definitely shook the railway industry. The 5A footplate team and locomotive 6201 had put down a marker which would be hard to ignore. The LNER had before, and would again have golden days, but the 16th and 17th November 1936 belonged to the LMS. Could this order have been overheard in the corridors of power at the LNER? Chairman Sir William Whitelaw on receipt of the news calling to his secretary, ‘Please get Nigel Gresley on the phone, immediately’. Perchance to dream! The record stood until 1964 when it was beaten by modern traction.

But let us seriously consider for a moment what those great steam locomotive runs entailed for the crews. The aforementioned William Whitelaw was known to love locomotive riding and Mr E.J.H. Lemon of the LMS was reportedly similarly disposed. But on their footplate forays they would never come near to experiencing what the job was really like on an everyday basis, never mind on high profile publicity seeking runs. It was incredibly hard, tinged with a huge element of danger for the unwary and often carried out during anti-social hours. Steam loco footplates for the main part were drafty, dirty, noisy and inhospitable work places. Why not book onto a footplate experience turn at one of our preserved railways to get a feel of the working conditions, albeit at very low speed and in a sanitised 21st millennium health and safety conscious environment.

For example Driver Clark and his colleagues went to London on the night of the 15th prior to the special runs. Albeit ‘on the cushions’ and in comparative comfort they would however have to lodge with other engine men in the noisy and not very comfortable ‘Barracks’ attached to Campden motive power depot. Between the runs the ‘5A Three’ would again lodge in a railway barracks, this time adjacent to Polmadie depot. Doubtless there was no such rough and ready lodge for the LMS London Operating Vice President Mr Lemon who was to accompany them during the record attempt. Lodging away was common for enginemen and indeed the words written on a note which this writer once had sight of summed up well the attitude surrounding the practice. 
The missive was from a Running Shed Foreman to the home of a driver, and was sent in the form of a Telegram from Stockport Station on Friday 20th May 1950. The message read, ‘Edwin gone double trips to London stop Will be home about 5.0 am Sunday stop Don’t worry about his food plenty in London stop

Indeed my late grandfather, a Northwich steam driver, used to answer those who hankered after the so called Good Old Days with the reply that ‘the only good thing about those days was that they had gone!’ He used to recant that rising at 2:30 am on a wet and windy night in order to cycle to the depot and then coax a tired and reluctant steam locomotive up to Tunstead with a load of hoppers was something he could have lived without. Those guys earned every single penny of their wages, as of course did all other ‘hands on’ railway workers of the steam era. It was a hard life, so much for the so called romance of steam!

To the professionals on the 6201 footplate for those 1936 special runs it was in reality just another job. Although they did afterwards rightly enjoy a degree of celebrity normality quickly returned and the three resumed their usual tasks, working as required out of Crewe North MPD, of course for Tom Clark there was more to come. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire by King George VI on 12th July 1937 at Euston Station. The honour was in recognition of his engine driving skills and in particular during the record 1936 runs. The medal was bestowed in front of our own dear queen; Princess Elizabeth after whom 6201 is named was aged 14.

In a way part of Driver Clark returned to Glasgow with the recreated Mid Day Scot. His great grand daughter Pam Brookes travelled on the train and with her Toms much coveted medal. Those on board were indeed privileged as after lunch on the ‘Down Run’ Pam took the medal along the train so that all could see and touch Toms O.B.E. Uncannily it seemed as if the great steam driver himself had passed amongst us, looking on poignantly were the son and grandson of Fireman Albert Shaw.

Tom Clark was also presented with a clock by the LMS and Pam Brookes tells how it was passed down to other members of the family and then sadly sold during hard times, but she has at least the wonderful uniquely inscribed medal. The man who wrote the first letter to British Railways, which eventually resulted in 6201 being saved from the cutters torch, was also on board. How proud Roger Bell must have felt as the train pulled into platform 10 at Glasgow Central. This Mid Day Scot was a train full of great ‘steam’ memories for nearly all of the 140 passengers, and many had nostalgic tales to tell.

The 2006 commemorative run was in its self a masterpiece of planning, a fact realised by those who understand the intricacies of running trains over the very busy West Coast Main Line. The special train planners at Network Rail can take a bow together with their colleagues in Scotland. Running a steam locomotive on the modern network is a very difficult process and it was further complicated by the chosen route of this particular Mid Day Scot.

High speed passenger and indeed fast freight trains had to be allowed to pass unhindered. Water and coal also needed to be regularly replenished, the former every 65 miles or so. All this had to be achieved on an infrastructure from which every vestige of steam operation support equipment has long since been removed. Sufficient to say that these Mid Day Scot travellers are able to report that a great many of the ‘loops’ on the WCML are alive and well, but it mattered not a jot!

Engine 6201 put in sterling performances between the stops, which in themselves facilitated a good number of very enjoyable brisk restarts. It was not possible to put Princess Elizabeth on at Crewe due to the almost constant use of the previously steam friendly Platform 12 for ‘Drag’ change overs concerning the Virgin Pendelino/Class 57 service to and from Holyhead. Having been passed as fit to run by Ian Riley of Riley & Son the loco was coaled at Crewe and then ran with support coach only to Preston where it joined the train proper. Coal was then again taken at Penrith (in a siding away from the overhead wires) and then again during the overnight stop at Polmadie MPD.

Water in most instances was taken from strategically placed road tankers. As always the 9 man support crew of 6201 carried out their duties flawlessly and the overall success of the round trip is in no small way due to them. It is worthy of note that the ‘volunteers’ (not unlike Tom Clark and his crew) had lodged away prior to and during their run. Two nights spent at The Railway Age Crewe and one night in Glasgow Polmadie MPD, in each instance billeted at the ‘Support Coach Hotel’.

The locomotive was expertly crewed throughout by EWS men and experienced Traction Inspector Bob Hart oversaw the efforts of both crews over the two days. In charge of the locomotive for the first steam leg from Preston to Carlisle on the 16th November was Driver Bob Morrison with his fireman Keith Murphin (Crewe). For the leg Carlise to Glasgow on the same day the footplate was taken over by Brian Grieson and Pete Sheridan (Warrington). On day two the latter partnership brought the train back to Carlisle where Messrs Morrison and Murphin again took control. Locomotive handling on this difficult route with Shap and Beattock banks and so many stops and starts was of the highest calibre. The head waiter remarked ‘Not a drop of soup was spilt on either run’, that says it all. Steam came off at Preston and the locomotive and support coach then went forward to the East Lancashire Railway.

The Railfilms/Rail Gourmet dining car train was brought north overnight from its base at Old Oak Common depot by an EWS Class 67 locomotive and number 67012 stayed with the train throughout the two days (on the rear) in order to provide train heating etc. The first passengers were picked up at Birmingham International after which the diesel hauled train called at Crewe and then Preston where 6201 became the motive power.

Rail Gourmet staff provide sustenance of the highest quality and just how the Chefs managed such magic in the cramped confines of an authentic heritage kitchen car had to be seen to be believed. The slick way in which the catering staff operated was a compliment to the best tradition of dining on the move. Not for the patrons on this train ‘plastic food’. Main meals were prepared on board using only freshly cooked materials. Thursday’s delicious Roast Sirloin of Scottish Beef was followed by Friday’s outstanding Pork Loin in a Whisky Sauce; the wine cellar was well stocked throughout. The company which was formed in 1994 has recently received royal accreditation, ‘By Appointment to Her Majesty The Queen, Royal Train Caterers, lucky lady!

Amongst the rake of restored ‘Pullman’ style vehicles provided by Railfilms Ltd was Bar Car "Pegasus" This is an original Pullman car which was built in 1951 for the famous Golden Arrow service. Original fittings including brass luggage racks and table lamps have been thoughtfully refurbished in this superb memory of that "golden era" of train travel. Also included were Pullman Cars "Sovereign" & "Apollo" both Mk2 type vehicles. Apollo No 3231 is a Mk2E type (seating 36) built in 1972 whilst Sovereign No 3188 is a Mk2D type (seating 42) also built 1972. Both are air conditioned and finished externally in the traditional "Pullman" livery of umber and cream and lined out in Golden Arrow styling with authentically restored sumptuous interiors. The all important Kitchen Car was No. 1659 purchased from Wessex Trains in 2005 and it is a recently restored former RBR Mk1 type vehicle. It contains a fully equipped kitchen and stores for charter train operations. The kitchen can provide fresh cooked meals for up to 140 customers. On board refrigeration is run by the vehicles own integral generator.

The approximate timings were departed Preston for Glasgow at 10:09 and arrived in Glasgow at 18:30. Shap summit northbound was passed at 12:12 and Beattock reached at 15:43 after which the train was immediately looped. The Mid Day Scot departed from Glasgow at 10:50 on day two and arrived in Preston at 18:48. Beattock summit was passed at 13:07 and Shap at 16:26. The up train was waved away by no less a celebrity than Liz Cameron a lovely lady who said she was proud to welcome 6201 to her home city. She currently holds the worthy title Lord Provost of Glasgow.

The lady was in the company of celebrated Glaswegian railway artist and author Dugald Cameron (who incidentally travelled on the ‘down’ train) and he had conspired with colleagues to have a classical musical ensemble play on Platform 10 as 6201 began her journey south. Therein hangs a tale. The six musicians were students of the Scottish Academy led by their Principle John Wallace, they played special arrangements of Malcolm Arnolds Railway Fanfare and Pacific 231. Two of the young artists were from the Faeroe Islands and prior to arriving at the station had never seen a steam locomotive! It was a wonderful occasion under the magnificent vaulted roof of Glasgow Central, and a heritage event which BBC Scotland filmed for their news bulletin. For the record the post war Mid Day Scot normally ran on weekdays leaving London Euston at 13:00 and arriving Glasgow at 21:45. The southbound service left Glasgow Central at 13:30 and was timed to arrive in Euston at 22:09. Neither service actually departed at or travelled during midday!

The train was originally to have been run by charter operators Kingfisher Tours that did not turn out to be the actual case. In the event the bookings were passed over to 6201 Princess Elizabeth Locomotive Society Chairman Clive Mojonnier and he and his wife Jill. To their credit the pair took over the responsibility for the running of the special. Clive says that he is indebted to Network Rail, Scot Rail, EWS, Railfilms Ltd, Rail Gourmet, Virgin Trains and of course the hard working 6201 support crew. This important occasion could not have been allowed to pass unmarked and on the behalf of the passengers and all enthusiasts Mr & Mrs Mojonnier are to be heartily thanked. The celebration by locomotive 6201 of the ‘Record Runs’ was a splendid railway preservation occurrence, and something which will never be repeated