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Bromsgrove 1955

This was to be a most exciting year with rumours of the demise of Big Berta, the re-appearance of the oil-burning former LNER Garratt, trials of unbanked trains on the incline and the first ever visit of a former GWR Castle Class on a railtour. In anticipation of the latte event, Castle 7006 'Lydford Castle' was noted at Kings Norton on Sunday 30th January undergoing platform clearance trials.

Observations at Bromsgrove

During a visit to Blackwell and  Bromsgrove on Saturday 26th February the  following locomotives were seen:

41068 (20A), 43013 (21A), 43192 (16A), 43226 (17A),  43946 (21A) , 44600 (2A), 45682  'Trafalgar' (22A),  44860 (2A),  48204 (18A) , 73011 and 43036 (21A), 45060 (5B), 43490 (21A) and 47991 (18A). The latter being a Garratt  from Toton being the most interesting observation.

Testing of trains without bankers

During mid-March some unbanked trials took place using 44776 and 45554 'Ontario'. On two Sundays in March trials were conducted on the Lickey Incline with unbanked trains of considerably greater weight than the present maximum 90 tons)with which an engine is allowed to tackle the famous bank unaided. Three ascents were made by 5MT' 4-6-0 44776 on Sunday 6th March 1955 and three by 'Jubilee' No.45554 Ontario' on Sunday 13th March 1955. For the trials all trailing points and the trap points on the incline were locked. 44776 had a seven train, including the No.3 dynamometer car a total of 222 tons, and began its first climb at 1130 in mixed weather conditions, which deteriorated to sleet at one point. The start was from Stoke Works, subject to a limit of 30 mph through Bromsgrove ;station, and the climb was successfully completed without incident. The next test required three stops and restarts on the incline itself, one at milepost 55, the second midway up the bank and the third near Blackwell distant. At the first  restart 44776 lipped violently but got away happily at the second attempt and had no trouble with either of the other restarts. Not so the 'Jubilee' the following Sunday, though it had a load of 252 tons, heavier by one coach than the '5MTs' 45554's  first trial with the running  start was uneventful, but at the first stop on the incline during the second test the 'Jubilee' became bogged down. After four vain attempts to re-start 45554 gave the bank best and propelled its train back to Bromsgrove station to restart. This seems to have given it a second  wind,  for it restarted successfully from the stop midway up the incline and fairly  stormed away from the last at Blackwell distant. Weather conditions were good  and in none of its attempts to restart did the 'Jubilee' slip. The third ascent on each Sunday was from a standing start at Bromsgrove station, which both engines managed without trouble.

A Castle Class Locomotive at Bromsgrove

Then, on Saturday 16th April, a special railtour entitled 'The Lickey Limited', organised by Trains Illustrated, ran from Paddington to Bristol, up to Birmingham via Bromsgrove, and back to Paddington via Oxford The special was hauled by Castle class 7017 'C  J Churchward'. This being the first time this type of engine had climbed the incline.

The schedule for the special train was London Paddington - departure at 1100,  Bristol - departure at 1422, Bromsgrove - arrival at 1628 and departure at 1635, Birmingham - arrival at 1715 and London Paddington - arrival at 2105

On Saturday April 16th, a perfect spring morning of cloudless sunshine, 420 passengers arrived at Paddington. The train consisted of a spick and span rake from the Cardiff district with an Eastern Region beaver tail at the rear. The train engine was an immaculate Castle 7017 'G.J Churchward', which had worked the Royal Train from the Midlands to Windsor after the Queen's tour of Lancashire only a day or so before and with the same driver, the well-known Potter of Old Oak. It was expected that one or two enthusiasts might turn out to witness a Castle's first assault of the 1 in 37  Lickey Incline, but in the event it was a royal progress. Even an hour before the arrival of the train at Bromsgrove there were many people at every possible vantage point on the Lickey Incline. At Bromsgrove there was the unique sight of "Big Berta", the 0-10-0  Lickey banker, buffering up to the beaver-tail observation car. The many onlookers on the Lickey Hills certainly witnessed a rewarding ascent . Gradually accelerating all the way up the famous incline, the machine gun din of exhaust from  "Big Berta" was splitting ears in the observation car. At Bournville  7017 was taken off the train as it was not cleared to run into Birmingham New Street Station. The Castle travelled light to Worcester for its return to London. The special train was taken into Birmingham New Street by Black 5 4-6-0 44842.  

More visiting locomotives at Bromsgrove

Other visitors to the line around this time were as follows 

Wednesday 6th April

45518 'Bradshaw' (8A Edge  Hill) arrived at Bath on a special.

Tuesday 12th Aptil

45691 'Orion' (68A Carlisle Kingmoor) on the southbound working of 'The Pines Express' to Bath, returning north next day on a 1216  Bath to Manchester extra

Thursday 11th August

A brief visit  to Blackwell  revealed : 43762 (21A), 43912 (21A), 44542 (17A),  44664 (21A), 44775 (21A), 44819 (17A),  44847 (19B) , 45056 (19B), 45242 (8A) and 73068  

Saturday 13th August

45520 'Llandudno' (11B Preston) on a pigeon special to Mangotsfield

Saturday 20th August

45507 'Royal Tank Corps' (5A Crewe) on a pigeon special to  Mangotsfield.

Friday 26th August

45684 'Jutland' (5A  Crewe) on the 1932 Bristol to Sheffield train

Saturday 27th August

45541 'Duke of Sutherland' (12A  Carlisle Upperby) on a pigeon  special to Mangotsfield.

Good bye to Big Berta

August also precipitated fears of the withdrawal of Big Berta, with the story gaining so much credence that the local newspaper printed a premature obituary entitled Goodbye Bertha as follows Goodbye, Bertha It is always a melancholy moment when the time comes to say farewell to an old friend, and there will be many local railway enthusiasts feeling that way this week because of an announcement made about Big Berta. That mighty Lickey Incline banking engine has thrust its way up the metals between Bromsgrove and Blackwell for the last time. After 35 years service, the pride of our loco mens being retired, and new comers to the toughest task on British Railways are now being tried out. It is a sad thought that never again shall we see the majestic banker with the headlight making its run, and a letter has reached us from far away Stratford-on-Avon saying what sad faces there must be around the loco sheds at Aston Fields As an former resident of Bromsgrove writes Mr L Parker, I am sorry to see her go. It is strange to think we will never again hear her pushing a heavy train up the bank. few of us have written to see if they will considered preservation. Preservation should be possible, but one doubts if reprieve is likely. For all her undoubted power and most imposing appearance Big Berta was a bit heavy on fuel. She burned up to 7 cwts of coal every time she ran up the Incline, and oil-fired bankers are now being tried. One is the gigantic Beyer-Garratt that was tested on the bank as a coal burner six years ago, the other a new type 2-10-0 monster. One of these seems likely to take over, and Big Berta will go to her rest. There is not a great deal of room for sentiment these days, but British Railways are not unmindful of old servants. It would be a pleasant gesture if the locomotive could be given honourable retirement and spared the breakers hammer. As she was built specially for service on the Bromsgrove Incline she would most appropriately take her ease here, but perhaps space would not permit. There are  railway  museums,  however, and  surely  a  place will be found  for her in one of those  'treasure houses'.

Alternative banking locomotives are trialed at Bromsgrove

This crisis had doubtless been encouraged  by  the  arrival of the former LNER  Garratt again 69999, now an oil-burner, but she only lasted  a few weeks. Also  banking in August, on trial, was one of the new Standard  9F types, 92008. One of  these 9F's, 92045 (15A Wellingborough) made the first recorded visit of its class  to the Birmingham to Bristol route on Monday 14th November, heading a freight  southbound through Cheltenham.

National Strike

One other event that took place on Saturday 28th May is worth a mention; on this date  ASLEF called an all out strike regarding  pay which lasted for 17 days. The  chairman of British Railways said "once  traffic is diverted to the roads, much of  it will be lost to  the railways for ever", and the press view was  that the  public would turn to cars and coaches.