A history of S&C photography

A History of Photography on the S&C

“I suppose every photographer has a vision of his ideal picture…so far, I haven’t got it and I don’t suppose I ever shall. I am aiming for something more than a picture – perhaps it is that I am wanting to do with my camera what I could only do with a box of water colours. It is I think, to catch that indefinable spell of the railway: to make visual something that can only be felt. Whatever it is I suppose I shall search for it all my life.”Eric Treacy ‘Steam up’ 1947

What can be said about the Settle and Carlisle Railway that hasn’t already been written?

Many books, magazine articles and several journals over the years have all examined the route in detail: its Midland Railway origins and how it was born out of a competitive necessity; a social history including the hardships and the human cost of construction; and many from a photographer’s - locomotives in the landscape standpoint. One perspective that doesn’t receive as much coverage is how railway photographers came to find the route and why to this day the S&C attracts camera wielding enthusiasts from across the world.

It is stating the most blindingly obvious to say that the line abounds in natural beauty and that this would be the primary reason for its attraction. However, a study of the available photographs taken on the line highlight a number of periodic gaps, and this in many ways demonstrates that photographers’ efforts to record S&C operations as a subject are intrinsically tied to the fortunes of the line itself and in particular the fortunes of steam traction. A simple review of why photographers were attracted at specific time points is an interesting story in itself and can be brought right up to the present day in terms of a timeline. This short essay aims to explore this subject.

During its Midland and LMS days and even for part of the early BR diesel era there are a limited number of S&C photographs in print. Although one can’t rule out the standard of photographs / available equipment as a possible reason for this, the commonly held view was that other routes held a greater attraction, being easier to reach with better public transport links, and having a more frequent service of arguably more interesting subjects. Gresley’s A4s along the ECML and Stanier’s ‘Coronation’ Pacifics over Shap acted like magnets and caught the imagination of those with the funds for the hobby and the ability to travel.

That said, in MS Welch’s ‘Steam over the Roof of England’ from Runpast Publishing in 1990, there are a few shots from WH Foster, MW Earley and NE Stead which provide a fascinating glimpse of the line in the 1930s and 1940s when clean locos, wearing their pre-grouping company liveries worked the route with private owner wagons and mixed rakes of coaching stock. Then of course we have the work of Eric Treacy perhaps the most famous of all S&C photographers, who, whilst holding various positions in the Church of England across Yorkshire made many excursions to the route and established favourite viewpoints, almost all of which are regularly frequented to this day. Many of these pictures now form part of the Science and Social Picture Library at the National Railway Museum in York.

In fact, it was whilst waiting for a steam special at Appleby station in May 1978 that Rev Eric Treacy collapsed and died. A memorial plaque celebrates his contribution to railway photography and is affixed to the station buildings on the down side platform.

It appears coincidental that Treacy’s ‘discovery’ of the route in the 1950s was timed perfectly to record many Royal Scot 4-6-0s which had recently been allocated to key depots in the north (Leeds Holbeck and Carlisle Durran Hill) which in turn saw them in operation on principle diagrams over S&C metals. This was good news for the few S&C photographers at the time because progressively heavier loadings were possible, even more so when the ECML was dieselised in 1960 and several Gresley A3 Pacifics were displaced from Tyneside to Holbeck for use on services over Ais Gill. The available evidence suggests the class were good performers over the demanding route which could hardly be more different to their former east cost race track.

Apparently however, one of Treacy’s favourite photographs features neither an A3 nor a Royal Scot. It was an ex-LMS Jubilee No. 45573 ‘Newfoundland’ in BR lined green working very hard with an Edinburgh – St Pancras express at what we now refer to as the Ais Gill milepost 260 location. A treasured memory for the most famous of all S&C photographers.

So, aside from the aforementioned pioneers, it wasn’t until the 1960s when large numbers of photographers discovered the S&C. By that time diesels were allocated to some key passenger diagrams although Black 5s, Crabs, 8Fs, 9Fs, Jubilees and BR Standard classes still saw service. In general, BR steam was in rapid decline across the network and only small allocations remained at certain depots including Holbeck and Carlisle. Photographers wishing to record the final breaths of steam saw their options cut down and as such the S&C became more and more attractive in terms of traction…”suddenly the fells were no longer empty. Here were to be seen the last turns of duty for ex-LMS express passenger locomotives. Alberta and Kolhapur acted like magnets, drawing enthusiasts from all corners of the country. And it was then that we realised what we had been missing all that time..” John Goss (foreword), ‘Steam over the Roof of England’ 1990.

Much of the available S&C literature is therefore dominated by fascinating scenes from this decade. Many photographers appeared to have established themselves during this period including: D Cross, J Goss, P Fitton, D Hume, D Huntriss, I Krause, R Leslie, R Lissenden, R Merry-Price, G Morrison, A Robey, G Siviour, N Thexton, P Walton, M Welch, J Whiteley. They seemed to have enjoyed a rare camaraderie in what can be a lonely pastime. Indeed, in John Goss’s foreword to ‘Steam over the Roof of England’ there are many amusing anecdotes of their struggles and adventures by the lineside in Cumbria and the Dales.

Much of their work at the time depicted run down and filthy locomotives in very poor condition. Grimy 9Fs were regulars on the Long Meg anhydrite trains working down to Widnes and ‘Black 5s’ and ‘8Fs’ dominated other freight, whilst right up until early 1966 ‘Black 5s’, ‘Britannias’ and ‘Clans’ held onto local passenger diagrams from their operational base at Kingmoor. During this period 2 of my personal favourite pictures were taken. Les Nixon was at Kirkby Stephen on a clear April morning in 1967 to record 2 southbound freights behind a BR ‘Brit’ and a ‘Black 5’. Published in ‘On the Settle & Carlisle Route’ by TG Flinders (Ian Allen, 1981) the head on shots with magnificent exhaust effects capture the power and spirit of S&C steam during this era.

Fortunately for those working in colour at the time, in 1967 there was a final reminder of the glory days when Holbeck depot in Leeds spruced up their favourite locomotives for their final workings, many of which were routed over the S&C. In late September 1967, prior to closing forever for steam traction, Holbeck turned out their popular ‘Jubilees’ Kolhapur and Alberta in superb condition for two northbound workings. Kolhapur went to Heysham with a parcels train, whilst Alberta worked the 1.30pm Hunslet – Carlisle freight over the S&C which included a brake van filled with members of the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society, such was the interest in these final workings of BR steam. The loco didn’t steam well however on this occasion and was winded by the time she reached Helwith Bridge, this however allowed photographers to overtake and many lucky people recorded several shots.

Also of interest for photographers earlier that year were the Rugby Union Football specials. 9 of these special workings ran in one weekend in February returning from Edinburgh to points in South Wales, all were routed via the Waverley route to Carlisle and then took the old Midland route for the south. 5 were steam hauled by ‘Brits’ and those photographers positioned around Kirkby Stephen also got some sun! Again, many books featuring shots from this period contain photographs of these trains.

In December 1967 with the closure of Carlisle Kingmoor depot, regular steam hauled services over the S&C ended. Very few thought there was any further prospect of steam photographs on the line. However, in May and June 1968 for one last gasp, BR Standard 4s made a few short lived appearances on ballast trains originating from Cracoe on the Grassington branch and worked over Ais Gill to Appleby, some shots of these workings are available.

Following steam’s 1960s final fling on the Settle to Carlisle line it was very fitting that on August 11th 1968 BR publicised and ran its official final steam hauled passenger train, a tour from Liverpool to Carlisle, via Settle. Hauled on the outward run by by BR ‘Brit’ No. 70013 Oliver Cromwell and on the return by ‘Black 5s’ Nos. 44871 and 44781. Because of the high cost of tickets this became known as the ‘Fifteen Guinea Special’ and there are a great many photographs of this working in print. The main reason for this being that this appeared to be the culmination of interest in the S&C in terms of a subject for photography, it was the end of an era for many S&C photographers and the crowds were unprecedented, there were traffic jams reported at Ais Gill with cars 3 a breast near the summit.

Aside from a handful of rare exceptions the ‘Fifteen Guinea Special’ was the simultaneous end for S&C and BR steam, and with it went the interests of most photographers who deserted the route in their droves. The fells were suddenly silent again and this is evidenced by the lack of photographs in print of the early green diesels working over the route. The prevailing attitude seemed to be - if traction was largely the same everywhere then why not head for locations with greater volumes of traffic? For the second time the S&C played second-fiddle to alternative lines and much of this was linked with the motive power more than any other factor. History repeated itself when arguably more attractive and interesting diesel traction was on offer on nearby routes, the very popular Deltics for example on the ECML or the Class 50s on the WCML.

Not that anyone knew it at the time but there was only to be a 10 year gap in regular steam workings, because in February 1978, under the banner of the preservation movement, steam specials began and with the interest shown in the S&C towards the end of the 1960s, the route became a natural choice for these excursions. Flying Scotsman, Green Arrow, Evening Star, Sir Nigel Gresley and Clan Line all saw action over the roof of England. To this day steam hauled excursions continue to attract both day trippers and photographers alike, and in very recent times the demand has been such that mid-week railtours are not uncommon.

It wasn’t that the line’s overall traffic levels had decreased during the 1970s, despite the closure of all but two of the lines stations at Settle and Appleby. In his introduction to ‘On the Settle & Carlisle Route’ from Ian Allen, 1981, TG Flinder’s reported …”In the Summer of 1979 there were something like 24 regular freights and 6 passenger trains during daylight hours.” But the resurgence of steam in 1978 went hand in hand with more photographs being taken of the route in general, as a new band of photographers discovered the delights of the S&C and became more and more interested in the line’s regular workings.

So it transpired that around this time another group of hardly souls found themselves drawn to the remote moorland locations. Some of the work from this BR blue period is available to view on line as well as in print and key names are Bob Lumley, Bill Watson and John Hooson. But this time their subjects were the BR blue diesels and ironically they became involved in yet another race to capture as many workings as possible on film before they disappeared. This time it wasn’t the traction that was under threat but the line itself.

BR’s short-sighted attempts to close the line by stealth by deliberately diverting services away from the S&C have been documented in great detail elsewhere and the purpose of this essay is not to provide a detailed analysis of the order of events leading up to the lines salvation. However the main events during this period dictated what was on offer from a photographer’s point of view so a brief summary is worthwhile.

Pickings were very slim in the 1980s. In May 1983 the section from Settle Junction to Appleby was closed to freight, followed by the Appleby to Petteril Bridge section in 1989. Only Settle and Appleby stations remained open to passengers and local traffic was run down to just 2 awkwardly timed diagrams. In terms of long haul passenger services, only 3 inter-city diagrams used the route during the early 80s and these were diverted on a permanent basis via Preston and Manchester from May 1982. This left only 2 passenger diagrams in total running between Leeds and Carlisle, usually formed of a BR blue Class 31 with 5 blue / grey Mk 1 coaches, which meant the S&C could be closed between 10pm and 6am each day.

At its lowest ebb in November 1983 BR posted early notice of their intention to close the line, this was despite the high level of patronage for the seasonal Dales Rail services. Sponsored by local authorities they began in the mid-70s as a trial which allowed access to the National Park for those who relied upon public transport. The future potential of the line for tourists and as diversionary route continued to be denied by BR but not by photographers who relished the chance to capture as many workings as they could prior to what many saw as the inevitable closure.

“Closure proposals were met with fury and hostility, not only from local people but railway enthusiasts and supporters across the country. There was a widespread belief that British Rail had exaggerated the case for closure.” “The Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line was formed on 27th June 1981 to fight the proposals, and this organisation joined with two others, the Railway Development Society and Transport 2000, to form a coordinated response to the closure proposals under the banner of the Settle to Carlisle Railway Joint Action Committee.” DJ Williams, ‘Past and Present: The Settle & Carlisle Line, Past and Present Publishing, 2010.

The findings of reports commissioned by the various campaign / pressure groups proposed the polar opposite to BR’s ideas. Rather than closure they indicated that the line had an optimistic future and expansion might be possible if investment was made. It seemed that they had a case when by the mid-1980s, as a result of the increased exposure the line was enjoying in the national media, passenger numbers increased dramatically and service trains were lengthened to upwards of 10 carriages and occasionally this required double-heading. Several good shots of these workings are available in ‘The Long Drag Settle to Carlisle Portfolio’ by Gavin Morrison (Ian Allen Publishing, 1990).

By 1987 passenger numbers were on an upward trend and a total of 5 trains per day were required as a result of the renewed interest and after an extended period of campaigning with a few twists and turns along the way, on April 11th 1989 the Secretary of State for Transport, Paul Channon announced that the line was to be reprieved. Citing in his letter that there was…”scope for increasing revenue further by better marketing of the line and by the pricing of tourist journeys on a more commercial basis.”

Over the next 20 years and continuing in the present day, the S&C has, and still is receiving the financial investment it badly needed in terms infrastructure and marketing. It also began to appear in strategic planning documents which pointed to an important role for the S&C in the future both as a key freight artery and as a diversionary route. Although long-distance through passenger trains are still notable by their absence. With the efforts of companies in the privatisation era and voluntary organisations such as the Friends of the Settle Carlisle line, the route has not just recovered, but flourished into the superb spectacle we enjoy today.

The first freight flow to re-appear in 1993 during the line’s renaissance and one which operates to this day is the desulphurised gypsum which runs from power stations at Drax, West Burton, Cottam and now Fiddlers Ferry to the British Gypsum plant at Kirkby Thore for use in the production of plasterboard. Timed to run during daylight hours, this working has been a target for S&C photographers since its inception although Brush Class 60 traction disappeared around 2006. Little wonder that these services dominate the photographic collections of many of those photographers who concentrate on the Settle Carlisle route.

In addition to the gypsum traffic, the late 1990s saw coal workings appear over the S&C. With the closure of pits in Yorkshire and the Midland coalfields imported coal arriving in Scotland and the coal mined in Ayrshire required transportation to the power stations around Mid-Yorks and further south. Strangely there was also a British Fuels northbound loaded coal service from Gascoigne Wood to Mossend which often produced very attractive motive power. Again, as traffic built up the photographers were starting to enjoy themselves and quality images were appearing in print. Today, coal provides the bulk of all the freight services and although many shun the 66 hauled high capacity hoppers, in my view they are substantial workings which are a key part of the current S&C scene. In any event, everything looks good in decent light on the S&C!

For around 15 years DMUs exclusively handled all regular passenger service diagrams, until October 2003 when Arriva Trains used top and tailed 37/4s with Mk 2 stock on an out and back working to Carlisle from York. Along with the increasing freight this was another reason for photographers to head for the hills and hundreds of quality images were produced from some very famous names. Diversions away from the WCML continued as a S&C tradition but in the privatisation era these occasions became dominated by the attractive sight of Virgin ‘Thunderbird’ 57/3s hauling Pendolino EMUs or Virgin hauled Mk 3 stock. Again, these happenings saw hundreds of photographers turn out, especially if the forecast was decent.

Since then we’ve seen the introduction of a new cement flow, log diagrams running via the S&C with timber from Kielder to Chirk and a separate diagram starting from Ribblehead. We’ve had a short lived finished product working from Kirkby Thore, trial runs of sand from Carlisle to Hunslet, and the seasonal rail head treatment trains. Not to mention the Network Rail measurement trains and the constant flow of specials.

It could be argued that the S&C is enjoying it’s heyday right now, on some days it’s possible to see 5 different freight companies operating regular timetabled freights. The installation of new intermediate block signals allows for average headways of just 10 minutes and the capacity of the line is impressive.

For the current group of S&C regulars who have taken up the challenge we can only hope that our shots today provide as much enjoyment and encouragement for people in the future as our predecessors work did for ourselves.

One S&C photographer whom I regularly see out and about is worthy of a separate mention - Pete Shaw, who has devoted his life to the Settle – Carlisle line. A member of the movements which helped save the line and current Vice-President of the Friends of the Settle Carlisle Line, Pete has been a fixture at the lineside for decades and his annual calendar still provides new ideas for locations. I have light heartedly nicknamed Shaw Paddock ‘Pete Shaw Paddock’ in my collection as a tribute to his wonderful photography.

To finish on a personal note, my own fascination with the line came about as the result of my father’s infectious enthusiasm for steam. During my very early years many a family day out was centred on the steam specials in the late 1970s through the Dales and I developed a love of the landscape and railway in this rugged part of the world.

It was around the time of the S&C salvation announcement, when I took my own first pictures on the S&C. I still have my prints taken at Ribblehead on April 23rd 1988 when a railtour worked south over the line with doubled-headed Network South East liveried class 50s in charge, and coincidentally one of the local services that day was worked by NSE liveried 47583 ‘County of Hertfordshire’.

My current website housing my collection of S&C photographs is my own personal tribute to the to the skills and the endeavour of the men who constructed the line, those individuals and groups who fought so hard to keep the line open, and to those men and women who operate and maintain the line currently.

I hope all those who visit get as much enjoyment from viewing the shots as I get from taking them.

See you at the lineside,

John (and Patch!)