Dear Members

At last some good news Rachel and Matt have brought their wedding forward and are getting married today at Luton Hoo. We send our Congratulations to the happy couple and that they enjoy their special day. We have it on good authority that Graham has been busy preparing his speech but has still found time to check the chimneys at Luton Hoo looking for Santa.

The not so good news is, from Saturday the whole of Hertfordshire will be in Tier 3 lockdown. It's just as well that in this weeks newsletter we have a Christmas ghost story, some nostalgic memories, seasonal cartoons and a prize competition for you to enjoy.


Stay safe

Phil and Nigel

PS Rumour has it that Grahams speech will go on for at least 3 hours. 


Please email all submissions to  or



The Signalman


A Christmas Ghost Story


It was Christmas Eve 1960.

Bob Martin was on the late shift, 2pm to 10pm, in Harringston signal box. It was now 9.30 pm and it seemed to have been an especially long day. He really wanted to finish his shift and go home to his family and a warm fire. He sat huddled in the corner by the pot bellied fire trying to keep warm. It was a particularly cold night and snow had been falling since early afternoon. As the afternoon had worn on the snow had become heavier, started to lay and was now quite deep in places.

Twenty minutes ago he had signalled off the last up train towards Masons Park. He had watched as the Standard 4MT 2-6-4T had passed his box with the two elderly coaches behind. He had noticed a few passengers huddled inside, no doubt trying to keep warm. They would be looking forward to getting home safely for Christmas. He had sent the two bells ‘train entering section’ signal to Masons Park and received two bells back in reply. He returned the signals to danger which was a relief, as in the freezing conditions, he was concerned that they would be frozen solid. He next returned the loop point levers to normal, ready for the last down train of the day which was due at 9.40pm. He had worked the levers all afternoon in an attempt to keep them free of snow and had ventured out of the ‘box several times to check them as well. Fortunately the levers moved successfully back into the frame and he could relax a little.

Perhaps a little more worrying was that he should have received the ‘out of section’ bells from Masons Park by now. It should only take about twelve minutes for the train to reach there once it had entered the single line section but, allowing for the by now deteriorating conditions, delay was only to be expected. However he decided to give Masons Park ‘box a call on the phone just see if there was any news. He picked the phone up and listened for the tone to tell him that he was connected on the omnibus circuit. The phone was as dead as a dodo. He had to assume at this point that the wires had been brought down with the weight of snow on them. He wondered if the bells would still work either to Masons Park or to the next station south Jakefield. As he had heard nothing from Masons Park it was probable that the bells were not working either but he decided to try Jakefield. He sent 1 beat ‘call attention’ and was relieved to receive one bell back in response. He then sent sixteen beats which was used for testing the bells and the signalman at Jakefield responded accordingly. At least he could send a train onto there, at least at present, assuming one was ever able to reach here in the first place.

He rang the station building and spoke to the only porter on duty that night. He told him what the position was and the porter decided to notify the Station Master accordingly, as he only lived in the adjacent house. Shortly afterwards the Station Master called him back, said that he had managed to speak to the station at Masons Park using the GPO phone line and there was no news there yet of the last down train. It seemed that it was delayed further north and was likely to be terminated before the junction for the branch line. If that was the case any last passengers hoping to get home for Christmas were likely to be disappointed. The Station Master said that he would keep Bob updated if he heard any more.

Bob settled back into the armchair by the fire and warmed his hands over the top. Whether he started to doze in the comforting warmth or not he would never know but he was awakened from his dreams by the faint sound of two bells – ‘train entering section’. Had he missed the ‘out of section’ bells from Masons Park? He checked the train register and saw that there was no entry under ‘the out of section’ column. He checked the phone line again and tried sending call attention to Masons Park as well but to no avail.

At this point his mind wandered as to what to do. He didn’t want to delay the train any further. He peered out into the dark and could just about see the white light at the back of the home signal. The outer home was lost in the snow. For reasons that will never be known Bob pulled off the outer and inner home signals and then sent Call attention to Jakefield. Jakefield replied and Bob sent 3-1 ‘local train’. When Jakefield replied he took a token out of the key machine and placed it into the leather hoop. He entered the details in the train register adding an entry assuming that he had received the necessary bell codes from Masons Park, which of course he hadn’t. He pulled off the starter and advanced starter signals and waited to see if the track circuit would give him an indication when the train reached the section before the outer home signal.

About ten minutes after he had heard the two bells from Masons Park the track circuit indicator needle flipped over to show ‘train on line’. Bob rang the platform bell to let the porter and Station Master know that the train would arrive shortly. He picked up the single line token in it’s leather hoop and ventured out of the ‘box into the freezing conditions. If he hadn’t been fully awake before he most certainly was now.

He walked across the board crossing from the up side, where the signal box was, and up onto the end of the down platform. He saw the lights on the front of the approaching train getting closer but it seemed to be going much too fast if it was going to stop in the platform. As it drew closer he held the single line token for the section to Jakefield up in his right hand and bent his left arm ready to collect the token in its hoop for the section from Masons Park. He saw the fireman leaning out of the cab peering into the snow. For a moment Bob thought that it looked just like his Grandfather. How strange he thought.

As the loco reached him it saw that it was a SECR ‘D’ class 4-4-0 instead of the Standard 4 tank that he would have expected. He knew that the last of the ‘D’ class had been withdrawn some four years before. For a split second he wondered if he was still dreaming but then the fireman hooked his arm through the hoop and took the token off of Bob. Bob also at the same instant hooked his arm through the hoop to take the token for the Masons Park – Harringston section. As he did so he felt himself being dragged along the platform as the fireman held on to the hoop instead of releasing it. Bob felt himself sliding along the slippery surface of the platform and off the end,  the last he ever knew.

The Station Master, Porter and booking office clerk were all standing on the platform as they couldn’t understand how a train could be approaching in the circumstances. They all saw Bob at the end of the platform ready with the token and then he was lost in a swirl of snow. They felt a strange wind rush through the platform and caught a glimpse of faint lights as if from carriage windows and then in an instant it cleared and there was only the steadily falling snow. There was nothing on the tracks to indicate that anything had passed through. They saw Bob faintly through the snow making his way back up to his ‘box. The home and starting signals all dropped one after the other back to danger.

The GPO phone in the booking office began to ring and the Station Master hurried to answer it. It was control confirming that that last down train had indeed been terminated at the junction as the line was by now impassable. The last up train was stuck in a snow drift between Harringston and Masons Park and wouldn’t be going anywhere that night.

He returned to the platform to see the lights go out in the signal box and the dark shape of Bob walking across the board crossing again heading for home. He gave a cheery wave to the three figures still standing on the platform, somewhat bemused by the recent events.

Having seen Bob depart and knowing there would be no trains until Boxing Day they closed up the station and all headed to their homes. The station Master glanced at the clock as they left. It was 9.40pm.

They found Bob on Boxing day. He was laying face down in a ditch completely covered with snow. In his hand he was still clutching the single line token from Masons Park.  When they checked the signal box they found that there weren't any tokens missing from the machines for the section from Masons Park. One was however missing for the section to Jakefield. It was never found. There were no entries in the train register after the last up train had left. The signal man at Jakefield said that he had not received any bell codes from Bob or released a single line token. Indeed it was found that the wires on this section had been brought down in the snow as well.

The Station Master having seen something strange decided to investigate further. He found that exactly forty years before the last down train on Christmas Eve had run through Masons Park without stopping and had collided head on with the last up train. The signal man that disastrous night had been Bob’s Grandfather. For reasons that he could never explain he had pulled off the starter and advanced starter at Masons Park, whilst knowing that there was still an approaching train in the single line section. Quite how he had done this was not explained as the interlocking should have prevented this.

Bob’s Grandfather said that as the train rushed though without stopping the single line token had been snatched from his hand. He had seen the driver and fireman standing in the corners of the loco staring blankly ahead. The loco was a SECR ‘D’ class. After the crash their bodies were never found. Bob’s Grandfather had always blamed himself for the crash, although looking at the circumstances there was no way he could be held responsible. He had died when Bob was still young never having got over what had happened that Christmas Eve night.





For those brought up in the 50's and early 60's we have a newsflash
Apparently, Bill & Ben spoke the way they did, because they smoked weed? Their tortoise friend was Slow coach or in Bill & Ben speak, Slobalob. Also, FYI, the 60's program Captain Pugwash, had as his 1st mate, Master Bates. MASTER BATES. Get it? The writers were pissing themselves laughing all those years, until the BBC realised what was going on, and changed the 1st mate's name accordingly
The following is for younger members who may not be familiar with these characters.



Bill & Ben (the flowerpot men)

Bill and Ben (characters devised by Freda Lingstrom and Maria Bird) was first broadcast in 1952 by the BBC. They were part of the Watch with Mother programmes that ran Monday to Friday.

The story revolved around two identical puppets (distinguishable only by their names on their backs) who lived a bizarre existence in flowerpots at the bottom of an English suburban garden and talked to each other in a weird language including their catchphrase ‘Falobadobs’. They were made out of flowerpots and gardening gloves, and lived-in terror of the gardener, only coming out when he went to lunch and hiding in their pots if he emerged. They always seemed to have done something naughty, and the programme revolved around whether it was Bill or Ben who had been up to no good. The third character was Little Weed, of indeterminate species, somewhat resembling a sunflower or dandelion with a smiling face, growing between two large flowerpots. and also terrified of the gardener. She would warn them of his approach with a cry of “Weeeeeeee-d!”

The three were also sometimes visited by a tortoise called Slowcoach. While the “man who worked in the garden” was away having his dinner the two Flowerpot Men, Bill and Ben, emerged from the two flowerpots. After a minor adventure, a minor mishap occurs; someone is guilty. “Which of those two flowerpot men, was it Bill or was it Ben?” the narrator trills, in a quavering soprano; the villain confesses; the gardener’s footsteps are heard coming up the garden path; the Flower Pot Men vanish into their pots and the closing credits roll. The final punch-line was, “and I think the little house knew something about it! Don’t you?”

The Flowerpot Men spoke their own, highly inflected version of English, called Oddle Poddle. However, the popular notion that they ever said “Flobbalob” or “Flobbadob” is an urban myth; if one listened carefully to their banter, one could hear words like “Loblob” (“lovely”) and “Flobberpop” (“flowerpot”), either of which could have given rise to the urban myth. At the end of each adventure, they would say bye-bye to each other and to the Little Weed – “Babap ickle Weed” – to which the Weed would inevitably reply with tremulous cadence “Weeeeeeeeeeed”.



Captain Pugwash

Captain Horatio Pugwash was captain of The Black Pig. His crew was Tom the cabin boy, pirates Barnabus and Willy, and Master Mate. His arch enemy was Cut-Throat Jake. Pugwash's greed and cowardice were for ever getting him in trouble, but Tom always rescued him, though he never got any credit for his work.

Unfortunately, the British Captain Pugwash animated television series, which originally aired on the BBC between 1958 and 1967, is widely believed to have featured characters with risqué maritime names such as Master Bates, Seaman Staines, and Roger the Cabin Boy. In fact, the crew of the famous Black Pig ship included sailors with no such names.

Present on board were Master Mate, Tom the Cabin Boy, and Pirates Barnabas and Willy. (No character with the designation of ‘Seaman’ appeared in the show.) Series creator John Ryan successfully won retractions and settlements from Sunday Correspondent and the Guardian after both newspapers claimed that the show’s characters did indeed have smutty names, and that the BBC had taken it off the air as a result.

The Guardian‘s statement ran as follows:

In the Young Guardian of September 13 [1991] we stated that the Captain Pugwash cartoon series featured characters called Seaman Staines and Master Bates, and for that reason the series had never been repeated by the BBC. We accept that it is untrue that there ever were any such characters. Furthermore, the series continues to be shown on television and on video. We apologize to Mr. Ryan, the creator, writer and artist of the Captain Pugwash films and books. We have agreed to pay him damages and his legal costs.




Volunteering on The Epping Ongar Railway


Part 4


"Lord Phil" is one of a large type of 485 Austerity locomotives, built mainly for military or industrial use. The locomotive was originally built as Hunslet 2868 in 1944 for the War Department and was one of the first of the class to be built.


Our first loco this week is Lord Phil. It was not at the EOR long and I only had one firing turn on it. Being a typical ‘Austerity’ it steamed well but of course was never designed for hauling passenger services over any distance.


80078 was built at Brighton at a cost of £17,364 and entered service in February 1954. It was based on the Eastern Region working on the London, Tilbury and Southend Line (LT&S) working commuter services out of London until that route was electrified in 1962.

The locomotive was placed in store in March 1965 before being withdrawn from service in July of that year. After withdrawal 80078 languished in various scrap lines until it arrived at Barry Scrapyard, in June 1966. It remained in Woodham Brothers scrapyard until September 1976.

80078 is at Mangapps Railway Museum at Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex where the owner progressed the overhaul of the locomotive which returned to steam in May 2017 but was taken out of service shortly afterwards. This was because a split left hand cylinder casting which had occurred prior to the engines arrival at the at Mangapps Railway was discovered.

It was back in traffic around Easter 2018.

80078 is nominally based at the Mangapps Railway Museum it is regularly on hire to other heritage railways.


The standard was also only at the EOR for a short while and I had but two turns on it. The first was on the Santa’s in December 2018. I had been warned that she was reluctant to draw the fire on lighting up and needed constant attention or the fire would simply go out. For the same reason she was also slow to raise steam.

Once we managed to get off of shed and onto the Ongar end of the train we were pulled down towards Epping by the diesel which was topping and tailing with us as usual on the Santa’s. Once we stopped close to Epping I needed to rouse the fire as we would now be leading although the diesel could assist if necessary providing it didn’t slip which it often did.

Although I had a good fire built up the loco simply refused to steam and the fire looked all but dead. The driver said that I needed to bale, yet more coal on, but I knew that would only add to the problem which was simply that there was insufficient air being drawn through the fire despite having the dampers open and the blower on.

I was pretty certain that if we pulled away the draught created by the exhaust steam would pull the air through. The driver reluctantly took a chance and opened the regulator. Fortunately, as I had suspected as soon as the blast up the chimney started the fire burst into life and the pressure started to climb despite the loco now working hard. This is of course is what locos are designed to do.

The rest of the day then passed uneventfully.

The second turn at the end of December was with Wayne and we both knew what was needed. Thus there were no problems that day.


Hawthorn Leslie-built saddle tank 0-6-0 locomotive 'Isabel' was our first steam locomotive purchase. Built in 1919 to an order from ICI foodstuffs she was delivered new to their Blackley (Manchester) dye plant that year. Isabel was to spend the whole of her working life at the plant and withdrawal from service finally came in 1969.

She arrived at North Weald in 2012 and was soon out and about on test. Still very poorly, though, she was sparingly used and in August that year she was found to have a growing number of leaking tubes and mechanical faults. Although there were three years left on her boiler ticket the decision was taken to withdraw her from traffic for a complete overhaul. This commenced in 2014 and was undertaken "in-house".

Over the following years, our volunteers have refurbished many worn parts and replaced life expired components. In July 2017 she passed her initial steam tests, following which it was "all hands to the pump" to reassemble the locomotive.

Having received a new 10-year boiler certificate on the day before, Isabel returned to service at our Steam Gala in September 2017, working a number of trips with a brake van between North Weald and Ongar.


Since returning to traffic poor old Isabel has had troubled times having been reluctant to steam and having failed a few times.

Along the way I have therefore only had one turn on Isabel which was last December during the Santa’s. Isabel spent the day running up and down through the platform to keep the waiting passengers entertained. The driver asked me to drive which I did all day, something that I haven’t done since days on the NVR.

Of course, this year has prevented most of the services from running until the railway reopened in August. By then everyone was ‘out of ticket’ and it was arranged for Isabel to be used with a brake van shuttling through the platforms during running day which was operated by the DMU so that we could all reassessed. This is a requirement by ORR these days of course.

Unfortunately, after two weekends Isabel failed again with axle box/horn guide problems. After dismantling the problem appeared worse and currently she is once again out of action.


Pitchford Hall is a member of the GR 4900, or "Hall," Class of locomotives, designed by Charles Collett.

Pitchford Hall was built at Swindon in August 1929 at a cost of £4,375, and was first allocated to Bristol, Bath Road shed. Her last years were spent at Cardiff East Dock before being withdrawn in May 1963 having covered 1,344,464 miles and was sent to Woodham's Brothers Scrapyard in Barry in November 1963.

Following a major overhaul lasting over 5 years the locomotive returned to traffic in December 2019 wearing British Railways lined black livery


Once again circumstances have prevented much use of Pitchford Hall this year.

Thus, I have only fired the Hall once which was after Christmas last year. Like most locos of this type it has a long firebox and therefore requires careful firing to ensure that coal is directed to the front of the firebox and does not pile up in the middle. Hall’s have a sloping front on the grate which helps coal to fall to the front but can then result in a hot spot where the bars drop.

Of course, with a large grate and only pulling four or five coaches at low speed maintaining pressure shouldn’t be a problem with careful firing. The downside of tender loco’s particularly of this type is that they are not designed to run tender first and there is no protection from the elements.

The Hall has returned for this year’s Santa’s although I still don’t have a turn rostered until January when I am rostered with Wayne who will be able to carry out my reassessment. This assuming that firstly the Hall is available and secondly that we aren't all back in lockdown!









The ideal car for practicing reversing.








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Answers next week.


Preserved Railway Hidden Words


Hidden in the frame are 39 words/phrases listed below, all associated with the railway preservation movement. All you have to do is locate them. They may be horizontal, vertical or diagonal, reading forward or back.
When you have discovered them all, you will be left with 29 unused letters. Reading them will make a statement of absolute common sense.
The first member to email Phil with the answer will receive a prize.





Answers to last weeks Quiz.


1. Bern
2. Italy
3. White rum
4. Purple, orange and green
5. Thunder and lightning
6. PSG vs Bayern Munich
7. 1975
8. Nana
9. Badminton
10. Mexico