CSS graphic

Tenterden Terrier

Unfulfilled Projects

In an article published by the Railway Canal and Historical Society Brian Janes attempted to provide a rounded summation of the achievements of Holman Fred Stephens. Stephens was clearly one of those larger-than-life characters that have grabbed the imagination of railway enthusiasts but Brian asked whether he is remembered for the wrong reasons. It is reproduced here in amended form.

The rise of the motor lorry and bus in the 1920s stripped the rural branch railway and particularly the rural light railway of much of its purpose. Goods traffic, particularly the high-value parcels and smalls traffic, transferred to the roads. Passenger traffic had never been great, for country people did not travel much except to market, and now when they did it was by the cheaper and more convenient motor bus. The local railways run by the mainline railways survived by drawing on the funds and engineering assistance of the wider railway and the Railway Grouping of 1923 under the Transport Act 1921 saved many; but the remaining independents were by the late 1920s and early 1930s in financial difficulty.

Lovers of the picturesque now discovered these decaying railways. They became something of a local, if not national, joke with old locomotives and carriages compared to kettles and hencoops. This image became all-pervasive and personified in the person of Colonel Holman Fred Stephens and a group of still independent light railways given the epithet 'The Colonel Stephens' Railways'.

To the author's mind, this is an entirely unfair judgement on a man whose distinguished engineering and management career was recognised in the highest circles of government and who had in his time brought much needed transport to deprived rural areas. He had done so by promoting the essential economy advocated by the light railway theorists of the late Victorian period. Railways were then, as now, very expensive creations, and the national tide of railway building had long passed its high-water mark and was ebbing away from rural areas. Such areas remained desperately in need of cheaper transport than the horse and cart if their economy was to survive and thrive.

The concept of light railways was thought of as a method of bringing cheap transport to rural areas but, with capital and traffic thin, railways would have to be cheaply built for later improvement, if and when the expected increased traffic returned and resultant access to capital resulted. With the passing of the Light Railways Act in 1896 enthusiasm for such lines was at an all-time high; but it was still necessary to turn a vision into practical success and it was this problem Holman Stephens and others sought to solve with their engineering and management skills.

The young Holman Fred Stephens, as a qualified Civil Engineer, had his first experience of railway building as site engineer on the South Eastern Railway's satellite, the Cranbrook and Paddock Wood Railway. This was a branch line built to main line branch standards but Stephens gained further experience with the construction and success in 1895 of the tiny and cheaply built Rye and Camber Tramway, on which he even advocated using an internal combustion engine powered railcar. He set up a newly established consultancy, and was then well placed to take advantage of the demand created by the Act, which he did with vigour on many projects in the following optimistic years. Indeed his practice had grown to such an extent that in 1900 he had opened his well known office at 23 Salford Terrace, Tonbridge where some 17-20 staff were employed for most of the next 50 years.

The Light Railways Syndicate

Although for the next decade Stephens produced many more plans than physical lines on the ground, he became the leading independent engineering dynamic behind the light railway movement. At first he allied himself with an organisation led by Edward Peterson, a solicitor with a practice in Staplehurst, Kent, whose enthusiasm for light railways came about in anticipation of the 1896 Act. Peterson formed a company called the Light Railways Syndicate in July 1895 for the purpose of financing bills or orders in Parliament for proposed new railways. The intention was that once the necessary authorisations had been obtained, a separate company would be formed for each scheme to raise the capital and the syndicate would receive a fee for its services. Only one railway, the Sheppey Light Railway, was built but when the concept and companies collapsed in Edwardian times with the end of optimism for light railways, Stephens still pursued the Gower Light and the Orpington, Cudham & Tatsfield (which slowly evolved into the Southern Heights Light) proposals until the 1920s when they both came within a whisker of being built .The Peterson proposals were all clearly intended to build light railways and, in accordance with hallowed tradition, off load them on the mainline railways.

Independent Management

Stephens had meanwhile been working with other financiers to design and build other railways, notably the Kent and East Sussex and the Selsey Tramway. His experience with the Peterson syndicate seems to have turned Stephens away from building railways for subsequent sale and he effectively became an entrepreneur for many schemes which, although he did not own them, were his creation, and independent management was to become his key philosophy.

At this stage of his life Stephens was wholly committed to promoting and creating light railways. He was responsible for nearly 10% of all orders made under the 1896 Act up to March 1908 (27,including extensions of time, of the 311 orders made up till the end of March 1908) and when it is considered that one-third of statutory light railways were street tramways then his significance to the rural light railways movement becomes obvious. He continued this activity to some extent until his death. Running them was almost a subsidiary activity until after WW1.

The enthusiasm for rural light railways did not last very long. Applications for light railways fell from 88 in 1898 to 2 in 1914. During the Edwardian years the 1896 Act was held to have failed. Light railways had arrived too late and costs could not be kept low enough to service viable transport rates. Local funds were not available and Treasury grants were not enough. The mainline railways had never shown much interest for they now spent most of their capital on improving capacity rather than geographical expansion. Even worse, lightly built equipment often did not stand up to the rough and tumble of service and no funds were available to reinvest in better. By 1914 the concept was effectively dead but Stephens did not give up: he persisted with several schemes and built them when he could.

Stephens built his first lines almost slavishly following light railway principles. His first two important lines, the Rother Valley (later Kent and East Sussex) and the Hundred of Manhood and Selsey, were extremely lightly built and both had brand new purpose built locomotives and coaches; and they were both successful, paying modest dividends and developing their districts. However it soon became clear that they were too light to economically perform the task of hauling the traffic they had generated. Limited finance was the great problem and so it remained, second hand stock and track became a feature of his lines, and however well maintained they were, for the next twenty five years they formed the basis of the latter false image of ramshackle railways.

Now all that could be hoped for was modest profitability with more robust second-hand equipment. Stephens adapted, the railways he managed to build survived, but many projects died stillborn. For a period of over 30 years Stephens managed to scrape together enough capital to build railways that did, at least until WW1 changed things for ever, provide some return on capital. He worked phenomenally hard over this period. As an example of his energy and enterprise one can only look at his achievements over the period 1908-1914. In these years he put together several orders for the East Kent Light (which was partly built), reconstructed the Burry Port & Gwendreath Valley, and the East Cornwall Minerals as the Plymouth Devonport & South Western Junction Railway's independently run Callington line and the long defunct 'Potts' line as the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire .In addition there were orders for the new lines of the West Sussex and the Callington line and its (unbuilt) extension, the revised Gower Light ,and the North Devon & Cornwall Junction Railways. Each of these projects involved advising (and often actually finding the members of) the Boards, surveying, and negotiating the necessary land and equipment acquisitions; usually without adequate capital. On top of this he was very active, as an engineering volunteer, in increasing military preparations for the defence of Kent for which work he was eventually made a Lt. Colonel in 1916.

In raising capital for the schemes when he was effectively the principal promoter Stephens was nothing if not versatile and certainly opportunistic. The Treasury had largely failed, as with all other 1896 Act projects, to provide any useful amounts of capital, although the ND&CJR was finally built with Treasury funds provided for unemployment relief (as was the Welsh Highland before Stephens became involved) .However, even that success ensured that the Gower Light, which competed for the same funds, would never be built. He often turned his persuasive talents onto the local authorities who stood to benefit from the lines but with limited success. Private capital was perhaps more readily available before the light railway optimism evaporated and there is some evidence that perhaps the largest and most innovative of insurance companies, the Excess Insurance , was persuaded . More research is however needed in this somewhat murky area. Speculative funds became available for the East Kent Light Railways through the dubious activities of the Group of companies developing the coalfield controlled by Arthur Burr, and the poverty stricken form this company took was due to their failure. There is also limited evidence of contractor involvement in financing but again more research is needed into this. Stephens himself acted as contractor in this fashion on the S&MR but the source of funds behind this, the Severn Syndicate, is mysterious. He was also involved with fund managers specialising in turning unattractive stocks round, particularly Sidney Herbert. The mainline railways provided only limited support but the Headcorn extension was guaranteed by the S&ECR and the Southern became effective owners of the East Kent in 1926 to revive the company.

Stephens himself, though moderately wealthy through inheritance, was not a substantial investor in his companies, usually only holding enough shares to qualify, if needed, as a director. He earned his income in a variety of ways, initially through surveying and engineering and consultancy fees but increasingly from management fees. His Salford Terrace business was a personal one and all expenses came to be paid through these fees etc. Many of these fees were paid to him in Debentures and he became a substantial holder of such certificates, for instance at one point he held £26,000 of debentures in the East Kent. He involved his social contacts in investment and in the case of the Selsey Tram he persuaded a friend, H Montague Bates, to buy the tramway in an attempt to rescue it, and when he died intestate became almost sole owner when the shares were bought or gifted to Stephens. Earlier in 1923 he had personally bought the Snailbeach District and he held virtually all the shares in the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire (which was the operating company for the owner –Shropshire Railways) from inception. He was also Chairman of the FR /WHR, the SMR and Selsey for extended periods but was not fond of committee work and generally preferred to leave such duties to others, particularly close acquaintances.

After the Great War

Stephens in the 1920s

The end of the Great War changed the direction of Stephens' business and increasingly he became less a promoter and builder and more a manager. His Salford Terrace office turned from design and construction to centralised accounting and administration, engineering maintenance and oversight. Local management was often limited to a single man in charge (there was a variety of local titles often informal) to oversee day to day operations. Multiple short memos and telegrams and flying visits from Stephens and his outdoor assistants (principally William Austen) and audit visits were designed, usually successfully, to keep local management taut.

Nevertheless Stephens remained a promoter and still managed to build the Ashover Light and the last standard gauge Light Railway, the North Devon &Cornwall Junction (Torrington to Halwill) He was also fighting hard to build the Gower and the Southern Heights line from Orpington to Sanderstead; the latter only finally terminated by his death and the coming of pooling of traffic receipts under the London Passenger Transport Act.

For a very few years after the war, a future for rural railways looked reasonable and with the formation of a new Ministry of Transport, the encouragement of more such railways was a possibility. The Ministry undertook a comprehensive official review of the problems of light railways in which Stephens was heavily involved but this proved inconclusive and the rise of road transport began to kill the need. Survival now became the name of the game. If Stephens had a fault it was that he, like many other railway managers, did not appear to foresee the competition that would come from road transport after WW1, nor the economic depression of the early 1920s. But the fact that most of his lines survived those troubled times is a testament to his skill in organisation and financial control.

Stephens had meanwhile been active in successfully lobbying the Ministry and government to enable light railways to retain their independence from the grouping of railways under the Railways Act 1921. In the event only a handful of these independents took this option, the majority under Stephens' leadership. Stephens strongly held the view that such railways should have separate management or become lost in the oversight of the major railways. To an extent he did prove this, even though his efforts were crippled by lack of capital. He was a tough and innovative manager (for instance on taking control of the Selsey Tramway in 1923 he quickly dismissed the long serving local manager, Phillips, on cost grounds), introducing pioneering i/c railmotors and light shunters and cutting costs. His lines in his latter days may have been run on the proverbial shoestring, but at least they did run and provided a real benefit to the local communities through which they passed. His methods impressed contemporaries and he was, for instance, brought in to save the sinking Festiniog/WHR combine which nearly closed at birth, and kept it going in almost impossible circumstances through the 1920s.

Despite innovative use of limited capital for projects like the famous Stephens' rail motors, independent railways fell into decline and bankruptcy. Ultimately the price of independence from the remote management of the main line companies was poverty, often worse in its effect than neglectful centralised management. Indeed, certainly after Stephens' death and in one case before (the East Kent Light), independence was only ultimately maintained through the financial and practical charity of the principal companies. This effectively disappeared as the railways became part of Government and the rural railway disappeared in the 1950s and 1960s.

Stephens' Promotion, Financial and Management Involvement

In raising capital for the schemes when he was effectively the principal promoter Stephens was nothing if not versatile and certainly opportunistic. The Treasury had largely failed, as with all other 1896 Act projects, to provide any useful amounts of capital, although the ND&CJR was finally built with Treasury funds provided for unemployment relief (as was the Welsh Highland before Stephens became involved) .However, even that success ensured that the Gower Light, which competed for the same funds, would never be built. He often turned his persuasive talents onto the local authorities who stood to benefit from the lines but with limited success.

Private capital was perhaps more readily available before the light railway optimism evaporated and there is some evidence that perhaps the largest and most innovative of insurance companies, the Excess Insurance , was persuaded . More research is however needed in this somewhat murky area. Speculative funds became available for the East Kent Light Railways through the dubious activities of the Group of companies developing the coalfield controlled by Arthur Burr, and the poverty stricken form this company took was due to their failure.

There is also limited evidence of contractor involvement in financing but again more research is needed into this. Stephens himself acted as contractor in this fashion on the S&MR but the source of funds behind this, the Severn Syndicate, is mysterious. He was also involved with fund managers specialising in turning unattractive stocks round, particularly Sidney Herbert. The mainline railways provided only limited support but the Headcorn extension was guaranteed by the S&ECR and the Southern became effective owners of the East Kent in 1926 to revive the company.

Stephens himself, though moderately wealthy through inheritance, was not a substantial investor in his companies, usually only holding enough shares to qualify, if needed, as a director.

He earned his income in a variety of ways, initially through surveying and engineering and consultancy fees but increasingly from management fees. His Salford Terrace business was a personal one and all expenses came to be paid through these fees etc. Many of these fees were paid to him in Debentures and he became a substantial holder of such certificates, for instance at one point he held £26,000 of debentures in the East Kent. He involved his social contacts in investment and in the case of the Selsey Tram he persuaded a friend, H Montague Bates, to buy the tramway in an attempt to rescue it, and became almost sole owner when the shares passed to him. Earlier in 1923 he had personally bought the Snailbeach District and he held virtually all the shares in the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire (which was the operating company for the owner –Shropshire Railways) from inception.

Stephens managed the K&ESR, EKR and S&MR directly from inception and remained engineer, or consulting engineer, for most of the railways he built .He was General Manager of the Weston Clevedon & Portishead from 1909; and Chairman and General Manager of the Festiniog /WHR combine from 1925 (engineer from 1923) and receiver of the WHR from 1927. He was also Chairman of the FR /WHR, the SMR and Selsey for extended periods but was not fond of committee work and generally preferred to leave such duties to others, particularly close acquaintances.

Relationship with other Railwaymen

He was much liked and respected by many senior railwaymen, including arguably the best manager of his generation Sir Herbert Walker (who was quite candid about the poor viability of Stephens' lines) and Walker's successor Gilbert Szlumper was his close friend. Stephens acquired and cultivated a wide circle of such acquaintances and Sir George Barrahell, whom he seems to have met as a senior Treasury official associated with transport issues and who was later Chairman of Dunlop, was his most frequent luncheon companion.

Conclusions

Faced with the problems that Stephens had to face, many would have gladly given up their independence. There is no doubt he was an optimist who put his private money into these railways. The make do and mend of his last years, together with the perceived need to maintain his balance sheet by not disposing of assets, combined with a probable sentimental attachment to some items ,led to the accumulation of obsolete and worthless rolling stock which was perhaps misunderstood. Nevertheless, he kept the railways going.

Stephens was in the last analysis a man of his time and, like the Light Railway Act so associated with him, was perhaps born too late. We should however admire him for his energy and achievement in the circumstances of his heyday and not for the observably crumbling elements of his achievements that were all that was evident to later, and indeed current, generations.

A full CV up to 1918 prepared by Stephens is here

This Article was originally published in the Railway Canal & Historical Society Journal No 200 (2007). It is reprinted on this site in amended form with Thanks and Acknowledgements

Can you help us in our research into Colonel Stephens Works?

Articles on Aspects of His Railways - Other Topics

'The editors intend that this section will have regular articles on individual Colonel Stephens Railways, how they came about and how they were run. The Museum is in being to promote interest and research into his railways. Should you wish to contribute original, suitable and well researched material we will be happy to consider it, just E-mail us.'

The list of Topics Articles is below.


4th May 2011

Holman F Stephens, Promoter and Manager of Model Light Railways

In an article published by the Railway Canal and Historical Society Brian Janes attempted to provide a rounded summation of the achievements of Holman Fred Stephens. Stephens was clearly one of those larger-than-life characters that have grabbed the imagination of railway enthusiasts but Brian asked whether he is remembered for the wrong reasons. It is reproduced here in amended form.


15th August 2008

Standing Alone: Stephens' Policy Of Independence And Its Cost - Parts 1 & 2

Long acknowledged as the champion of light railways, Colonel Stephens was probably largely responsible for ensuring that light railways were given the option of retaining their independence from the Grouping of railways in 1923. With changing economic circumstances this proved unviable and closure and nationalisation became the only way out. Brian Janes outlines the behind the scenes politics and its effects.


15th June 2007

Holman Stephens' Family Tree

This is a revised version of a talk given by Philip Shaw at the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Holman Stephens’ death, which was subsequently published in The Colonel, the journal of the Colonel Stephens Society.


14th August 2006

THE STORY OF LOTTIE JENKINS

'An article by Philip Shaw whose unique knowledge of Holman Stephens, the man and his family reveals that the Colonel had a half-sister who became alienated from the Family'


4th September 2001

WIND AND WATER: Harnessing the free power of the wind to pump water

This article by Tom Burnham appears in the Summer 2001 edition of The Tenterden Terrier.

Part 1: Stephens Fights

By the middle of the Edwardian era Stephens had begun to acquire a substantial collection of railways and managed them from Salford Terrace. This minimised costs whilst leaving local staff to deal with day to day issues. However at national level the voice of small railways’ was not apparent in such a efficient and collective way. He therefore began to attempt to assemble a collective voice with other small independents. The timing was propitious. The larger railways had their Railway Companies’ Association which had been in existence since the 1840s and had recently reorganised to be in a better position to present their case to the incoming Liberal government of 1906.  They were proposing action that would adversely impact railways with proposals for significant legislation involving the railways, in particularly in recognition of trade unions by the railway companies in the aftermath of the landmark ‘Taff Vale’ case.

 Stephens recognition of need for mutual support amongst the many small independent railways was one of the key tenets of his management philosophy throughout his life and he acted. The first indication we have found is a letter to the Festiniog Railway Secretary on 27th May 1907. Stephens explained that at a meeting on 26th April representatives of seven railways (unfortunately not specified but at least four would have been controlled by Stephens) had decided to form an association of such railways with the following objectives

(1) Mutual support generally.

(2) Combined representation to the Government, Board of Trade, and Light Railway Commission,

(3) Combined representation to the Main Line Companies.

(4) Combined action in Test cases,

(5) Information re Technical subjects.

(6) Scheme of combined General Insurance.

(7) Labour questions.

(8) Financial questions.

(9) Standardising general stores with the object of combined purchases if desirable.

(10) Rating and Taxation questions, combined action.

(11) Issue of a quarterly pamphlet giving information as to the proceedings of the Association, and notes on matters of interest to the smaller railways.

(12) Occasional Meetings for the purposes of discussion. Arrangements for the use of small club room in London.

Stephens further proposed that the Association be controlled by a Council consisting of a President, a Vice-president, and four Members who shall be nominated and elected year by year by means of postal Ballot. James Ward Burchell of the firm of Messrs. Burchell, a firm of solicitors in Westminster who had experience of light railway law was to act as Secretary for the first year with Stephens as hon. Organiser.

This Association, if indeed it ever emerged from its embryo at this date seems to have no impact on events and no trace of its activities have yet been found. However Stephens himself henceforth counted 1907 as its founding year. Perhaps the railways he was approaching like the Festiniog itself were fiercely proud of there independence and the thought of working with others even to save costs was seemingly distasteful to them . Light and small railways in the UK never came to terms with collective action or larger service companies such as were found abroad and were the poorer ( literally) for it .

The next foirm knoweledge we have of an association is, by Stephens own account, an initial meeting with several, unspecified, railway companies at some time by mid-1915 (one wonders whether in fact this was the 1907 meeting ) He then stes that this meeting had set up an ‘Association of Minor Railways’ with himself as honorary Secretary. At mid-1915  he approached the Exeter Railway, which was a short, GWR worked, line from Exeter to Ashton. It had the virtue of having a grievance against the GWR and a Chairman, Vincent W Yorke, who was a well-connected City man and Director of the Westminster Bank. It is through this company’s records that  papers from this time have survived. 

A document formally setting up the organisation was circulated in proof in June 1915 and restated the programme in the 1907 Festiniog letter with the key extra proviso to item 2 above

“…also protection of interests in the event of a scheme for the nationalization of Railways being brought forward: also questions arising during controlled period and on the cessation of the same.’’

This is of course Stephens trying to latch onto the concerns of the time in the same way as he did when he first proposed the Association Stephens was most anxious to get Yorke involved and wrote ‘I may tell you that the question of a subscription is immaterial’. This was an echo of the Festiniog letter. Influence was more important to Stephens than cash.

Stephens then used the final outcome of the Biddenden court case as a pretext to write around to many railways using the document as a recruiting flyer.

He also wrote to his close acquaintance, Sir Herbert Walker, at the time the acting Chairman of the Government’s Railway Executive Committee that ran all the railways of Britain in wartime, to alert him to the formation of the Association. On 31st August 1915 he wrote

‘’ My Dear Walker,

I also send you for your private information some particulars of the Association of Minor Railways which has been formed.

It is rather a job for me to work at it as I should like to as I am mobilised.

However it passes the time o’ nights.

Yours Very Truly

H F Stephens’’

In a letter to the Exeter Railway in October Stephens claimed that several companies had joined the Association but, possibly due to his military commitments, any trace of the Association now disappears for some months.

New Threats

In May 1918 we can pick up the threads again when Stephens proposes a new recruitment letter and circular to be sent out to 83 British and Irish (Southern Ireland was of course not separated till 1922) independent Railways signed by the Chairman of 12 Companies (1). By June 1918 the Association had 15 members with F Ullmer of the Shropshire Railways (which were controlled by the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire which Stephens effectively owned) as its Secretary. Stephens and his associates were in the driving seat of the Association and were to remain so, although with important contributions from C E Drewett of the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway and W T D Grundy, the General Manager of the Derwent Valley Railway. Initially Yorke, and probably others, must have also been active till the events of 1920 (see below). By now the Association was renamed ‘The Association of Railways’

The underlying reason for the revitalisation of the Association was that although the War was still raging (indeed the last massive German offensive was only just being halted) eyes were turning to reorganising the railways after the War. The June circular stated

“It is felt that if the railways are ‘controlled’ the Board of Trade [soon to be Ministry of Transport –Ed] should be approached as to their position after the crisis, if they are not ‘controlled’ the government should be approached for assistance if necessary. It seems essential that assistance should be secured from the government in order that the companies might have reasonable protection after a termination of the present crisis.

‘’ The Railway Companies Association is engaged in looking after the interests of the larger companies which interests are not in all respects identical with those of the ‘lesser undertakings’, it is in direct touch with the government.

‘’It is most desirable that companies should band themselves together for defensive purposes, in the event of a proposal for Nationalisation, or even a form of Control, being brought forward by the government hereafter.”

Stephens’s precious independence was threatened.

Influencing Events

With the Association now properly established it began to make some impact on Government. In summer 1918 a Parliamentary Select Committee had been formed to study transport. As early as August 1918 H Bonham Carter, at the Ministry of Reconstruction, had written to the Committee Chairman ‘few [light railways] are commercially successful concerns, although several are well worked, notably those by Colonel H F Stephens of Robertsbridge’. In November the Committee recommended that all the railways be brought into a unified control; although Light and other smaller Railways were not specifically mentioned. By Early 1919 the Government set out to implement change and introduced a Bill to set up a Ministry of Ways and Communications (soon changed to the simpler Transport) with the full power and structure to run the railways centrally itself. The authoritarian Sir Eric Geddes was appointed to run it. The Times later compared him to a ‘’pike in a carp pond stirring up all the little fishes [and] gobbling up a good deal [of them]’’ Light railways were to come specifically under his remit.

The Association got to work both behind the scenes and in Parliament .In the Commons debate on the Bill in March, Geddes was quite rude about the more primitive sort of light railway, proposing road transport to meet such needs. So on April 4 in the Bill Committee there were moves by several MPs (Messrs Green, Marshall Stephens and Joynson Hicks) to remove light railways from the new Ministry’s remit. A promise was made to review the situation and status of light railways. In those days such a commitment had meaning.

The battle was joined. Stephens had written to Yorke the previous day

“I have been asked to write to you and ascertain if you will agree to be co-opted on the Parliamentary Committee of this Association.

‘’Two members have responded owing to the fact that they do not reside in London it is desirable to have a member who is available for meetings in London without inconvenience.

‘’ I am glad to say that our efforts greatly assisted the fight to get Clause 4 of the Transport Bill (3) withdrawn by the government and Sir Eric Geddes has agreed to receive a deputation from the Association at an early date.”

Yorke accepted and in his thank you letter Stephens commented

‘’Geddes is quite unsympathetic with the minor lines and this means his people are putting all the things they can to oppose the claims of the smaller companies and to get hold of them at break-up prices.

‘’Your friends at Paddington are not the best of settlers in a purchase deal I fear.”

Behind the scenes Stephens was also at work. Can it be co-incidence that at this time the Eccentric Club, of which Stephens and his close associate Jeremiah MacVeigh were prominent Members, entertained the entire Railway Executive Committee at its premises in Ryder Street and the future of railways was reported as being discussed?

With the powers of the Ministry of Transport settled it got down to work. During the War the Board of Trade had established a Railways Advisory Panel in addition to the Railway Executive Committee. Although apparently superfluous, this Panel must have influenced the powers that be, for when the new Ministry was created it was required to establish advisory committees for all sectors of transport including one for Light Railways.

Stephens now wrote to Yorke on 20th September 1919

“Sir Eric Geddes has asked the committee [of the Association] to nominate some persons with practical knowledge of location and administration of secondary railways and it is suggested that Mr C E Drewitt [sic] of the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway and myself should be nominated to render any assistance that Sir Eric may require.

‘’Do you agree to this please?

‘’It is as well that the Association should be in close touch with the Ministry of Transport without doubt as otherwise we stand but little chance of getting any inside information. The Railway Companies Association will give us none of course.”

Yorke must have by this time become Chairman of the Association for Stephens to address him thus.

Geddes stated in Parliament in May 1920 that the Light Railways Committee had been appointed in March (arrangements had been finalised in January) but had not met. In the meantime its members had been asked to inquire into the operation of Light Railways (see below). In practice all the transport Advisory Committees seem to have been little used and I have been unable to locate any records of a formal meeting of the Light Railways Advisory Committee. It was of itself however already virtually irrelevant because of other moves behind the scenes.

Success

Geddes, who was noted for his authoritarian, pushy nature was probably becoming irritated by the gnat bites of special interest pleading for light railways .He cut the Gordian knot by deciding, probably in November 1919, to exclude Light railways from the re-organisation that we now know as The Grouping. His Director General of Traffic (a typical Geddes title this!), Sir Philip Nash, after wide consultation within the senior officers of the Department, wrote to Stephens:

“There remains the question as to the organisation which will be necessary for the purposes of co-ordination of Light Railway systems, when or if a system of grouping the main railway companies is adopted as the solution of the railway problem at the end of two years. It is thought that in the event of the main line railways being grouped it will be found more convenient to exclude light railway undertakings from such groups, particularly in regard to ownership, although possibly for operation the group railway may conveniently undertake the same in certain instances. Under such conditions of exclusions it will be necessary for light railway interests as a whole to be co-ordinated, and the Light Railway Advisory Committee, which is now suggested, could then be enlarged to include all such Light Railway undertakings as are not covered by the main line groups.

‘’If the suggestions now made in regard to the formation of a Light Railway Advisory Committee to represent such Light Railway undertakings as are not now represented in the Railway Clearing House, appear to you as a suitable proposition, I would suggest that you should get to work and formulate definite proposals to that end to be placed before the Minister.”

The decision to exclude Light Railways was formalised when a clumsily titled and poorly written, but concise, four page Government White Paper came out in June 1920. Entitled ‘Outline of proposals as to the future organisation of transport undertakings in Great Britain and their relation to the state’ it set out the proposals for future groupings of the main line railways. It stated

“In each case the new group would absorb any independent broad [i.e. Standard -ed] gauge lines within its area, but railways which may be classified as ‘light’, whether existing or future, will be wholly excluded from this grouping arrangement…”

“… It is proposed to exclude Light Railways from the grouping arrangements. Light Railways must rely largely for their prosperity and development upon the goodwill and assistance of the main line companies… It is essential [however] that they should have no grounds for fearing competition from [Light Railway Companies]. It should therefore be provided that if the Light Railway is changing character and is in fact becoming an ordinary railway or is competing for main line traffic, the group company may absorb the Light Railway on fair terms…”

“The construction and management of Light Railways … should be in the hands of separate undertakings… The policy of grouping Light Railway systems so far as possible as a means of securing economy in management, maintenance, repairs etc is considered wise and experience has already shown that this can be done successfully.”

This must have been music to Stephens’ ears and the last sentence icing on the cake – direct praise for Stephens’ methods that he might have written himself.

Geddes was clearly closely engaged in writing this most personal White Paper and the direct reference strongly suggests that Stephens had been bending exalted ears. Stephens had certainly made friends in the Department itself. General Sir Philip Nash, the Director General of Traffic, was close enough to Stephens to send him a note of thanks for the pot of cream he had sent him! The Director of Finance and Statistics, Sir George Beharrell - a long term associate of Geddes - became a friend of Stephens and was his first choice luncheon companion . Working directly with Beharrell was one John Pike, later to be a director and chairman of several Stephens' lines

Setback

Unfortunately, soon after this victory, Stephens suffered a setback for his Association and his desire for a world filled with independent small railways. The crushing financial power of the big companies was beginning to be felt. Those small railways who were already worked by the bigger companies or who were financially weak saw a way out of their management and financial problems. These companies did not share Stephens’ enthusiasm for independence and foresaw that their future was to be absorbed by the Groups. By July 1920 several of these railways had formed what was effectively a breakaway ‘Association of Smaller Railways’. This was led by the likes of Sir Sam Fay of the Freshwater, Yarmouth & Newport (and at that time still GM of the Great Central and just out of a very senior War Office job) and Sidney Herbert of the Stratford on Avon and Midland Junction Railway, a noted financier who profited by turning round share prices of minor railways.

The new association focussed aggressively on financial matters in the run up to Grouping and met Geddes on several occasions. Stephens, with huge magnanimity, not to say generosity, suggested to the Exeter Railway that its best interest now lay with the new Association. It must have come very hard for Stephens after fighting the independent corner so successfully. Yorke and the Exeter Railway faded out of Stephens’ purview although they had before them a stiff and influential fight with the GWR before being absorbed.

Geddes had been clear about the need to exclude Light Railways that he considered as irrelevant to his wider purpose but there was still infighting in the industry and his officials had difficulty sorting out the sheep from the goats amongst minor railways. What was the definition of an independent light railway? As late as January 1921 the Ministry’s Traffic Department was trying to draw up categories and in frustration was suggesting that most should be included in the groups, or, in extremis, be operated as Light Railways Group. This confusion persisted in the first draft of subsequent legislation. Behind the scenes however each railway seemed to be finding its own salvation. For instance the prosperous Burry Port & Gwendreath Valley Railway, that Stephens had so successfully reconstructed, was told by the Ministry of Transport that it could remain independent but the GWR’s terms were too tempting.

Strangely a member of the founding group of the ‘Smaller Railways’, the Festiniog, ultimately remained ungrouped, whereas Stephens’ close ally, the Lynton and Barnstable, became part of the Southern after some behind the scenes deals with the London South Western Railway management. But that, as they say, is another tale. The new grouped companies subsequently absorbed most of this breakaway Association’s members so it had a short life and was last recorded in 1922.

Looking to the Future

Stephens’ Association had already achieved, in public, its primary objective and despite the Ministry’s internal qualms there was very little attempt by other interested parties to change the Governments mind and attempt to include Light Railways in the Groups. But there was still work to do. Stephens presented what was for him a long paper to Nash in the run up to the legislation, which was considered in depth. He now concentrated on more detailed financial questions like compensation for the period of Government control. It seems he and the rival Association together may well have been influential in securing what was a relatively good deal for the independents. He was also concerned about charging powers (and gave evidence in person to a government panel) in case it lessened light railways income, local authorities’ powers to lend to small railways and the powers of large companies to take over independents. Jeremiah MacVeagh, who was an MP, spoke for the light railway case during both the Second Reading and Report Stage of the Railways Act 1921 that implemented the White Paper proposals

Elsewhere Stephens and his Association continued to have influence on the new Ministry’s thinking. As will be recalled the members of the Light Railway Advisory Committee were asked to serve on a new committee that came to be called the Light Railways (Investigation) Committee to review light railways and their legislation. And they were an illustrious company Very senior Ministry people dominated the Committee. Sir Alexander Gibb, Director General of Civil Engineering and also head of one of the largest consulting engineers in the world; his deputy Mr Bradford Leslie previously an Indian railways engineer ;Sir John Aspinall the Ministry’s Consulting Engineer and one of the few locomotive engineers to rise to be GM and Director of a major railway (the Lancashire and Yorkshire) who had a long-standing interest in light railways; V M Barrington Ward the Director of Railway Operations Branch and later knighted after being a senior officer with the LNER and on the Board of the British Transport Commission (British Railways); Col. J W Pringle Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways and Col. J A S Gray an assistant director. Stephens had with him Messrs Drewett, Grundy and A H Loring (Chairman, East Kent Railways). The final member was a Mr E W Oakley, of the Saundersfoot Railway & Harbour Co

The Committee reviewed all the Light Railway companies in Great Britain and Ireland, and technical and financing aspects thereof, meeting regularly from April to July1920. It is clear from correspondence that Stephens was central to the operations of the Committee. He advised in several areas and wanted Light Railways to be defined (always a hazardous exercise) as Railways of Local Interest (heavily influenced here by the French term ‘Chemins de Fer Intérèt Local’), a term that would have stood the test of time. One of the findings of the Committee was that many Light Railways were often efficiently run but weighted down by heavy construction costs.

Unfortunately matters conspired against the effectiveness of the Committee. The Ministry was under heavy fire for being overbearing and officious and Geddes was to leave the political scene after the passing of the Railways Act. As we have seen, the Groups swept in many independents .The Irish independents went their own way to be grouped in the Great Southern Railways in 1925. Road transport was moving into the ascendant and 1922 was a catastrophic year for branch and light railways as traffic decamped to the roads. As Geddes had foreseen, the days of light railway expansion, and even need, were done.

Hollow Victory

In the whole Grouping saga Stephens had fought hard and won a major battle but he had lost the war. The Groups were not going to let any new independent railways become established if they could help it. Most of Stephens’ railways were either to fall under the influence of the Main Line companies or fail in the next twenty years. Even Stephens’ great projects of the 1920s, the ND&CJLR, the Gower Peninsular Light, the Worcester and Broome, the Newport and Four Ashes and the Southern Heights, were all designed to be worked by those companies. At the very end of his life Stephens was forced by circumstances to try to negotiate with the GWR and LMS to jointly or separately work the Festiniog and Welsh Highland railways. A complete reversal of the position taken 10 years before. Independence certainly had a price.

The Aftermath and Decline

Stephens Association still had life in it. Entries in the Railways Year Book commenced in 1921 when its influence was at its peak. According to the Year Book entries it ‘’… was formed in 1912 in the interests of the smaller railway companies not party to the Railway Companies Association, with the object of co-ordinating action and realising mutual support in the event of the nationalisation of railways. Also in regard to combined representation to the main line companies, schemes of combined insurance, standardisation of stores etc. In 1914 it was decided to extend the functions of the Association to include questions that had arisen during the period of Government control and with the cessation thereof, so far as the controlled undertakings represented in the membership of the association were concerned.’’

Stephens seems to have been elaborating for effect; if the Association existed in 1912 it was only in his own head.

In 1921 its Officers were listed as Chairman: A.H.Loring: Council: C.E.Drewett, W.T.D.Grundy, Lt Col H.F.Stephens, Hon Secretary R.Ullmer Address: 12 St Helens Place, Bishopsgate, London. The secretary later moved to 16, Devonshire Square E.C.2 situated in an unfashionable part of the city off ‘Petticoat Lane’. This personnel was largely unchanged till 1927 and even though the Lynton & Barnstable had lost its independence Drewett continued to serve in a personal capacity. Then H Montague Bates and Jeremiah MacVeagh, Stephens close associates, took over, as the council members and A Chick became secretary. By this time it was very much Stephens personal committee although 20 railways were claimed as members. In 1929 the ever interested Grundy came back, Stephens had finally taken the Chair and renamed the group with his now favoured title ‘The Association of Railways of Local Interest’. Over the next few years death took its harvest, and membership and the Secretariat then circulated amongst Stephens’ friends, heirs and employees.

Meaningful work was still being undertaken. We can see from surviving records that Stephens still had good relations with the Ministry with his projects and concerns. The last papers I have so far been able to trace that show active lobbying are from 1928 in connection with the Railways (Road Transport) Bill. There was probably a lot more activity but the papers now seem lost.


Part 2: Austen Lays Down The Burden

Independence Fades Away

By the time of Colonel Stephens’ death in October 1931, none of his railways had closed but most were in deep trouble. From the early twenties even his economy and management expertise had been unable to staunch the outflow of passengers and light goods to the roads. Now, with the Depression, the businesses were on a knife-edge. William H Austen had started his takeover with Stephens’ first illness in 1930 and brought with him a less optimistic view to running the railways. Nevertheless, as a true and faithful servant he used his not inconsiderable skills to keep the empire going wherever possible.

Stephens’ management of the narrow gauge Festiniog and Welsh Highland Railways had staved off closure in the 1920s and during 1930/31 Tonbridge had nearly managed, through the use of government political pressure, to offload the lines onto the LMS and GWR jointly. This was foiled at the last hurdle by the local councils (which both effectively controlled and benefited from the lines) refusing to guarantee against the inevitable losses. These railways then drifted away from Tonbridge’s management, sustained for a time by increasing summer tourist traffic and living off what little fat still remained. Austen finally threw in the towel in September 1936 in protest against vital maintenance staff redundancies, saying ‘…as long as the wheels turn round today that is all that matters [to you], no consideration for tomorrow’. Truly a Stephensonian riposte.

Of the other narrow gauges lines, the little Snailbeach District was, after ten years of struggle, turning into a successful, if limited, enterprise based on transporting roadstone. The Rye and Camber was living on the shoestring of summer traffic and, as far as Tonbridge was concerned, the Ashover was by now simply an engineering consultancy sustained by the friendship of the owning family.

The under-resourced Selsey, despite a notable effort to get the Southern Railway to take it over and rebuild it, was to succumb all too rapidly to a very frequent service of comfortable modern buses. It closed in 1935 to the accompaniment of much continuing nostalgia but little hardship for locals or holidaymakers.

Tonbridge’s core businesses; the Kent & East Sussex, Shropshire & Montgomeryshire, East Kent and the Weston, Clevedon & Portishead railways continued in emaciated form. Passenger traffic had virtually disappeared except for the summer traffic on the WC&P. Three of the railways were however sustained by mineral traffic, roadstone in the case of the S&MR and the WC&P, coal the EKR. General agricultural traffic could be considerable on the K&ESR and the EKR but was very seasonal. Receivership soon overtook the K&ESR and S&MR; the WC&P had been that way since before Stephens had taken over. Nevertheless with some help from the mainline railways, in the form of deferred debts, they continued. However in many areas the track had became almost dangerously worn. Austen had in fact suggested to the directors of the K&ESR in 1938 that early closure would be inevitable without some relaying. Fortunately track materials were made available by the Southern on easy terms.

Phoenix Rising

With Stephens’ death the Association of Railways of Local Interest petered out. Austen had great problems sorting out Stephens’ affairs and many of his close associates died. The need for the smaller railways to consult together was also perhaps not as apparent in the early thirties as they struggled with the Depression, road completion and subsequent receivership or closure. The last Yearbook entry was for the 1933/34 edition issued in July 1933.

However this was not to be the end of the local railways co-operation. The road threat to the railways continued to increase, they were fighting the ‘Fair Deal’ campaign against road transport and there was further talk in the air of nationalisation. Stephens’ ideas of collective support regained its force and in October 1938 a meeting lead to the formation (some may say reformation) of an Association of Minor Railway Companies. It seems the moving force in this was that stalwart of the earlier Stephens’ association the Derwent Valley Light Railway, and in particular its General Manager and later Chairman, S J Reading. It had largely the same membership as the earlier organisation. The new body met as occasion demanded, with a lot of work behind the scenes by officers, till around 1952.

The Association now became virtually moribund but remained in the custodianship of the DVR. However the need to group together for mutual support in the face of Government was still potent and with the rise of a new group of railways, what we now know as Heritage Railways, its time had come again. In 1970 Allan Garraway, of the Festiniog Railway, set about reviving the organisation with the help of Derwent Valley officers. Becoming the Association of Independent Railways in 1988 it later merged with the Association of Railway Preservation Societies to become today’s Heritage Railways Association – a name familiar to us all.

May we therefore claim that Colonel Stephens was not only the primary architect of small railway independence after 1923 but also Godfather of today’s Heritage Railway Association?

The Government Steps In

Nationalisation of the Railways was being considered by the Ministry as early as November 1940 as part of an integrated transport policy that was seen, in particular, as a solution to the problems all railways had experienced in the 1930s, despite the palliative of the Grouping of 1923. Matters matured and with the incoming Labour administration in 1945 nationalisation became a fact.

The Transport Act 1947, in all its transport-enclosing glory, had powers to acquire all railway undertakings and initially listed those railways (virtually all) that had been brought under government control at the outbreak of war in September 1939 following secret considerations earlier in the year. In May 1939 the senior railway managers in the form of the Railway Executive Committee (REC), behind closed doors, had decided what minor railways should be included amongst those to be brought under government control in time of war. They subsequently articulated their key criteria as:

(1) Can a railway continue to run if it is not controlled? And
(2) Is its traffic essential for the prosecution of the war?

The results were necessarily somewhat subjective. Later, an assistant rightly pointed out in a note to Sir William Wood (the LMS President who sat on the Committee) that in equity independent minor lines should have and should continue to be treated no differently from minor lines worked by the main companies. In the event the only important minor railways that were not worked by the major companies, which came under control, were the Kent & East Sussex Railway, East Kent Railway and the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Railway, all ‘Stephens group’ light railways It was their temporary salvation, for they would have closed in whole or part had control not been imposed.

Another of the Stephens’ lines The Weston, Clevedon & Portishead was a significant marginal case which has been outlined elsewhere. Suffice to say that when the Government took control of the railways on 1st September 1939 the WC&P was excluded and it was closed in 1940.

The Kent lines continued their principal rural transport role, whilst also entertaining the military’s defence requirements, but the S&MR underwent the greatest change. Its war started with a real scare: declining traffic and deteriorating track forced the directors to consider shutting and lifting the central section from Kinnerley to Moele Brace. A firm decision to do this was made in June 1940, but in October the Military intervened. They quickly moved in and formally took over the railway from June 1941 to serve a series of ordnance storage areas that spread right along the main line. The central section of railway that had been proposed for closure was largely re-laid and became very busy, with 12 engines in steam each day and heavy trains, amongst which the remaining civilian goods traffic squeezed its way.

With the end of the War the new Labour Government made railway nationalisation a high priority. All controlled lines were to be swept into the net. There was to be no re-run of Stephens’ epic campaign after the First World War to retain independence. Men and machines were exhausted anyway. It was more a case of doting ‘I’s and crossing ‘T’s.

The Railways were to be run by the newly established Railway Executive (RE), a body that effectively emerged from the wartime Railway Executive Committee. Exercising overall control over all nationalised transport was the British Transport Commission (BTC), and it was they who initiated enquiries about the acquisition of the minor railways that had been, happily or otherwise, going about their business free of the State since 1939. To jump slightly ahead of our story, the newly formed British Transport Commission and the Railway Executive (trading as British Railways) considered whether they should mop up the previously uncontrolled odds and ends of the railway system that survived the war by, as they were empowered to do, absorbing these minor lines. The two, just surviving, remnants of Stephens’ former empire were discussed and dismissed in November 1948. The Festiniog was noted as carrying many summer passengers before the war but was in such a poor physical state that the heavy expenditure required made acquisition of ‘no advantage’. The Snailbeach was noted as of use to Shropshire County Council for roadstone but that ‘the railway should not be acquired’ .Two other railways that Stephens had engineered, the Edge Hill and the Ashover, were also considered but the former had of course never fully opened and was derelict. The Ashover still carried much limestone, but was worn out, and was noted as ‘being considered for conversion’ to standard gauge as far as the main line at Stretton. It was therefore cynically noted that if the line was not acquired, this would give the main line additional traffic without expenditure by British Railways.

Still, there were some flashes of the old independence. Austen and his Chairman were strongly attracted to a possibility that arose in August 1946 to take over the operation of the S&MR from the military. This involved employing 120 plus staff against the dozen or so pre-war employees (although the railway had employed around 70 in its heyday), but the imminence of nationalisation caused a fatal pause and the line was nationalised with the Army retaining operational control. However, the Stephens’s legacy of service to the community still endured. Melverley Bridge, over the river Severn, on the still civilian and relatively busy Criggion branch carrying roadstone, was severely damaged in the winter of 1945. The S&MR Coal engines that were specifically retained for the branch could no longer use it and fell out of use, with the Criggion quarry company’s Sentinel shunter used instead. Austen however persuaded the Ministry of Transport in July 1947 not only to accord the replacement of the bridge high priority at a time of material shortages but to loan the company the cash (it finally cost around £23,000) to do it! This of course he did in the certain knowledge that the newly nationalised railways would have to pay the bill. Later, the great white chief in charge of all nationalised transport, Sir Cyril (later Lord) Hurcomb, expressed retrospective dislike of the decision of the Ministry, even though at the time of the decision he had actually been its head civil servant, but could do nothing. Perhaps the more junior official who took the decision knew better than he, for the bridge still serves to this day as an invaluable road bridge for the local community.

Break-up

In due course Salford Terrace were notified that they were to be pulled into the bureaucratic maw and became part of British Railways. However by the end of the War the centre of the empire at Tonbridge was a tired place and when nationalisation was proposed there seems to have been a sense of relief arising from a burden lifted. The railways were still theoretically controlled by the Government and although for a brief period there was a prospect of a prosperous and independent S&MLR running military traffic under contract that dream soon faded. Difficult times loomed for the two Kent railways and the staff were ageing (William Austen was 69 in 1947) and looking for an easier life.

Austen was however using the personal and friendly contacts established over the years with senior Southern officers to smooth the way. This affinity was clearly demonstrated when on 3 and 4 December 1947 the necessary letters were sent out to spell the end of Stephens’ Empire. Two, to the Shropshire Railways (the owner of the railway worked by the S&MR) and North Devon & Cornwall Junction Railway, were sent to the Secretaries J A Iggleden and his opposite number H L Brazier (at Waterloo) from someone in the Railway Executive Secretary’s office and were soullessly bureaucratic. However, those to Austen for the core companies came from Sir Eustace Missenden, the designated Chairman, and were extremely warm, beginning ‘My Dear Austen’ and ending ‘Yours Very Truly ‘. Austen, in a private reply, conveyed the air of wearily setting the burden down saying:

‘In a very few months from now, all being well, I shall have reached my three score and ten , and need hardly say , for health and other reasons, I am most anxious to sever my connections with these undertakings as soon as can possibly be conveniently arranged. I have the confidence to know that you will do all in your power with such object in view’

His friends met his wishes, but not immediately, for he was retained as a well appreciated consultant for 18 months, being paid £1675 a year, and finally leaving in June 1949. Further, being non-pensionable, he was released with a farewell payment of £400, arranged by the Railway Executive itself under the personal direction of one of the Executive, W P ‘ Bill’ Allen (ex ASLEF), no less, after some considerable internal consultation, so that it was tax free. He also picked up a £50 fee for his directorship of the S&MR which had taken 18 months to wind up.

So came an honourable retirement for a man who had seen Stephens’ Empire rise and fall. And there was to be a further bonus: Stephens’ estate had been owed £1,947/18/8 for rolling stock since before the KESR receivership in 1932. Now the railway was nationalised and not therefore technically insolvent, the ingenious and persistent Iggleden, despite his employment by BR, spotted that due to a technicality, the money could be reclaimed. He was quite unrelenting (being called at one point ‘most offensive’) but despite great wriggling by the BTC and the obtaining by them of Counsel’s opinion he got the money. A nice little earner split four ways between Stephens’ beneficiaries.

What do we have here?

Even though there was now to be a unified national railway the officers of the old major grouped company were still ruling the roost and were to do so for many years. The interest in the small fry by Paddington, which was to take in the S&MLR, was minimal especially as it was effectively in Military hands. However many years of close association with the Southern did bring a fair degree of interest in the Kent pair. The new management did start to give their futures some attention and on 9 January 1948, nine days after Nationalisation came into effect, Austen’s position and salary were confirmed in an acting capacity. Inspections of the new assets were undertaken on 4 February. A detailed inspection was made of the K&ESR and EKR by the Regional civil engineer on 28 and 30 January respectively and they were summarised by him, probably correctly, as ‘very poor’, although his concept of a light railway was probably very different to that of the Stephens’ camp. He maintained his stance on this and wanted to spend nearly £½ m on the two lines (£293K on the K&ESR and £161K on the EKLR) if they remained open .He took over the railways on 3 May ( which was the general date of actual takeover) but was still comparing the likely high maintenance of the two lines with the Torrington-Halwill (ND&CJR) in 1949 ; which either shows that Stephens who engineered them all had raised his standards or the engineer didn’t know as much as he claimed The Mechanical Engineers department woke up a little later and reported on 10 March that virtually all the rolling stock of both railways, with the exception of the recently arrived ex LSWR bogie coaches and some equally recently arrived wagons on both railways, should be scrapped . Perhaps surprisingly of the locomotives , only the K&ESR’s Beattie saddle tank No 4 was for the chop, although the others soon went, leaving that great survivor ‘Bodiam’ to soldier on . O V S Bulleid personally approving all this action.

Inaction by Paddington caused Austen to write to the Westerns CRO, K W C Grand, on 6 April that he and the staff were still running the S&MLR but it took until May for them to fully react, by which time the Southern had already made arrangements for the Salford Terrace staff. Much of the discussion at Nationalisation was naturally concerned with staffing about reconciling the rigid rules then placed on the Government and Railways by war and the Unions and the employment conditions arising there from, and somewhat different from the views that Colonel Stephens had on employment and pay. These were naturally settled in favour of the higher cost mainline options.

What do we do with them?

The overall theme of much of the early meetings by BR was that the Kent lines might be closed but it was thought in April that ' it was generally considered that [closure] would not be good policy to adopt so soon after the nationalisation... of the railways and would bring forth an outcry from the public ‘. This thinking was modified slightly when a study of the EKLR revealed that it carried less than one passenger a day and the line lost its passenger traffic on 30 October 1948 and Shepherdswell engine shed closed. However by that time more positive thinking had taken over.

In a meeting in August with the head organisation of all nationalised transport, the British Transport Commission (BTC), during an attempt to value the railway the Southern had summed up the traffic prospects of the K&ESR as:

‘This line runs through a rich agricultural district and freight traffic is now at a substantially higher level than before the war. I see no reason why this level of traffic should not be maintained. Passenger traffic is very light, partly due to the very poor passenger service, and it is hoped that by divorcing the passenger service from the freight service and possibly by increasing the passenger service, the longer distance passenger traffic from Tenterden to London could be increased’ .The East Kent was of course almost entirely dependent on the prospects for coal.

In November 1948 the Engineer laid plans for ‘developing' the railways. On the KESR this was to involve everything from the absurd: shortening all platforms to 120 foot (St Michaels was to be reduced to 12 feet!!); to the essential: installing Elsan chemical toilets for station staff (passengers now had facilities on many of the trains). Frittenden Road was to shut completely. Needless to say little was done although the carriage shed at Rolvenden was demolished as planned. Strangely the locomotive shed at Shepherdswell was to be maintained although virtually all other structures on the railway, such as they were, were to be demolished and some of this work was carried out .The civil engineers over-ambitious plans were finally shelved for the 1950 season leaving a basic infrastructure that was to remain until closures progressed in the early 1950s.

The Commercial Section too worked on developing the K&ESR. Picking up the comments made to the BTC earlier, they pointed out that Tenterden then had six direct bus services daily from Tenterden to London .In an attempt to compete they had introduced day excursion bookings from 17 November and accelerated timings of Tenterden -Headcorn services by 5 minutes to 30 minutes. Quite how much through traffic to London was anticipated is problematic, especially against the cheaper through buses, but in truth passenger traffic on this section was and remained minimal even after this greatly enhanced service was introduced. Nevertheless it continued until closure on 2nd January 1954.

The final paper on the takeover file at the National Archive is a reply to a request from the Chairman of the BTC no less, the great - in his eyes anyway - Lord Hurcomb who wanted to see the K&ESR’s traffic returns. The end was in sight.

Elegy

In the difficult process of surrendering independence the Southern and Sir John Elliot in particular had shown themselves very sympathetic. His warm dealings with Austen have already been recorded but they extended even to the more humble. To take a case Albert Osborne of whom Austen said ,after attempting to describing his none too specific Salford Terrace duties, ‘To cut a long story short he was the late Colonel Stephens’ batman and in those days acted as chainman and general odd [sic]man ….Personally I do nor know what particular post I would recommend as being suitable.. he might however be useful on Stores’ .Waterloo came up with the idea of employing him as a stores labourer in Tonbridge shed and although Osborne’s pride was hurt by the Union imposed term ‘labourer‘ a small pay rise soften the blow and he accepted. A little later he seems to have found a more congenial post as crossing keeper at Stonegate.

Austen’s farewell to Salford Terrace was elegiac. In a letter of 3 June 1948 he said:

‘ These offices have now been entirely cleared of all that appertaining to the Kent & East Sussex, East Kent, Shropshire & Montgomeryshire and other little railways all of which have during the last 50 odd years been bred , born and controlled within its walls and which is finally being closed on Saturday next.’

Perhaps the old regime’s ghostly remains still lingered midst the encroaching bureaucracy and darkening future for the penultimate document in the files on the takeover was a letter from the Southern’s Chief Regional Engineer to the Chief Regional Officer no less, giving a return of the profit from apples sold from the little orchard at Shepherdswell that lingered from the days before the EKR came. They were sold to staff at a profit of £14/4/3. I am sure the Colonel would have approved.

This article is an edited version of a series of articles that appeared in The Tenterden Terrier , House Magazine of the Kent and East Sussex Railway.

Sources
National Archives (PRO) papers particularly PRO AN13/1373, 1376 and 1377, AN 157 360-2, RAIL 622, RAIL1057/191 and MT49 (the Geddes Papers)
Railway Amalgamations in Great Britain, W E Simnett, RG 1923
Railway Gazette Parliamentary reports
Railway Magazine
Colonel Stephens Railway Museum Archive
Allan Garraway
Philip Shaw
Tom Burnham

Over a period of seven years, I have compiled a family tree for Holman F Stephens starting with his great grandfather. It has not been easy as his father, Frederick George Stephens, may have deliberately attempted to conceal some murky aspects of the family history.

Also research has also been hampered due to the fact that there is no published biography of Fred Stephens, even though he was an original member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, so notable in Art history. Further the entry for him in the new edition of the Dictionary of National Biography merely perpetuates existing errors. Alas, Holman Stephens failed to obtain an entry in the Dictionary, despite submissions being made to the publishers for his inclusion.

Documentation of the early history of the Stephens family is confined to a short biographical sketch of F G Stephens contained in a monograph published privately by Holman Stephens entitled Frederick George Stephens and the Pre-Raphaelite Brothers. This work consists mainly of reproductions of paintings in his father’s art collection. Holman Stephens states that his grandfather, Septimus Stephens came from Aberdeen and that his great grandfather was called Octavius Stephens and came from Dublin. Septimus Stephens himself, however, claimed on the 1851 census that he came from Manchester and my researches show that this is much more likely to be correct. So why should he have put round the Aberdeen story, or perhaps he didn’t? The International Genealogical index (which is not by any means definitive) shows only one Septimus Stephens born in England during our period and none from Scotland. It contains no references at all to an Octavius Stephens, so perhaps he did not exist. It is much more likely that our Septimus’s parents were John, a gardener, and Mary who came from Prestwich in the Manchester area. They certainly had a son named Septimus, born in 1784 or 1786, and another child called Ralph, born in 1791.

stephens_family_tree

Click on the tree above for a larger version in PDF format

Court records show that a Septimus Stephens was convicted of embezzling money at the quarter sessions in Salford in 1807 and sentenced to two years imprisonment at Lancaster Castle. The location is quite feasible, because at that time Manchester did not have its own quarter sessions. We know that our Septimus Stephens moved to London in about 1818 and in the 1820’s was a tavern keeper at the Cock & Lion Coffee house in St Michaels Alley, Cornhill but by 1825 was bankrupt. To this day, there is a tavern on the site called the George & Vulture. F G Stephens was born at Cornhill, possibly at the Cock & Lion, but he told the world at large that he came from Walworth, a smart London suburb at the time, which he moved to in 1850 when he was 22. Being a Pre-Raphaelite meant that one had to have a reasonable address and pedigree.

Septimus was undoubtedly a “jack of all trades”. He and his second wife Dorothy were Master and Matron of the Strand Union Workhouse from 1836 to 1839. Surviving correspondence shows that in 1837 he was the subject of an investigation into alleged interference with the contractor for linen drapery and hosiery at the workhouse, but no action was taken. After he resigned from the workhouse in 1839 was in trouble again by 1841, as the census for that year shows him serving a sentence at the County Gaol of Surrey in Newington; which a London Gazette entry shows was for debt. Septimus then became a butcher (‘porkman’) and then a general dealer (‘chapman’), a land agent and lodging house keeper. He was listed again as in gaol for debt in 1853.

Apart from Frederick he had four other children. These were Mary Ann, born at the Tower of London, where he apparently had business and Henry, Eliza and Helen, who were all born in Cornhill. Mary Ann married Robert Warren, proprietor of Warren’s Patent Blacking factory, immortalised by Charles Dickens, who was put to work there as a child and hated every moment of it. This was subsequently mirrored in David Copperfield, which is, of course, a biographical sketch of Dickens at this period of his life. Eliza Stephens lived quietly as a spinster. She presented a prayer book to young Holman Stephens, possibly at the time of his confirmation, which is now contained in the Colonel Stephens Museum. Henry was a tobacconist and music salesman. He died unexpectedly at the Imperial Hotel, Huddersfield, in 1899. Helen married Charles Carter, a picture framer and engraver, who F G Stephens used from time to time and the family are believed to have emigrated to America.

In 1866 Frederick Stephens, amidst much secrecy, married Rebecca Dalton, a spinster who had an illegitimate daughter called Clara Adelaide Charles (or Lottie as she was known). To his friends, however, including Holman Hunt, he proclaimed his new wife to be a widow. At what point the truth emerged is not recorded, but Hunt was a witness to Lottie’s wedding certificate in 1882 and so he must have found out then. The story of Lottie is fascinating in its own right and is told elsewhere.

There are two questions that have emerged during my researches. Firstly, did Holman Stephens, in compiling the notes on his family in 1920, deliberately falsify some of the information for the sake of appearances, or did his father conceal the truth from him? Secondly, are there any “Stephens” around today who can claim to be descendants of Holman Stephens? The answer to the first question is most likely that he did not know the facts surrounding his father and grandfather. As far as can be ascertained, he had little or no contact with any of his relatives, apart form his parents, and he would not have known either of his grandparents. With regard to the second matter, any Stephens today would have to come through the male line of Henry’s children, Henry Jnr, Augustus or Arthur. There is an outside chance that Septimus’s parents (John, Octavius or whatever) had other male issue. In this respect Ralph Stephens has come up on the International Genealogical Index as a possibility. Updating the family tree will continue but it may take several years before we can answer all the queries, if ever.

This is a revised version of a talk given by Philip Shaw at the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Holman Stephens’ death, which was subsequently published in The Colonel, the journal of the Colonel Stephens Society

 

A Glimpse of Victorian Family Life

The Story of Lottie Jenkins, Holman Stephens’s half sister

Click on the image to see the larger picture

 Frederick George Stephens c 1848 by Holman HuntHolman Stephens’s father, Frederick George Stephens, was secretive about his private life even within the circle of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of which he was such a prominent member. His friend and confidant William Holman Hunt, who had been enjoying a long and un-easy courtship with Fanny Waugh since 1859, announced in 1865 that he was finally contemplating marriage to her. He hoped that Stephens would be best man, but there had been long standing rumours that Stephens himself was married, which  would, by the standards of the time, have rendered him ineligible. Hunt asked Stephens to clarify his status and in August 1865, Stephens told Hunt that he was no longer a bachelor and therefore regretted that he could not oblige his old friend. He added that he was annoyed that anyone had heard rumours of his “secret” marriage.

In fact Stephens seems to have been misleading Hunt as he did not marry until 8th January 1866. The marriage took place at the church of All Hallows, Barking, which despite its name is close to the Tower of London. This was a location remote from his usual haunts and was made possible by using a nearby coffee shop as an accommodation address for him and his bride. He told his friends that his wife was a widow, Mrs Clara Charles, but her status and name were incorrect. The marriage certificate shows that Stephens married Rebecca Clara Dalton, a spinster. Furthermore, she had at least one child, known to the wider world as Clara Adelaide Charles and in the family as “Lottie”, who was therefore almost certainly illegitimate. Little is known about Stephens’s new bride’s early life and nothing about her child’s natural father, William Charles. The 1861 census records Lottie as a child, aged seven, living with her grandparents, Riley and Sarah Dalton in the Old Brompton Road, Kensington and that she was born in Putney. Attempts to trace Lottie’s birth certificate in or around 1853 have been unsuccessful and it may be that her birth was never registered. Frederick Stephens seems to have accepted her fully into the family .When Holman ( known in the family as “Holly”) was born in 1868, surviving family correspondence suggests that she adored her mother, stepfather and little stepbrother. Lottie was given an excellent education at a private school in Sussex, followed by a stay in France and Germany.

In 1879, Lottie went to stay with some friends in Inverness for some months and early in 1880 she became engaged to a local solicitor, Robert Jenkins. For some reason she did not contact her stepfather nor did her husband seek his ‘permission’ to marry his Lottie. The wedding was held in her home parish of St Peter’s Hammersmith on 18th October 1882, but her stepfather refused to give her away and, as far as is known, neither he nor her mother attended the ceremony. It must have caused further irritation, if not embarrassment to him that Holman Hunt attended and was a signatory to the marriage certificate. All this caused the intense wrath of Frederick Stephens, who, as far as is known, never communicated with Lottie again.

The formerly warm and close relationship of Hunt and Stephens had soured at this period, triggered by a seemingly trivial issue, and this may have contributed to the ill feeling. In May 1879, Stephens had sent Hunt a cheque for £13 to be used for   Hunt's son, Hilary’s, benefit. Hunt had sent exactly the same sum to Stephens when Holly was born in 1868. Hunt interpreted this gesture as a deliberate slight, because of a secret grievance which he imagined Stephens had against him. Stephens, wounded by this suggestion, immediately returned the £13 that Hunt had sent for Holly, 10 years or so before.

Lottie settled down to married life in Inverness and had six sons, the first in 1883 and the last, Walter in 1891. However, tragedy struck in 1894 when her husband died. This left Lottie virtually destitute and there followed a series of letters to her mother and stepfather asking for assistance to support her young family. She also asked to be put in touch with her stepbrother, Holman Stephens, with whom she appears to have had no contact since childhood. He was by then living in Tonbridge and building up his growing engineering practice. There is no evidence that any of this correspondence was acknowledged and the rift proved final. Lottie was not mentioned in the wills of either her mother or stepfather and, as far as is known, never had a contact with Holman Stephens in his adulthood.

In 1902, or thereabouts, Lottie left Scotland with at least two of her children and went to live in Falmouth, Cornwall. In 1936, she moved to live with her youngest son Walter, who, by then, had married and gone to live in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. She died there in 1942 at the ripe old age of 89. Perhaps a sad end to a life which, at one stage seemed destined for greater happiness with her family: a situation brought about by an unfortunate error of judgement at the time of her engagement 62 years earlier, but dictated by a stepfather who had failed to conduct his own marital affairs with any degree of candour.

Philip Shaw
Sources:
Family Records Centre
The Colonel Stephens Archive
My Grandfather His Wives and Loves by Diana Holman-Hunt (Hamish Hamilton 1969) William Holman Hunt by Anne Clark Amor (Constable 1989)

 

Harnessing the free power of the wind to pump water

Click on the images to see the larger pictures

The need to fill up with water at regular intervals is an inconvenient necessity of steam locomotives, and it is apt to be an expensive one. The idea of harnessing the free power of the wind to pump water from one's own well is one that seems to have appealed to Colonel Stephens, who was always a man with an eye for a bargain.

Before looking at the windpumps used on the K&ESR and some of the Colonel's other railways, it will be useful to consider the technology available to him in the early 1900s. Traditional windmills had of course been around for centuries, but they were large and expensive structures, built and maintained by skilled craftsman and requiring constant attention. They were typically used to grind corn, but there were also quite a few pumping windmills. Most were for drainage but they were occasionally used for water supply, and the tower of one of these can still be seen near the motorway on the outskirts of Faversham, where it was built for the Corporation waterworks in about 1858 to supplement steam pumps.

As settlement spread across the plains and prairies of North America, farmers and ranchers needed a cheap, reliable way to tap underground water resources, and with typical Yankee ingenuity one Daniel Halladay designed a self-governing windmill (as it was called in America, though strictly speaking a wind pump or wind engine). This had a vane which automatically turned it to face changing wind directions, and a governor to regulate its speed automatically by pivoting the thin wooden blades which formed its wheel. Most importantly, it was a standard product that could be made in a factory. In partnership with a mill repairer, John Burnham, Halladay began to manufacture windmills in 1854, and was soon selling 'Halladay Standard' windmills by the thousand. Other companies and types appeared, for example the 'Eclipse' of 1867, and by the time of the Chicago International Exhibition of 1893, the various manufacturers were able to display a veritable forest of windmills. The first mass-produced windmills made largely of wood, but as the 19th century progressed, iron and steel were used more and more.

 Auto-Oiled 'Aermotor'An important advance came when Halladay's US Wind Engine Company hired an engineer, Thomas O. Perry, who analysed the operation of windmills scientifically and developed a completely new and much more efficient design. The company was, however, reluctant to invest in re-tooling and rejected Perry's proposals. As a result, Perry went into partnership with a businessman, LaVerne Noyes, and they established the Aermotor Company in Chicago in 1888. At first users scoffed at what they dismissed as the 'mathematical windmill' and only a few units were sold in the first year. However, demand grew quickly and Aermotor soon came to dominate the market, once it was realised that an 8-foot diameter Aermotor could pump as much water as a 12-foot model of most other makes. The company is still in business, more than 120 years later.

The final technical development was the self-lubricating windmill, in which the gearing and other moving parts ran in an oil bath. Introduced about 1912 by the Elgin Wind Power and Pump Company, this feature was soon copied by almost every windmill manufacturer in North America. Before then, someone had to climb the tower once a week to grease the moving parts, but with the introduction of the oil bath, windmills could be left to pump unattended for anything up to a year at a time. The Aermotor Company brought out the self-oiling Model 502 in the USA in 1915. This proved not entirely satisfactory, and in 1916 it was replaced by the Model 602, which remained in production until 1933. Many parts of the Model 602 were interchangeable with its predecessor, the Pumping Aermotor, and following a successful campaign by the company to sell replacement self-oiling heads, relatively few of the earlier models were left in their original condition in America.

Rural electrification began to reduce the need for pumping windmills in their country of origin in the 1930s, but some of the estimated six and a half million units sold in the USA are still working, and indeed both new and reconditioned wind pumps are readily available today.

American railroads were quick to adopt windpumps in suitable terrain, and this included important companies such as the Union Pacific and the Southern Pacific. Watering points were set up every thirty miles or so in desert country, with storage tanks and windpumps to raise water from wells. Some models were designed specifically for this duty, the 'Railroad Eclipse' being one.

American-style windpumps were never as ubiquitous in Britain as they were in North America and in other countries with comparable conditions, such as Australia, Argentina and South Africa. However, they did become a reasonably common sight, particularly in flatter, drier areas. The Royal Agricultural Society of England organised wind engine trials in 1903, and awarded medals to favoured models. Among British firms, Duke & Ockendon ('Dando') of Littlehampton (which is still in business as a manufacturer of drilling equipment) offered a range of wind pumps, often on more than usually elaborate steel towers. Some were supplied to British railway companies, including the London & South Western (for example at Gillingham, Dorset, and Bentley, Hampshire) and the London, Brighton & South Coast (for example at Christ's Hospital and Ford). The windpump at Ford was accompanied by a cylindrical water tank of classic American appearance, and survived into the 1950s, when most of the trains on the line had been electric for years. Another British manufacturer was John Wallis Titt of Warminster, who is known to have supplied windpumps to the Midland, Great Western and London & South Western Railways. L&SWR locations included Amesbury Junction, and a couple of stations on the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway, including Cliddesden (the windpump can be seen briefly in the Will Hay film, 'O, Mr Porter'). The Basingstoke & Alton examples seem to have been used to supply water to the stations and railway cottages, rather than for locomotive purposes.

Colonel Stephens did not patronise British manufacturers, but purchased American Aermotor windpumps. These had a good reputation for quality and reliability, while mass production had reduced prices to as little as 25 US dollars by the early 1900s. Definite information is lacking, but from records in the archives at Tenterden it seems likely that the equipment was purchased through the Aermotor Company's English agent, Lloyd, Lawrence & Co. of Worship Street, London EC. Lloyd, Lawrence displayed windpumps at several Royal Agricultural Society shows, including the one at Maidstone in 1899, and it is possible that Colonel Stephens became aware of the potential of the windpump as a result of a visit to the show.

A typical Aermotor windpump has three principal components. On the top is the wheel of curved metal blades, mounted slightly off-centre, so that the pressure of the wind tends to turn it out of the wind. It is returned to face into the wind by a tail vane, which is connected to the wheel support by a governor spring, so that the angle of the wheel to the wind varies according to the strength of the wind. A brake holds the wheel stationary when required. The rotation of the wheel is converted into an up-and-down movement of a vertical rod by reduction gearing and a pitman. The reduction gearing allows the wheel to turn even in a light wind. The supporting tower is typically assembled from galvanized steel angle, rather like an electricity pylon. Loop steps are often fixed to one of the corner posts, allowing for a rather precarious ascent to a platform near the top of the tower to lubricate or repair the mechanism. Beneath the tower is a well, often quite shallow, containing a cylinder and a plunger, both fitted with check valves. As the plunger is moved up and down in the cylinder by the sucker rod, water is forced from the well into the cylinder, then from the cylinder into the plunger, and finally into a drop tube which takes it out of the well and into a storage tank. The output obviously varies greatly according to the size of the wind wheel, the difference in level through which the water had to be pumped, and wind conditions. However, under favourable conditions, windpumps like those used on the K&ESR might be expected to deliver up to about 3000 gallons a day.

Of the Colonel Stephens railways, the Kent & East Sussex was the largest user of windpumps, with three examples, at Robertsbridge, Tenterden Town and Headcorn. They were all Pumping Aermotors, possibly the 1899 model, and it is a reasonable guess that they were all put in at about the time the Tenterden Town to Headcorn line was opened in 1905. The East Kent and the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire had one each, and there was also one on the Sheppey Light, although this was installed by the South Eastern & Chatham Railway, when the Colonel's connection with the line had ceased. Curiously, neither the Selsey Tramway nor the Weston, Clevedon & Portishead seems to have employed windpumps, although on the face of it the flat landscape which surrounded the railways would seem to favour them. Details of individual windpumps are as follows.

Kent & East Sussex Light Railway
Robertsbridge: A windpump and a rectangular water tank on timber supports were located on the north side of the line, just west of North Bridge Street level crossing. There is some doubt as to whether this pump was actually used, and, certainly, an early spare parts list in the Colonel Stephens Museum archives is labelled as referring to the Tenterden and Headcorn windpumps only. This was probably because K&ESR engines were able to take water at Robertsbridge Junction where a large water tank and a double-sided water crane of typical South Eastern Railway design were located between the down main line and the down siding. In 1906 the K&ESR agreed with the South Eastern & Chatham Railway to take water at Robertsbridge for a payment of £15 per year, and the agreement was renewed at a higher cost in 1922. By the early 1950s, only the tower of the Robertsbridge windpump remained.

 Windmill at TenterdenTenterden Town: An 8-foot Aermotor windpump was provided on the east side of the line some distance north of the station. It was quite soon moved to a point near the Headcorn end of the former second platform. The date of the move is uncertain, but Trott and Vener, well diggers of Robertsbridge, were paid for work for the K&ESR in January 1907, and it is possible that this was the excavation of the new and evidently shallow well at Tenterden. The windpump presumably supplied the balloon water tower at the opposite end of the second platform, near where the signal box now stands. The pump survived intact until the early 1950s, and the steel tower remained a little longer.

 Windmill at HeadcornHeadcorn Junction: An Aermotor windpump and a rectangular steel tank on timber supports were installed a little way out of the station by the end of the headshunt. They were certainly there by 1910 and, as explained above, probably earlier. They lasted into the 1950s.

East Kent Light Railway

Staple: A Model 602 self-oiling Aermotor windpump fed a rectangular water tank on timber supports at the end of the platform. It was on an Aermotor steel tower with corner loop steps and a wide base to straddle what was probably a hand-dug well. According to British Geological Survey records, the well was only about 10 feet deep. The self-oiling Aermotor was on the market in Britain from about 1917, so this example may date from soon after public opening of as far as Wingham in 1916. The windpump (though not the tank) was removed some time after 1947.

Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Light Railway

Kinnerley Junction: A Pumping Aermotor supplied a rectangular water tank on brick pillars near the engine shed. Again, the base of the steel tower was quite wide, probably to straddle a hand-dug well. It seems likely that the windpump was installed shortly after the line opened in 1911. The wheel and mechanism were removed between 1935 and 1938, though the tower remained, presumably to disappear during scrap drives and military occupation in the Second World War. As a sidelight on the water supply arrangements of the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire, in 1930 W.H. Austen gave orders that no engine was to take water at Shrewsbury unless absolutely necessary, as the company had to pay for water there, on measurement. The water tank at the Abbey Foregate station is the same one that was in use at Wittersham Road on the K&ESR and is now in store.

Sheppey Light Railway

Leysdown: The South Eastern & Chatham Railway, which worked the Sheppey Light from its opening and purchased it in 1905, signed a contract with J. Warner & Sons in 1904 to construct a well and windpump at the Leysdown terminus to supply a large rectangular tank on a brick base. This arose from the introduction of Kitson steam railmotors for passenger trains and the secondhand 'Terrier' known to the men as 'Little Titch' for goods. Both had a much smaller water capacity than the rebuilt 'Sondes' class tank engines which were used when the line first opened. According to a (probably apocryphal) story, while the well was being bored, a harder stratum of rock was encountered and the drill was diverted sideways. The workmen are supposed to have realised this only when it emerged from the ground some distance away. Be this as it may, when work was completed in 1905 the final bill was twice the original estimate of £625. According to British Geological Survey records, the well was about 55 feet deep. No details of the windpump have yet emerged, and I have not seen a clear photograph of it. However, the depth of the well implies a larger unit than those installed by the Colonel if an adequate delivery rate was to be achieved. The water supply at Leysdown seems to have continued to present problems, as photographs taken in the 1920s show the usual 2-coach motor train set converted from the carriage portions of railmotors being hauled by elderly tender engines. Presumably the windpump was eventually superseded by a mains water supply from the Leysdown pumping station, which had a borehole some 440 feet deep, drilled in 1918.

The windpumps of the K&ESR and the East Kent have been described by authors of books on those railways as an unreliable source of water. The Pumping Aermotor designs used on the K&ESR and the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire needed someone to climb the tower every week or so to grease the mechanism, and of course there was always a risk of this unpopular job being overlooked, leading to undue wear. Given proper lubrication, however, the Aermotor was regarded as a robust piece of machinery that required little other attention. It is also possible that the rather shallow wells that seem to have been used may have been liable to run dry in periods of drought. None the less, some of the Colonel's Aermotor windpumps gave service for several decades and undoubtedly saved on bills for mains water supply.

American-style windpumps are now quite a rarity in Britain, but one can still be seen from the K&ESR in a field on the west side of the line a little way on the Wittersham Road side of Rolvenden. This is a smaller design with only four blades, rather than the multi-bladed wind wheels used on the windpumps described above. Two Duke & Ockenden windpumps are on display in the south of England, at the Surrey Rural Life Centre at Tilford, near Farnham, and at the Chalkpits Museum, Amberley, West Sussex. I do not know of a preserved Aermotor windmill in this country, and should the resources be available in the future it would be interesting to try to acquire one for re-erection on the K&ESR.

The surviving minute books and other official records of the Colonel Stephens railways make no mention of the installation of windpumps, and many of the details above have been gleaned from the study of photographs. In this context, I should particularly like to thank Dr T Lindsay Baker, Director of the Texas Heritage Museum and author of the standard work on the subject, 'A field guide to American windmills' (University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), for his invaluable assistance. Mr J Kenneth Major of Reading has also provided many interesting details of the manufacture and sale of windpumps in the United Kingdom.

This article by Tom Burnham appeared in the Summer 2001 edition of The Tenterden Terrier