A Grand Day Out
Gazelle made a test run from Lynn to Downham Market and back on Sunday 5 February 1893, but seems to have seen little use during the next four years. But if Gazelle was idle during this period, much was happening further north. Despite the optimism of the speeches William Burkitt had heard at the luncheon after the first sod of the Lancashire Derbyshire & East Coast Railway had been cut in 1892, shareholders had been reluctant to invest in the "East to West", as it became known, and in 1894 the railway's directors had been compelled to accept an offer of support from the GER with important conditions attached. Lord Claud Hamilton and his expansionist board of directors at Liverpool Street hoped for a stream of coal trains from the new line, up the Great Northern and Great Eastern Joint line from Lincoln to March, and on to London via Cambridge, and so they were not at all interested in providing direct access from the coalfields to the ports. The abandonment of plans to extend west of Chesterfield and east of Lincoln and the grant of running powers to the GER was the price of their assistance. Another sign of GER influence was the appointment of Harry Willmott as general manager of the LD&ECR in 1895. Mr Willmott had spent the whole of his working life with the GER, latterly as London area goods manager, and it is likely that he and William Burkitt would have been acquainted.
The first part of the LD&ECR opened for goods in December 1896, and with the official opening throughout to Chesterfield on 8 March 1897, William Burkitt was able to begin planning the epic journey which he promised some sixty years before. Although the route clearly took advantage of GER running powers, it would be interesting to know the details of the negotiations, which involved the provision of pilotmen and inspectors for the various sections, and perhaps special opening of signal cabins and level crossings, as few of the lines covered had regular passenger services on a Sunday.
The great day came on Sunday 25 July 1897. Gazelle stood ready with steam up at King's Lynn station, with John Wilson, the District Locomotive Superintendent of the GER, at the controls once again. Just after six o'clock Mr Burkitt left Lynn on his own engine for Chesterfield. Detailed timings are shown in the following table, and are based on those quoted in an article in the Locomotive Magazine of May 1901, which differ slightly from those in contemporary press reports.
|67||Pyewipe Jn||arr||9.20||38||Pyewipe Jn||arr||5.00|
Gazelle gained Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway metals via Lynn Harbour Junction, and headed westwards. The River Nene was crossed by the long Cross Keys swing bridge, carrying both rail and road and giving an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the remains of the ill-fated dock. Immediately after the bridge was Sutton Bridge station, the first of several stops to take on water. With a full tank, Gazelle continued along the M&GN towards Spalding, joining the Great Northern Railway at South Junction.
At Spalding, there was a fifteen minute stop to take water again and probably to change pilotmen, before Gazelle set off on the next portion of its journey, diverging on to the GN & GE Joint line at North Junction, and struggling northwards against a powerful headwind which blew straight across the featureless fens of south Lincolnshire. Gazelle probably took the GN & GE Joint avoiding line at Sleaford, rather than diverting on to wholly GNR metals through the station, as the next recorded water stop was at Ruskington, a few miles north of Sleaford. From here the line passed through slightly less low-lying ground around Nocton, before dropping down again to the flood plain of the River Witham on the outskirts of Lincoln. Again, it is uncertain whether "Gazelle" passed through the GNR station at Lincoln, but it seems more likely that it followed the GN & GE Joint avoiding line from Greetwell West Junction as far as the curiously named Pyewipe Junction, which was no doubt greeted with relief by the travellers.
Pyewipe was the eastern extremity of the LD&ECR and although there was no station (the few LD&ECR passenger trains that reached this end of the line continued on to Lincoln), there were water columns and an inspection pit for the benefit of the engines of goods trains. LD&ECR enginemen used to avail themselves of the Pyewipe Inn while their locomotives were being watered, but as this hostelry had to be reached by means of a ferry boat hauled across one of the local waterways with a chain, and as Gazelle paused here for no more than twenty minutes, its crew no doubt relied on their own resources.
William Burkitt may already have travelled over the recently opened LD&ECR by passenger train, but even if he had, he was no doubt eagerly awaiting the opportunity of inspecting the newly built works from the excellent vantage point of Gazelle's open footplate. Leaving Pyewipe Junction, a few miles of generally level running westward brought "Gazelle" to Fledborough viaduct, which crossed the River Trent and its flood plain with ninety nine brick arches and a girder span. The first serious climbing began soon afterwards, with a couple of miles at 1 in 120 to cross over the GNR main line at the isolated two-level interchange station of Dukeries Junction. Another mile, and "Gazelle" stopped at Tuxford, where the LD&ECR repair works were situated (the buildings, no longer in railway use, can still be seen from the A1 bypass road). Here the crew found the LD&ECR water columns easier to use than those they had previously encountered; the Derbyshire Times commented that quite twenty minutes could have been saved on the journey if the water cranes on the joint lines had been as convenient as those on the "East to West".
In 1897, the coal mining district extended no further east than Warsop, and the countryside of the Dukeries, studded with palatial seats of the nobility and gentry, was as yet unsullied by industry. Mr Willmott had great, though largely unrealised, ambitions for tourist traffic to this area, and used to promote the LD&ECR as the "Dukeries Route" wherever possible. At Ollerton, which was visited by the Royal train a few years later when King Edward VII stayed at Rufford Abbey for the St Leger races, the line began to climb through Sherwood Forest, past Edwinstowe and Clipstone siding, to a summit in a sandstone cutting by Warsop windmill. It continued on a falling gradient past the Warsop marshalling sidings, where the scenery started to become more industrial, and then climbed again at 1 in 100 to Langwith. This station was then a junction only for the twelve-mile branch to Beighton Junction, on the Midland Railway main line to Sheffield. It had four platforms, a refreshment room and a small locomotive shed. William Burkitt knew Langwith well, as his firm had premises there, as well as his brother Samuel's extensive farming interests.
Continuing westwards from Langwith, Gazelle continued to climb at 1 in 100 to reach the summit of the LD&ECR at Scarcliffe, 521 feet above sea level, and almost as much above King's Lynn. Beyond Scarcliffe station the line plunged into the notoriously wet, one and a half miles long Bolsover tunnel, problems with which had delayed the opening of the LD&ECR through to Chesterfield. Finding what shelter they could on the open footplate, the travellers no doubt wished Mr Burkitt had ordered a cab for Gazelle and pondered on the fact that on the return journey they would be going uphill through the tunnel.
Shortly after crossing the River Doe Lea and a Midland Railway branch line on a brick viaduct, Gazelle began to climb again to a short (501 yard) tunnel at Duckmanton. It then made its final descent to Chesterfield. Crossing a main road, the Chesterfield loop line of the Manchester Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway, the Midland Railway main line and the River Rother all at the same point on a viaduct of seven brick arches and four girder spans to reach the terminus at Chesterfield Market Place station.
Gazelle steamed into Chesterfield forty four minutes after it had been expected, thanks to delays waiting for other trains, taking in water and waiting for pilotmen or inspectors for the various sections. A considerable crowd had turned out to greet William Burkitt, including his brother Samuel, his thirty two year-old nephew William Burkitt junior and his old friend William Oliver. Also there was Charles P. Markham of the Broad Oaks Iron Works, who was the Mayor of Chesterfield and also a director of the LD&ECR, A.W. Byron, a director of the Weldless Steel Tubes Co., Harry Willmott and A.K. Smith, respectively general manager and engineer of the LD&ECR, Cecil Browne, resident engineer of S. Pearson & Son who had built the western half of the LD&ECR, M. Scorer and several others.
All present crowded round to congratulate William Burkitt on his journey, and the engineers among them inspected Gazelle with particularly keen interest. Samuel Burkitt then entertained his brother and friends at a luncheon, where the proceedings were no doubt enlivened by many reminiscences about Chesterfield in the good old days.
William Burkitt started his return journey on Gazelle at 3pm. Following the climb through Bolsover tunnel, there was a stop at Langwith, which had one of the three refreshment rooms on the LD&ECR to take tea. Presumably this was by special arrangement, as the "East to West" ran no passenger trains on Sundays in its independent days. The route of the outward journey was retraced without further incident, and "Gazelle" finally arrived back at King's Lynn at about 8.25pm, only five or ten minutes late.
The total distance covered there and back was about 220 miles, with an average running speed of 33 mph, and maximum speeds of up to 40 mph - quite an achievement for the smallest standard gauge engine then running. All performed without a bearing running hot or a nut working loose. William Burkitt, too, showed that he came of hardy stock by riding on an open footplate for eleven hours at the age of seventy two to make good his youthful prediction.