Michael Portillo on board No. 3 at Downpatrick
In this week’s series of episodes of the latest series of Great British Railway Journeys, Michael Portillo takes to the tracks with a copy of George Bradshaw’s Victorian Railway Guidebook, crossing the Irish sea to discover the rich railway history of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, following the unfurling 19th century expansion of the tracks from Dublin to Londonderry.
Watch out for Wednesday’s episode where Michael explores the Victorians’ fascination with antiquity, by visiting the amazing Cromlech stones of Dundalk. He reaches for the stars at the Portadown Observatory and travels in style along the steam railway of Downpatrick.
Catch this episode on BBC2 or BBC-HD, this Wednesday 1st February 2012 at 18.30
A piece of track goes up into the air for its journey to Downpatrick from Limerick Junction
Last Tuesday and Wednesday DCDR members went “a long way” to Limerick Junction to collect the former Scissors Crossing which was removed from this location in 2010 by Irish Rail as part of a new track and resignalling works in this Tipperary location.
All the important ironwork was secured and we now have enough components on site (if we so wished and geometry allows) to build a complete scissors crossing on our track, as per the original BCDR track layout, although it is currently not in the double-track plan as to try and incorporate it at this stage would complicate an already ambitious project. The components are in excellent condition with little wear.
While we were able to remove a proportion of the sleepers, they were stacked very tightly together, meaning it was slow and difficult in the rain to unpack them for easy loading, so around three-quarter of the load had to be left behind. However it had already been anticipated that this
collection would require a second load.
The timbers are also in excellent condition, and are in such a high number as to address our requirements for some time, and most will see immediate re-use as part of the Double-Track Project.
Robert Dowling (right), assistant cashier with the BCDR, with Mr. Evans, Head Cashier, and the office secretary (name unknown) in the offices in Queen’s Quay Station.
On the eve of the 62nd Anniversary of the closure of the old Belfast & County Down Railway lines on the 15th January, the Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway is relaunching it’s annual appeal for artefacts.
Railway volunteer and photo archivist Robert Gardiner explained that it is important that things like photographs are recorded and preserved to show what life on the railway was like before the line was closed in 1950, and used to run from Belfast to between towns like Comber, Newtownards, Downpatrick, Newcastle and Ardglass.
“We’re really the first generation that takes photos on a daily basis,” he said. “We take photos on our mobiles, we can email them and share them with hundreds of people on the internet”.
“But back then taking photographs was not cheap, they were planned and meant to be important records of the people, buildings and trains of the day.”
Royal Irish Constabulary officer Stuart Boyd beside a goods train in Belfast’s Queen’s Quay
“We are also on the lookout for things like uniforms, tickets, posters, anything connected to the local railway. So as people will be in their lofts putting away their Christmas decorations – have a look in that old trunk in the back, or that old album.”
He continues, “These things were meant to last, but all too often we find that they don’t – the people who took them pass away and families throw them out because they’re thought to have no historical value or importance.”
“Indeed, everyone in the DCDR and in the wider railway fraternity knows of at least one story where something has been lost, forgotten or binned”.
Mr Gardiner recalls one particular story, “There’s a story told to us of a man who took cine film of the last train pulling out of Newcastle on January 15th 1950, but never let anyone copy it. He passed away in the 1980s and when people enquired about obtaining the film they found that his wife had skipped it, thinking ‘sure nobody would be interested in that’.”
“I think everyone gasps in horror when they hear that particular tale,” he says.
“However,” he adds, “We do know that photos often show loved ones and that people often don’t want to part with them which we perfectly understand, which is why we can offer anyone who has railway photographs the chance to have them digitally reproduced by us.”
Mr Gardiner explains, “Although we would very much welcome original prints and negatives, we have in a number of instances actually gone round to someone’s house and professionally scanned the images at extremely high resolution.
“This means the photos never even have to leave your house – we can provide larger reprints of the resulting scan if anyone wants, and the owners can be safe in the knowledge that their precious images have been preserved by a fully accredited museum for future generations to enjoy – so do have a rummage!”
Mr Gardiner went on to explain that it’s absolutely anything with a railway theme, “We also find that people can be very modest about their pictures – they go ‘Oh, they’re not very good, or they’re poor quality’ – don’t worry about that at all, it’s just amazing that the photos exist in the
Robert Dowling (left) and Fred McClenaghan (right), members of BCDR staff, about to board a “family saloon” train at Newcastle following a staff day-out in the 1920s
“We also find that people think that because there’s not a train in shot, that they’re of no interest – believe me, photos that show bridges, carriages, railway staff, passengers can be far more important historically as they show people, the human element of the railways that all too often wasn’t recorded in official photographs, or long lost structures”.
“For instance, we’ve recently come across a fantastic photo collection taken by one of the BCDR’s last cashiers, Robert Dowling, who had a keen interest in photography since the First World War and has recorded some fantastic images of everyday life on the railway. His daughter Rosemary was completely surprised, but delighted that these would have been of interest, and was taken aback that some of the images will form the backbone of our new display in our Carriage Gallery, due to open later this year.”
Mr Gardiner also elaborated on a few areas not covered by existing archives that the Downpatrick & Co. Down Railway is keen to fill.
“The BCDR carried thousands of British and American personnel during the Second World War, but yet we don’t have a single photograph of any UK or US forces on the BCDR, and nor do any of our sister museums,”
Mr. Gardiner adds, “Another area we’re keen to see if anyone has recorded is the Harland & Wolff diesel engine that used to run between Downpatrick and Ardglass during the Forties. There’s plenty of it in its later life at Great Victoria Street after the lines closed, but few of
it on its native turf.
“Distance isn’t an issue, we can come round to where you are, whether you’re in Bangor, Ardglass, Newcastle or further afield!”
“We’re also keen to hear from anyone who has a connection to the BCDR -maybe even a member of staff that we haven’t met before, we’re keen to also record their stories and experiences to provide an oral history of the BCDR,” says Mr. Gardiner.
Anyone with any photographs, or any other BCDR items or artefacts, or knows someone who might be able to help is urged to contact us.