Friday, 4 August 2017

"The Wedding Belle" On The Great Central Railway...

"N15 'Sir Lamiel' Hauls The 'Wedding Belle' Evening Train"
We were very fortunate this evening to be invited along to celebrate the wedding of our good friends Mick Jones and Julia Ross. Jonesy (or MJ as we know him) used to be a Shackerstone regular along with us and today he & his bride tied the knot before their reception on the Great Central Railway at Loughborough. Could there be a more appropriate setting? Mark picked me up at around 5pm-ish for our trip up the M1 and A46 to reach the base of the GCR. The weather was fine as we trotted up Great Central Road to the entrance of the station before descending the stairs to the island platform below. The wedding train was still out up the line on the second round trip of the daytime celebration, so we wandered down to the loco shed to see what was going on. The NRM pairing of "Oliver Cromwell" and "Sir Lamiel" were resting in the pleasant evening sunshine. "Cromwell" took part in the famous "Fifteen Guinea Special" - the last steam hauled passenger train on British Rail on August 11th 1968...
As the only two visitors in the yard, we soon got chatting to one of the crew. It turned out that "Lamiel" would be hauling the evening train, top and tailing with the 8F 48624 which had pulled the daytime workings. I'm always pleased to see "Sir Lamiel". A King Arthur Class 4-6-0 built in 1925, the engine isn't far away from retiring for her 10-year overhaul. A unique survivor as the last of her class, 777 is a lovely old thing...
First built by the LSWR, the N15 class eventually numbered 74 examples. With two outside cylinders driving 6ft 7" wheels, the class made for an imposing 4-6-0. I love the lines of this engine. Everything is so meaty, from the con rods to the stuffing boxes. It just looks bulletproof. It is also refreshing to see an engine in pre-nationalisation livery, with "Sir Lamiel" carrying the Southern Railway's malachite green...
Having admired the old Southern engine, we walked back along the ash pathway towards the station. The Class 2 pairing were basking in the sunshine - 78018 and elder cousin 46521. These engines are ideal for most preserved railways...
As we crossed over the boarded crossing, I noticed the shunt signal rise to the 'off' position and sure enough 48624 duly rolled in from Leicester North. The bride & groom had specifically chosen the Eight Freight to haul their wedding train. She looked immaculate, obviously having benefitted from a buff up by the cleaners...
The only surviving 8F built by the Southern Railway, 48624 was completed at Ashford Works in 1943. Tonight she was hauling a rake of seven immaculate coaches - the full set of the "Great Central Pullman"...
After greeting the bride & groom, we headed to the bar to grab a pint. Ale in hand, we wandered up to watch "Sir Lamiel" buffer up to the train at the northern end. Being derived from LSWR practise, 777 has several T9-esque features: the handles, gauges, regulator, firebox door and Dreadnought ejector are identical. Myself, Batesy and Will stood looking at the old N15 for quite some time over a pint. Its just lovely...
"Summer Comes Soonest In The South"
Down the platform, the 1920s style band was getting underway as passengers enjoyed the mood prior to the 7:30pm departure...
We boarded the train on one of the lounge cars. These have been decked out to feature lengthways seating for parties like this...
Right on time, we departed Loughborough for the run to Leicester North. There was a great atmosphere on board the train and as we neared Swithland the buffet was served. Very nice it was too. Soon enough, after a pleasant chug through the Leicestershire countryside, the train came to a halt at the terminus. We only had a minute or three whilst the token was exchanged between the loco's so I grabbed a quick shot of the 8' down the platform whilst the catering staff took a break...
From Leicester North, 48624 took the strain as she hauled us back to Loughborough. "Sir Lamiel" simply hung from the rear of the train, although the 10-coach or so load (with the N15) seemed no effort for the 8F. Pulling back into Loughborough, the train came to a halt in Platform 2 and the band started up again for another hour...
The theme for the wedding was 1920s and so the platforms were awash with characters that resembled a lodge meeting of the Peaky Blinders. It was proving to be a very enjoyable evening and was a great thing to experience. Down at the far end, 48624 was resting after pulling the train back from Leicester North...
We were particularly impressed with the veranda coach situated just aft of the locomotive. The Cromwell rake is amazing to say the least and seems the perfect stock for a railway wedding like this. We were also impressed that there were two steamers on the train. Apparently a diesel had been the initial choice but this was rejected in favour of steam - can't fault that!...
The 8F's Midland tender was carrying the headboard...
After grabbing another drink, we reboarded the stock ready for the second evening departure at 9:30pm. We were surprised to get two rides but you can't complain! This time "Sir Lamiel" hauled us through the increasing darkness as far as Rothley Brook, just north of Rothley station. There, the train reversed and 48624 hauled us southward once again. The driver gave her a bit of main valve as we climbed the bank towards Swithland and the run through Quorn was quite energetic shall we say. It was great. Watching the darkened outline of the 8' swaying impatiently through the veranda window, I couldn't help but think of lyrics from Dave Goulder's "Eight Freight Blues"...

Smoke in my eyes
Soot in my hair
Cinders in my shoes
I'm watching a needle falling away
And singing the Eight Freight Blues
Lyrics by Dave Goulder

If you haven't heard that tune, give it a listen on Youtube. I can't describe in words what a nice evening we had, particularly for us steam enthusiasts too. It was lovely. Once back at Loughborough, arriving at around 10:30pm, the 8F disappeared into the darkness for disposal on the shed...
The quiet platform looked a picture with the Cromwell set as the passengers gathered their belongings ready to alight...
We left at just after 11pm after a great evening out, experiencing a bygone era of opulence and style. Congratulations to the new Mr & Mrs Jones - we wish you all the best for the future and thank you for inviting us to be part of your special day! For me, it was the best wedding I've been to...really good, something special. Thank you all for reading and well done to the GCR for pulling it off. Cheers all, until next time, Sam...

No comments: