7909 Heveningham Hall at Swindon
These are some pictues of the real 7909 ex works at Swindon on the 13th October, 1963 with some of the Yeovil Railfans beside and on it.
Also a picture of the Yeovil gang prior to a tour of Swindon Works 14th October, 1962
As a result of the recent piece about locomotive water at Praze and Gwinear Road I thought that it might be a good idea if I wrote down what I discovered as a nosey schoolboy when I lived in St Ives back in the days of steam. I don’t think I have ever seen anything about it and I doubt there are many people who now know.
Penzance, obviously, had to be well supplied with good water and I believe had a proper treatment plant which pulled water from its own Artesian Well.
St Erth had no water column and I was told that it was because the GWR were unable to find any of acceptable quality under their land. The adjacent dairy needed lots but they got their supply via a pipeline from an abandoned clay pit near Nancledra (I believe) which had previously been used to carry clay slurry to the old clay dries taken over by the dairy. It seems the railway were loath to buy water when they could usually find it on their property for nothing.
Hayle did have a supply (I seem to remember it was a cylindrical tank similar to that at Praze) but the locomen were very reluctant to draw water from it because it was brackish and did the boiler no favours. They would only use it if they had no choice.
St Ives, on the other hand, was blessed with a copious supply of excellent water; hence the large rectangular tank sitting on columns on top of the coaling stage. This was fed straight from fissures in the blasted rock-face exposed when they excavated the area occupied by the Engine Shed via a wooden launder which bridged the gap. If one looks carefully, this can be seen in some photos. So the tank was always full of lovely clean soft water filtered through the granite and greenstone, even in the driest summer. I assume that this was evident as a spring coming out of the cliffs before the railway was built and do wonder if this influenced the choice of site for the facilities. It seems to me just too much of a coincidence that they happened to find a handy supply in exactly the right spot just as they were building the Engine Shed!
The overflow from the tank ran into an underground cistern on the opposite side of the Shed track, near the ash dump. This constituted the No 1 reserve supply, which fed a pair of quite large 3 phase electric pumps which pumped the water back to the top of the main tank through a couple of iron pipes of about 2 ins up the outside rear corner nearest to the shed. These pumps lived in their own brick house and replaced the previous steam pump some time either just before or just after the war and were turned on and off by a float switch which dangled into the tank. The electric meter was fixed to the rear wall of the little office at the back of the Engine Shed but the electric supply was used for no other purpose - lighting of the shed, coaling stage and platelayers’ “office” being by gas. Incidentally, mains electricity was not connected anywhere else on the branch except at St Erth.
More water oozed out of a number of fissures in the rocks and most of this was collected in a sort of drain near rail level. This went to waste and I don’t believe that there was any provision to harvest this for loco use. Well, actually, it wasn’t entirely wasted because it supported a small colony of watercress plants on the rock face, giving the locomen their own secret supply for livening up their sandwiches.
The heavy traffic on summer Saturdays usually meant that the pumps would be in action to top-up the tank quickly but they were otherwise rarely in action.
The No 2 reserve supply instead dated, as far as I know, to the original building of the line and was not immediately obvious; well, certainly not the source. What was obvious looking down from the end of Draycott Terrace was the enormous ball-cock sitting in the middle of the main tank, with a long arm and a copper float bigger than a football. The float made an excellent target for a catapult and was peppered with dents! This was attached to a 3 or 4 ins pipe which emerged from the floor of the coaling stage and went up straight through the bottom of the tank. This was controlled be a large wheel-valve, normally kept closed.
So where did this water come from? As small boys we used to go out on the cliffs near Porthminster Point, climb through a rotten wire fence to collect frog-spawn, tadpoles, newts, etc. from an overgrown pond full of weeds a bit above the railway line. This was fed by a trickle of water from another spring. Around about 1954, when the viaduct was rebuilt, the pond was cleaned out and properly fenced. When it was empty we could not believe how large and deep it was – it looked like a swimming pool and an adult could easily have drowned in it, hence the fencing. As far as I know nobody ever fell in. Things like that just made you careful.
At the bottom was a bed of gravel under which was a pipe which fed the ball-cock by gravity. Living on Draycott Terrace I did see it in operation on numerous occasions but the engine men only used it if the electric pumps were out of action. They were not keen on the pond-life which ended up in their boilers. Again, the fencing could be made out on some photos of the line above Porthminster Beach. I think the pond must be still there but I should image it is really overgrown by now, or filled in for safety’s sake; maybe someone might like to go and have a look?
The inexhaustible supply of water at St Ives was taken full advantage of by the locomen. The branch engine was always kept well topped up and visiting engines invariably visited the Engine Shed to fill up. It was quite usual to find that the branch engine had been changed for no apparent reason and I believe this was because a swap had been done with another 45XX which was running dry after shunting St Erth or Hayle Wharves. I have no idea if this was rostered or an informal arrangement – I’m afraid I was never at St Erth at the right time to see what went on. It may sound odd now but Hayle Harbour was far more interesting.
Anyway, it’s all in the distant past now but at least the line itself is still alive and thriving, albeit without its fine granite buildings.
Many thanks for that most interesting article Lawrence.