In September we took the opportunity to visit family in Kent. It would be the first time we’d seen them since Covid. I had planned to visit the Bluebell Line, the heritage steam railway running from Sheffield Park to East Grinstead. As well as a trip on the train, I wanted to see the “Flying Scotsman” which was visiting. Four of us, including my brother-in-law Brian, duly arrived at Sheffield Park station for a steamy day. One of the more interesting items is the almost complete Brighton Atlantic. This is a new-build locomotive of the London, Brighton & South Coast railway H2 class, introduced in 1911.
The class were intended for the Brighton express services and the Boat trains. They were of 4-4-2 wheel arrangement known as “Atlantic”. Six locomotives of the class were built, the final one being 23424 “Beachy Head”. All the members of the class were scrapped in the 1950s. In 2000 a project commenced to build a replica of “Beachy Head”, and despite delays during the Covid event, construction of the locomotive has proceeded apace, and she is on track (no pun intended…honest) for completion in 2424. In the shed she looked magnificent, and a huge achievement for the enthusiasts involved.
Mary had booked spaces for us to visit the footplate of the “Scotsman”, so at the appointed time we boarded her service coach coupled to her tender. We had a very interesting and animated chat with the lady who is “Scotsman’s” fireman. She was quite adamant that she is a “fireman” and not a “firewoman” or “fire-person”. We made our way through the very cramped tender corridor into the footplate of the locomotive. These tenders were introduced in the 1920s so that a footplate crew change could be effected during the non-stop Kings Cross – Edinburgh run.
This was a magic moment for me! I had never seen “Scotsman” before, having “missed” her by minutes on a couple of occasions in the past. I sat in her drivers seat and asked if I could put my hand on the regulator. The driver said yes but don’t pull it as there’s 90 psi in the boiler!
After disembarking from “Scotsman” we went to board the steam train for a return trip on the Bluebell line. The locomotive was a BR standard class 4 tank, number 80151. Starting off on a very pleasant trip, we stopped at Horstead Keynes, then started off for East Grinstead. We never got there! We entered the Hoathley tunnel, and after some moments the brakes were applied big-time. The train ground to a halt, still in the tunnel. No idea what was happening. After about 15 minutes it started to get very smoky, as would be expected. Shortly after this the train was moved slowly backwards out of the tunnel, and stopped close to the tunnel entrance. It transpired that part of the tunnel roof structure had collapsed and was obstructing train passage.
Fortunately the driver spotted it in time and managed to stop the train before running into the obstruction. Evidently it was a section of corrugated iron rain shield at the far entrance which was hanging down having been dislodged earlier in the day. We sat there for about another half-hour until we were reversed back to Horstead Keynes station, where the locomotive detached to “run around” the train, so it was at the front of the train for the trip back to Sheffield Park. The problem led to a lot of disorganization for the railway on what was one of it’s busiest days of the season. The very posh dining car train which was to leave Sheffield Park after us never left the platform. Her passengers had their luxury dinner while the train stood at the platform!
After disembarking from our eventful trip, I discovered the secondhand bookshop, and came away with a full carrier bag! Altogether a very enjoyable if eventful day.