Clun Castle on the 1615 Paddington

While travelling in Spain in the Summer of 2007 I met John Bennett and we quickly began to reminisce about the last days of steam on the Wesern Region of British Railways.  John sent me the above picture with the following comments:

The last 4.15 from Paddington, 11th June 1965. At Princes Risborough

The 4.15pm to Banbury was the last regular steam-hauled departure from Paddington, and this is a photo of the last one. I was on it.

June 11th is my Birthday and my father had given me a new 35mm camera. This is one of the first photos I ever took with it. Previously I had had a camera which did 2¼” square negs. This is one of the first rectangular photos I ever took.

However, when I took the shot I got a telegraph pole sticking out of the top of the smokebox, to the left of the chimney. My brother has just given me a computer (which he had assembled and programmed). It came with two programmes for altering (“improving”) photographs and I have at last managed to remove the telegraph pole. I´ve wanted to do this for more than 40 years...

I (Colin Churcher) rode Clun Castle on this train a week or so before this and this is what I wrote:

much of the office training as a British Railways Management Trainee was some way removed from the real railway, I did manage to do some interesting things. Tuesday, June 1, 1965 was one of those days. I slipped out from the Regional Accountants Office and entered the washroom to emerge, like Clarke Kent in a disguise, only I was dressed in engineman's blue overalls. Many of the people I passed in those august halls turned their noses up at my humble self daring to walk where General Managers had walked but I had a date with Clun Castle and the 1615 Paddington.

The 1615 Paddington to Banbury was the last regularly scheduled steam passenger train out of Paddington and it was due to be replaced with a diesel at the change of timetable some ten days hence. I had obtain­ed a footplate pass from my friends in the Divisional Office and elbow­ed my way past the many admirers to present it to Driver Cott and Fire­man Heath of Banbury. Even the Assistant General Manager - Staff was watching. I reported directly to him and he knew that I should have been in the Accountant's Office, so I kept well in the shadows by the front spectacle plate until we left the station. The empty coaches were late arriving at the platform behind the Western diesel hydraulic and we left a couple of minutes late. With a short blast of the whistle, we departed smoothly without any slipping. Waving to the crews on other trains waiting to depart it was a sobering thought that the soft exhaust beats from Clun Castle were the first and last steam engine sounds that would be heard under Brunel’s roof that day. We went out Main Line waving to more railwaymen at Ranelagh Bridge and there were more watching us from the Paddington Carriage Servicing Yard. In fact, it was as if the railway had come to a momentary halt so that everybody could watch us go past.

The scene at Paddington on 11 June 1965.  This was about as close as I was able to get to the locomotive.
The back of the head of the schoolboy in the blazer is John Bennett who writes "People who ought to know (or ought to remember) all agree that it IS the back of my head on the right of your photo of the last 4.15 at Paddington".

With a good boiler of water and steam at 220 lbs., Clun Castle made a good sight. She was in great shape both externally and mechanically. At this time, there were only four Castles left in ser­vice and Clun was the best. The fireman had built up a good haycock fire well burnt through but with a slight black crust at the back. The coal was dusty with some good sized lumps and we didn't expect any difficulty with the light 160 ton train. The ATC siren sounded to show a red light at Subway Junction. With speed reduced, the signal cleared for us to go from Main to Relief line. Once clear of the crossing, 7029 was opened out a bit but we soon had to shut off for the junction at Old Oak Common. A hoot from the siren, wave to more railwaymen at Old Oak Common, then the approach controlled signal turned to green and we had a clear run down the Joint Line. The re­gulator was opened out now and all of the familiar sounds returned. The curious way the GWR whistle seemed to be muted from the footplate, the muffled churning from the chimney (muffled because most of the sound comes from deep within the bowels of the locomotive), the friendly ring of the GWR ATC bell and, above all this, the incessant din and clatter of the locomotive as she lurched and clattered over points. Clun rode well considering her age, but of course, she wasn't as steady as a diesel, this being particularly noticeable in the way she tended to roll a bit when going over pointwork.

Firing was easy and the steam and water were comfortably maintained. The driver's side injector had been modified to give a slower rate of delivery and this was sufficient to maintain the water level. We were on time at Gerrard's Cross, our first stop. Another memory returned with the very strong smell from hot brake blocks - a smell that cannot be experienced with the diesels. There weren't very many people at Gerrard's Cross and we were very quickly away to Beaconsfield. Although there were few people on the train, there were many people of all ages watching us go past. I must have been recorded in still and movie many times that day. We soon reached Beaconsfield, again marked by the lack of passengers, and I began to earn my keep by taking over the shovel. I fired all the way to Bicester which was very easy not only because of the light load but also because of the easy timing and lengthy station stops. The GWR shovel is big and will take an enormous amount of coal. This means that a big swing is required to get a shovelful right to the front of the firebed. A certain amount will shake down from the back but not enough to keep the front adequately fed. I bounced the shovel off the back part of the fire but I always found that the most difficult part was to avoid a build up in the middle half way in where the back starts to drop steeply down to the front. A build up here will quickly stop coal from getting to the front and will build up even quicker thus starving the front. If this happens the only thing to do is to get out the pricker and smooth out the bump.

In 1964, the 4.15 pm London Paddington-Banbury semi-fast  became the last steam-hauled service from the termnus.  the train's final steam-hauled day was on June 11 1965, worked by double chimney 'Castle' 4-6-0 No. 7029 Clun castle.  It pauses at Princes Risborough with the last run of the 4.15 pm.  Colour Rail.  Steam World August 2007.

We had a five minute station stop at High Wycombe and 17½ at Princes Risborough where we waited for the Birmingham Pullman to pass in the through road. At Bicester we drew forward into the siding, to allow the 1710 Paddington to stop in the platform and then drew back to continue on the last leg to Banbury. A railway enthusiast came up to us to say that a friend of his was just outside the station with a camera and would the driver please give it the lot. We left Bicester in a hurry. Clun slipped a bit, but soon found her feet and must have presented a good action subject for the photographer.

There is a climb of 1 in 200 up through Ardley and this was the only time that we were in trouble for steam. The reason for this was obvious. Clun had become cold during the long stand at Bicester. The fire was alright and the bar soon helped to put things right. As it turned out, this helped to create a most unusual trip through the tunnel before Aynho. The firehole doors were almost closed and there was only a narrow shaft of light thrown back on to the tender. The tunnel, although less than a mile long, is curved so that one cannot see the end. It was pitch dark and I couldn't even see the smoke following the contours of the boiler and wallowing over the top of the tender.

There was a brief pause at King's Sutton, then unstaffed, and the evening sun that came out to help our way into Banbury, was the sort of sunset that would bring a lump to one's throat. That day there was a particularly large lump in my throat. I was saying good­bye to some dear friends - first Gladiator, then Tretower Castle, Swindon, Sir Edward Elgar and finally Clun Castle. A short 15 mph permanent way slowing, a brief signal check and we ran into the relief platform at Banbury. The crew were in a hurry to sign off duty, so we quickly uncoupled and ran forward to the starter. Two class 9 2-10-0s on their way to take up an iron ore working and we were given the road right through the down main to the shed where Clun was berthed on the coal stage road. Without looking back the crew quickly walked to the shed office to go home but I lingered around. Clun Castle was looking good with her brightwork well polished. Banbury had added a nice touch. The number 7029 was painted on the right hand front buffer beam as a reminder of former GWR standard practice. I just stood and looked at her simmering quietly in the evening sunshine. The trip had been an easy one that hadn't really extended either engine or crew but it was one of the last trips in regular service. To the men there was nothing exceptional about this run - it was just another day's work - and they were looking forward to the diesel relacement. This cannot be replaced now that the steam engine is a rare spectacle. To-day's steam specials with their holiday atmosphere cannot replace the everyday commonplace type of trip that this was. Because it was commonplace this trip meant much more to me as my feelings were not diverted by the spectacle itself.

I finally tore myself away from Clun and, with moist eyes, made my way sadly back to the station to catch a diesel multiple unit home. That was the last time that I rode a British steam locomotive.

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