It’s 50 years on Sunday since the last scheduled steam trains in this area chuffed their way into the history books.
In my second commemorative look back at that day – July 9, 1967 – I’m remembering some of the many characters who brought that era to an end.
At Fratton we had John Hartfree. He was in the navy during the war serving in minesweepers and some of his anecdotes make your hair stand on end. John is still alive and living at Bedhampton, aged 93.
And Brian Sessions, of Fratton, drove the last train over the Hayling branch line in 1963.
It would appear that at the end of steam working most people thought all those who worked on steam were put into a cupboard somewhere and a new lot of men were brought out to work electrics. Of course, it was nothing like that.
Bernie Knibbs joined the railway and was three years chugging around goods yards on steam shunters and firing on 80mph boat trains from Waterloo to Southampton Docks. By the end of his career he had joined Eurostar driving trains at 186mph. The difference is unimaginable.
Most depots closed without a word being said of their passing.
The massive Nine Elms depot outside Waterloo just seemed to fade away. The next depot down the line, Guildford, was more of an occasion but not much. The men finished work on the Sunday and started work again based at Woking.
Mind you, the run down of steam in this area had been going on for many years as the London to Portsmouth line was electrified in 1937. The ‘Pompey line’ as it was called was in fact a branch line which came off the main line at Woking. The line from Woking to Bournemouth was not electrified until 1967 causing the end of steam traction.
Fratton had an allocation of 70 steam locomotives in 1937 but declined after that for obvious reasons.
The depot closed on November 2, 1959, and all the locomotives were transferred across the region. Engines did keep arriving of course for servicing and for goods, ballast, and engineers’ trains right up to the end.
The late Michael G Harvey, in his book Railway Heritage – Portsmouth tells us that on the last day a Standard class 5 worked an empty stock to Clapham Junction.
The final locomotive to work from Fratton happened by mistake.
A USA Tank 30072 was the last locomotive to leave Guildford on the Sunday afternoon of July 9, 1967. It was travelling to Salisbury via Havant and Fareham for disposal.
Approaching Havant the driver realised the engine was short of water so told the signalman to direct him to Fratton.
This was done and a replenished 30072 continued to Salisbury.
By a stroke of luck she was saved from the cutter’s torch and preserved on the Worth Valley Railway in West Yorkshire. She is currently being overhauled at Preston.
So, with the departure of 30072 that was the end of what so many see as the romantic age of steam at Fratton and electrics and diesels took over.