Photographs of the event are provided by Barry Coward on separate pages.
Richard Bowker, Chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority visited the Bluebell Railway to formally open the retail unit at Sheffield Park Station on Saturday 15 May.
The original shop was a make-shift lean-to, under the waiting room window at Sheffield Park, then it expanded into a donated station bookstall from W.H. Smith. In 1976 the shop moved into purpose built accommodation on the platform adjacent to the Station building, with about 44 square metres of sales floor.
This structure provided much needed revenue producing, by 2003, 15% of the total revenue. However it was clear by the early 1990's, that with growing numbers of visitors, larger premises were needed. At that time drawings were prepared and planning permission sought but with so many calls in the Railway's resources, it was not until 2001 that serious efforts to start work were made. It took 2 years to make the business case, put together the finance, and go out to tender to complex array of contractors.
Building commenced in May 2003, and was concluded by Easter 2004. Early results show that the investment will pay for itself. With 176 square metres of sales floor, the ability to display existing stock to greater effect, coupled with the better environment have improved volume and value of sales. A start is now being made to expand the range to appeal to a wider audience of visitors.
The budget for the project was £350,000, but the opportunity to undertake additional works, peripheral to the main project, but desirable in the achievement of longer term improvements to the station area, entailed some extra spending. However this will achieve savings in the future.
The Railway is very proud of the latest improvement to the facilities offered to the visitor. It makes a better environment for our visitors, and the staff working there, and has improved the appearance and convenience of Sheffield Park station in the process.
After performing the opening Mr. Bowker took a tour of the railway in the company of the the Bluebell's four Vice Presidents, Sir Alastair Morton, David Quarmby CBE, Geoffrey Cope and Bill Brophy. A unique occasion not only as all four Vice Presidents were in attendance but that the current SRA Chairman was accompanied by his predecessor (Sir Alastair Morton) and his Deputy Chairman (David Quarmby).
The tour included the locomotive works with its newly installed cranes, the site for a proposed new carriage and locomotive storage and display building, the extension to East Grinstead, the carriage and wagon works and a talk on signalling changes at Horsted Keynes. Mr Bowker rode on the footplate of GWR Dukedog 9017 Earl of Berkeley. He remarked to driver Gerry Butler on the excellent state of the permanent way.
Keen eyed passengers have spotted pumas whilst travelling by train on the Bluebell Railway. Norman Blake, Bluebell's Operations Asssitant has spotted foot-prints near the line not far from Sheffield Park Station, and loco crews have seen them from the footplate.
Puma, the largest of the Lesser Cats, has been spotted all over Sussex. They are very wary of humans but appear to be unphased by steam trains.
Apparently they have been in the UK for centuries, not just the last thirty or so years as people might have thought. The majority of these exotic cats are descended from long-term residents, and not those that have escaped private collections or zoos.
On entering the Railfest site from the National Railway Museum, one is greeted by the sight of the Bulleid Society's stunning Malachite Green 21C123 "Blackmoor Vale", in steam. It is adjacent to where City of Truro is giving public rides. It is one of two locos which moved from Sheffield Park to York for Railfest.
The other loco travelling up from the Bluebell was the Bulleid Q1, which has been on loan to the Bluebell for 27 years. During that time it has twice been overhauled and was operational for many of those years. Now at the back of our queue for overhaul behind such locos as "Sir Archibald Sinclair", "Stowe", the Maunsell "Q" and "S15", it would realistically have been many years before it could steam again at Sheffield Park. As such, and because the NRM is short both of "ordinary" goods locos, and of locos to recall the wartime period, it will now remain on display at York. The NRM has not ruled out a return to Sussex in the future for another period of operation, so one might consider it as maintaining a virtual place in our restoration "queue". It was interesting to note that the "Charlie", out of service since July 2000, appeared visually in much better condition than some of the locos actually in steam at Railfest!
The Southern was very well represented. As well as the two Bulleid locos, there was a USA tank from the KESR, the NRM's "Beattie Well Tank", "Sir Lamiel", the Vintage Carriages Trust's SR Matchboard brake coach (which visited the Bluebell for a period some years ago) and, tucked away in a shed, Terrier "Boxhill" in the company of a LSWR brake van. Of further local interest was the first 4-car Class 171 turbostar for use on the Uckfield line, complete with the new "Southern" logo on the side, but the modern exhibits seemed to attract less attention than the older ones. Of great interest also to Southern fans should be the replica Lynton and Barnstaple loco, under construction at Boston Lodge, which was also on display - wheels, frames, cylinders, boiler and side-tanks indicating a project well on the way to completion.
Railfest continues until the 6 June, and the massive site has proved capable of swallowing the crowds attending without any feeling of overcrowding. We saw many familiar faces on Saturday, and many other Bluebell members I know are visiting during this week. Also holding up the Bluebell flag was our BR-liveried delivery van (right), as well as a Bluebell publicity stand and the Bulleid Society sales stand.
A professional DVD will be made of the event.
Orders will be taken by the booking office, and on the days of the concerts.
Tickets are still available from
"Music Festival", The Bluebell Railway
Horsted Keynes Station
The photos here (from John Woods) show the Bluebell members' social evening held on Sunday evening at Horsted Keynes. Clive Emsley and Claire provided the BBQ, the Harveys flowed from the bar, and our live band were as entertaining as ever. A good time (or better in some cases) was had by all.
The following morning, and our three-train service was in full swing by 11.10 am. Here the SR vintage train with LBSCR locos "Fenchurch" of 1872 and "Birch Grove" (1898) has just arrived in platform 3 with the first train of the day from Kingscote. Once the 11am departure from Sheffield Park (headed by No.75027) arrives in platforms 4-5, the 11.17 (with No 80151) will depart southwards from platform 2, to be followed at 11.31 by the vintage train. The locomotive just visible in platform 1 is the 1877-built Manning Wardle "Sharpthorn", one of the contractor's locos originally used in the building of the Lewes to East Grinstead line, and currently being repainted by Matthew Cousins.
The Southern at War weekend on May 8-9 saw many cameo scenes recreated, and this scene at Kingscote station, photographed by Nick Beck, gives a flavour of the event.
Nick has a photo gallery from the first day of the weekend, and Paul Pettitt has some very evocative scenes from the weekend on his web site, both of which do justice to the scope of the event better than I can in words.
Retired Southern Railwayman Michael Webb has brought out an A5-sized booklet entitled "The Rise and Fall of Wimborne Station" to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the closure of the Dorset station this year (May 2nd).
"Wimborne" is both a station history and rare personal memoir as Michael began his 50-year railway career there as a "number taker" in 1942.
"Wimborne", limited to a single print run of 500 copies only, contains all previously unseen photographs from the George Marsh Steam Archive.
Copies are only available via Bluebell Life Member Melvyn Overbury from the address below at £2.95 (plus 25p P&P). Please make payment out to "Buggleskelly Books".
"Wimborne Station booklet",
22 Glassenbury Drive
E. Sussex TN40 2NY
10% of the income from all orders received by Melvyn will go to the Bluebell Railway "Atlantic Project" .
Track-laying continues to progress rapidly towards the face of the tip and all being well, should be completed to the foot of the tip by July. In the meantime the P-way volunteers have been assisting with the reception of further lorry-loads of rail at West Hoathly and sleepers, pads and clips at Kingscote.
At the AGM we heard of the protracted negotiations for the purchase of the station site at East Grinstead and we are now hopeful of some good news in the not too distant future. Until we own this land it is difficult to go ahead with any design or planning application. The viaduct still needs some major structural work to the Southern arch and to the complete decking. Jim Turtle and his gang have previously done a lot of work on the viaduct followed by the major contractual repairs to the brickwork. Security is a problem as, despite investing in heavy duty fencing, vandals still access the viaduct and attempt to dislodge capping stones. The signalling design for the extension is already completed.
There has been a lot of background activity heading towards the tip removal. We are consulting widely in accordance with Planning Condition No 7. Graham Flight (PLC Chairman) and Chris White (Infrastructure Director) gave a presentation to East Grinstead Town Council in April and a public consultation / exhibition in East Grinstead is planned for early June at East Court on the 8th and 9th, between 11.00am and 9.00p.m. Directors will be present to meet the public. This is to be immediately followed by a major presentation, given to the major stakeholders from all the relevant Councils and Authoritative Bodies.
We are in negotiation with a mass of statutory bodies, each with their own individual requirements. We need to satisfy them and the townspeople that removal will be done in a controlled way. The widely reported "odour tests" and ecology surveys have already been carried out. The hope is that by end of this year we will have all the green lights to empty the tip. Removal is likely to be by road.
December 2006 is still the target for completion of the extension but it is acknowledged that it might slip to early 2007 and is subject to successful fund raising.
Its important to remind people that this is the Society's number 1 objective and despite the odd setback, substantial progress has been made over the last year.
The extension is currently deemed a construction site and access is forbidden unless express permission has been given by either Ron Harwood or Paul Robertson. Please respect this for your own safety!
Forty years after it was last at Horsted Keynes, unique 2-2-0 Aveling Porter locomotive "Blue Circle" has returned. It is principally on the railway for the current series of "Day out with Thomas" events, which conclude this weekend. On Wednesday evening, in appauling weather, a photographic session was held. The photo above is courtesy of Paul Pettitt, and that right, by David Chappell. Further photos of this event are available in an album from Tony Pearce and on Paul Pettitt's web site.
David's photo also shows the freshly re-painted 1877-built contractor's loco "Sharpthorn", which helped to build the Bluebell line back in the 19th century, positioned in the dock at Horsted Keynes.
Sunday July 4th sees Sheffield Park Station host the first Sussex Bus and Coach Day - further details are now available about this event.
The Bluebell Railway Music Festival resulted in about 1,400 tickets being sold across the three evening concerts, and the DVD of the event is currently being edited together, and will be available for sale through the Bluebell shop once it is finished.
Dave Smith has provided a page of photos taken at the Fairport Convention concert, including the photo on the left.
The festival was opened on the Friday evening with a concert at Horsted Keynes given by local Brighton based band The Levellers. Photo Right from Tim Shelley
LMS Jubilee "Leander" has been confirmed as our October visitor, to star in the "Giants of Steam" event. This is the first LMS-liveried engine to visit the preserved Bluebell, and should be a great pull for our visitors.
It is with sadness that I report that George Nickson passed away on 3rd June at his home, just two days after his 68th birthday. George, a master mariner and sea captain had joined the Bluebell in 1962, and for many years has been our road movements officer, organising transport for visiting locomotives and arriving and departing carriages. His funeral was held on 15th June, and needless to say the Railway was well represented; our deepest sympathy goes to his family and friends.
An interactive map showing progress on the East Grinstead Extension track-laying has been created by Jon Bowers.
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