Many congratulations to Bluebell volunteer Chris Cooper, who received a lifetime achievement award at the annual National Transport Trust awards on 20 October 2021. The award was received for his services to the Bluebell Railway - in particular for his carriage cleaning work. HRH The Princess Royal presented Chris with the award at the ceremony at Fawley Hill.
Chris Cooper was member number 32 when the Bluebell Railway Preservation Society was founded in 1959. His early life was in the Croydon area, which was rich in all types of transport from the bustling Southern Railway electric traction, freight yards and the private sidings of the power stations and factories. Then there were the countless central and country bus and trolley bus routes that criss-crossed this part of South London; Croydon Airport was still operational. Chris did not have to travel far to indulge his transport enthusiasm.
His career was in retail but in those pre Sunday-trading days, Chris would always be found at Sheffield Park often arriving in the early hours to clean and prepare the coaching stock. Like most people at the beginning of the movement, Chris helped as an all-round volunteer: weeding the track, greasing points and signalling equipment. At the opening ceremony on the 7th August 1960 he was hand-signalling trains out of Sheffield Park. On such occasions he could always be relied on to appear in full Victorian dress. Our first Santa Specials ran in 1962, and a few years later Chris became our third 'Santa', a role he took on for a decade.
A few years after operations began, Chris was asked to take overall responsibility for the cleaning of carriages and thus began a lifetime's passion to maintain both interior and exterior of the coaching fleet in good condition.
He left his retail career to become the Bluebell's full-time carriage cleaner building up a regular team, still very much in existence today. This ensured the carriage fleet was being maintained in top order; the locomotive at the front might be the spectacle but passengers spend their journey in a carriage and the quality of this environment is the impression they take away.
Leading the team, Chris set a very a high standard, so much so that the feedback from passengers and visitors became a key feature of the Bluebell to the point where other Heritage Railways would send their cleaning teams over to learn from Chris!
During his time, Chris has served on several committees, was an elected Bluebell Society Trustee and led the Croydon Area Supporters Group, for whom his country-wide coach trips became legendary, including a private visit to Fawley Hill!
In March 2019 at the Bluebell's 60th anniversary dinner, Sir Peter Hendy presented Chris with an award celebrating his 60 years of service to the Bluebell and in December 2020 he celebrated his 80th birthday but sadly, circumstances prevented any celebrations.
Whilst not attending everyday of the week now, Chris still regularly drives from Dorking to the Bluebell to continue sweeping, mopping, cleaning windows and polishing the brass to ensure the coaching stock continues to be renowned for its presentation.
To everyone at the Bluebell Railway, carriage cleaning and Chris Cooper are synonymous. The Bluebell is grateful to Chris for everything he has done and it's not a bad record to still be cleaning carriages with such passion after 60 years.