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A Bit of History




I think I may have sketched the background for Blacklade a very long time ago , probably when it started as part of an RMWeb Challenge some yearsago. If so , the original posting was probably on a version of RMWeb which disappeared into a vortex in cyberspace/a hosting company's servers, and it was probably buried in other comments anyway.


So it's probably worth giving an outline of the assumed history as a seperate posting - if only to provide a baseline from which it's obvious which bits of the potential steam fleet are actually reasonably plausible and which bits are outrageous strays extracted from the depths of the cupboard "Because It's There".


Blacklade is the moderate sized county town of Hallamshire, a small Midland shire hitherto unknown to cartographers and the Local Government Association. Hallamshire is probably a North Midland shire, as West Yorks PTE units turn up there, and I suspect Blacklade has a passing resemblance to what Derby might have been, if the Midland mainline had never gone near it. It has a population of about 130-145,000: a bit more than Lincoln, about the same as Cambridge , and considerably less than Nottingham or Leicester


In the late 1840s, George Hudson gave it a railway at the expense of the Midland shareholders. This originated from a junction about 10 miles from Toton - the exact railway geography is lost in a maze of connections, but you can certainly get to Birmingham and Nottingham - and ended up at a modest terminus just outside the town centre, where a new square was being laid out in a fit of mid Victorian expansiveness. Somewhat later, the MS&LR arrived in the town from the general direction of Chesterfield . At this point it became necessary to distinguish between the two stations, and the Midland premises took the name of the adjacent Artamon Square


By 1900, the newly renamed and extended Great Central was very much cock of the walk at Blacklade. Its line had been extended southward to meet the GN Nottingham - Derby line and so rejoin the London Extension at Bagthorpe Jnc just north of Nottingham, turning it into a loop of the GC's new main line - effectively a rather longer and grander version of the Chesterfield loop. The new line strood across the town , with a fine new station pointedly called Blacklade Central , because unlike the Midland's Artamon Square, it was. Being significantly longer than the direct route via Annesley and not really suitable for fast running either , just three London -Sheffield day services ran via Blacklade with a night mail and parcels train thrown in , but if you wanted to go to London, Nottingham , or Sheffield from Blacklade , you made a beeline to the Central station. No doubt the GN got running powers into Blacklade too.


For the next fifty odd years the Midland lines very much played second fiddle to their GC Section neighbours and Artamon Square was rather overshadowed by Central . At this period it was rather like the Midland's Lincoln St Marks - two side platforms capable of holding 4 or 5 Midland non-corridor coaches and a Johnson 2-4-0 , with two centre roads used as carriage sidings, all under an overall roof. However for some reason Blacklade's buildings date from the 1860s rather than the late 1840s like Lincoln (perhaps Hudson fell before the line was complete and there was no money left in the till for proper buildings). There was a proper if modest trainshed like Buxton, and a rather ecclesiastical frontage to Artamon Square with faux "towers" a little like Lowestoft. In the late Victorian age , the Midland must have offered London services, but these seem always to have been portions and through coaches. Perhaps the "mainline" was direct to Birmingham and passengers were expected to continue via the LNWR (at the time of opening Midland trains to London ran via Rugby), and prior to the opening of the Manton route a reversal would have been needed at Nottingham. Perhaps by the time the issue arose the site was too cramped for expansion. And once the GC extension was open it was all too late..


In the meantime Blacklade acquired an electric tramway , to 4' gauge like Bradford and Derby , one of whose main hubs was a terminus at Artamon Square on the edge of the town centre. This because quite extensive, was modernised in the 1920s and 30s under a determined and pro tram manager , and remained open until the immediate post war years [When I discovered the existance of 4' gauge it was immediately adopted by my teenage tramway . Broad enough to permit fully enclosed 4 wheelers, narrow enough to stop any awkward questions about the track gauge....]


Around 1960 , everything changed radically . Blacklade was one of the notable casualties of the Beeching era. The LMR having taken control of the GC main line began rapidly to run it down - express trains between London and Sheffield ceased in 1960 , and in 1963 local services on most of the route were withdrawn too. We may guess that the line through Blacklade Central closed amid a storm of opposition in 1963-4, leaving Blacklade (much like Lincoln) with no real service to London


The LMR had been hatching its plot for some time and had begun its campaign by getting the LMR Architects Dept to vandalise Blacklade Artamon Square in the name of progress. The trainshed was taken down in the late 50s , the side walls cut down to around 10'high, and to provide sufficient capacity to concentrate all remaining local services on the station one of the centre roads was taken out and a short additional platform shoe-horned in beside the remaining one. One of the side platforms recieved a short extension for slightly longer trains. Around 1960, when the expresses were withdrawn, a connection was put in to allow one remaining GC route access to Artamon Square - rather like the connections at Carlton which gave the ex GN Nottingham/Grantham route access to Nottingham Midland when Victoria was closed. A small fuelling point / signing on point was established a little down the line and now sits in the midst of derelict and abandoned freight infrastructure


[i now have a way of justifying my brick retaining wall behind the fuelling point which screens the fiddle yard against t-b-g's strictures about modern image layouts. It is, of course, a stump of part of the viaduct line that carried the GC route across the town - here seen very close to the point where the Sheffield line was diverted into Artamon Square - and abandoned since the early 60s . Or possibly it led into the GC goods station. It has been truncated by the bridge for the new inner ring road opened with a flourish by Ernest Marples in 1962.....]


Around 1970 resignalling transferred control of the area to a major new powerbox and the Midland boxes were demolished . This essentially brings us to the station we see modelled . Nothing much has changed in 15 years , though some things have got tattier . Blacklade is a prime example of the sort of place Sir Peter Parker had in mind when he talked about "the crumbling edge of quality" . By the mid to late 80s the infrastructure is still run down , but the station is now seeing the first influx of brightly coloured new Sprinters and an increase in frequency. By 2000 , the paintwork is fresh , the crumbling brickwork has largely been repointed , there are pot plants in hanging baskets and the signage shows the latest branding: perhaps there is even a 3 car Sprinter to London once a day via Nottingham, or was till they bought Meridians which won't fit Blacklade's platforms - but like Lowestoft the place is still in dire need of improvement


This gives a base line against which to judge the correctness of stock and services and to judge how big a liberty is being taken. The layout has always been intended to have 2 periods : 1985-90 (I am a BR Blue modeller at heart) and 2000-6 (to accomodate all the brightly coloured DMUs I acquired while involved with the abortive club project , which was (then) contemporary). The terminus ante quem for the latter period is the end of the Central Trains franchise, which from memory was autumn 2006: I have several units in that livery and it's pleasing on the eye. Also I used CT a certain amount in that era - which is particularly relevant to the 153s.


The early period allows me to run various things which were typical for Lincolnshire and the East Midlands in the 1980s , and to juxtapose the old guard of Modernisation Plan stock with the new order of Sprinters and Pacers. The limits are reasonably broad , as I want both a Cravens class 105 (common in the area, and because they carried plain blue to the end, much easier for a novice to paint) and one or two 153s , so I can play about with joining and splitting units , which was supposed to be a key component of the operational interest. 153s have been the mainstay of local services in Lincolnshire for nearly 20 years, and Central Trains frequently used them as strengtheners to 158s to produce a 3 car train. 105s were withdrawn from passenger service in 1985 , though a few units lingered another couple of years with the Parcels Sector; the 153s were converted from 155s in 1990.


Strictly speaking they shouldn't be seen side by side, but they do belong to the same period and area of my railway experience. It is odd how when we are dealing with a period where we have no experience at all everything is cut and dried, in crisp, exact and precise detail - but when it's something you lived through, it seems to blur into a continuum . How did I discover HEAs were no longer part of the railway scene? - someone mentioned them as a vanished type , and I suddenly realised I hadn't seen any at Bow Goods for at least 6 months......


The intention has always been to have 3 x 153 - two in Regional Railways , and one in Central Trains, allowing me to run two in both early and late period. At the moment I have one of each, and an out of period unit (in terms of paintwork) has to be used in the early period. The W Yorkshire 158 is strictly speaking out of era in the early period (being in the later version of the livery) but doesn't seem to jar , because the main colour is the same as for the earlier W Yorks PTE red/white


The early period also allows me to run a parcels train , and much of my recent stock building has gone into parcels vehicles of which I already have rather more than the handful of vehicles I strictly need, with more to come. This also gets the blue 31s into play, as does the use of some Mk1s and Mk2As as loco hauled substitutes - I now have a decent weathered 2 car set, with another set to sort out (and donor coaches to rebuild for potentially another two sets as well). In practice the layout has generally been run in 80s mode, so I can play with my new built toys, rather than 21st century mode, where there are still gaps in stock. In theory there should also be an engineers train, playing the same trick with engineers brakes as with 153s - however the green Shark is still unfinished , and in early period mode the fiddle yard and layout are already full of stock.....


The notional target date for a steam period seems likely to be 1958: however the anachronisms will be much more marked. Pregrouping carriages are a bit too early (especially the ex LNW set) , Type 2s a shade too late . Ex MR suburban stock just about made it to this point though, the Derby Lightweight single car units were in traffic, the Railbuses came only slightly later (even if the LMR didn't get them till the mid 60s) , C12s were still being used on local trains that year and the L1 and Standard 4MT are bang in period. 1958 is the "least worst fit" of any date. It's just plausible that the LMR have just rebuilt the station and that the connection to the ex GC route has opened - it can't be pushed any earlier.


In theory the three roads of the fiddle yard represent a single track "branch" and a double track "main line" reached via a ladder junction, which splits after a few miles . In practice the roads are used quite indescriminately , but a single track ex GC route towards Chesterfield /Sheffield (the chord/connection being single , at least) and a double track ex Midland route, with lines to Nottingham and Birmingham diverging some miles from Blacklade, fits the scenario nicely



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