It is possibly Britain's most misunderstood and under-appreciated hobby. Now the National Railway Museum is preparing to stage a five month celebration of all things Trainspotting. STEPHEN LEWIS reports
WE like to pride ourselves on our eccentricity. Queuing, an obsession with cricket scores and the shipping forecast - they're all uniquely and oddly British.
Even our tolerance has its limits, however. Mention that you're a keen trainspotter and the room is likely to go very quiet.
Which is itself all very odd, given that trainspotting is one of the most harmless hobbies imaginable - and that in the 1950s, 60s and 70s in particular it was hugely popular.
The National Railway Museum has decided the time has come to bring trainspotting in from the cold.
Starting from September 26, it will be mounting a five month celebration of trainspotting in all its forms - including a specially-commissioned art installation, a 'trainspotting trail' designed to put visitors into the mind of a spotter - and a series of 'spotter stories' mounted on boards around the museum.
"It is one of those hobbies that is much misunderstood - but as the National Railway Museum, it makes sense that we should explore it," says the NRM's Cath Farrell.
Andrew Cross, the man chosen by the NRM from a shortlist of 120 artists from all over the UK and overseas to produce a piece of original artwork, Parallel Tracks, for the exhibition is himself a keen trainspotter. "I am one of those 70s schoolboys who used to loiter at the end of station platforms, now grown up - sort of!" he says.
He has never quite understood why the hobby he loves provokes the reaction it does.
"I think we are all trainspotters of a kind. Most people are afraid to recognise it. (But) if you listen to the way people talk about the Glastonbury line-up or, indeed, visiting art exhibitions, it's generally the ticking off of a list..."
That's telling you.
As if to demonstrate that trainspotters really are just the same as everyone else, the NRM is encouraging people with stories about trainspotting to get in touch.
They have already had a few belters - including the two on these pages by self-confessed former trainspotters from York.
If you have stories you'd like to submit yourself, you can find out how in the panel below.
Meantime, read on...
• The NRM's Trainspotting celebration runs from September 26 this year to March 1 2015. As well as Andrew Cross' specially-commissioned art installation and a 'trainspotting trail', it will include a series of 'spotter stories' mounted on boards around the museum.
The museum is still keen to hear from trainspotters with stories to share. Contact Amy Banks at firstname.lastname@example.org or post pictures and stories on the museum’s website, nrm.org.uk/NRM/GetInvolved/trainspotting.aspx. Images can also be submitted via twitter using #trainspotting @railwaymuseum.
Trainspotters will also bne able to share their tales in person at the museum’s ticketed ‘York Shed Bash’ Spotters Special event on Saturday 27 September from 5pm – 8pm.
Glyn Sunman, 65, a retired computer programmer from Woodthorpe, was a keen trainspotter as a boy of 11 or so at Nunthorpe Grammar School - until the Beatles, the Stones and an awareness of that strange species known as girls got in the way. Here he describes trying to spot the famous Kingfisher at York Station more than 50 years ago
"Now I accept that train spotting isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And in these days of diesel and electric locomotion it isn’t mine either. But when you’re a ten year old and you’re living in the age of steam and a penny halfpenny bus ride’ll get you to one of the major stations on the east coast main line and when all you mates are doing it, then train spotting is what you do too.
There was a barrier onto the station in those days, railings painted blue, where a man stood in his box punching your ticket as he let you through. You could buy a ‘platform ticket’ for tuppence at a machine close by. But tuppence was tuppence – so we would get off the bus in Rougier Street, walk up to the bridge over Leeman Road and turn down the lane to Scarborough Bridge. There was a gap in the fence down there and you could climb up the bank onto what is now the short-stay car park but was then I think Platform 4.
They’ve changed the platform numbers as well; the main line ones were 8 and 9 then, and so long were they, in fact, that they were split into north and south. And it was at the very end of one these that we would encamp, with perhaps a dozen others, to await the streaks.
We knew when they were due – we knew the times of the major trains by heart. They had names – ‘The Elizabethan’, ‘The Aberdonian’, ‘The Tyne Tees Pullman’, ‘The Flying Scotsman’ – and they were all pulled by streaks. And you knew when one was coming by the whistle – no wishy washy high pitched toot, no girly shriek, but a deep throated bellow – my, they were the beasts of the eastern region. And then the adrenalin would start flowing, the tension would mount, the excitement intensify. Would it be one you hadn’t seen before? Would it be a new sighting? Or, in the jargon - would it be a ‘cop’? Because that’s why you were there - to cop all the streaks.
In fact getting most of them was not difficult. There were 34 of them and they all, with but few exceptions, worked the main line between Kings Cross and Edinburgh. So if you spent enough time in the station you would soon seem them all. Those exceptions were rarer; they worked north of Edinburgh and Glasgow up to Aberdeen and were scarcely seen in York. And the rarest of all was number 24 – Kingfisher.
No one had Kingfisher. Even the older lads who’d been at it for years didn’t have Kingfisher. South Africa and Indi’ - yes – but not Kingfisher.
So imagine my excitement when, on arriving at school one morning, Charlie and John came charging up - 'Kingfisher’s in!'
'Yea – it came in yesterday. It’s just sitting there in the yards.'
'You’ve seen it?!”
'Yea – we went last night.'
'You didn’t tell me!'
'Well you weren’t around to tell.'
'You sure?' – was this some kind of joke?
'No – honest – we copped it last night.'
This was desperate. A whole day at school before I could go and see it.
'When’s it going out?'
'Dunno – might be there a few days.' Or it might not, it might be out today.
And so it was, after an interminable day in school, I found myself galloping off up Leeman Road, past the sheds (where the NRM stands now) to the yards beyond, where, with any luck, my quarry lay.
No streak. I looked around desperately – but no streak. I clambered over the fence, walked to the shed doors and peered in. There were no streaks around the turn-table.
'Oi you!' some workman shouted. 'Ger out of it!' I legged it. It wasn’t worth getting caught on railway property.
I’d had it – it must have gone out. And it might be months before it’s back again. Rats, rats, rats.
'Did you get it,' I was asked the next day.
'Yep', I said as casually as I could.
'I did – it was just there where you said.'
'Well you’re lying – Wreggie’s dad’s a driver – an’ ‘e said it went out at lunch-time.'
'Well that’s odd ‘cos I saw it,' I insisted, rather unconvincingly.
Well, lying’s one thing but dishonesty’s another. I never did underline it in my Ian Allen spotter’s book. That would be sacrilege. And South Africa and India never got underlined in my book either, for that matter.
And now I suppose they never will."
David Quarrie, 67, from Holgate - a regular correspondent on the Press letters page who gave up trainspotting in the late 1960s when the age of steam came to an end...
"From about the age of 7 I would go with friends to train spot at York Railway Station, on Hob Moor or at the sheds on Leeman Road. In the 1950's and 1960's we as a family would drive down to Cornwall or Devon for our Summer holidays, breaking our journey at Bristol or Bath, visit Temple Meads Station and train spot again. Once at our destination, I would buy a Rail Rover ticket and go on my own to train spot at numerous GWR stations like Penzance, Par, Truro.
At Hob Moor I would go up the banking and watch the BR O8 class diesel shunters use the "Hump Yard" to shunt wagons whilst I waited with my friends David and Peter, to see the express, freight, parcels, cattle, fish, suburban, inter-city trains go by and note down their numbers in my Ian Allan Books. On one occasion my friend Peter Grant fell off the under pass tunnel bridge on Hob Moor, breaking both wrists. We had to run to the nearest house and call for an ambulance. No mobile phones in those days.
When visiting York Station, we often had to pay about two pence (old money ) for a platform ticket to get to our favourite position on the northern end of what was then Platform 6 or 9. We sat on empty luggage 4 steel wheel barrows and ate our packed lunch and teas. We would take a flask, bread rolls, Kraft triangular cheese pieces or squares, Smiths crisps with the little blue bags of salt, sausage rolls, a slice of cake, a packet of Polo mints, Wrigleys spearmint chewing gum, a chocolate biscuit ( Penguin, Blue Riband or Kit-Kat ).
The best "treat" was when the engine driver of LNER Class J72 0-6-0 tank engine, on duty as station pilot in what was then Bay Platform 3, let us into his cab and he took us, one at a time, for a ride up and down the length of the empty Bay Platform. I guess had he been spotted, he could well have lost his job."