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Railway Bridge, Derby Midland Station, Derbyshire

PUBLISHED: 14:33 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:00 20 February 2013

Freight train pulled by a Class 47 diesel

Freight train pulled by a Class 47 diesel

Dave Humphries gets all steamed-up about a railway bridgejust north of Derby Midland station.

Mention trainspotting to anyone old enough to remember the last halcyon years of mainline steam engine running and it's fair to say the image conjured up in their mind's-eye will be one of acne-prone youths gathered at the platform edge, flask and jam sarnies made by a caring and thrifty mum close to hand, excitedly scribbling down yet another previously unseen engine number into a suitably scrunched-up notebook.

During the 1950s and 1960s, trainspotting - as it happens, fairly accurately described above - was extremely popular with the younger element. Though not everyone, myself included, thankfully suffered from having unsightly early teenage spots or had to eat a sticky mess that once passed as neatly made sandwiches. Neither did I wear the anorak - or indeed, ever remotely become one (a term that archetypally is forever associated with anyone having an interest in trains).

I did 'spot' trains - more precisely, locomotives - with a certain degree of fervour right up until 1962, when at the age of 15 I left school to start work. I confess that I have retained an interest, nothing more, for this mode of travel throughout my working life.

It was actually the very pleasant walk home from work in later years by the banks of the River Derwent and on through Basses Rec. that led to me passing Five Arches railway bridge once again. This location was always my, and I dare say every other Derby trainspotter's, favourite stamping ground during the pre-Beeching railway era. This led to my taking several seasonal pictures, often at unusual times of the day, as befits a shift worker carrying a camera.

Built during the years leading up to the 1840 opening of Derby's first railway station, the five-arched bridge carrying the North Midland Railway line (later to become the Midland Railway Company with its headquarters at Derby) that spans the River Derwent was a veritable magnet for trainspotters during the 1950s. An underpass next to the bridge led to Derby's very famous Locomotive Works, a great attraction in itself.

The best thing about the bridge back then was a pedestrian walkway that ran the full length of the Siddals Road-side of the bridge which allowed a youngster almost to reach out and touch a passing train heading for Sheffield or Manchester. At that time there was a direct service to Manchester from Derby via Matlock, Bakewell and Buxton, while trains heading from the north for London and the South West invariably used the more distant tracks that also gave access to the now dismantled Chaddesden sidings.

The trackside view from the walkway high above the river was actually so close to the north-bound rails that many of us would extend our arms through the metal railings to place a halfpenny or penny onto the nearest rail and later - equally safely, I might add - retrieve it once it had been firmly flattened by the first train out of the station.

In the light of current Health and Safety rules and regulations it seems inconceivable that we children - and adults - were ever allowed to stand so close to passing trains, albeit protected by railings. The sight and sound of a steam engine whirring and clanking its way out of Derby station to pass by leaving you enveloped in a cloud of steam was quite something. We could always do our spotting from the nearby station platforms but at Five Arches, the steam trains were alive!

A fundamental part of trainspotting then (it probably still is?) was your compact and easy-to-carry Ian Allan ABC Book of Locomotives which you would later use to underline studiously each engine number, diesel or steam, with a ruler. A process that bore witness to your successful 'spot'. Quite often a boast to absent schoolmates that you had 'copped a very rare locomotive at Five Arches bridge last Saturday' was necessary and was often met with some doubt as to your honesty!

Apart from the locomotives, many trains of the period were also given evocative names such as The Master Cutler (which only ran through Derby from 1966), The Devonian and The Palatine which ran from Manchester to St Pancras in London via the Peak Forest line. The more enlightened amongst us knew when either of the latter was imminent and there was always a distinct groan to be heard when it was seen to be diesel-powered.

Fortunately, many of the old steam and diesel locomotives have been preserved by groups of enthusiasts and quite often re-enact a journey over the bridge they once made 50 or more years ago. Today I take most of my photographs from a little piece of land that juts out into the Derwent which is popularly used by fishermen. Considering it's close to the new road that takes traffic over the railway line towards Pride Park it's very quiet, however, it's a world away from the atmospheric sounds that I and many more were once able to absorb at such close quarters.


Footnote. I hadn't travelled by rail for at least ten years but after writing this story I couldn't resist the urge to take a train journey again. My wife and I decided it just had to be to the great and glorious terminus that is now St Pancras International.

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