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Plaque Is A Fitting Tribute To Former Steam Engine Shed And Those Who Worked There

Published on: 10 Jul, 2017
Updated on: 10 Jul, 2017

Retired railwaymen and fans of steam trains gathered on Farnham Road bridge on Sunday morning (July 9) for the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate Guildford’s engine shed that closed exactly 50 years ago.

Pictured from left at the unveiling of the plaque commemorating Guildford’s Motive Power Depot: Bill Moore, Geoff Burch, Richard Greenwood and Pat Kinsella. Click on pictures to enlarge in a new window.

Once a hive of railway activity with many men working in the shed or based there, it is now the site of a multi-storey car park.

Geoff Burch, from Worplesdon, started his railway career at the Guildford Motive Power Depot cleaning steam engines in 1961. He was a fireman on one of the last locomotives to leave the shed on a hot July 9, 1967 – exactly the same kind of weather for the unveiling of the plaque.

People gather for the unveiling of the plaque.

In his speech to around 40 people who gathered at the pedestrian entrance to the car park, Geoff said: “It doesn’t seem that long ago when Pat Kinsella and I departed from here aboard our respective locomotives – BR Standards 73118 and 73155 to go light-engines to Salisbury.

“Let’s also not forget the other drivers and firemen that left here that day; the late Dave Elston, Bill Brain, Dave Bunce and Charlie Hampshire who have all transferred to that great engine-shed in the sky.”

He then explained how the idea of a plaque came about: “This occasion was originally an idea of another old steam colleague, Bill Moore, who thought it would be a good idea for a few of us to meet up here and then just go for a drink afterwards.

“Instead, Bill, Pat Kinsella and I put our heads together and came up with the idea that has now turned out to be a full-blown plaque unveiling ceremony!”

The plaque was officially unveiled on Sunday, July 9, 2017.

Geoff has designed it, basing it on other plaques around Guildford town centre, installed some years ago, all giving historical details.

The plaque features three etched photographs of steam engines. One by the late Dave Salmon, who lived in Guildford, and two by steam railway enthusiast Richard Greenwood.

Richard Greenwood unveils the plaque. Seated is George Baker, one of three men in attendance who are in their nineties.

It was therefore appropriate that Richard should unveil the plaque.

Geoff said: “Rochdale born and bred and with railways are his blood, Richard Greenwood attended the law college at Guildford during 1961-62 whilst I was working here as an engine cleaner and young fireman.

“With a keen photographer’s eye, he captured hundreds of superb images of locomotives and I’m therefore indebted to Richard for his kindness in allowing me use a number of them in various books that I’ve self-published.

“During the 1960s Richard led local opposition to the ‘Beeching Axe’ when, almost at a stroke, Britain lost thousands of miles of its railways.

“Richard has also been a member of the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway since 1964, two years after the five-mile branch line was closed by British Railways as being uneconomic.

“Thanks to a lot of hard work by Richard and other volunteers, the line was re-opened in 1968 – and it’s been run by volunteers from the preservation society ever since.

“Richard was a director of the railway for more than 30 years and its chairman for more than half that time.

“It also gave Richard a glorious opportunity to do what he liked doing best; driving USA Class 30072 (which was the very last locomotive to leave here 50 years ago) along the narrow Worth Valley from Keighley to Oxenhope and back. Not forgetting his present locomotive, West Country Class 34092 ‘City of Wells’, which at this moment is working on loan at the Bluebell Railway.

“For his services to steam railway preservation, Richard was recognised in the Queen’s New Year Honours List in 2000, being awarded an MBE.”

In attendance was 91-year-old Don Ottignon. In Geoff Burch’s book The Ramblings of a Railwayman, he writes: “Don joined the railway in 1947 and was appointed Driver in 1959. I only fired to Don once, on the early paper train from Guildford to Portsmouth. He also ran the Mutual Improvement classes and helped a lot of firemen learn to pass their driving examination.”

Around 50 people, including some groups and societies, have contributed to the cost of the plaque. At the unveiling Geoff named and thanked them all and said: “Over £1,000 was raised and the additional money left over will be donated equally to the Woking Homes and the Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice in Farnham.”

Geoff also thanked Guildford Borough Councillor Bob McShee for help in the necessary permission being granted for the siting of the plaque. It is a fitting tribute to all those who worked on the railways at the Guildford shed.

The site that was once the Guildford Motive Power Depot is now the Farnham Road multi-storey car park.

An aerial view of how the shed looked.

Click here for previous story What Really Went On At Guildford As Steam Engines Were Withdrawn.

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Responses to Plaque Is A Fitting Tribute To Former Steam Engine Shed And Those Who Worked There

  1. Geoff Burch Reply

    July 10, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    Many thanks to everyone who came to the unveiling ceremony and helped make it such a joyous occasion!

    Thanks also to everyone who made donations towards the cost of the plaque.

    The money left over will be shared equally between Woking Homes (a residential home for older people, primarily for people or their spouses with railway or other transport related backgrounds) and the Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice in Farnham.

    Thanks once again!

  2. Bill Moore Reply

    July 11, 2017 at 10:48 am

    If I was still wearing one, I would take my “grease top* cap” of off as a salute to the work by Geoff Burch in designing organising and fundraising the money for the plaque to commemorate the site of Guildford steam depot, and the staff who worked there.

    I am moved by the amount money raised by our supporters from all over the country and pleased the surplus will go to Woking Homes and the Phyllis Tuckwell where my first Wife Liz received humane end of life care some twenty years ago. My thanks to all who turned up to make it a day to remember.

    * Grease top caps were the shiny topped caps worn by steam men to keep grease & oil off their hair when they had to oil inside parts of a steam engine.

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