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Steam Power Draws Railwayman’s Nostalgic Ramblings

Published on: 5 Aug, 2012
Updated on: 20 Aug, 2012

By David Rose

There’s a kind of power and draw that steam locomotives have that are like no other inventions made by man.

This is especially true when it comes to the memories those engines evoke when they were saying their farewells on Britain’s railways towards the end of the 1960s.

BR Standard Class 4MT 76076 at Shalford in the spring 1967 not long before steam power was withdrawn on the South Region of British Railways. All photos from Geoff Burch’s book The Ramblings of a Railwayman.

The story of the end of steam on BR, a tearful time for many a train buff, has been told many times along with the remarkable feat that followed – the growth of our ever-popular heritage steam railways.

However, for many there is still a fascination with that period in time during the ‘Swinging Sixties’ when the life-breath was removed from hundreds of dirty, smoky and smelly steam engines as they were withdrawn from service and replaced by more modern forms of motive power.

U Class 31639 at Guildford in 1964.

It certainly was a unique moment in time, when you set it against all the other things going on in a rapidly changing world. not least the space race to the moon. And that is why countless pictorial railway books and DVDs are still being produced for an army of avid readers who have a love of all things steam.

Cover of The Ramblings of a Railwayman by Geoff Burch.

Worplesdon resident Geoff Burch is contributing to this genre of books with his first title, The Ramblings of a Railwayman. He self-published it last year and it is currently selling well. So much so, he now has a follow-up nearing completion. Sitting with him in his study, he clicks on his computer screen and shows me some of the evocative photos of steam locos that will feature in the new book.

Geoff is in a better position than many to write and compile books that focus on the demise of steam on BR –  as a young employee he was there; and until recent retirement, had a long career as railwayman.

What makes his first book so special is, that not only is it full of wonderful photographs, but it really takes the reader deep into the life and times of what it was like to work on the railways back then, and especially in the Guildford area.

The book is more than just about steam engines. It is a social history too, with a comprehensive set of pen portraits of many of the engine drivers, firemen and other staff whom Geoff worked with at Guildford’s locomotive depot.

In April 1961, at the age of 15 Geoff began work at Guildford as an engine cleaner. From April 1962 until the end of steam in July 1967 he was a fireman on the footplate. He later became a driver of diesel and electric trains, and finally a senior instructor.

He left the railways in 1994, working for Surrey Police for 11 years in its computer-based training department. However in 2005, he says he was “persuaded to rejoin the the railway industry” as an operations trainer for South West Trains, retiring in February 2009.

Geoff Burch in the cab of rebuilt West Country Class 34018 ‘Axminster’ prior to the engine’s departure to Salisbury and withdrawal from service.

He has certainly been busy in his retirement writing and compiling his first book. The layout and design is all his own and he is a deft hand using his computer skills to enhance nearly 50-year-old colour slides of steam trains, bringing them back to life, removing scratches and sharpening them up ready for modern printing techniques.

Geoff’s address book of former railwaymen must be huge. In the course of preparing his first book, and for the new one, he has been in contact with many former colleagues. He has recorded their memories and has had the pick of the snapshots they cherish from their days on the railways. This means Geoff can include images in his books that have not been seen in print before.

Antics of railwaymen in the drivers’ cabin at Guildford – Jeff Cook, Alex (Mac) McClymont and Paddy Kinsella.

The new book is titled Further Ramblings of a Railwaymen, and, as its title suggests, it contains more than just Geoff’s memories. It features 11 contributors. Geoff says: “Each chapter features a particular railwayman and their ramblings.  There’s Guildford men Pat Kinsella as well as Alex McClymont,with a number of his own photos; Bob Cartwright, who worked at Eastleigh and Denis Turner, a Weymouth man.

Geoff Burch.

“I have traction inspector Tim Crowley. He started his railway career in Ireland, then came to the UK but at first couldn’t find a job on the railways, so he became a coal miner in Nuneaton. Later though he did join BR, getting a job as a locomotive fireman at Ashford.”

Geoff has also secured a number of rather special and rarely seen images for the book that were taken by Guildford resident Dave Salmon. Geoff says: “Although Dave did work at Guildford loco shed as a fireman, after doing his national service he only returned to the railways for a short while. However, his interest didn’t wane and he went all over the place taking photos of the last days of steam.”

The Ramblings of a Railwayman contains Geoff’s memories of the last day of steam on the Southern Region – July 9, 1967. He was on the footplate of BR Standard Class 5MT 73155 that was coupled to sister loco 73118 for the journey from Guildford to Salisbury. Here the locos pass beneath the road bridge at St Johns near Woking.

The book will be similar in format to the first one –  an A4 hardback on quality paper with more than 230 pages. Geoff hopefully expects to have it ready for Christmas. In the meantime he gives talks about his railway adventures. He will be at the Guildford Institute on November 14.

A stop for refreshments at Grateley en route to Salisbury on the last day of steam, July 9, 1967. From left: Bill Brain, Dave Elston and Geoff Burch. They had a 15-minute wait here, so they went to the pub opposite the station and brought the drinks back and had these historic photos taken.

His first book, The Rambings of a Railwayman, is exceptional value at £20. It can be ordered direct from Geoff by sending him an email to:

Alternatively, if you are in Guildford, drop into Ben’s Collector’s Records in Tunsgate where copies of the book are always in stock.

Click here to see this website’s story about Ben’s shop.

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Responses to Steam Power Draws Railwayman’s Nostalgic Ramblings

  1. Malcolm Wyatt

    August 6, 2012 at 7:32 am

    The Rambings of a Railwayman is indeed a great read, and while £20 seems a lot of money in these days of internet book bargains, it’s a weighty tome full of evocative photographs transporting you back to those late days of steam. Geoff was there at the sharp end at an important time of our social and industrial history, and that adds value to his memoirs, detailing his time on the railways and recording some of the many characters he worked alongside. I certainly treasure my copy and I’m pleased to see he’s steaming ahead with a follow-up!

  2. Ben Darnton

    August 6, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    When I read in the local press last year that a new railway book on Guildford engine sheds was being prepared for release I was not expecting such a superbly self published and produced book as this.I literally didnt put this superb volume down for a couple of days and I am looking forward to Geoff’s talk on the subject at the Guildford institute in November and his new book currently being readied for release at Christmas.