Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Chedd Crossing Keeper today

Pictures from CVR  Facebook page, by Frank Richards and Dave Gibson. Please click on any one for a larger image.

Cheddleton station in festive mood as families crowd the platform where the Santa Train awaits departure for Froghall

The Churnet Valley Railway are into the Santa Train season; a seven-coach train topped and tailed by the Polish Tank and Class 33 diesel 'Sophie'. The train runs for 11 days in December, including all this week up until Christmas Eve, and makes several trips up and down the line as this copy of the Working Time Table (WTT) shows.

Working Time Table (WTT) for this week (click on it for a larger image). The times that are significant for the Crossing Keeper are departures from Cheddleton water tower ('down' trains) and arrivals at Cheddleton ('up' trains), as these movements require the gates to be opened for the trains.

Crossing keeper is the first job I checked out in on the Churnet Valley Railway and a pre-requisite for training as a signalman in Consall box. Consall box is only used for days when two trains are running on the line, so they can cross at Consall, and there have been no such days on the railway since my last turn in the box in August see here. Kevin, who makes up the volunteer rotas, was desperate for Crossing Keeper volunteers this week so I put myself forward for today's slot.

There is a requirement for a Crossing Keeper at Cheddleton as Basford Hall Lane crosses the railway on a level crossing adjacent to the station. The Keeper's main job is to open and close the crossing gates for trains, and signal the trains across the crossing once the gates are secured open for the railway (and therefore closed across the road). 

There is a fixed 'home' signal either side of the crossing at which the train must stop unless the Crossing Keeper gives the driver a yellow flag (yellow lamp in darkness, which was the case with the last two trains today) to authorise him to pass the signal 'at danger'. It is therefore a 'fail safe' system as the train will only proceed across the crossing if the Keeper has set the gates and given the driver authorisation to cross.

The Polish Tank gets away from Cheddleton as I stand by the opened (for the railway) crossing gates today wearing my 'grease-top' hat. The fixed home signals for the 'down' direction can be seen on the gantry, both at 'danger', but I have authorised the driver to pass the signal by use of a yellow flag.

I arrived at Cheddleton at about 08:20 this morning to unlock the crossing gates, fit the lamps to the gates, and switch on the 'annunciator' system which gives warning to the Keeper by sounding an alarm when a train is approaching in either the 'up' or 'down' direction. I was also able to help with shunting the train and locomotives ready for the day's services. 

The annunciator alarm gives the Keeper time to stop any road traffic, open and secure the gates across the road, and prepare to give the train driver a yellow flag (or lamp) by the time the train is approaching the crossing. 'Down' trains don't stop at Cheddleton station, but run through to Leekbrook Junction, where they reverse, stopping at Cheddleton in the 'up' direction.

The Santa trains, unusually, are timetabled to take on water at Cheddleton water tower, just south of the station when travelling in the 'down' direction. The annunciator alarm can therefore be ignored for these trains, as there is no need to open the crossing gates for them until they are ready to leave the water tower for Leekbrook Junction. This is signalled to the crossing keeper by several loud blasts on the locomotive's whistle. Notice to open the gates for 'up' rains is given by the annunciator alarm in the normal way.

It can be seen from the WTT that the times of interest to the Crossing Keeper are the following:

'Up' trains departing Cheddleton water tower:   11:06, 12:36, 14:06, 15:36, and 16:51

'Down' trains approaching Cheddleton:   11:19, 12:49, 14:19, 15:49, and 17:12.

At the end of the day the Crossing Keeper switches off the gate lamps and annunciator systems, locks up the Crossing Keeper's hut, removes the lamps from the gates and places them in store, locks the gates 'open' for road traffic, and finally leaves the keys in Cheddleton signal box ready for the next Keeper tomorrow.

Here are a couple of pictures of the Santa train on the Churnet Valley line this week.

The Polish Tank clagging well as it gets the Santa Train away from Froghall. Note the rust on the rails of the adjacent loop line; with the train topped and tailed there is no need for the loco to run-round as usual, so the loop is not used. 

Lovely Consall, site of 'my' signal box. This station is not used on the Santa timetable (a 'bah humbug! station according to stationmaster, Howard) so the train runs through without stopping. The seven BR Mk1 coaches and Class 33 'Sophie' on the back of the train can be seen in this picture.

Christmas Eve at Cheddleton. The Polish Tank leaves the water tower and heads for the crossing on its way to Leekbrook with one of Wednesday's Santa Specials.


Thursday, 4 December 2014

Beer By Train on the Mid Cheshire Line

We've done the classic Beer Trail on the Leeds to Manchester line several times. It was made famous some years ago by James May and Oz Clark, and has featured on this blog more than once (last time was here). Today, we did one nearer to home - entirely in Cheshire (but nudging Wales!).

Here is the itinerary:

Wilmslow 10:18 dep (88 bus)
Knutsford 10:40 arr
Knutsford 11:00 dep (Train)
Chester station 11:47 arr
Old Harkers Arms (http://www.brunningandprice.co.uk/harkers/) 12:00 arr (walk)
Old Harkers Arms (no apostrophe!) 12:40 dep for station (walk)
Chester Station 12:57 dep
Mouldsworth 13:08 arr
Lunch at the Goshawk (http://www.thegoshawkpub.co.uk/beers/)
Mouldsworth 15:08 dep
Plumley 15:34 arr
Drink at Golden Pheasant (http://www.goldenpheasantatplumley.co.uk/)
Plumley 16:34 dep
Knutsford 16:40 arr
Knutsford 16:45 dep (88 bus)
Bird in Hand arr 16:54
Bird in Hand dep 18:34 (last bus)

It all went like clockwork - except for the 88 bus. This service is far too tightly timed so often runs at times that bear no relationship at all to the published timetable. Malc and I were in place by about 10:10 this morning at Davenport Green, but there was no bus. 10:20 came and went, and our bus finally arrived at 10:35, making our rail connection at Knutsford (11:00) a tad tight as most of our party had to buy tickets at Knutsford station.

Chester station's Italianate facade. It was designed by Francis Thompson and opened in 1848 as Chester General (see 'A bit of Mid Cheshire Line history' at the end of this post). 

The trains, as they usually do, all ran to time and we arrived on board a 142 'Pacer' at the old Chester General station spot on time at 11:47 for the ten minute walk to our first port of call, the 'Old Harkers Arms' (no apostrophe!).

As usual please click on any picture for a larger image.

Our first port of call, the 'Old Harkers Arms', Chester, formerly a canal boat chandlers run by a Mr Harker (so there should be an apostrophe)

Ivan, me, Malc, John, and Mike in the Harkers

Mike, me, John ready to head back to the station

We were back at Chester station in time for the 12:57 departure to Manchester, which we would ride for just one stop, to Mouldsworth.  Ivan, John, Malc on the 142 'Pacer'.

Mouldsworth station

After leaving the train at Mouldsworth we made our way the 100 yards or so to the Goshawk, formerly 'The Station Hotel'

We lunched at the 'Goshawk'; Ivan, Malc, Me, Mike, John

'Piffle' is a 'house' bitter in the Goshawk, and very good it is too. Apparently this beer mat depicts Woodward & Falconer's accountant when he sees the cost of the ingredients!

After an excellent lunch (and some lovely 'Piffle' bitter) we returned to Mouldsworth station for the next leg (Malc, John, me, Ivan)

Mouldsworth.... "the train should be here about now" 

 "And here it is!"

 This time our train was a class 150 Sprinter, strengthened to 2 units (4 coaches) to cater for the school and college traffic using the line from Greenbank onwards 

Heading towards to our next port of call, the 'Golden Pheasant' at Plumley, formerly 'The Railway Inn'

The visit to the Golden Pheasant seems to have gone unphotographed, but we enjoyed a couple of pints of good ale before the short walk back to Plumley station and a one-stop ride on the train to Knutsford, where we waited an age for the very late running 88 bus. But when it arrived, it took us to our final port of call, the Bird in Hand at Knolls Green, near Mobberley. Even on the 1836 tithe map, this pub is shown as 'Bird i'th hand', so hasn't significantly changed its name.

As readers of this blog will know, the Bird is a regular stopping off point at the end of a day out on the motorbikes, it being very near home. And with excellent Sam Smiths beer at £1.80 a pint and open roaring coal fires, it's a gem of a pub. Malc stayed on the bus continuing to Wilmslow while the hardy members of the crew enjoyed some Sam Smiths!

We were reduced to four by now; I hold up our itinerary which we managed to stick to. The 88 bus nearly caused us grief by its late running, but as usual the trains were spot on time.

We had aimed to catch the last 88 bus home to Wilmslow, but the second to last bus was running so late, we caught that instead!

And so ended another great day out, and a different slant on the usual 'Beer By Train' trip!

Thanks to Mike and Ivan for the pictures above.


A bit of Mid Cheshire Line history:

The Mid Cheshire Line

The Mid Cheshire Line comprises two former railways; the Cheshire Midland and the West Cheshire Railway. The Cheshire Midland, completed in 1863, ran from Altrincham (where it made an end-on connection with the 1849 Manchester South Junction & Altrincham Railway) to Northwich. The West Cheshire Railway in 1870 continued this line from Northwich to Helsby via Mouldsworth, the major structure on the line being Leftwich Viaduct over the River Dane, River Weaver, and the Weaver Navigation which had to be high enough to allow tall-masted sailing ships on the latter to pass underneath.

In 1875 the West Cheshire built a branch from Mouldsworth to Chester Northgate station. Both railways were incorporated into The Cheshire Lines Committee that year.

Today, the former West Cheshire line from Mouldsworth to Helsby has gone, and only the route to Chester remains as the western section of the Mid Cheshire Line, now singled.

Chester Northgate and the railways around Chester

Originally, the Mid Cheshire Line ran into Chester Northgate station, not Chester General (now just plain 'Chester') as it does today. British Railways, in 1969 some years post Beeching, closed Chester Northgate Station. BR had quite an appetite for reducing the rail network, a trend which is happily being reversed to some extent today as our railways enjoy a renaissance under private ownership.

Please click on the maps for a larger image. 

The blue arrow points to the erstwhile Chester Northgate Station, closer to the town centre than is the single surviving station in Chester, Chester General (on right hand side of the map). The original Cheshire Lines Committee route for Mid Cheshire Line trains enters the map on the upper of the two railway lines on the right hand side of the map, while today all trains enter on the lower one either on the former Birkenhead Joint Line or the line from Crewe.

Changes at Mickle Trafford

Originally there were two stations called Mickle Trafford, one on the Cheshire Lines Committee line (CLC) opened in 1889, and one on the Birkenhead Joint line (BJL) opened in 1875.

 Mickle Trafford junction, controlling the eastern approach to Chester, has undergone several changes. This map shows the two separate stations and the 1942 link between the BJL and CLC lines. Prior to this date the two railways were unconnected despite being adjacent.  
The Mid Cheshire line from Mouldsworth comes in at top right on the map above and leaves (for Chester Northgate Station) at Hoole, the upper of the two lines on the left. The BJL line from Frodsham comes in at top centre and exits lower left (for Chester General). Despite the proximity of the two railways, there was no connection between them until 1942, when the link shown on the map above was put in. At the same time the two stations were combined into a single staggered-platform station, which closed in 1951.

In 1969 to facilitate the closure of Northgate station, the link was reversed to allow CLC trains to enter Chester General station. Later, the original link was re-instated as well, to form a scissors crossing, so trains could access both lines from both directions. Northgate Station closed in 1969 but freight trains continued to use the CLC line from Mickle Trafford to Chester until that line closed completely in 1994 and its tracks, leaving the map at Hoole, were lifted.

The junction was simplified at that time to its current layout, with the former CLC line simply joining the former BJL in the Chester direction. All trains now use the lower left (former BJL) line to Chester General Station. The original formation of the line to Northgate can still be seen on its embankment where it crossed over the BJL, as can, among the trees which have grown up since, a piece of track that formed part the CLC to BJL arm of the 1969 scissors junction.



Sunday, 30 November 2014

Open day at Marple Locks

The Canal and River Trust today held an open day at Marple, showcasing work they are carrying out on one of the locks in the Marple flight on the Peak Forest Canal, and also work on Marple Aqueduct. I heard about this through an interesting talk last Thursday evening, given to our Local History Group (at Wilmslow Guild) on Mellor Mill and Samuel Oldknow, by Bob Humphrey-Taylor. Bob even came dressed as entrepreneurial mill owner Sam Oldknow and the first part of his talk was about 'his' life (Samuel Oldknow's), the second part being about the project he (Bob Humphrey-Taylor) is involved in with the Mellor Archaeological Trust to restore the site of Oldknow's Mellor Mill which burned out in 1892. For more information on Mellor Mill, click on this link.

Samuel Oldknow's Mellor Mill, burned out in 1892

Bob told us of the Mellor Archaeological Trust's efforts to gain a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Grant. Their first application was not successful so they tried again. Their second application also failed, but only because the Canal & River Trust had also put in a bid for HLF funding for the restoration of Marple Aqueduct. The HLF advised the Archaeological Trust and the Canal & River Trust that as both projects were in the same locality, and both concerned Samuel Oldknow (who had been active in promoting the Peak Forest Canal both for his mill and for his lime industry at Marple), they should submit a joint £2.3 million bid entitled Revealing Oldknow’s Legacy'. This they did, and were successful. Early next year our Local History Group will visit the site of Mellor Mill so Bob can show us around. In the meantime, he told us of today's event which is concerned with the Canal & River Trust's part of the joint project, so I went along to have a look.

The works at Marple Aqueduct are supported by a £1.5 million share of the HLF 'Oldknow' funding, together with public donations. Revealing Oldknow’s Legacy' aims to revive the legacy of one of the leading industrialists of the early cotton industry, by protecting and opening up three important historic sites he was closely associated with; Marple Aqueduct, Mellor Mill and Marple Lime Kilns.

While the Canal & River Trust is repairing Marple Aqueduct, they are also doing maintenance work on the number two lock in the Marple flight, as this has been leaking water. Today's open day concerned both work on the lock, and on the aqueduct.

As usual, please click on any picture for a larger image.

 It's about a mile walk from the road by lock 9 at Marple down the flight to lock 2 where the work was taking place, but it was bright and dry today, pretty good for the last day of November, so the walk was enjoyable

Not only was the lock and pound below it drained, but the Canal & River Trust had cleared the debris out of it and set up a stairway so visitors could easily gain access  

The floor and lower sides of the lock are brick, the remainder built in stone 

The lock gates are about 15 years old and have another 10 years or so of life left in them. They are made of oak, but had started to leak badly hence the new timber put in (where the red colouring is) to seal the closed gate to the lock wall. 

One of the side ducts for emptying or filling the lock, controlled by opening and closing of paddles 

The lock looks pretty deep when empty! Several Canal & River Trust employees were on hand to explain things to visitors. The access stairs can be seen in the background. Strange to think I've navigated a narrow boat through here more than once, suspended several feet above that chap's white helmet!

The drained pound below the lock, and some of the debris removed from the lock floor 

Damaged stonework in the side of the pound. This will be repaired while the pound is empty.  

Each oak lock gate, without balance beams, weighs about 1.8 tons 

This timber in the end of the lock floor, where the gates close, is as old as the canal itself, and is softwood; pine in fact! 

The two types of bearing a lock gate sits on; some canals use the one on the left which is let into the lock floor, a corresponding hole being bored in the base of the gate. This canal uses the more common type on the right as a base bearing for the gates. The gates have a short steel spindle let into them which sits in the slightly oval cup, which is attached to the floor of the lock. The ovality allows the gates to move slightly under the pressure of water in the lock as it fills, for a good seal against the stonework.

This is an overflow which prevents the water level in the pound above the lock getting too high and flowing over the top of the lock gates. Interestingly, Marple locks have weirs adjacent to each lock to allow excess water to bypass the lock, so one can only presume that the weirs were added when these overflows proved inadequate for the task.

A side paddle for filling the lock. These are made of elm, and this one has just been renewed. I was told that the lifting mechanism might fail as frequently as more than once a year; not a major problem as long as the paddle falls to the 'closed' position and does not jam open, wasting water through the lock.

A similar paddle on a lock gate, except this one is made of plastic. It, too, has just been renewed and its lifting mechanism is yet to be re-connected. This isn't the best of designs, as the two paddles hit each other when the gate is fully open! 

A view of the stairway, complete with 'landings', to allow public access to the lock works 

Looking the other way, upstream towards the full pound above the lock. The water is held back by stop planks slid down grooves in the stonework of the lock wall. When the planks are first inserted the joints between them leak copiously. The best way yet found to seal them is to cut a small nick in one end of the bottom edge of each plank, on the 'upstream' side, then to sprinkle ashes into the water. The ashes get drawn into the nicks and then along the gaps between the planks forming a watertight seal. 
I was told it takes only seconds for the planks to seal, and one can see first the top gap sealing, then the next one down, and so on until all the gaps are sealed. Apparently boiler ash is best for this when they can get it, so I told them that any heritage railway would be delighted if someone rolled up with a big truck and took away their ash pile!  

The drained pound below the lock, looking towards lock no.1 of the flight. Marple aqueduct is beyond that lock.  

Bob Humphrey-Taylor (AKA Samuel Oldknow) and friend. Did they have sunglasses in the 18th century?

The aqueduct information board. Please click on the image to enlarge it to legible size. 

The railway viaduct runs alongside the aqueduct, both over the river Goyt in its deep valley 

This must be a Sunday 'engineering diversion' off the Hope Valley line; an East Midlands Trains class 158 diesel multiple unit on a Norwich to Liverpool service crosses the Goyt viaduct, alongside the tranquil waters of the Peak Forest Canal on its aqueduct

Work to be done on the aqueduct includes re-pointing with lime mortar, and painting the metalwork. It is also intended to cut back the tree growth of recent years to restore the views of this magnificent structure, and to build a viewing platform for that purpose. I wish Network Rail would follow suit and remove the excessive tree growth of recent years alongside our railway lines. It would certainly make the 'leaves on the line' in autumn less of a problem as well as improving the view.  

A last look up the valley of the Goyt through the arches of the railway viaduct, seen from the canal aqueduct.

No doubt if Samuel Oldknow had been around at the time the railways were being built, he'd have been promoting those too! As it is, having seen today the lovely Peak Forest Canal he championed, I look forward to our Local History Group's visit to the site of his major achievement - Mellor Mill.


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A new blind for The Great Wheel at Quarry Bank Mill

Last week the Norfolk Millwrights were at Nether Alderley Mill, as described in the previous post. This week they are at our parent National Trust property, Quarry Bank Mill in Styal, Cheshire. Quarry Bank is home to The Great Wheel.

The original Great Wheel was designed by Thomas Hewes and installed at Styal in 1818, replacing three earlier wheels. It was over twice the size of its predecessor, developed around 100 hp, and powered Quarry Bank Mill until 1904 when it was replaced by a water turbine which worked until the mill closed in1959.

In 1980 the Quarry Bank Mill Trust restored the mill, and replaced the turbine with a new Great Wheel. This came from Glasshouses Mill in Pateley Bridge Yorkshire and was almost identical to Styal's original Great Wheel. It required a great deal of restoration including casting of a new main shaft. The new wheel had been designed by William Fairbairn, Hewe's apprentice at the time the original Great Wheel was installed. It has operated at Styal since the early 1980s but recently its blind has developed leaks and needed to be replaced.

The blind is the device which controls the amount of water allowed onto the wheel to fill its buckets. It is rather like a large version of a window blind; attached to a rack mechanism it can be raise or lowered between the pen trough and the wheel (which is of the breast shot type) to vary the water flow into the wheel's buckets. Back when the wheel powered the mill machinery the power required would vary depending on the number and type of machines in use at any time, and the blind, controlled by a governor, enabled it to maintain a constant speed irrespective of  loading. The new Great Wheel no longer powers the mill, and we use the blind simply to turn the water supply to the wheel on or off by raising it to cut off the supply, or lowering it slightly to allow enough water onto the wheel to cause it to rotate.

Recently the wheel has taken to running for short periods even when the blind was up. This is because the blind has started to leak and despite being 'up', sufficient water was getting through to slowly fill the buckets and start the wheel turning. The Norfolk Millwrights were therefore engaged to manufacture and install a new blind. I am a volunteer at Quarry Bank and went along there this morning on my little Honda C90 to see what progress was being made.

As ever, please click on any picture for a larger image.

 The last leaves of late autumn hang over Quarry Bank mill meadow this morning. The weir forms the mill pond behind it to power our Great Wheel, the water reaching the wheel through a series of leats and sluices, to the head race which runs under the mill yard. When the water drops off The Great Wheel, having done its work, into the bottom of the wheel pit, it is considerably below river level. It cannot therefore flow back into the river at that point, but follows a tail race tunnel of about 1/3 mile in length which allows the water to re-enter the river at a lower level, further downstream. 

From November to February the mill is closed to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays, hence the deserted mill yard and closed main reception. The Norfolk Millwright's van and my Honda C90 are the only vehicles in the yard this morning.

 A poster explains to visitors to the mill why the Great Wheel is temporarily out of action (click on the picture to make the text legible)

Inside the wheel chamber the millwrights work in the pen trough, drained of water of course. The blind is in two halves which operate together as one continuous blind, and by this morning the old left hand blind had been removed. The replacement, still rolled up, can be seen above the head of the millwright behind the ladder. 

A millwright positions the rolled-up left hand blind prior to installing it 

Here's a view of the front side of the wheel, which normally rotates left to right in this picture, so the buckets (which fill with water, whose weight turns the wheel) are upside down at the left of the picture and on their sides at the top of the picture. By the time they have rotated to the front of the wheel, they will be right way up to receive water from the pen trough past the blind.   

The inside of The Great Wheel. This picture shows how it's a suspension wheel, just about the peak of water wheel design; they didn't get any better or more efficient than this wheel. 'Suspension' means the wheel and its buckets are suspended from the main shaft by relatively thin spokes, rather like a bicycle wheel. This makes the wheel lighter than a conventional heavy-spoked wheel, and therefore more efficient. The secret of the suspension wheel is to take the power not from the main shaft (which would necessitate strong, heavy spokes to transfer the power from the rim to the shaft) but directly from the rim. The gear wheel which engages with the rim to effect this can be seen on the far side of the wheel.

Another advantage of taking the power at the rim rather than from the main shaft is that the speed of rotation of the drive from the wheel is much higher, much closer to that required to drive the mill machinery; conventional water wheels require more gearing to raise the slow speed of the main shaft to the speed required for machinery operation, and this reduces efficiency.  

The new left hand blind, made of buffalo hide with steel strengthening, is readied for positioning. Temporary straps hold it in a rolled-up state, and when these are removed it will unroll and hang like a curtain, ready to be fixed to the metal frame which will raise and lower it. The shaft above the blind and the toothed metal racks in the centre of the picture are part of the raising and lowering mechanism for the blind. 

Entrance to the side of the wheel chamber, closed to the public for the duration of the work 

A view down into the wheel pit showing the as-yet rolled up blind. The large stone weight in the foreground is used to counter-balance the blind, to minimise the physical effort and strain on the rack and frame mechanism to raise the blind. There is a similar counter-weight for the right hand blind. 

Here the blind has been allowed to unroll, and is ready for fixing to its frame 

Here is the old blind, cut into sections to make it easier to remove 

There was plenty of other activity around the mill this morning, mostly concerned with decorating the premises for Christmas. Here a Christmas tree opposite the head gardener's house is dressed.

Next week is the volunteers' Christmas lunch at Quarry bank. Before tucking into that, I'll nip across to the wheel chamber to see how the millwrights are progressing with replacement of the blind. By then, they might even have finished and gone!