The last few years of steam

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Our county has a rich history on the rail tracks, with endless amounts of stories to tell, and now an author has decided to document the final few years of steam trains in Northamptonshire.

Author Michael Clemens has recently published his fifth railway photo-book, The Last Years of Steam Around the Midlands, that features photographs of railways and stations across Northamptonshire.

Mr Clemens said the county has some really interesting tales on the tracks, and feels they are best told through photographs as many of the tracks no longer exist, or have falling into disuse.

He said: “The photos are really the thing that grabs people’s interest.

“Some of these photos are around 50 years old but I think they are in good condition and a lot of them are in colour as well.

“It’s those types of photographs that will jump up and interest people.”

One of the long forgotten tracks is the railway that served Finedon quarry, where ironstone was quarried from as far back as 1874.

The quarry was started by Rixon & Co and a horse tramway was laid to the Midland Railway.

Just 10 years later an unusual step was taken.

A steam locomotive was purchased and would travel across railway tracks measuring a metre-wide, or a metre gauge.

Mr Clemens said: “It was highly unusual to use a metre gauge, because it was using continental measurements.

“Just think, it was more than 100 years ago, when everybody in this country used feet and yards, but in Finedon they decided to go for the continental approach and used a metre gauge.

“It would have been highly unusual at the time.”

Ironworks across the county were highly active for a number of years but during the trade depression of the 1920s only a single furnace blasted at Rixon’s Wellingborough Ironworks.

On September 22, 1932, work ceased altogether, and the mines and the quarries were closed.

After this the Stanton Ironworks assumed a greater control of the railways, rebuilding the ironworks and improving the efficiency of the trains.

New wagons were bought, the tracks were reinforced to cope with heavier trains, and the trains went over a narrow gauge, meaning the width was smaller than a normal track.

Mr Clemens said this was probably to save money, and to also modernise the narrow gauge system.

He added: “I think the most interesting bit about Northamptonshire is the ironworks in the county, as a lot of railways were built around them.

“You had ironworks across the county, in Finedon, Wellingborough, Corby, Blisworth, but I don’t think many people now will even know how many actually existed.

“There were a number of ironworks in the early 1960s but by the end of the 1960s they had all but closed down and vanished, and the tracks fell into disrepair.”

Mr Clemens, who was brought up in Worcestershire in the 1950s, said he has had a keen interest in trains all his life and spent much of his younger years travelling all over Britain, filming many now long-closed railways and the steam locomotives that worked on them.

His movie film collection is the largest of its kind in the UK and has been released more than 30 videos by the author since the 1990s.

The photos in this book were all taken by his father’s friend on the railway, Alan Maund who lived in Worcestershire all his life.

Mr Clemens said the book will interest a lot of people, varying from train enthusiasts, to model makers, to those interested in local history.

The book is available to buy at book stores, the internet, or mail order from Coach House Books, 46 High Street, Pershore, Worcestershire.