Early locomotives to the end of steam

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Nos: 1-10: By 1945 Britain was broke. It owed huge sums to the US yet needed to reconstruct a country ravaged by war, whose industry was geared to war, whilst reabsorbing 4 million demobbed servicemen and women. Modernisation of the railway was not a priority. That is why the age of steam rolled on in Britain for another 20 years and accounts for the deep nostalgia felt for steam locomotion today. When these prints were made there were many steam engines on the British Railways network. The change to diesel (apart from the Southern routes electrified before the War) was under way. The death of steam was recognised, but how to satisfactorily commemorate the Steam Age was not. The first 10 of these prints were published in part to commemorate that age before it was gone. The Railway Museum at York had the largest collection of steam locomotives (as it does today). But 60 years ago there were other engines scattered about the country in railway sidings, at platforms, in paint shops and elsewhere that confronted the British Transport Commission with the problem of what to save and where to save it at a time of continuing austerity.

Nos: 11-20: This 2nd series of E.W. Fenton prints was published 10 years after the first, and whilst the subject matter has not changed, the mood had changing dramatically. The so-called Beeching cuts (55% of stations and 30% of route miles) were accelerating in 1967 which, to a railway enthusiast like Fenton was, as he suggested, a slaughter! Ironically, the salvation of the remnants of the steam age was becoming more secure. York, as the leading collection of steam locomotives is now but one of many locations where locomotives can be seen stationary or in working order. From Glasgow (the Riverside) to Acton (London Transport Museum) and from Darlington to the Stevenson Railway Museum at North Shields, steam engines can be seen. The role of volunteers creating heritage railways – from the “Whisky Line” at Keith in Morayshire to the Helston Railway in the South of England – private individuals have created a growing mileage of heritage lines.

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