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Monday, 9 August 2010

The Feltham Marshalling Yard - Railway Innovation and PhD Inspiration


On the British railway network there is one place that I love more than any other. It is a place I have been in contact with throughout most of my life, it is a place that has fired my interest in railways and it is the place that inspired me to start my PhD. Most people’s favourite railways spots are usually stations, places where they journey to and from daily, where they interact with the staff or have memories of sitting excitedly as a child waiting for the train to whisk them off on holiday, to school or the fair. My favourite railway location is somewhere that I have never seen, touched or heard operate in the flesh because it was scrubbed from the railway map in 1969, 13 years before I was born. (There is a video at the end of the post though) It is lost from railway history and in the minds of many is forgotten. I am talking about the Marshalling Yards at Feltham which is now a wasteland occupied by joggers, dirt-bikers and adventurers. The site of the yard isn’t strictly speaking open public, it being owned by Network Rail. But if you know where the rather large hole in the fence is, you can get in.

But why do I love this place? Well firstly, I used to live very near to the site and went jogging there myself. On a good day I reckon that I could do a circuit of the site in about 40 minutes. Further, I have to be honest that my interest in passenger traffic is close to none. I don’t know why this is really. I suppose I see it as mundane. Contrastingly, freight traffic has always struck me as far more dynamic, complex and industrial, and that has always appealed to me. Therefore, to have the overgrown site of the Feltham yard 15 minutes walk from my house was always fascinating and exciting (the overgrown state is shown). It was my fascination with the site that spurred my interest in doing a PhD on the London and South Western Railway (LSWR). I had never been interested in the LSWR before 2006 as I perceived the company as being a strictly passenger line. Indeed before that point, what had encapsulated me were the northern lines, particularly the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER). The discovery that the Feltham was built by the LSWR and was one of the most modern marshalling yards in the country meant that it became central in my mind when thinking about what PhD I might do.
As many of you now realise, my PhD has evolved to become a history of the quality of management on the LSWR between 1864 and 1914. While interesting to many business historians, it isn’t really the stuff that will fire the soul of many. The original plan that I proposed to my supervisor in 2006 was much more engaging. I was going to do a history of Feltham Marshalling yard from 1910, when the LSWR started thinking about it, up until 1969, when British Rail closed it down. After a bit of investigation it was clear that the material available would not be enough to satisfy even a quarter of the 90,000 words required for the PhD. As such my work evolved into a PhD on the LSWR’s freight services, something that again I struggled to find enough material on. Lastly, it evolved into what it is today. But the fires of interest never die and I do hope at some point to conduct a study on the Feltham Marshalling Yard’s history. However, for the rest of the blog entry I will detail some of its history and why it is important to understand its position within British railway history more generally.
The LSWR in the late 19th century had freight traffic coming onto their network in the London area from four places. Traffic arriving from the London and North Western Railway came from Willesden Junction, trains coming from the Midland Railway originated at Brent, the Great Central Railway sent trains from Neasden and the Great Northern Railway’s trains arrived via the Widened Lines. There were also the the LSWR’s own goods flows origination from the Nine Elms Goods Depot. There were some facilities and arrangements to manage and marshal these trains before their onward journeys onto the LSWR’s network. There was a small yard at Brentford which received GNR trains and trip workings were undertaken between there and Willesden, Brent and Neasden. The company also maintained staff at Brent to marshal there wagons. However, all were ultimately unsatisfactory and what was needed was a facility that could efficiently sort wagons for LSWR destinations into complete trains more efficiently.

It was, therefore, in the early 1900s that the LSWR directors started to look for a site for such a yard. After considering a number of sites at Byfleet and at Feltham Junction, in 1910 the company’s directors settled on a site that was between the Feltham Junction and Feltham Station. (the new flows of traffic are shown above) The sale of 41.5 acres of land was confirmed in 1911, with additional land being purchased in 1915. The plans were confirmed on the 30th March 1916:-
The National Archives - RAIL 411/271 – Traffic Committee – ‘30/03/1916 – 507) Feltham Marshalling Sidings – The General Manager submitted a plan shewing how marshalling sidings (15 down + 16 up) can be provided on the land near Feltham which has been specially purchased for the purpose + recommended that in the first place the levelling of the ground including the work of diverting and bridging over the river crane and covering in the mill-stream be taken in hand.Approved’
Work, which included the diversion of three watercourses (including the River Crane) as well as the excavation of 120,000cu yd of material, started soon after with the help of around 200 German POWs. The first nine ‘down’ sidings, designed to relieve congestion at the Brent yard, were opened on the 9th December 1917 and the LSWR’s staff were transferred from Brent. Between then and 2nd October 1921, the yard gradually opened. In addition, plans for an engine shed were approved in December 1921, with it opening in March 1923. Within the yard there were 32 miles of track, with the longest siding being 1,662ft in length and the shortest being 1,331 ft. Once the yard was completed it was handling 2500 wagons a day. These were brought in by 50 down and 26 up trains, and being removed by 18 down and 46 up services. This was, probably, the busiest marshalling yard in the country at that time and it was said that after arrival a train could be sorted in 12 minutes. The reason for this quick turnaround will be explained below. (Faulkner & Williams, p.127-131)
So why was Feltham so important to British railway history? There are two reasons. The first relates to something that I have banged on about to the point of exhaustion. As has been discussed, in the late Victorian period the British railway industry’s profitability and performance dropped significantly. What the building of the Feltham Marshalling yard represents was the move that the LSWR, like other railway companies, made towards making their services more efficient. So, by reorganising the marshalling of freight trains, operations that in their previous form had been built up of many years without significant reassessment, the company was
effectively attempting to reduce their costs by improving smoothness of their operations. Therefore, if you go back to my article of last week in which I talked about the LSWR’s rebuilding of Waterloo and their Electrification project, it is clear that the building of the Feltham Marshalling yard was part of a wider corporate movement of effecting large changes within the company’s operations to improve its efficiency.

However, the second reason for the yard’s importance is a technological one. As can be seen on the plan above, the yard had ‘reception’ sidings, as well as a ‘marshalling’ sidings. This was because in-between these sets of sidings there were ‘humps.’ (shown below) Hump shunting had not been seen in Britain to a great extent beyond coal yard facilities. Yet, in America they were a regular feature of railway operations. When considering the organisation of yard the LSWR management was heavily influenced by American practice. Thus, they introduced this feature to Feltham. A train would arrive at the reception sidings and the locomotive would go to the Engine Shed. Then, a specially designed locomotive, the Urie Class E6, would arrive behind the train. It would then begin to push the train over the hump. At the top each wagon would be uncoupled and then would roll down the other side into a siding.

It was at this point that the yard’s second innovation would come into play. On the other side of the hump were the different sidings in which trains for various destinations would be assembled. This of course meant that the points would have to be changed automatically as each of the wagons was pushed over the hump. The innovation was that the points were electrically thrown by a central control tower so that the wagons could be marshalled automatically. In addition, there was the use of track circuits, whereby the controllers of the yard could monitor the journey of wagons once they had passed the hump. Further, there was extensive use of telephone communication across the yard. As such, the Feltham Marshalling Yard had an impressive array of recent technological devices to ensure smooth operation.
Therefore, on a technological level the Feltham Marshalling Yard signalled a new era in goods management as it was a departure from the previous ad hoc arrangements of the railway industry. It showed how after the turn of the century railway companies innovated for reasons of efficiency. It was a major step forward in British railway operations at the time and that is why I love it. I will, therefore, leave the last word to the Railway Gazette of 1919.
‘Thus, not only in its conception and design, but also in the possibilities which it opens up in the matter of future development of and changes in railway operation, we consider that the new Feltham Concentration Yard of the London & South Western Railway is considerably more than local interest.’(October 17, 1919, pp. 476)


UPDATE - 28/08/2015 - Colin Chivers, Hon Editor of the South Western Circle" is currently at an advanced stage of producing a Monograph about Feltham Yard for members of the Circle early next year, with surplus copies from the print run to be available for sale to non-members. He would be delighted to hear from former BR staff who worked there who may be able to contribute some memories of life there in its later years. He can be contacted via editor@lswr.org


Bibliography
Faulkner, J.N. & Williams, R.N., The LSWR in the Twentieth Century, (Newton Abbot, 1988) p.127-131
Harris, Michael, ‘Marshalling Yards,’ The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, (Oxford, 1997) p. 315
Klapper, C.F. Sir Herbert Walker’s Southern Railway, (Shepperton, 1973) p.66-67


26 comments:

  1. I found this article today after having a good look around the site of the old marshalling yards last week. I found a tunnel which I think is the one that used to go under the hump nearest the main line. I'd like to know your views on whether you think this is correct?
    It's entrance does seem to appear in your picture of the wagons (underneath the sidings diagram).
    Have a look at my little look around the Feltham Marshalling Yards here:
    http://www.artofthestate.co.uk/Photography/feltham-marshalling-yards.htm

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  2. Dear Steve, sorry for the sluggish response. I have had a look at some magazine articles from the period, and I found a diagram that detailed the various tunnels and river diversions. I have uploaded the image onto the end of the article. As you will see there is a tunnel on the diagram that runs underneath summit 'C' that is on that side of the yard. Now, what precisely the purpose of the tunnel was is unknown, however, I presume it was for access. I hope this helps.

    Love the photos by the way...

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  3. Hi David
    Thank you for taking the time to reply to my question. As you say It does seem the tunnel was just for access under the hump. I guess it made it easier and safer to cross the line when wagons were being moved. There is a raised section above it too which must have been the hump. It seemed strange to come across it - I couldn't find any other photos of it on the internet.
    Thanks for the additional information to what was already a very detailed and informative article.
    Steve

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  4. the tunnel in question did run under the up hump then on the other side was a footbridge to cross the main line,for staff,i was a shunter at feltham until it's closure.
    allan

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  5. Yes the remains of the prefabricated concrete foot bridge were lying around beside the running lines for a very long time after it was demolished. It looks to have disappeared now.
    Mark

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  6. Used to spend every Dinner hour (At School)over there,this was between 1972-75 used to climb up the remains of the Floodlights and go in and out of the Engine Shed,The Clock was still intact in the Main Offices,Remember someone losing their Shoe down the Tunnel,Really good memories of the Yard.

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  7. I was a shunter on the down hump back in the 60s

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    Replies
    1. roy,
      so was i allan spiller,did you go to clapham junction when the yard closed.
      allan

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    2. Roy,
      I'm putting together some memories of a Feltham cleaner/fireman for possible publication.
      Are there any memories of your own you would like to contribute?
      Reply to nwdeacon@live .com
      Cheers,
      Nick.

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    3. Nick, it would be brilliant if a book on Feltham was published. So many railway books over the years, but as far as I am aware, zero books on Feltham have been published. Keep us updated please! :) Thanks

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  8. Happy days at Feltham watching and photographing the yard in the 1960's.
    One of my photos taken in 1964 won a Kodak competion. Ted Richardson was the shed foreman, when asked to "look around the shed" his reply was always the same "yes,on your way out"

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  9. Does anybody know what the gradients were up to and down from the humps. I have seen 1 in 50 mentioned on the run-off side but I think, from the photos, it was steeper than that. Thanks

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  10. Up side reception sidings was 1 in 40 for 130ft to the summit, then flat for 40ft, then fall of 1 in 50 for 170ft, then 1 in 150 for 580ft.
    Down side reception sidings was 1 in 60 for 235ft to the summit, then pretty much the same as the up on the way down.
    Why the difference? Because there were differences in the track levels between Feltham Station and Feltham Junction.
    Best regards, Steve, artofthestate.co.uk

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  11. My interest in Feltham is concrete! I'm researching the history of he LSWR's use of concrete, particularly for bridges, and the footbridge mentioned in the 12 Sep 2011 post (sorry, I've come to this rather late) was a very interesting link in the development of reinforced concrete and pre-assembly techniques. Part of the bridge was still visible from the down line, lying in the undergrowth, a month ago, but I haven't had a chance to see it up close for myself.

    Does anyone, by any chance, happen to have a photo of the footbridge, or even part of it? I'm hoping it might at least have got into the background of a photo of something considered more interesting!

    Hope the research is going well, David - a valuable contribution to our understanding of an area of railway history that's generally neglected.

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  12. As a boy I spent many a time over the marshalling yards (or 40 acres as we knew it) playing amongst all the dereliction, I used to be very familiar with the area knowing were all the drains and tracks were, I used to find the urban decay of the area appealing to me and spent days and weeks roaming the site exploring out every inch, I also remember seeing the area before they lifted the track which would have been around mid to late seventies if I recall. I was told once (how true it was I do not know) that the clock tower took a hit from a V1 flying bomb and span out exploding into the sidings, which is how I came about your site as I was exploring the effects of WW2 bombing on the area.

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  13. Hi I've been looking for 40 achre tunnel since I was small and was told many stories about it. Can anyone tell me how to find this tunnel now on the ground.

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    1. As a youngster in the `50s-`60s I used to play in and around the two 40 acre tunnels (one tunnel has the Crane river, the other was walk through, now blocked off). The eastern end can be found by parking in Pevensey Road, Hanworth, and following any of the paths, to the left, within the field alongside that road; most paths will take you to the 2 tunnels.......the Western end of the tunnels can be found at the end of Sparrow Farm Drive, Feltham. Park at the end of the Drive, walk into the woods and you`ll see the Crane river, turn right and it will lead to the tunnel...HTH.

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  14. Great Post! Thanks for sharing this one...well done good Job Keep it up !!

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  15. I drive trains past Feltham quite often. I always look into the old sidings and I always feel sadness. The points are still on the mainline (opposite the signal box) with a short length of track that runs to the gate/fence where the yard start. It's so sad that so much has disappeared. How can it go from the massive site to nothing? I always want to go into that wasteland and try to find anything, even a bit of ballast. I would love to see more pictures of the yard but there seems to be very limited amounts about. I love my job but I don't feel the same about driving modern trains as I would the older generation trains. I drove Veps and Ceps and still miss them. The stock today is simply boring and has no character.

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    1. i used to be a shunter in the yard i remember one night the signalman let a passenger train into the yard,west end,probably the last up train.as it entered the yard the driver stopped the train we managed to propel the passenger train back on to the main line,to continue it s journey on to waterloo.subs or bills cannot remeber.that was in the late sixties.far from boring.
      allan

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  16. As a youngster living in Hanworth during the `50s, about 1.5 miles from the yard, I used to lay awake at night listening to the trucks being shunted around the yard. As they rolled onto the back of the designated train I could hear the continuous `clank` `clank` `clank` as the rolling trucks bounced off the stationary one in front, an eerie sound late at night when accompanied by the distant whistles of the shunting loco`s!!. Between 1962 and `65 I went to De-Brome school which backed onto the yard and could sit and watch the shunting ops. The Sorting Sidings (which had a large turntable in situ)and Coal Stacking area was right alongside the school. I remember there being large concrete blocks that Loco`s were chained to, to test their `traction`. A favourite place to go was the railway bridge in Harlington Rd East as the whole yard could be observed, and we would hang over the parapet as trains entered/exited the yard to get a face full of smoke/steam...good childhood memories!. Google `Shunter Blacks Night Off` for a short 1941 film shot within the yard!...

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  17. Just to note, the South West Circle Monograph on Feltham Yard (mentioned above at the end of the article) was published last year and is for sale on their website at £12.50. Try this link, the Monograph (No. 8) is at the bottom of the page.

    http://www.lswr.org/core.asp?Page=163&Id=

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  18. My Grandfather Charles Cook worked at Feltham in 1940-1960's. The family lived in railway houses in Feltham called Waterloo Crescent

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  19. I was a fireman at Feltham from 1963 until closure in 1969 . Brilliant place to work and great people .

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  20. I was a 'second man' at Hornsey and Kings Cross between 1964-1968. Came to Feltham a few times from Hornsey on dear old 24s. Found this site looking for why Feltham was put where it was - on Reading/Windsor line. Think I've found a bit of the answer. Am soon to pub a book on my exploits. hyperion37@yahoo.com

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  21. Sweet little paths wind through the property and occasional benches and trellises provide cozy spots for reading a book or watching the birds. Click Here

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