End of the Road
The End Of The Road
In 1955 the British Railways Board published its ‘Modernisation Plan’, a document that set out plans for massive investment in the system’s infrastructure. The plan was a bold one, intended to reverse the effects of years of under-investment and to enable the railways to adapt to the very different social and economic conditions of the post-war era. Central to the plan was the commitment to abolish steam traction and replace it with new Diesel-Electric and Diesel-Hydraulic locomotives. Many factors contributed to the decision to end steam operation. Steam had always been labour intensive. Labour had been plentiful and cheap before the Second World War but that soon changed in the booming post-war economy. The railways found it increasingly difficult to recruit maintenance staff. Diesels were more fuel efficient, and their crews were spared the physical hardships of the steam locomotive. Steam locomotives required hours of preparation and disposal time each day, whereas diesels could be started and stopped at the touch of a button. The price of coal had more than doubled in the six years between the end of ‘Grange’ construction and the end of the Second World War. Many other factors also contributed to the feeling among both the railway operating authorities and the general public that steam had had its day. The London smog’s and the resultant ‘Clean Air Act’, the decline in railway morale resulting from the centralisation of power within the nationalised railway, the heavy financial losses being made by much of the network all played their part. Increasingly unfashionable in the ‘brave new world’ of post-war Britain, steam locomotives such as the ‘Granges’ began to be sent to scrapyards from the early 1960s onwards as their diesel replacements rolled out of the factories. The first to be withdrawn was 6801 Aylburton Grange of Penzance Shed in 1960. Such was the pride of the men who worked for the old Great Western and the regard in which the ‘Granges’were held that she was cleaned as if ready to work the ‘Cornish Riviera Express’, before beginning her journey to Swindon Works to be dismantled.
The final four in traffic, 6847, 6848, 6849 & 6872 lasted until the end of Western steam in December 1965. Like most of the steam locomotives withdrawn for scrap during the 1960s the ‘Granges’ had many more miles of useful life left in them. They had averaged over 900,000 miles in service.
The mid 1960s were the darkest days for anyone who cares about British steam locomotives. The steam preservation movement, today a multi-million pound industry was still in its infancy. Those locomotives that survived that period mostly owe their survival to selection by the British Transport Commission (for the National Collection), the favour of a wealthy individual, or the fluke of being bought for scrap by Woodham Brothers of Barry. The ‘Granges’ were not considered to be of sufficient historical significance to be saved for the nation. Many were cut up at neighbouring scrapyards in South Wales, but sadly Woodham Brothers acquired none. Renowned railway filmmaker Patrick Whitehouse (who made the Railway Roundabout series for BBC TV in the late 1950s and early 1960s) was offered the opportunity to buy a newly overhauled ‘Grange’, but settled instead for a ‘Castle’. The foremost Great Western preservationists, the Great Western Society at Didcot, were also faced with a choice, this time between a ‘Grange’ and a ‘Hall’. Again, the ‘Grange’ lost out, this time because of its higher scrap value. Another ‘Grange’ had slipped through the net of preservation. Time and good fortune had run out for the ‘Granges’, with only the cutter’s torch ahead…