Alan Gilbert was a Mancunian through-and-through and a lifelong railway enthusiast. A member of the Manchester Locomotive Society since 1945 he became their Treasurer in 1955, a job he carried out for the next fifty-one years. Alan joined the newly formed Granada Television in the late fifties and progressed to a position of Chief Accountant from which he retired in 1988. He was President of the MLS at the time of his death in 2014, having been instrumental in guiding the organisation in so many ways over many years.
He put his filming skills to great use in pursuing his hobby of recording the railways of his home city and many other parts of the British Railways system in the mid 1950s when change was afoot and much-loved parts of the system and their associated locomotives and rolling stock were under threat. The two programmes that have now been released using this footage provide an important visual and historical archive of our railways at that time of change.
Often in the company of his friends W A “Cam” Camwell and Neville Knight, Alan Gilbert shot all his footage on 16mm film, between 1955 and 1958 and these two programmes show a great variety of trains and stations around Manchester as well as selected views across the country. Manchester London Road provides the dividing line between the two volumes, lines which head, roughly, south and west of this line form Volume 1 and those lines to the north and east thereof the second volume. Each takes a geographical tour around the country, starting at Manchester London Road.
Steam south and west of Manchester
A “Royal Scot” bursting out of Manchester London Road provides the opening scene as we trace the LNWR Main Line to Crewe seeing most of the stations thereon and featuring various ex-LMS locomotives and a bewildering variety of coaching stock, with old wooden-bodied LNWR coaches taking the limelight – even including the LNWR/LMS Royal Train! We also see the Styal line which includes a “Princess” on a three-coach train. We follow the LNWR once again on the line to Macclesfield and then the “alternative” North Stafford or “Knotty” main line down towards Stoke-on-Trent and its surrounding area. Diversions via Cheadle take us over the CLC (and we even see one of the famous ICI Hopper trains) and through to the MSJ & A and Brooklands. We then set off to the West via the Severn Valley line and its branches through Tenbury Wells and Much Wenlock. The Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Railway is then taken before we go to the Cambrian Main Line and branches and Oswestry.
Once in Wales we visit lines around Wrexham and Chester and go up into the Wirral before visiting the Llandudno and Colwyn Bay Electric Railway and Denbigh station including views of its loco shed. Next come lines radiating from Bangor and we cross to Anglesey and then into Snowdonia where we visit long-lost lines such as the Nantlle Railway with its horse-drawn wagons.
A brief visit to the Vale of Rheidol behind a BR black liveried No: 8 takes us to the south of Wales where we start at Abergavenny with the last train over the Heads of the Valley line; other locations include the many stations of Dowlais, Tondu and a classic “coal valley” to Abergwynfi. In the south west of Wales we go to the lines around Pembroke and Fishguard and then cross to south west England following the ex-LSWR West of England Main Line and its branches from Yeovil to Exmouth and then Wadebridge and Padstow.
Finally we visit Great Western lines in Cornwall, seeing locomotives ranging from Pannier tanks to Halls on lines such as the Looe branch, Perranporth, Helston and St Ives. We finish, appropriately, as far south and west as we can get from Manchester, at Penzance.