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Clergy who fall in love with railways: article was on the right track

06 July 2011


From The Rt Revd Michael Bourke

Sir, — Thank you for your splendid article about the interest of clergy in railways (Feature, 17 June). I fully share both the enthusiasm itself and Ed Beavan’s historical and psychological curiosity about it.

I think Bishop Richard Inwood is on to something when he refers to the railways as “part of national life”. The 19th century was the age of passionate debates about modernity, with the railways leading the creation of a new industrial society which transformed the old “natural” order of things, even to the extent of altering the measurement of time.

How was the Church to react? Many feared the pace of change, and some religious conservatives denounced the new world, including trains, as the work of the devil. In that context, clerical railway fever (across churchmanship divides) signified an affirmation of modernity. Both railwaymen and churchmen (mostly men in both cases) were re-engineering the nation with their networks of new lines and junctions, new parishes, church schools, and forms of spirituality.

For broad churchmen, the railways spelled enlightened progress; for Evangelicals, the new emphasis on punctuality embodied the Protestant work ethic; and for Catholics, the shared wisdom and co-operation of engineers, locomotive crews, and signalmen represented the mystery of a dedicated priesthood. No wonder the great stations were compared with cathedrals! The article shows how the clergy’s instinctive sympathy with this world led to support for the people who ran it, in what amounted to early forms of industrial mission.

Over the past 30 years or so, I detect a similar clerical enthusiasm for the brave new world of computers, complete with parish websites, online liturgy, and five dozen emails before breakfast. Meanwhile, adherents of the true faith will have to await the construction of a new national network of high-speed railway lines. France, Spain, and other enlightened nations have shown how a passion for railways can continue to transform society in humane and environmentally sustainable ways. Why, after a good start, does it now take such an interminable age for Britain to catch up?

The Maltings, Little Stretton
Shropshire AL6 6AP

From Shirley-Ann Williams

Sir, — What a pleasure to read that Thomas the Tank engine is still going strong! As to the clergy fascination with the railways, I had always been brought up to believe it started with Isaiah. “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord, and his train filled the temple” (RSV).

As the producer of the General Synod revue at the end of the past quinquennium, I included Canon Andrew Dow’s performance, with his train noises. Against a projected background of trains, supplied by Roy Thompson, this was a mesmerising act. I had supplied our signers for the representatives of Deaf Anglicans Together, with scripts of each of the sketches in advance, but had overlooked mentioning Canon Dow’s contribution.

Imagine my horror when I saw their amazement at the “noises”, and their complete amusement and inability to translate these into signing. The expression on their faces was, for me, also one of the funnier moments of the revue, but it did serve to show how much we take for granted.

2 Katherine’s Lane
Ottery St Mary EX11 1FB

From the Revd Harold G. Tucker

Sir, — Steam has been my lifelong interest, in a way. As a boy of 12 or 13, staying at Lynton at my grandmother’s in the early 1930s, I often walked up to the station and sometimes enjoyed a ride on the footplate of one of the engines shunting in the yard, usually Exe or Taw, driven by Alfie Nutt. This was the famous Lynton & Barnstaple Railway (narrow gauge) which, sadly, closed on 29 September 1935. It was opened in 1898.

Over the years, efforts have been made by voluntary labour to open and lay so many miles of track from Woody Bay Station to a terminus, which we hope to grow in time.

Here in my room, I have a framed certificate that reads: “Lynton & Barnstaple Railway Ltd — to certify that the Revd Harold Tucker has contributed to the fund to restore the Kerr-Stuart ‘Joffre’ class steam locomotive no. 2451, now named Axe but built in 1915 for service on the Western Front.”

At the autumn gala held at Woody Bay Station, when the engine Lyd — the replica of the original locomotives of the type — arrived, I was one of two visitors invited on to the footplate who remembered travelling on the line before it closed in 1935.

I am a founder of the Devon Traction Engine Veteran and Vintage Car Club, founded in the 1960s.

I was ordained in Exeter Cathed­ral in 1952, and served all my min­istry in the diocese of Exeter, especi­ally in north Devon. This month, I hope to celebrate my 90th birthday.

I enclose a photo of myself on the footplate of a traction engine.

St Anne’s Residential Home
Whitstone, Holsworthy
Devon EX22 6UA

From Mr Brian Gillespie

Sir, — I thoroughly enjoyed the article by Ed Beavan. I feel, however, that he missed one of the most famous railway priests. I refer to the Revd E. R. “Teddy” Boston, the Rector of Cadeby, near Market Bosworth, Leicestershire.

Teddy, as he was known to all his friends, had possibly the ultimate in model railways in the rectory garden. This was the Cadeby Light Railway, which was a 2-foot gauge railway operated by ex-industrial locomotives. The line opened on 6 April 1963, and, although Teddy died in 1986, his wife, Audrey, kept the railway running until 15 May 2005.

I had the honour to drive Pixie, his steam locomotive, on the first and last day she steamed, with 43 years in between. One of his locomotives, a 0-4-0 saddle tank named Teddy in his honour after it was sold in 2005, is at present running at the National Railway Museum at York.

The Revd Wilbert Awdry opened the Boston Collection in 1990, which was a display of his collection of railway artefacts. The two met in the 1950s, when they were both at parishes in the Wisbech area, and both appear in some of the later Thomas books as the “Fat and Thin Clergymen”.

Teddy Boston’s 00-gauge model railway, 40×20-feet, based on the GWR in south Devon, has been saved, and, after three years in storage, is now up and running at a new home.

As an aside, my father was at St Peter’s, Oxford, and at Wycliffe Hall with Awdry. I met him quite a few times, and helped operate one of his layouts at an exhibition in London in the 1960s.

Two more well-known railway modelling priests were Edward Beal and Peter B. Denny.

44 Coleridge Drive, Enderby
Leicester LE19 4QF

From Mr Keith Poynter

Sir, — Much as I enjoyed the feature on railway clergy, it seemed a shame that the Revd Teddy Boston was omitted — pioneer of steam­roller, traction engine, and railway preservation, and surely the only clergyman to have a real, as distinct from model, steam railway running round his modest modern rectory to the chickens and back.

Open to the public once a month, there was no charge, but plenty of collecting boxes for the training of clergy. Always wearing clerical collar and cassock, he made it apparent what his premier calling was. Regrettably, I was never able to have a proper conversation with him, as he was called away to deal with parishioners’ problems on the very few occasions the family and I were able to make the journey to Cadeby.

He was much loved by his parish, as is evidenced by the small stained-glass panel of Pixie, the engine, in the lovely Cadeby Parish Church, next to the rectory.

21 Tylers Green Road
Kent BR8 8LG

From the Revd John Pilkington

Sir, — My own fascination with railways dates back to my child­hood. At the Congregational church I attended, I would listen to fund-raising appeals for the LMS, assuming that the church was raising funds for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. I eventually learned that the appeals were for the London Missionary Society.

38 Main Road
Emsworth PO10 8AU

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