Take a nostalgic trip to era when our railways were romantic, with Maurice Dart

The 3ft-gauge Southwold Railway ran for 8.5 miles from Halesworth to Southwold, between Saxmundham a

The 3ft-gauge Southwold Railway ran for 8.5 miles from Halesworth to Southwold, between Saxmundham and Beccles. It opened in September, 1879, and closed in April, 1929. Here, 2-4-2T No. 1 Southwold has arrived at Halesworth in the mid-1920s. Passengers collect their baggage from a covered van at the back of the train. Photo: courtesy Halsgrove - Credit: Archant

He might be a West Countryman, but Maurice Dart’s love of railways has taken him far and wide ? including to East Anglia.

Steven Russell is transported back in time by a man raised on the right side of the tracks.

Did you grow up like Maurice Dart? From a very early age he was taken to local railway halts and stations by his parents, and taught to remember the names of three engines that passed through.

Doubtless the digital generation, whose knowledge stretches far and wide, would nowadays scoff at such dull and unsophisticated pastimes.

There was a Hornby gauge ‘0’ model railway at home, and on most Saturday afternoons Maurice’s mum and dad would take him on a train journey.

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During the three summers before the outbreak of the Second World War they spent a week travelling by train around Devon, on a Family Holiday Runabout ticket.

“My father would bring home books about railways. They had been loaned to him for me to look at and they contained many photographs of railway subjects,” Maurice remembers.

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“During the Second World War, following the second batch of blitz raids on Plymouth when many schools were damaged, I was evacuated to Bude by train from Friary. I stood in the corridor for most of the way to ‘see where I was going’, much to the consternation of the WVS (Women’s Voluntary Service) ladies who were accompanying us.”

Most members of today’s younger generations smile when we go misty-eyed at the thought of steam locomotives. Used to hopping easily from A to B and back again, they can’t grasp the excitement of rail travel in the days when the car hadn’t achieved its near-monopoly.

The age of steam is potent because it was the mode of transport that took us on long journeys when we had few alternative means of getting there. And steam ? set against diesel and electricity ? engaged more of the senses. There was a definite air of romance about railways, then.

British Railways stopped running steam locomotives in 1968, I understand ? which means I either travelled behind one as a four- or five-year-old, and remember it, or have found old footage so evocative as to subconsciously create false memories that feel real.

Either way, it proves the point.

Maurice really did get the bug as a youngster.

His father was transferred from Devonport to the dockyard at Gibraltar in 1943, and in the summer of 1947 Maurice went for a summer holiday.

“My father was an amateur photographer and he taught me to use a box camera. I immediately started taking photographs of Gibraltar Dockyard locomotives from a balcony!”

Those two dual passions, railways and photography, grew. His trainspotting trips took him further, though he didn’t come to our region (if we’re including south Essex in that definition) until 1972, when a British Rail mystery trip wound up in Southend. (“I had surreptitiously been advised of the train’s destination and this was my first venture into East Anglia properly,” he admits.)

“After a few more years my visits to the area became more frequent and after several years I began to discover the wide range of preserved lines which operated,” says the man who would work as a chemist in the china clay industry for 37 years.

Later, he decided to try to collect photographs of some of the locomotives he’d seen in his earlier days. As time went on, his collection grew, “from filling an expanding suitcase to occupying a considerable expanse of shelf space in two rooms and a drawer”.

More than 200 classic photographs from the thousands in Maurice’s collection have been put together in his new picture-based book Images of East Anglian Railways ? one for the enthusiast, really.

And actually, despite all my wittering-on about steam, the book does include diesel and electric units. Not as beautiful by half, though!

Images of East Anglian Railways is published by Halsgrove at £19.99

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