My earliest memory, at the grand age of 2 years in 1949, is of a close encounter with a great hissing and snorting monster - a steam railway locomotive!
This was at Staines, Middlesex, where I spent my first 18 years. My mother stopped beside the Kingston Road bridge returning home from a shopping session in town, with me in my pushchair, to "watch the trains go by".
In recent years I have occasionally pondered why it is that people become interested in certain things, without any previous family involvement or influence. We are told that our memories do not develop fully until the age of about 2 - prior to that we can observe, register and react, but not remember. It surely follows then that the first new experience we commit to memory, whatever it is, is likely to have a significant influence on our subsequent lives . No doubt the psychologists will recognise this notion as "so-and-so's theory", but just in case they don't, I hereby claim it as my own, unless proven otherwise!
So, of course I became a trainspotter! As did many thousands of other boys (and a few girls, too) in the 1950s. It was a cheap and easy hobby, sitting in the sun on a summer Saturday afternoon at Slough or Weybridge, watching the constant procession of packed holiday trains conveying the masses to and from their annual trip to the coast - we thought it was the greatest free show on earth!
I can date my full awakening to a much wider interest in land transport - from engineering, social, geographical and historical perspectives - very precisely, to around 11 o'clock on the morning of Thursday, April 18th 1963. I was travelling by special train from London to Derby for a visit to the locomotive works there, surrounded by hoards of very noisy young loco-spotters, when I noticed some of the beautiful traceried iron canopies at a wayside station being pulled down and smashed to pieces. I decided there and then that there were many more worthwhile things to record than engine numbers, before all this was swept away.
Shortly afterwards I met Chris Leigh, the respected railway historian and modeller, then working as an editorial junior for the Ian Allan organization. Together with schoolfriend Paul Chamberlain, we travelled the length and breadth of the former Great Western Railway, recording and photographing an infrastructure and way of life which was fast disappearing at the time of the infamous "Beeching" cuts.
In the mid-1960s I was fortunate to move to Bangor, studying Electronic Engineering at the University College of North Wales, and was able to catch not only the end of the "big" steam railway and branch line era there, but also explore the fascinating narrow-gauge railways and quarry systems. As these too largely disappeared, our interests turned to the much wider field of Industrial Archaeology, both in Snowdonia and back in London, where I worked for a short period around 1973.
An interest in canal cruising & history then followed, with a group of friends from college days exploring much of the English canal and river system over the next 10 years or so. Nowadays in retirement, preferring a more sedate and gentle life, Elizabeth and I continue this by exploring the waterways of Europe and elsewhere by hotel boat, visiting places we never dreamed possible in our youth.
A move to Poynton, Cheshire in 1977 enabled continuation of our interest in Industrial Archaeology, and a developing appreciation of domestic architecture in this former coal-mining village. Originally intending to stay for just two years or so, we are still here!
When my mother died in 1997, looking for a project to keep dad occupied, we embarked on Family History research, then a rapidly growing activity greatly facilitated by the new-fangled Internet. We were advised by an elderly aunt to "expect a shock or two along the way" and so it proved - somewhat more than two in fact! In continuing this, over a total of five families - my parents, Elizabeth's and the "honorary" Waterlows - we were again lucky in that all were very different in nature, ranging from the height of London society, through farmers, manufacturers, the odd swindler, shopkeepers, weavers and seamen to the lowly agricultural labourer. The fascinating stories that evolved led most recently to a wider interest in the many facets of Victorian society as a whole, thus nicely linking together all of our previous interests, and placing everything in context.
And all this started from trainspotting!
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