The Speeders of August

Speeders in Santa Rosa, 2007

Speeders in Santa Rosa, 2007

Ten years ago, my wife Mary and I spent an enjoyable afternoon traveling on a short stretch of what at that time was the disused North Western Pacific Railroad line in Santa Rosa. The small “Speeder” in which we rode the rails is the dark green vehicle shown in the photo above.

At that time, a group of enthusiasts used to bring their rail speeders to Santa Rosa annually, to ride the derelict line one day per year. The event took place at Santa Rosa’s North Western Pacific Railroad Depot, which, amazingly, has survived from its construction in 1904 (just before the major earthquake of 1906) to this day, as shown below.

Santa Rosa NWP Depot, 2007

Santa Rosa NWP Depot, 2007

The depot building also featured in the 1943 Alfred Hitchcock movie Shadow of a Doubt, which I described in a previous post.

Although the last regular passenger service on the line ended in 1958, freight service continued after that, and the counties bought the track and right-of-way during the 1990s (via the North Coast Railroad Authority). In contrast to the fate of many railway lines abandoned and lost forever as part of the “Beeching Cuts” in Britain, this fortunate act saved the railroad’s right-of-way for its modern renaissance.

That day in 2007, the Speeder owners were offering free rides to the public, so Mary and I hopped aboard. As shown in the picture above, we chose a green Speeder that had custom bodywork to make it resemble a San Francisco cable car. Given that the Speeders have only 4 wheels, the ride is quite bumpy, but it was a fun experience, and one that we will never get the opportunity to try again, at least on that line.

Below is a short video viewed from the Speeder as we were riding in it:

Railroad Renaissance

The good news is that this line is no longer disused, because it now forms part of the SMART line from San Rafael to Santa Rosa Airport. Test trains are already running on the line, and full passenger service is expected to start some time this summer.

The bad news about that is that, because the line is now occupied, we’ll never again be able to ride a Speeder on it as we did ten years ago!

Last Train to British Museum

British Museum Station, London, 1982

British Museum Station, London, 1982

The photograph above, of what seems to be a fairly unremarkable structure, shows the surface building of the London Underground tube station called British Museum. When I took the photo in 1982, I’d already missed the last train to that station… by about 50 years.

At that time, there were threats to close various London tube stations, either because they were little used, or because they were thought to require substantial maintenance work that could not be justified economically. I’d missed British Museum’s closure, though, by virtue of not having being born at the time.

As it turned out, some of the stations that were still open in the 1980s were indeed closed later, but others remain open to this day.

In my photo above, you can see the glazed terracotta faience covering the ground floor exterior walls of the building, which was a characteristic of Central London Railway stations. Originally, the station building consisted only of that one storey, but later an office building was added above it.

British Museum Station was on the Central London Railway (later the Central Line), and was opened along with the line in 1902. The line crossed the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway (later the Piccadilly Line) near Holborn, but there was no underground connection between the two stations, which was very inconvenient for passengers.

It soon became obvious that a common station was desirable, and authorization to build a new station, on the Central Line, was granted before the First World War, but work was delayed by the war. Eventually the new station was completed, and connected to the existing Piccadilly Line station. British Museum station was then permanently closed in 1933.

While riding the Piccadilly Line during the 1980s, I remember being able to see the remains of British Museum station through the gloom, as my train approached Holborn. The station’s platforms had been removed, but the white glazed tiles of the station walls were still barely visible, underneath decades of grime.

I’m glad that I took that photo of the surface building in 1982, because, in 1989, everything that remained on the surface was demolished, and there’s now no evidence whatsoever that there was a station there, as is apparent in the current Google Streetview of this location.

Department S

Department S Logo

Department S Logo

Strangely, I had a hint of the existence of the long-closed station long before I had even visited London, because it was mentioned (albeit not shown) in a 1968 episode of the ITC thriller series Department S.

In the episode titled “Last Train to Redbridge”, agent Stewart Sullivan is quizzing Jason King about a mysterious location, to which King was abducted and taken in a drugged state. Piecing together his incomplete memories, King makes sense of the details.

Jason King: An Underground Railway Station…

Stewart Sullivan: Old, disused. That would tie in with the murders. Are there any stations like that?

Jason King: Let’s see. On the Central London Line: two. British Museum, which was closed when they opened Holborn, and when they opened St. Pauls, they closed … Post Office

The dialog is partially factual. The description of British Museum and Holborn is accurate, but there is no closed station called Post Office, because the original Post Office station still exists, having been renamed St. Pauls in 1937.

There is also a station called Redbridge on the Central Line, although it’s not a terminus, so trains don’t generally show it as their final destination. Presumably the title image of the Department S episode shows the actual Redbridge Station nameboard.

Department S: Episode Title

Department S: Episode Title

The Department S scenes showing the fictitious Post Office station seem to have been filmed in a real Underground station, as in the scene below. The surroundings just seem too detailed to be a studio set.

Department S: "Post Office" Station

Department S: “Post Office” Station

The station used seems to have been Aldwych, which was still open at that time (albeit only during “peak” hours), but closed later on. I also visited Aldwych in 1982.

Aldwych Station

I mentioned above the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway, which eventually became the Piccadilly Line. This line was formed from the merger of two earlier schemes, one of which was the Great Northern and Strand Railway.

The southern terminus of the GN&SR was a station called “Strand”, which, due to the merger of the two schemes, was eventually built on a branch from the “main line”.

Aldwych Station, 1982

Aldwych Station, 1982

This tatty-looking area is the end of the track at Aldwych Station, as it looked in 1982. The tiling of the walls here was never completed, during the entire life of the station. Given that all trains terminated here, then reversed direction, only the westerly platform was in use, and the track to the other platform had been lifted as long ago as 1917.

During my 1982 visit, I noticed that, on one of the glazed tile walls of the station, the original name was still partially visible, as shown in the rather blurry photo below.

Aldwych Station: Original Name

Aldwych Station: Original Name

Aldwych was closed to the public in 1994, when the sole lift (elevator) at the station required renewal. The site is now used only for private filming purposes. London Transport even keeps a complete tube train on the branch, for use in filming.

Short Sunderland at the Tower of London

Short Sunderland at the Tower of London, 1983

Short Sunderland at the Tower of London, 1983

One Sunday afternoon in 1983, I was strolling over Tower Bridge in London, when I happened to look down at the Thames. There, moored in the Pool of London, was a vintage Short Sunderland flying boat. The photo above shows the scene from the South Bank (after I’d walked around from Tower Bridge), with the Tower of London in the background.

I learned later that this aircraft, registered G-BJHS, was the last flying Sunderland. It originally carried the military serial ML814, and served with the Canadian and New Zealand air forces before being civilianized. It now resides at Fantasy of Flight in Florida, but hasn’t flown since 1996.

Incidentally, the “Imperial Airways” markings on the aircraft, visible above, were fictitious and were probably applied for movie work. Imperial Airways was in fact defunct before the Sunderland entered service.

The photo below shows the first view I saw of the aircraft, from Tower Bridge. The same Google Streetview today is almost unrecognizable; the only common features seem to be the River Thames and the Tower of London!

Short Sunderland from Tower  Bridge, London, 1983

Short Sunderland from Tower Bridge, London, 1983

In the background you can clearly see the British Telecom Tower, and, in front of it, the blackened twin towers of Cannon Street Station. The top of the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral is just visible behind the office blocks on the far right.

This aircraft was already quite the globetrekker that I some day hoped to be, but, back in 1983, my immediate travel ambitions stretched no further than London. The idea that I would soon leave all this behind, and would look back on living in London as a mere stepping-stone to greater things, would probably have been incomprehensible to me.

Of Lost Maps & Lost Towns

East Yorkshire Wall Map, Bridlington, 1977

East Yorkshire Wall Map, Bridlington, 1977

The Map shown above in my 1977 photograph was for many years displayed on a wall that overlooked the Promenade Bus Station in Bridlington. I was recently scanning some old photographs, and that led me to wonder what had become of the map, and indeed the bus station below it.

At the time of my birth, Bridlington was in the county of the East Riding of Yorkshire, then, in 1974, that became part of the unloved county of Humberside. In 1996, Humberside was abolished, and Bridlington found itself once again in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

The local bus company in Bridlington was, and still is, East Yorkshire Motor Services (EYMS), which created and maintained the map. EYMS is perhaps most famous for the unique “Gothic” roofs of its double-deck buses, which were specially shaped to fit through the North Bar in the East Riding county town of Beverley. (See this article for a photo of one of the gothic buses squeezing through the bar.) Built in the 15th century, Beverley Bar still exists today, as shown in my 2007 photo below, and is the only remaining brick-built town gate in Britain.

Beverley Bar, 2007

Beverley Bar, 2007

The photo below shows a general view of Bridlington bus station at around the same time as the color photo of the map above.

Bridlington Promenade Bus Station, 1977

Bridlington Promenade Bus Station, 1977

EYMS built the bus station during the 1930s, and the main building was finished in pleasant blue and cream tiles, reflecting the company’s bus liveries, which also used shades of blue and cream.

Unfortunately, the privatization of the British bus industry during the 1980s made such town-centre sites prime targets for sale and redevelopment, as the privatized companies saw opportunities to “externalize their costs” by selling off their own premises and stopping their vehicles on the streets instead, causing further traffic congestion.

Bridlington Bus Station suffered this fate, and closed down years ago, but I wondered what had become of the site. Looking on Google Streetview, I was initially unable to spot any evidence of the location. Eventually, however, I noticed that, even though the station is gone, the building on which the map was painted still exists, and is now a very tatty branch of Boots. Here is the latest Streetview image.

For convenience, here’s an excerpt from that view. You can see the gable end of the building on which the map was painted, and even the finial is still there!

Site of Bridlington Promenade Bus Station

Site of Bridlington Promenade Bus Station

As you can see, the “Promenades” shopping center has been built over the site of the Bus Station. I’m not sure it’s much of an improvement…

They Keep Losing Towns Too!

The East Riding of Yorkshire actually continues to suffer more significant losses of property than just Bridlington Bus Station and its map.

As a teenager, I was a fairly frequent visitor to Scarborough Library, which had some obscure old books about Yorkshire history.

One of these books was “The Lost Towns of the Yorkshire Coast” by Thomas Sheppard, published in 1912. The book describes the severe coastal erosion in East Yorkshire, south of Bridlington. While Bridlington itself is built on the same chalk that forms the Flamborough promontory, the area southwards to Spurn Point (called Holderness) is a soft glacial moraine, which the sea is eroding away very quickly.

The map below is from the frontispiece of the 1912 book, and shows the medieval and modern coastlines of the county. The loss of entire towns due to erosion is quite obvious.

Lost Towns of East Yorkshire

Lost Towns of East Yorkshire

Short of building a sea wall all the way along the coastline, the erosion process is really unstoppable. In the future, there will presumably be some towns and villages sitting on peninsulas where defences have been built locally (such as at Withernsea), but the remainder of Holderness will eventually just be washed away.

The most recent losses of property have been around Aldbrough, as shown in these photos. See it while you can!

Incidentally, Beverley in Yorkshire has no connection to Beverly Hills in California, although the different spellings do sometimes trip people up!

Stopping by at Melitta Station


Wisterias blooming at Melitta Station

Wisterias blooming at Melitta Station

This weekend, I stopped by briefly at Melitta Station, which is a quiet and pretty location by the side of Santa Rosa Creek, to the east of Santa Rosa. If I’d been hoping to catch a train from the station, I’d have had a long wait, because there haven’t been any trains through here since the 1930s. Over a hundred years ago, this was a busy railroad depot, with sufficient population to warrant its own Post Office.

Even among those who live in California, there is a tendency to assume that any non-English “European-sounding” name must be of Spanish origin. However, in the Santa Rosa area there was a significant settlement of Italian migrants, and Melitta is a name of Italian origin.

The Southern Pacific Railroad built a branch from Napa Junction to Santa Rosa through here in 1888. There were significant stone quarries on the South side of Santa Rosa Creek, so a railroad depot was established to transport stone from these quarries. A tramway ran from the quarries down to the railroad depot. Basalt paving stones were sent from here all over California, covering many streets in San Francisco.

Eventually, the quarries were worked out, and in 1934 the Southern Pacific abandoned the railroad. The rails were lifted in 1942 and taken to Oakland for reuse in the docks. Melitta declined to the point that the Post Office and store closed, and all that’s really left of the settlement now is the Melitta Station Inn, which now offers Bed & Breakfast. The owners are apparently British, so they presumably know something about converted railway stations and English breakfasts!

Melitta Station Inn

Melitta Station Inn

In the photo above, looking West, the railroad trackbed was to the left (now Montgomery Drive), and Melita Road is on the right. (The name of the road has a different spelling.) Melitta Station Inn sits in the fork of the junction. However, the railroad always stayed on the opposite side of the creek, so it did not cross the creek or Melita Road, as the modern alignment suggests.

Santa Rosa Creek at Melitta Station

Santa Rosa Creek at Melitta Station

Had the Sonoma Freeway ever been built, this junction would have changed beyond recognition, because the freeway was planned to rejoin the existing Highway 12 near this point. It seems now that all plans to construct that freeway have been abandoned, so Melitta Station looks set to continue its tranquil existence.

Airspeed York

Former Airspeed Factory, York, in 1979

Former Airspeed Factory, York, in 1979

During an Easter 1979 visit to York, I sought out and photographed the rather tatty and unremarkable building shown above. On close examination, the exterior revealed some vaguely “Art Deco” embellishments, but in general it gave the impression of being just another old warehouse.

The building was located on Piccadilly, York, and was in use as Reynard’s Garage in 1979. It had originally been built as a trolleybus garage in the early 1920s. In 1931, after the trolleybuses had been relocated to larger premises, the building took on a new function as the home of Airspeed Ltd., an aircraft manufacturing company founded by, among others, Nevil Shute and Amy Johnson.

By 1933, Airspeed were ready to expand into larger premises, but York Corporation refused to provide any assistance. Other municipalities around the country took a more enlightened view, and so Airspeed were tempted away from York to Portsmouth, where they built large new premises, then went on to design and build many successful aircraft designs, such as the Oxford and Horsa.

Sadly, in 2015 the now-derelict building was finally demolished, despite public pressure to save it. Perhaps York Corporation wanted to rid themselves of this daily reminder of their own lack of foresight back in the 1930s?

This link displays the current Google Streetview of this location.

An Ancient Austin

Austin Princess, Hackness 1963

Our Austin Princess, Hackness 1963

These photos include my father’s second car, which was an Austin Princess. By the standards of the day for British cars, this was a huge vehicle. This type of car was typically used for weddings, funerals and state occasions, but my father had a penchant for large cars, so, when he saw an opportunity to buy a used Princess, he jumped at the chance. These vehicles featured custom bodywork by Vanden Plas on a separate chassis, so they were very heavy. As I mentioned in a previous post, my father served in the Royal Air Force during World War II, where he learned to drive AEC Matador trucks, so the Princess probably didn’t seem especially big to him!

Perhaps the most famous Princess was one owned by John Lennon, although that had hearse bodywork. My father was no fan of the Beatles, so I’m not sure what he thought about that.

Both these views show my mother, my younger brother and me messing around near Hackness, Yorkshire, during the Autumns of 1963 and 1964.

Our Austin Princess c.1964

Our Austin Princess c.1964

This was not my father’s first Austin (although it’s the earliest that I remember riding in), since his first car had also been of that marque, and it wasn’t his last, since he subsequently owned a more modestly-sized Austin 1100.

The downsizing was at the request of my mother, who learned to drive c.1969, and didn’t want a large vehicle.

Later, during the 1970s, my father bowed to the inevitable realities and began buying non-British cars, such as Simca, Honda and, finally, a German Opel Kadett (which eventually became my first car).

AEC Matador "May" of S A Bell, Malton, 1977

AEC Matador “May” of S A Bell, Malton, 1976

Above is an AEC Matador, similar to the vehicles on which my father learned to drive. This one, named “May” was used by haulier S A Bell Ltd., and was parked at their Malton depot in 1976.