The small band of people who got together in 1971 to establish a transport museum in the former Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway locomotive shed at Derby Road, Southport must surely be looking back with some satisfaction at the fruits of their early labours. Many years have passed since that historic occasion when members of the Southport Locomotive and Transport Museum Society obtained permission to begin tidying the semi derelict site. This followed an appeal for support launched through the local press by the small group of local railway and bus enthusiasts and which led to the formation of the Society.
That site may have eventually closed but the collection and many of the members formed the backbone for what we have now at the Ribble Steam Railway in Preston. Without that initial band of members in the early pioneering days, chances are, we would not be where we are now.
The motive power depot had closed in 1966 and by 1971 the Derby Road site had become vandalised, having first been stripped by British Rail of all recoverable materials, with the result that the volunteers had to contemplate a building without doors, with no glass in the roof and without electricity, water or any other services. The shed yard was strewn with rubble, there was no track in position, neither was there rail connection with BR.
Negotiations proceeded with BR regarding a lease of the premises and work progressed with the building and the yard. By 1973, 80ft of track had been laid in the shed, and by August of that year the first locomotives were installed. These were Lucy, an 0-6-0ST built by Avonside Engine Co in 1909, and which worked at Widnes Docks until 1971, and Efficient, an Andrew Barclay 0-4-0ST built in 1918, and which also had operated in the Widnes area. Both locomotives were owned by the Liverpool Locomotive Preservation Group.
Elsewhere in the shed building a museum shop had been opened, and work had begun on placing exhibits in the entrance hall. The Society had reached an agreement with BR for a lease of the shed and yard, and to administer the business of the Museum and conduct formal business with BR, Steamport Southport Ltd (a Company limited by guarantee) was formed. By early 1974, agreement had been reached as regards a connection from BR to the yard. This was effected by slewing over some 60ft of track across to Steamport land from the adjacent Kensington Road goods depot (formerly Southport Central station, closed to regular passenger traffic in 1901). Track from the severed depot siding was purchased from BR and used to extend the line along the yard towards the shed. This then left a gap of about 600ft, which was completed with additional rail bought from United Glass, St Helens.
With the arrival, in March 1974, of a Smith-Rodley diesel crane progress accelerated somewhat, and in mid-May track had almost reached the 80ft length laid in earlier days from the shed.
Members worked every evening and weekend that spring to get the track ready for use at the Spring Bank Holiday weekend. That occasion marked the first run at Steamport of a steam locomotive, the Avonside 0-6-0ST Lucy. The newly laid track was kept under observation that weekend, for this was our members’ first experience of tracklaying, but all was well, and since then the Museum built up a team of competent tracklayers and signalling staff who extended and improved the layout and installations.
Elsewhere things were proceeding well, back in 1974. The Bus and Tram Group, who had taken over roads 5 and 6, by now filled in, was expanding its collection and new locomotive exhibits were arriving such as No 2153, a large Peckett 0-6-0ST. This arrived by rail, and initially resided at the adjacent Kensington Road goods depot until the Steamport line was established. By August 1974, the first main line steam locomotive had arrived, with the coming of LMS ‘3F’ 0-6-0T No 47298 ex-Barry, and LMS ‘Black Five’ 4-6-0 No 44806, which was transferred from the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway. No 44806 was steamed on several occasions but in 1975 was found to require further work, and awaited major firebox repairs. In that year, a Peckett 0-4-0ST arrived at Steamport — No 1999, on loan from the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. No 1999, a Southport locomotive, being built for use at Crowlands Gas Works, Southport in 1941, and working there until transfer to Darwen in the early 1960s.
By spring 1976, the Museum had reached agreement with the Railway Inspectorate as regards the formalities necessary to enable brake van rides to commence. A new line, road No 3, was put into use, with a suitable platform, after full approval from all the parties involved. By this time, the locomotive fleet had been further augmented with the arrival of Hudswell Clarke
0-4-0ST Waleswood, built in 1906 as Works No 750, and the oldest working locomotive at Steamport. After resting quietly as a garden exhibit and named Samantha, Waleswood was to find a new lease of life, and was successfully steamed in July 1975. After moving off very gingerly at first, the 0-4-0ST made a strong impression on the writer and others assembled, if only for the violent eruption of soot and other black material which
descended on the yard, after the locomotive slipped on a greasy rail. After that, Waleswood’s two owners then never looked back, for the grand old lady was simply getting into full fettle and became a regular performer on the brake van service every year.
Other long term preservation projects were getting under way, apart from the restoration of No 47298, with the arrival of BR Standard ‘4’
2-6-0 No 76079 in August 1974, and of Hunslet
0-6-0ST No 1954 Kinsley of 1939, in 1975. No 47298 was fully restored as LMS No 7298, taking part in ‘Rocket 150’ in May 1980, and making guest appearances at Liverpool Road, Manchester, and at Dinting Railway Centre.
Prior to ‘Rocket 150’, however, No 7298 made local history by being in steam at Southport station during the Steamport/British Rail Joint Exhibition in April 1980.
The Museum had not neglected other forms of motive power. Indeed, in 1972, Steamport’s first ever locomotive was the Fowler diesel mechanical 0-4-0, Persil (Works No 4160001), kindly donated by Messrs Joseph Crosfield and Sons Ltd, Warrington. Persil was hauled by rail to Southport, being stored initially on a disused headshunt near the Museum. Since then, Persil became the reserve diesel shunter, its duties being taken over from 1978 by Ruston 0-4-0 diesel electric Trevithick, acquired from ICI.
Development of the road transport section continued with vigour, and various buses of local interest arrived, including No106, a Southport Leyland Titan PD2/3 of 1950. This double deck vehicle was presented to Steamport by the outgoing Southport Corporation Transport Authority which was taken over by Merseyside Transport as from April 1974. An open top Leyland TD3, N043, one of the replacements for Southport’s last trams in 1934, was also preserved. Two tramcars were also at Steamport to add to the growing collection of road transport vehicles: Blackpool ‘Coronation’ No 323 of 1953 and Liverpool ‘Baby Grand’ No 245, one of a series of tramcars put into service between 1937 and 1942. No 245 was on loan from Merseyside County Museums. These were not the only tramcars, for in March 1972 Society members had located a Southport horsetram body (from car No 7) dating back to 1873. It still had 19th century advertisements in the saloon. Also in the Museum, was Stockport tramcar No 5, which arrived as part of a Territorial Army engineers’ training exercise in April 1974.
Steamport was also home to two steamrollers, and a rail mounted steam crane built in 1949 by Grafton and Sons, from Bold Colliery, St Helens. There were various items of rolling stock, including a passenger coach of LMS design built in 1951 at Wolverton and a vintage Midland Railway brake van built to Diagram D 390. Also added to the collection was a Green & Batley battery electric locomotive, No 2000, in full working order.
A feature of the Museum was the entrance hall, containing many exhibits including a Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway platform indicator which towered over the smaller items on display, historic photographs, signs and locomotive models.
The Museum running line was extended as, having outgrown the original installation, a new line was commissioned in 1980 running alongside the shed and from a new platform. Fully signalled, from the ex-Riverside signalbox loaned by Merseyside County Museums, this extension almost doubled the distance over which the locomotives were operated. This line was approved by Major Olver in 1980 and was put into use that Easter. Passengers embarked and alighted from the brake vans using a platform built to standard railway specifications. The line proved satisfactory in all respects, and passenger trains with steam and diesel haulage and usually using two ex-LMS ‘Queen Mary’ brake vans were operated every 15 minutes on summer Sundays and at Bank Holidays. The line had fully interlocked signalling, with facing pointlocks on the main running line, and was fenced off, but in full public view. To all intents and purposes, this was a completely self contained standard gauge railway, based on mainline practice, and, what is more, physically connected to the rest of the BR system.
Steamport was active in other pursuits, too. In 1978, a 60ft turntable was acquired from BR, York, and that August it came by rail to Steamport on a Borail wagon. Its installation was completed and the turntable used, having been placed in position in the former L & Y turntable pit from which about 400 tons of rubble had first to be removed. Some alterations to the boundary fence were necessary as part of the site lay in the adjacent coal yard, and these changes had first to be agreed with the owners. A rail connection was completed and, as an extension to the project, a Midland Railway parachute type water column, rescued from St Pancras, was also erected nearby. This column, like the turntable, had to be removed within deadlines laid down by BR, and the group who travelled down to St Pancras had between 04.00 and 16.00 on a miserably wet February Sunday during 1980 in which to lay down a temporary sleeper road, move a vehicle on to the site, free the column base, and prepare for the BR engineers who would be in charge of lifting the column. The job was satisfactorily completed, and the load arrived safe and sound at Steamport two days later. Reports suggest that BR’s own attempts to remove the column had failed, so it was fortuitous for Steamport’s officers who had been looking for a water column for some time.
More stock made its way to Steamport, and continued to arrive. GWR ‘S101’ 2-6-2T No 5193 came from Barry in 1979; a third Peckett, from Ironbridge in 1980; a BGZ parcels van; an Esso tank wagon; two ex—LMS electric multiple unit coaches, and so on. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway replica coaches visited Steamport, and the venerable Lion entered in steam on 24 March 1980, from Wigan, to be exhibited until 16 May when it then ran in steam to Bold Colliery in readiness for ‘Rocket 150’. Lion was steamed most Sundays when at Steamport and also ran trial trips to Burscough and back on 12 May. One of the Steamport officials travelled to Burscough in his official capacity by Lion and vintage coaches, and changed there to a following DMU service to travel to his office in Wigan! Lion paid another successful visit in mid-July for six weeks, and was to be popular as ever, both with visitors and the locomotive crews, proving to be trouble free.
Steamport staged its first joint exhibition with BR at Southport station in April 1980. Included were: Lion; No 44806; the L&M replica coaches and the Class 502 electric set. The last was formally handed over to the National Railway Museum, and then into Steamport’s care, at a ceremony on the second day of the exhibition. The star attraction was No 47298, in steam throughout the four day event, and enthusiasts were rewarded by seeing the 0-6-0T making several special movements, including hauling a Class 507 unit from Platform 3 to Platform 5, the EMU having arrived as part of the exhibition. The Cooperation of BR’s management enabled this special movement to be made with the provision of a purpose; made adaptor coupling, and it proved to be a complete success.
All these happenings helped to establish Steamport.
It is said that it takes ten years to become established. Though Steamport only opened to the public in 1974, the honour went back to those beginnings in 1971.
Compiled at the time by Mr John Eccles – Hon. Public Relations Officer, Steamport Southport Ltd.