Scarborough Spa Express
In the 80s

777Following the installation of a turntable at the site of the old loco shed at Scarborough, running regular steam hauled trains from York first became a possibility in 1981. In that year, the Scarborough Spa Express just ran between York and Scarborough and, while I travelled on a few trains, I have no recordings; York to Scarborough isn't the best route for noise.
These trains built on the success of the York Circular trips run in 1979 and, in 1982, the two were combined to give a trip, starting from York in the morning running round the circle via Harrogate and Leeds back to York before continuing to Scarborough. Returning from Scarborough the reverse itinerary ran in the evening giving the possibility of no less than 212 miles of steam haulage on three days each week through the summer for a very reasonable price. Ordinary tickets including rovers could be used on these trains with the addition of a steam supplement ticket which, if memory serves, cost just £2.50. It's no wonder that these trains became so popular.
In that first year I travelled frequently but did miss a few trains. In later years I made a point of travelling on at least some part of the route on each day that the train ran, always including the evening circle in my ride. If we were lucky in the evening, we would get a fast run from York to Leeds followed by a noisy climb to Horsforth, always a very pleasant way to spend an evening.
In later years we were to witness some remarkable performances but during that first year, the running was pretty steady but, on the last day, 777 gave us a hint of what could be done on the climb to Horsforth by running from a start at Leeds to passing the station in no more than 11 minutes 14 seconds.
So why is there no recording of this run I hear you ask. Well, the only excuses I can offer are that I sometimes left my tape recorder at home and on this particular occasion I was suffering from a particularly bad cold and couldn't be bothered!
On the 30th August, quite unlike the run we were going to get a few days later 777 is heard merely plodding up the gradient through Headingley.

777 near Headingley. 30th August 1982
Click to play

5305Following the success of the first season of Scarborough Spa Expresses we had exactly the same programme in place for another 22 trains to run between mid-July and the August Bank Holiday weekend, the dates being designed to coincide with the School Summer Holidays.
Having enjoyed my rides in the previous year, I decided that, for 1983 I would try to ride each day that the train ran to make sure I didn't miss any good running, particularly during the evening circle which was fast becoming a favourite with enthusiasts who were often able to come out for a ride after work.
In 1982 the while the running of these trains had been fine; I can't recall any seriously late running, locomotive performance was generally mediocre but, with a year under our belts, we had started to get to know the who's, who among the York drivers and which of them might be encouraged to do a bit more than was strictly required for time keeping.
During the evening of 19th July we had what should have been a good run from York to Leeds and an equally good run from Leeds up the bank to Horsforth but both were spoiled by signal checks.
Later during the same evening we were stopped by signals yet again approaching Knaresborough This was a regular occurrence since we often had to wait for a service train coming from York to clear the single line section that ended there.
With the DMU safely on its way to Harrogate we get the road and I was able to make this recording of the Black 5 taking the train across the viaduct over the River Nidd and into the station where the token for the single line section to Cattal was ready for us. Then after passing through the short tunnel beyond we accelerate on falling gradients towards Cattal.
Not a particularly earth shattering recording you may think but made all the more interesting by the sound of the Knaresborough campanologists practicing in a nearby church. After getting this recording I hoped each evening to record the church bells again - alas, it was not to be.

5305 passing Knaresborough. 19th July 1983
Click to play

92220 1983 was the year when we really started to get to know the York drivers who were to entertain us for the next few years with their exploits on the Scarborough Spa Express. Some drivers we got to know more quickly than others. One driver in particular that we looked out for was Harry Wilson.
Now some, myself included, could occasionally be heard to criticise Harry's style (if that is the right word) of enginemanship but one thing that no one could argue with was the fact that, whatever he did, we were never bored!
Take the evening of 9th August when Harry had 'Evening Star' for the evening circle.
We started with a badly checked run from York to Leeds which featured a max of over 70 mph before Church Fenton then a further signal stop leaving Leeds ruined any chance of a record up to Horsforth.
As this recording begins we are dawdling across the viaduct at Kirkstall with the safety valves roaring for all they are worth. On the train we were wondering what Harry was playing at since we now had a clear road. As we approach the far end of the viaduct Harry opens 92220 up and the safety valves soon close.
I recall that the subsequent acceleration felt more like that of an EMU than a steam loco!
By the time the train has passed through the short tunnel at Headingley speed has risen to almost 50 mph. Beyond Headingley speed continued to rise to a max of 56 mph before reaching Horsforth. The average speeds tell their own story; 27½ mph from Wortley Jn. to Headingley then 54 mph from there to Horsforth. The time from Wortley Jc. to Horsforth was just 7 minutes 2 seconds.
As I said, Harry was never boring!

92220 from Kirkstall Viaduct to near Headingley. 9th August 1983
Click to play

46229For the evening circle on 19th August 1984 our driver was Gordon Spanton. Now Gordon, while being a good engineman, was another driver who could not be described as a thrashman. However, we had a word with him before departing from York and made sure that he knew what was expected of him! In addition, we also knew that Kim Malyon would be riding on the engine with him from Leeds so we could be sure that some encouragement would be forthcoming from that quarter.
However, the ensuing run from York to Leeds did nothing to raise our hopes as Gordon gave us one of the slowest runs we were to record, in fact the slowest unchecked run of the season taking almost 40 minutes with speed falling to the low 30's on Leeds Bank. Not very promising.
Being a Sunday we had the advantage of using platform 6 at Leeds which meant that we could get straight out onto the Harrogate line without using any crossovers. As we got the 'right away' I can recall wondering if it would be worth while turning my recorder on. I'm certainly glad that I did!
Once under way Gordon opened the loco up and we began to accelerate. We quickly realised that he wasn't going to ease up and that we really were going to get a run for our money. We passed Wortley Jn. in just over 4 minutes at 37 mph, Headingley 2½ minutes later at 51 mph and reached Horsforth in just under 9½ minutes at 55 mph with the climb from Wortley Jn. having occupied no more than 5 minutes 21 seconds, the fastest time for this year.
On arrival at Harrogate Gordon, with a big grin on his face was heard to remark; 'I didn't think she'd go up as fast as that!' and when someone complimented him on his 'superb enginemanship' he simply looked shocked and said; 'You must be joking, we're all bloody mad!'. .

46229 passing Whitehall Jn. 19th August 1984
Click to play

5305The Scarborough Spa Express of 26th August 1984 will always stand out in my memory as one of the most remarkable steam hauled journeys that it has ever been my good fortune to make. The loco was 5305 with the usual 9 vehicles behind the tender. Performance got off to a good start with what proved to be the fastest run from York to Harrogate for the season followed by an equally good, if not record breaking run from there to Leeds. Performance deteriorated a little after that and the running from there on to Scarborough was merely satisfactory.
It was during the evening that sparks really began to fly!
From Scarborough to York although there was plenty of scope for fast running this rarely materialised with the usual running time being somewhere around an hour. We always felt that a time of 50 minutes or less should be achievable and, earlier in the season 'City of Wells' had done the run in just less than 51 minutes.
On this occasion with a previously unknown driver by the name of Anderson we completed the run in no more than 50 minutes 11 seconds net despite a signal check near Malton and being brought to a stand by signals approaching York!
Waiting to take over at York was Bernard Wilkinson who was another York driver who could always be counted on to do his best for us.
On a Sunday at York we had plenty of time to talk to him while the loco took water and after ensuring that he knew what the current state of play was regarding fastest times the subject of a run to Leeds in under the half hour came up. I seem to recall that Bernard made some comment about having to put in a stop at Church Fenton to get the running time up to that figure. Someone then suggested that his young and only recently trained fireman might not be sufficiently capable. Bernard's reply was, 'I can fire it as well if need be!'.
This first recording was made departing from York. By the time the front coaches were clearing the end of York's Platform 8 we were in no doubt that Bernard was really going for it although I'm sure that no one quite expected what followed. As early as Chaloners Whin, passed in under 4 minutes from the start we were over 50 mph and 60 was exceeded before Copmanthorpe.
This track ends near Colton Jn. with speed still rising.

5305 departing from York to near Colton Jn. 26th August 1984
Click to play

5305A little later we are approaching Church Fenton as this recording begins.
I was in my usual back to the engine seat and was in a good position to see the expressions on the faces of spectators standing on the platform as we swept through the station at no less than 77 mph!
With the train onto the curve beyond the station and Leeds Bank ahead Bernard soon begins to open the engine up until, a mile or so up the 1 in 143 gradient the loco is really roaring. The fireman is obviously doing a good job as, despite the way the loco is being worked the safety valves lift. This was a really remarkable performance.
Approaching Micklefield, passed in 4 minutes 31 seconds from Church Fenton, speed had only just dipped to below 60 mph and reached a minimum of 55 mph at the top of the bank before Garforth.
On the falling gradients beyond Bernard keeps steam on until we recorded a maximum of 74 mph at Cross Gates where the regulator was closed and this track ends.
After this it would have been a shame had we been checked on the approach to Leeds. Fortunately we were not and came to a stand alongside Platform 6 in just 27 minutes and 6 seconds. I hardly need add that this time has never, to the best of my knowledge, been bettered.
Oh, and the fireman? He coped perfectly well. Not surprising since he had hardly left his seat. Bernard was as good as his word and had fired it himself. What a driver!

5305 from passing Church Fenton to near Cross Gates.
Click to play

92220Great things were hoped for from the BR Standard Class 9F 92220 'Evening Star' since this was the loco that had provided us with some excellent performances on Scarborough Spa Expresses in 1983. So it was a great pity that the loco was only rostered for the last two days of the 1984 season. Even worse, the quality of the coal that was provided for the loco left a great deal to be desired. It was black but that was the only property it shared with proper coal. It seemed capable of producing vast quantities of ash but very little heat.
As we approached York on 28th August 1984 ready for the evening circle after some of worst running of the season things did not look promising. What made matters worse was the fact that our driver that evening was none other than Derek Gell who was as disappointed as we were when he heard about the coal. Nevertheless, as the loco took water Derek assured us that he would do his best while Kim Malyon and other support crew members were up in the tender trying to unearth some decent coal.
Under the circumstances the run to Leeds, although not very noisy was very good taking less than 33 minutes after a max. of only 62 mph at Church Fenton followed by a minimum of 49 mph up Leeds Bank.
Now for the climb to Horsforth.
As we pulled out of Platform 9 no one expected a really fast run. A little over 4½ minutes later, as we passed Wortley Jc. at 38 mph we realised that we could be wrong and 2½ minutes after that as we passed Headingley at 50 mph we were no longer in any doubt!
We continued to accelerate and reached a maximum of 56 mph before adverse signals at Horsforth put an end to things.
Once again Derek had kept the engine going until we reached the station and the time of 9 minutes and 3 seconds from Leeds was the record for the year and the time from Wortley Jn. was only a few seconds slower than the record set by 'Duchess of Hamilton' earlier in the season.
Beyond Horsforth speed was down to 8 mph before the road ahead was clear and Derek could get the regulator open once again.

92220 near Headingley. 28th August 1984
Click to play

34092In 1984 we had been witness to some remarkable running up the gradient, generally at 1 in 90 and 1 in 100 from Wortley Jn. up to Horsforth and had had a run in just over 9 minutes from Leeds behind 92220 on the final train of the season which we thought pretty well unbeatable.
On this occasion Derek and 'City of Wells' completed the same run in less than 8½ minutes taking just over 5 minutes from Wortley Jn. with a sustained speed on the gradient of 55 mph. A remarkable performance, which certainly made amends for the disappointment of the checks coming over from York.
This run proved to be the record for the season and, to the best of my knowledge has never been bettered.
This recording starts as we pull out of Platform 6 at Leeds and ends at Horsforth.

34092 departing from Leeds to passing Horsforth. 14th July 1985
Click to play

777As you'll have read, most of our hopes for fast running centred around the evening circle but we also had some good runs on other sections.
One hope was to get an under half hour run from Leeds to York but this proved hard to do however, on the final day of the programme in 1985 we managed it with 777.
By the time we were approaching Garforth, near the top of the climb out of Leeds we were in no doubt as to Bernard's intentions.
This recording begins as we approach Garforth station at a little over 50 mph and continues over the top of the bank ending just after passing through Micklefield station.
Our time from Leeds to York was a couple of seconds under 29¾ minutes and would have been faster but for adverse signals approaching York.

777 from passing Garforth to near Micklefield. 1st September 1985
Click to play