Working on the Trainspotting season has been quite an eye-opening experience and the ultimate in on-the-job training. I can now identify a Black Five from the shape of its smokebox, I know what it means to cab a loco and I recently copped my first class 47 diesel, 47580, on its way to Scarborough. All this thanks to the knowledge and expertise in our trainspotters’ stories.
For me, it hasn’t just been the stories which have been of interest, but also some of the fascinating details which have emerged over the course of researching the project. You may have seen that our curator, Bob Gwynne, recently uncovered what he believes to be Britain’s earliest trainspotter. Perhaps unexpectedly, she turns out to be a 14 year old girl named Fanny Johnson. While there are earlier examples of people regularly noting sightings of trains, Fanny appears to be the first spotter to have dedicated records and lists of all the ones that she had seen.
It is from trainspotters’ lists of numbers that some of the most fascinating details have emerged. One of our most notable contributors, Trevor Ermel, was generous enough to let us look through his note books. These provided a wealth of extra detail. Not only did they contain a record of many of the vehicles he had seen, but also maps of the track layouts from the various stations he visited. His records are illustrated with doodles of trains and the lyrics of popular songs. He even has a record of his time as a pub spotter – he assures me it was a short lived venture!
Another fascinating detail that comes from the stories we’ve collected is just how often food is mentioned. The trainspotters’ packed lunch of choice appears to be a packet of mum’s sandwiches followed by a Lyon’s fruit pie, all washed down with some White’s lemonade. If further sustenance was required during a long day spotting, the Jubbly ice lolly proved a popular choice.
The main thing that has struck me while working on the season is how far removed the stories have been from the image of the trainspotting stereotype. They tell of a life lived on the edges of the law, filled with the thrill of the chase and the adventure of far away travel. Believe me, they are anything but dull! Having read them all, I’m tempted to get out there and start spotting myself.