My name is Eddie Johnson and I am a retired teacher living in South Manchester. The study of railways is both a hobby and a passion for me, though I consider I’ve always been a “hobbies and interests” person since I was a child. It must have been back in 1947 when, as a 4 year-old, I first became fascinated by trains.
My parents, bless them, must have realised my interest as I clearly remember being taken by my dad to various stations in south Manchester to watch trains with him. All that, of course, was back in the days when steam reigned supreme as the motive power on Britain’s railways. The sight and sound of a steam locomotive hard at work is something that has captured the minds and hearts of men (and some women!) ever since the dawn of railways back in the 1830s.
After the Second War the popular hobby of “train spotting” began in earnest. Beloved of boys of all ages it involved logging names and numbers of locomotives “spotted” in pre-printed books. All over the country gangs of boys gathered on station platforms waiting patiently for what they described as their next “cop” – the sight of an engine number or name that had not been seen before.
Sadly, today, the popular press has done its level best to rubbish the business of interest in railways and train watching in particular. Some journalists have likened a passion for railways as on a par with some mild psychiatric disorder and the term “nerd” was coined to disparage people with such passions. “Sad” seems to be another phrase that is levelled at us. Some writers go even further: using such terms as “this old-fashioned steam power” - quite oblivious to the fact that steam is used as the power to generate the vast bulk of the world’s electricity!
Around the early 1980s I became fascinated by the desire to write about my passion for railways. Since then I have had 13 books and a number of magazine articles published. Most of these deal with the railways around Manchester and across the north-west.
My latest offering, published by Foxline of Romiley, is the first part of a detailed history of the Manchester to Crewe line. This was electrified in the late 1950s, part of a programme that saw electrification come to the London-Glasgow-Liverpool route, since popularly known as “The West Coast Main Line”.
Manchester, of course, saw the dawn of the railway age when George Stephenson’s celebrated “Rocket” locomotive launched the Liverpool to Manchester Railway back in September 1830. My writing ties in neatly with one of my other great interests in life - photography. This started aged about 12 when I began to make contact prints from my mother’s box camera negatives. Alas, photography in the mid-1950s was considered a rich man’s hobby with picture-taking, away from the box camera holiday “snappers”, being something of an elitist pursuit, the province of the serious amateur. 50 years ago a decent camera cost anything between £80 and £160, a huge some of money when the national average wage was around £8-£10 per week. Moreover, film and processing was expensive, too. Compare this with today’s scene, when cheap digital and 35mm film cameras are readily available to all and desk-top computers and printers enable the production of top quality colour prints at the click of a mouse.
The images on display in my “Steam Gallery” are mostly from the cameras of other photographers. For reasons described I was unable to photograph the railway in its heyday, so I have become reliant on images that I have built up in my photo library over the last 20 years. Despite the vast number of books and magazines that have been published over the years, new images of the steam locomotive and the railway infrastructure continue to surface. It is always a delight to fall upon a lost collection of prints or negatives that have lain in an envelope or behind a bookshelf, especially if these reveal a favourite location or an important point of historical interest.
Aidan O’Rourke has done a splendid job with his Manchester website and I am delighted to have been offered the chance to display some of my pictures on it. If you, or a friend, have any railway-related material that you feel is worthy of a bigger audience, or you would like to preserve for posterity, I would be delighted to hear from you. In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed your visit and that my picture gallery has given you some pleasure.
Eddie Johnson, Manchester, March 2008.
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