The Glen, Braunton, Devon EX33 1HL

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April 2024

Might we need an Independent Ombudsman to administer Railwayana Event standards?

Prorail.UK has been providing an on-line Railwayana Collectors' Events Diary through this website since 2001. Uniquely, it has remained free to use by site visitors - and, equally important, offers a totally FREE listing service to specialist auctioneers and event organizers. Having said that, you may well be surprised to learn how difficult it can be to extract the information needed to maintain the relevance and validity of the Diary - "pulling teeth" might indeed be the most appropriate epithet for some!

We have tended to allow the Diary freedom to absorb any suitable events on offer, without restraint or comment - although a recognizable pattern of dates would be identified, when repeated year-on-year by the longer established organizers. Whilst double-booking had been inevitable from time to time, widely-separated regional events - or co-existence with distinct, non-competitive, sub-interest group activity - would normally have reduced any meaningful conflicts, especially if organizers had taken the trouble to consider the risk of splitting their expected, supportive audiences, by consulting the Diary beforehand.

However, the growth and popularity of on-line events had begun to erode this natural levelling process. For example, we have noticed a tendency amongst newer events to jostle for position in the established calendar, especially during the more active months of the year. The objective could be to obtain spin-off marketing benefits, by offering competing material just before or just after a well-respected organizer had released its own publicity on a forthcoming event. But why should it matter if such "bunching" occurs?

We are sometimes approached by novices, wishing to enter items "into one of your auctions" - or who enquire where they might go to obtain something specific - or for a recommendation on which events are "best". Of course, in fairness to all, we have to refer them back to the Diary, where almost every entry will provide a direct link to the website of the various organizers - with contact details. We might offer some unbiased advice, such as how to identify proven business experience, specialities, locality, frequency of events - or point out that some might appear too well endowed with hyperbole (you know who you are!). At the same time, we might emphasize that it would be beneficial to draw up a short-list of potential event organizers, using a realistic comparison between their most recent experience with similar items.

Although the route taken to reach us could have originated from an Internet search, we would always advise novices against reliance on such superficial results. Anyone could manipulate how highly rated amongst those "desirable" Google listings their websites might appear - simply by employing a skilled programmer, who would specify catchall titles and keywords - or by over-generous use of hyperbole in the textual content! A good entry will attract more hits - and, the greater the frequency of its accesses, the higher the status that will be determined by the computer algorithm used to sort out the listings. There is no quality control involved in getting to those high ratings. Within the top 20 or 50 listings could be entries that haven't been updated for years; others might even point to "traders" who no longer exist.

Might it be an opportune time to recall the intended purpose and practice of professional auctioneering? Primarily, does an auctioneer act on behalf of his vendors - or the eventual buyers? Perhaps he can do both, but he must also protect his own standards and reputation. Having been offered a suitable item for evaluation - and possible inclusion in a future sale, he would need to reassure the seller that his auction would be the best place to obtain the desired result: a satisfactory price that would cover all charges and still meet the seller's expectations. Selling charges need to include research and presentation costs for the item - in advertisements and catalogues - as well as a reasonable profit margin for the auctioneer's services. In the simplest example, the vendor would carry all of those costs - or be levied a flat fee in the event of an unsuccessful sale, often following insistence on an excessive reserve price. The alternative "buyer's premium" system does allow costs to be recovered from both parties to a successful sale. Then it would be down to the enthusiasm and largesse of the bidders that would determine an auctioneer's profit margin - as well as probably enhancing his record of achievement too!

"You've got to accentuate the positive; eliminate the negative", as Johnny Mercer had stressed in his 1944 hit song. Successful auctioneers are good salesmen and their persuasive patter from the rostrum should convey an enthusiasm that will be taken up by the "room". When lauding the virtues of a "run-of-the-mill" item, auctioneers might well fall back on the advice proffered by a sorely missed, late acquaintance (from a bygone era of railwayana collecting): "Maintain the Illusion of Rarity!" Like all sales professionals, they need to project the truth "attractively", when describing their stock in hand. "I've never seen one of these before" (perhaps he doesn't get out much?); "this is a rare bird", etc. But would the catalogue description be accurate enough to satisfy the expectations of absentee Commission Bidders (postal, on-line or telephone)? Any deliberate attempt to resort to "creative writing" - for example, by using an unacceptable level of inaccurate verbiage (merely intended to obscure faults) - must be condemned as "bad auction practice".

Before proceeding to the question of desirable trading standards and maintenance of quality control, it is necessary to discuss how diverse are the various events that compete for our attention. Not only are there traditional auction houses - that range in size from the well-funded "High Street" establishments to hard-working, specialist sole traders - but also the Swapmeets and Fairs. Organizers of the latter co-ordinate the provision of a suitable venue, arrange for any publicity and catering required but otherwise would not participate in - or have responsibility for - independent, on-site trading activity. There is little doubt that the selection of an appropriate outdoor venue can make or break the success of any event. Swapmeets held in a working railway environment enjoy a headstart in creating a positive atmosphere; the prime examples being those held at Quorn & Woodhouse (GCR) - or the Bluebell Railway. Live auctions still enjoy popular support from attendees, especially when "side tables" are provided or allowed. Again, it is an expectation of "atmosphere" that encourages attendance and participation (in every sense). The recent years of deprivation have resulted in a pent-up desire for their resumption, despite the travel difficulties and costs involved. In a way, remembering those "good old days" has had a nostalgic influence in its own right; very much akin to the desire for collecting railwayana itself.

There are a couple of circumstances that have motivated the need for some improvement in the current situation. Late last year, we were saddened to learn of the sudden death of one of those hard-working, sole traders, just a few days before the start of his October auction. Chris France was an innovator, who had carved out a niche market in on-line railwayana sales - and presented an extremely useful website, full of information and guidance for collectors. His demise has brought into focus the fragility of one-man events. But his was not the only occurrence of this nature. Let's not forget Dave Lewis, who headed a family-run business. And, perhaps the most unfortunate event of all, the double tragedy that befell the original Solent Auction at Wickham, where both the founder of "The friendly auction for the South" - and later Nigel, his helper and successor - had died in harness. If we look around, there are businesses both large and small that could add to this trend. In business, you might protect the continuance of trading, by investing in Key Man Cover; but, if trade knowledge and connections were the principal assets involved, no insurance policy could replace such loss.

As a result, we have decided to embark on a substantial upgrade to our traditional Diary of Events by adding a visual coding to all listings, starting from Jan 2025. To fully cover diversity, it will use a combination of spot colours and some easily recognizable symbols from the international set of "Font Awesome" icons, together with a single digit numeric value, that will allow for meaningful, like-for-like comparison. Initially, of course, this might deliver a somewhat arbitrary result, until such time as sufficient feedback and additional experience provides any necessary corrections. However, we must start somewhere! The 2025 Diary of Events is already open and we invite your advance submissions for inclusion of events, so that they can be classified correctly. An update to this announcement will be issued during May/June, explaining the coding system and the criteria being applied. Feedback and comments would then be welcome!


Spring 2024

Yes, I remember Huttons Ambo - a station named in a Yorkshire Auctioneer's catalogue

With due acknowledgment to Edward Thomas's classic poem "Adlestrop" (p1914) - and the humorous writings of Flanders & Swann in their "Slow Train" response to the Beeching Report of 1963 (although their pronunciation "Mort-ee-hoe" - just five miles from here - remains cringeworthy to this day!). We have been blessed that Britain's railway geography and historical naming policy has been the source of much entertainment, as well as stimulating academic research, over the years.

To return to "Huttons Ambo", a former station on the original York & North Midland Railway route between York and Scarborough, located between Castle Howard and Malton, that had closed to regular passenger traffic as long ago as 1930. Opened in 1845, to serve the twin villages of High Hutton and Low Hutton (historically known as Hutton on the Hill and Hutton on Derwent) and Menethorpe, the station had been originally named "Hutton" but renamed in 1885, using its Latin-derived suffix to emphasize the association being with both villages!

Just three miles further on, we would come upon the historic market town of Malton, once an important railway crossroads in the area. Situated on the River Derwent, it was a natural hub for the widespread agricultural activity of rural North Yorkshire - and supplied traditional services to the farming community of the region. Cundalls had been established in 1860 as estate agents and auctioneers, providing a broad range of livestock, machinery and farm sale facilities. In more recent times, one of its partners had begun to identify a growing interest in local history memorabilia, with a wide range of material being offered for inclusion in the company's periodic general sales. By encouraging vendors to locate and consign items of transport interest, he was able to develop the market for local railway memorabilia - and soon could begin promoting a series of dedicated auctions for such items.

For readers of a certain age, that man should be instantly recalled - as the indefatigable Harry Dimmey! Harry had been trained, as a traditional livestock and general auctioneer - and possessed the stamina and expertise to handle both catalogued and uncatalogued sales - with up to 1000 lots on offer. With limited town centre space available, as the popularity and scope of these Saturday morning sales grew, larger premises were needed for the number of visitors attending - and their associated car parking. A suitable solution was to be found just across the river, at St. Peters Church Hall, Norton-on-Derwent. No longer appearing in our Events Diary (although a somewhat derivative sale is still available, not far away, at Thirsk), Harry - and Cundalls Railwayana Auctions - should be acknowledged much further afield than their North Yorkshire roots.

For instance, did you realize that he had also officiated at the initial Myers Grove auctions in Sheffield? Or that he was retained as auctioneer for the Matlock Railwayana Auctions? You didn't know that there had been auctions at Matlock in the 1990s? The approach of retirement age, serious illness - or the untimely death - of a sole trader, would characterize the most common causes for the demise of a regular event. The spirit of free enterprise might soon fill that void - with new auctions being created or "marriages of convenience" arranged. Some churn within railwayana circles has been essential to maintain its growth and interest; 'twas always thus!

Leaving aside those rather glitzy "Fine Art" establishments with international recognition - and fees to match, there are literally hundreds of other general auctioneers covering the UK having similar expertise and local reputation as Cundalls, who occasionally receive instructions from executors of deceased estates to dispose of railwayana material. Those general auctioneers would often feature material with connections to local commerce and industry, agricultural history, country life and the hunting fraternity. Only a few would have built any lasting reputation for regular offerings of interest to railwayana collectors - and certainly not acquired comparable specialist knowledge, as Cundalls had.

Yes, I well remember Huttons Ambo - and that Gentleman from Malton, who did so much for our hobby!


January 2023
Writing during the last week of December, it would be quite natural to look forward with some optimism to the year ahead; and especially so, when we have all had to endure three years of restrictions to our travel plans and hobby interests. In fact, New Year's Day 2023 should be a particular celebration for students of Britain's railway system and its place in recent history. For it will be 100 years since the introduction of the "Big Four" Grouping of Companies and also 75 years from the nationalization of British Railways in 1948.

With a current fashion amongst independent Operating Companies to resurrect vintage names and initials for marketing purposes, we can see once again LNER, Great Western and Southern trains - amongst others - being restored over their original routes. So, with modern rolling stock and various plans in the pipeline for the reopening of previously closed lines, everything should be positive for the rail industry in the future, shouldn't it? Well, not exactly. Not when you have strident unionism, which appears to nurture a death wish towards its own industrial survival.

I was a railway employee at the time of the much-vaunted Modernization Plans of the late 1950s - as an Engineering Apprentice at Swindon Locomotive Works. Having joined the service as a railway enthusiast, I have maintained that status ever since. But I have also collected Railwayana and memorabilia for well over 50 years. And that is another area of concern for the future, in that so many others of my generation, who collected material, supported preservation or organized auctions and fairs are reaching the end-of-the-line.

Recent correspondence with David Brindle provided some salient facts about the viability of running Events these days. His letter "Carnforth Railfair, An Obituary" (see copy attached) brings it into perspective. So there are no more "Brief Encounters" to be had there in 2023. And the well-known TOBAZ partnership (Tony Hillman and Barry Jones) has completed its final event, where once it had provided venues in Stafford, Burton, Bristol, Bracknell and Chiswick. Reports would also suggest that the Quorn Swapmeet might also be about to lose some of its steadfast clientele; its regular March date appears to be "unlikely" in 2023 - as the Great Central Railway will not be operating that month, due to major bridgeworks - and more negative comments have been noted, with regard to substitution of the less-convenient "Field" location, as a replacement for its well-established Quorn & Woodhouse "Station Yard" setting.

There may be willing new promoters out there prepared to take on the challenges but, as things stand, there is little for collectors and traders to be excited about in a post-COVID 2023. There is not even the likelihood that the major railwayana auctions could come to the rescue by reintroducing more "Live" auctions (with side tables), since they have discovered that online and telephone auctions have exceeded all their expectations - and also offer significant cost savings for their business models.

PS. An alternative date for you will take place at Peak Rail's Rowsley South Station on Sunday 12th March - and, in the North West, why not visit the Stainmore Railway Company's 2nd Railwayana Fair at Kirkby Stephen East Station, Cumbria CA17 4LA on the 12th August 2023? - See Events Diary for details.

Carnforth Railfair, An Obituary

With great regret, after 18 years, the above railfair in my mind has reached its natural conclusion and will be discontinued.

The reason being that, in recent times (Covid hasn't helped), we have suffered a reduction in regular stallholders, who have attended on a regular basis for the last 15 years or more. We have come to a point where many stallholders (myself included) have reached an age and, coupled with ill health, they feel that they cannot guarantee to stand - and some have simply run out of items to sell.

Another Factor to affect us is that over the last 3 years some have tragically passed away; coupled with which, the points outlined above also apply to our buyers and visitors.

Our railfairs were originally the brainchild of the late Roy Hacking, a larger-than-life character, who will be remembered by many, who used to attend the auctions at Sheffield and Malton. Roy's first venture was to hold a railfair in 2002 on the platforms at the then refurbished Hellifield station.

After a couple of years, in 2004 he transferred the fairs to what became the Brief Encounter Exhibition & Visitor Centre (at Carnforth), which was set up in the derelict but now rebuilt centre island platform buildings, which at that time was an unstaffed halt but still a junction station for Barrow, Leeds and Lancaster. Within a couple of years, we had a capacity of around 35 stalls on the fenced-off platform area and the Great (f&m) Hall of the museum.

Over the years, many stallholders have travelled from far-flung places, such as Suffolk, Wiltshire, East Midlands, County Durham, Yorkshire and, not forgetting, the North West, comprising Cheshire, Cumbria and Lancashire.

The highlight of these years was the two-day event in August 2008, which coincided with the Open Days at Steamtown - commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the end of steam on British Rail - which sported many trade stands alongside our railfair on the station.

In March 2013, Roy Hacking after a long illness sadly passed away, leaving yours truly to carry the baton and continue his good work, which involved organising a railfair at short notice - and two days later moving house - lock, stock and barrel - to my present home near Otley in Yorkshire, which will always be remembered as a very stressful period.

By this time, stallholder numbers were slowly diminishing, and the Great Hall of the Museum ceased to be part of our trading area, which reduced us to 25 stalls on the platform, that we managed to fill until Covid struck.

In August 2021, between the two lockdowns, we held an event which, considering the circumstances, was reasonably successful but, as I mentioned earlier, regular stallholders were falling by the wayside, especially hardware sellers (loco items, lamps & signs). This downward spiral continued into our fairs in May and July this year, which highlighted - in these post-Covid days and troubled times - the position of Carnforth, with its small catchment area between the hills and the sea, involving traders and punters travelling some distance to visit us, usually at a greater cost due to the energy crisis.

Finally, I would like to thank everybody - buyers and sellers alike - who have been loyal to Roy and myself, which made Carnforth a must-go-to event - and the past success is down to you.

Anybody who would like to organise or take over the railfair - or reinvent it with a different theme or content, please don't hesitate to call me on 07796-184694 where I will give you as much help and advice as possible.   Thank you all again.   David Brindle


This site also provides access to a substantial photographic and reference facility of worldwide transport interest. Of special note is the showcase offered for the railway photographs of the late A.E. "Dusty" Durrant.

   The Prorail UK Photographic Archives   

Some of the lists and representative images are already available but more content and information is being added on a regular basis.

See current lists here