"Well I suppose I knew the SMJ right from when I started trainspotting at Blisworth back in the mid-1950s. I do remember the Crosti 9Fs brand new and coming round from the Northampton line, so that dates it to 1955. My oldest spotting book is 1955 and it has some Stratford regulars, like 43521, underlined, and I well remember the freights passing at the back of Gayton field (where all the spotters congregated) and wondering where they were going. I think there were about six freights in the average day, plus 4Fs shunting up and down in the SMJ part of Blisworth station. From then on I kept coming across the SMJ simply because it was local. Some of my photos seem to have disappeared - the probably consequence of moving house quite a few times. The one sensible thing I did was to buy slide boxes for all my colour slides, so these are all carefully labelled and in good condition. I have 2500 colour slides, mainly railways, but some other stuff as well. You'd be amazed how excited people on Flickr get when I upload some 1965 pictures of Northampton buses! Quite honestly, I cannot now recall why I took them.
So I could write some stuff down. The big thing was our decision to walk the whole of the SMJ, which gave a pretty good working knowledge of the route. I always loved the Towcester-Banbury and Towcester-Olney lines best, for some reason. I also bought Dunn's little book when I was quite young, so this told me a lot about this ramshackle railway. When I walked the SMJ, I made a tape-recording (on a very early, very heavy spool-type portable tape recorder) and then translated all this into a book, which must be somewhere in the UK. I think I still have the tape-recordings, which include a 9F going over the viaduct at Helmdon as I was speaking. I also love Arthur Jordan's "social" history of the SMJ. I spent an evening with old SMJ men in a pub at Byfield one night (in my 1965-72 days as a Northampton Chronicle and Echo journalist) and heard hilarious stories like the ones in Arthur Jordan's book, especially from the Ravenstone Wood line, which seems to have been a bit of railway that time (and BR) forgot.
Anyway, I'm rambling on. But I will try to write some stuff down and send it you for your thoughts.
Thanks for your interest - I am hoping we will move back to the UK permanently next year, so that would give me a chance to get a bit more involved"
John we at the SMJ Society are very grateful for your input.
Its always interesting to hear from people who knew the railways back in the days when they were still working. I only saw the SMJ once when it was still all there and that was at Woodford Halse in April 1950. I was on my way from Reading to Leicester via the GC from Banbury and just on the threshold of teens. I had already clocked the ceremony of releasing the vacuum at Banbury so that the ex-LNER engines could overcome the GWR's vacuum (which made me feel very superior as a born and bred GW enthusiast!). Just south of Banbury I recognised the LMS line to Bletchley coming in from the right hand side of the train and noted the black and white painted distant signal post standing out in the fields. After we left Banbury there were a few minutes journeying through what was then quite unspoilt countryside and then we clattered over the points south of Woodford. There, across the fields was another railway with tidy wooden post and rail fencing, thus recognisable as being ex-LMS, and white signal posts. I thought it was going to meet us at a junction, but instead it passed underneath. I was unaware that it made a connection via Byfield on the west side of the GC main line. I never saw a train that day.
My next sighting was in the winter of 1954/55, when travelling north on the ex-GW line near Fenny Compton. Here a similar set of smart fencing heralded the approach of the SMJ coming in from the Byfield direction. I had read in the railway press that the line had lost its passenger services nearly two years before, but as I recall the platforms and buildings at Fenny Compton were still there. Once again, I never saw a train on the line. It was nearly nine years later that I saw my one and only moving train, this time from the Oxford Canal between Fenny Compton cutting and Claydon top lock. I have mentioned this before, since it was a fast goods headed of all things by a WR "Castle", heading towards Woodford. The balance weights must have been loose, because I recall the engine making a regular loud clanking as it travelled- not what one would expect of a "Castle"!
In the winter of 1962-63 I became aware of the Ravenswood Junction line at Stoke Bruerne, but althoguh the line was still in situ, it was closed and occupied by large numbers of open wagons awaiting scrapping.
So although I have always been interested in the line, sadly I knew very little of its operation.
Thank you for this. Any memories you care to share with us would be most welcome. I have been fascinated with the SMJ for many years and can never get enough of it's history.
My thanks also to John and David for the priceless historical comments about the SMJ. I too am abroad now and I haven't set eyes on the scene of my railway enthusing around Woodford Halse since 1964.
Anyway, I might want to keep my memory of how it was crystal clear, and not sullied by what it has become.
I am envious of anyone who ever saw it as a railway as I have only ever known it as an empty track bed. In the 30 years or so I have known it, it has continued to change and alter and slip away from being what it was. I consider myself lucky that despite everything I managed to stand on what was left of Towcester's platforms back in the 90's.
Due to one thing and another I have not been able to complete the line tour yet with my fellow "tourists" but aim to complete it! Walking with these fine gentlemen has been a pleasure and an education.
As much as it would be nice to see something re-open I know it will never happen and to date I have only ever seen one train traverse the Kineton spur despite passing it regularly...
Thank you to everyone who has shared their experiences and given me insight into something I never got to experience. (Too young you see ;-) )
Some of my earliest memories are connected with the SMJ. When I was a toddler every afternoon my gran would give my mum a break by taking me to the bridge at Blakesley Station to watch trains, although I could also view them from her garden. My favourite was the school train from Towcester to Byfield because quite a few noisy big kids got off it. I realised that there were two basic loco types, ones with taller chimneys (must have been 3Fs) and relatively more modern looking ones with shorter chimneys (must have been 4Fs). More exciting were doubleheader freights which sometimes appeared.
We never went shopping in Towcester as there was a cheaper bus service to the nearby big towns of Northampton and Banbury, but just before the passenger service finished my mum took me to Towcester as she wanted to chase up some material that she had ordered from Harry Rush, the travelling draper who also had a shop in the High Street. She explained to me that the trains were going to finish and I was quite excited as I had never been to Towcester before. We came back on the school train and it must have been in winter as it was quite dark by the time we reached Blakesley. I recall that mum was nervous of crossing the foot crossing in front of the loco and said we must wait until the train had gone but on hearing her say this the fireman got down from the footplate and escorted us around.
I also recall about the same time going on an excursion to Stratford Mop which may have actually been after the regular passenger service finished. It was pretty full and it seemed that almost everyone from our village was on it. I distinctly remember being aware of the train going uphill soon after leaving Blakesley and even more so near Stratford (presumably Ettington Bank). Unusually for the early 1950s the carriage we were in was an open saloon type and not corridor stock.