Letter: How we did the locomotion

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The Independent Online
I'M AFRAID that Alex Renton ('The man who invented trainspotting') hasn't done enough research. Ian Allan invented neither the phenomenon nor the word, although he became a great populariser of the activity.

I and a great many others in the 11-15 age bracket were hard at it in the Thirties. Notebooks, many pencils, even a box Brownie for those with more indulgent parents, accompanied us up and down the line of our choice and in and out of the more desirable stations. The Railway Correspondence and Travel Society provided stock lists and issued newsletters with vital information such as rebuild specifications and withdrawal lists.

We were not merely a bunch of scruffs in short trousers with nothing else to do. We were deeply concerned with the materia technica of the locomotive; boiler pressure, diameter of driving wheels, tractive effort. The business of locospotting (surely the correct term) really had two attractions. One was the character range of the beast itself and the fact that locos built, say, for the old North British Railway were seldom spotted south of Newcastle- upon-Tyne. This introduced the notion of the exotic and therefore the searchworthy.

The other pull was the one known to all collectors, namely the urge to possess the complete set. I still remember, 56 years later, that of the 73 locos that comprised the LNER B17 'Sandringham' class of 4-6-0s, one, No 2847 'Helmingham Hall', forever eluded me.

I never encountered a single beret, haversack, dirty mackintosh or badge. These 'spotters' were not around in my day. Now, they might well have been invented by Ian Allan.

John Cox