Getting Up Steam in Godmanchester - 1999
As a child growing up in the West Country, summer invariably involved various rallies of vintage motorcycles riding pillion on my father's Douglas Dragonfly. These events also included cars, tractors etc, but of course, for sheer atmosphere, the road locomotives or "traction engines" stole the show with ploughing displays and arena turns. Here in Godmanchester we are privileged to find two such locomotives which are synonymous with the Middlemiss family. I spent a very pleasant evening in the company of John and Willem Middlemiss learning more about these wonderful machines.
Whilst East Anglia was until recent years viewed as an agricultural region, traction engines are quite at home here. Builders in the region included Savages (Kings Lynn), Aveling Barford (Grantham), Burrell (Thetford), Davey Paxman (Colchester), Peter Brotherhood (Peterborough) and, of course, Fowell of St Ives who built 107 locomotives. The traction engines generally fall into the agricultural locos and road-rollers, with a maximum speed of 3-4 mph; and the showmans engines which could clip along at 10-12 mph. However, these speeds are not compatible with our average traffic on the dual carriageways of the 1990s, and consequently movement to events is now often by low-loader rather than under steam.
John is currently writing about the centre steam engines which used to power the fairground rides such as "The Galloping Horses", and he is frequently called upon for information from all over the UK. Willem has striven to ensure authenticity on Nero in the livery and lettering. John will quickly point out that showmans engines were working vehicles; the number of lights which now adorn some locomotives would not have been there originally, after all the power was needed for the fair!. Other locomotives are preserved in this area; Tony Warwick is currently restoring one here in Godmanchester, in Alconbury the Coulsons have two engines and Geoff Gilbert has one in Wood Walton.
So, there you are, a passion which thankfully preserves some of our important industrial / agricultural history and results in a great atmosphere wherever they are in steam. Hopefully either The Busy Bee or Nero will be in the Gala Parade, so ensure you're there to soak up the nostalgia!
Willem usually has a Steam Up at The Exhibition and White Hart in June and similarly an Autumn event, so make a note to come along for the unbeatable combination of real ale and steam!
Many thanks to John and Willem Middlemiss for sharing their enthusiasm.
Stuart Bond© 1999 Godmanchester Community Association
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