Remember the Skem ‘Jazzer’ train?

I recently came across a detailed recollection and very significant analysis of this fabled train by Mike Pealing, who has generously allowed me to publish his work on this blog site.

The Skem.Jazzer. A Personal Reflection

I was born in Ormskirk during 1947. My father and his father before him were both railwaymen and as a family we used the railways extensively, which in those days, was so easy to do. There was little need to own a motor car, something that would be considered unbelievable today.

It was as a small child, that I first became acquainted with the Jazzer. Sometimes while waiting for the local service for Town Green at Ormskirk station, I would run off, to the top end of the station. There the Jazzer could often be seen. Belching black smoke, it looked like and was something, from a bygone age even in those days. What I remember most vividly was the huge chimney’s those locomotives had.

My father use to chase after me and I could be found staring at the engine. Sometime later he took me for a ride on the Jazzer, which I can barely remember.

Many places in the country in those days, had access to a station, even isolated villages. You could quite literally, travel anywhere by train.

Ormskirk was a very busy mainline station, with frequent express services to many destinations further north. (Windermere, Blackpool, Glasgow to name a few). Freight and goods trains were also very common. In addition, there were the local services to Southport, Skelmersdale, Rainford and St. Helens. It was a hive of activity. The water cranes were particularly fascinating to us as children.

I will not dwell on the history of the Rainford Branch Line, as there are many books and sources of information available, should the reader wish to explore further.

My interest in the Skem. Jazzer was rekindled some years back, when there was much local speculation that the old branch line might be reopened to Skelmersdale. Articles were written and with the rise of social media many posts appeared, some of which were just not true. One even suggested that the Skem.Jazzer operated between Liverpool and Wigan.

I decided to explore this local legend in an attempt to find out how the Jazzer came by its name. Little did I know that it would be a journey full of red herrings and dead ends.

The Jazzer operated between Ormskirk and St. Helens with seven through services each weekday but only services as far as Rainford Junction on Sundays. In addition, on weekdays, a more local service operated between Ormskirk and Rainford Junction with an onward connection at Rainford Junction for St. Helens. There were intermediate stops at Westhead Halt and Skelmersdale.

Among the first trains to operate on the line were the “Hughes Rail Motors”

Below, rare colour photograph of a Hughes Rail-Motor.

Above, Hughes Rail-Motor at Ormskirk Station

As can be observed from the photographs, the locomotive and carriage were fixed together and quite rigid, which could make the ride a little “jerky”. These rail motors operated with what was known as a “push-pull” system, which meant the train could be operated from either the locomotive or from the last carriage. This eliminated the need for turning at the destinations. The photograph below shows how the system worked. The driver can be seen in the coach.

The rail motors operated on the Rainford Branch until c1933* by which time, they were all withdrawn.

Photo below…. merged picture of how the Jazzer would have looked passing over Sefton’s bridge, Plough Lane. Lathom.

It seems likely that the “Jazzer” name started to be used to describe the Hughes Rail Motors from the mid-nineteen twenties, probably due to the characteristic ride experienced on these trains. In some way, the name was “borrowed” from the Jazz dance craze of the era. There is evidence that the rail motors had the nickname “Iffit” in their early years on the line. Possibly meaning “if it comes” or “if it runs” or “if it gets there” or a similar connotation.

Wherever these old trains operated on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, they acquired nicknames, such as “The Horwich Jerk “and “The Altcar Bob”. These nicknames and there are others, may very well have referred to the ride experienced on the trains, for example… “Bobbed about,” “Jerked around”, or even “Jazzed”.

“The Altcar Bob” at Downholland Station.

A locally, well-known painting and prints of the same exist of a Hughes Rail Motor, by a railway artist, the late Jim Petrie. This excellent painting shows a train at Ormskirk Station in 1914. The painting is titled “The Skem Jazzer 1914” and depicts an incoming service from Rainford using the mainline platform and a WW1 scene at the station. The photograph below shows a copy of this painting. However, in my search to find the origins of the Jazzer name, we must analyse the evidence.

The word “Jazz” did not enter UK English until sometime in the early 1920s. It can therefore be ruled out, that the Hughes Rail Motors carried the Jazzer nickname before this time.

The Hughes Rail Motors were withdrawn from service c1933* and replaced by two types of locomotives on the branch line. They were the Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2t and the Hughes 1P. 2 4 2t

Both continued to use the “push-pull” system, utilising extra coaches, known as trailing coaches, according to passenger demand.

*Ormskirk engine shed (photos above&below) closed in 1935. There is evidence that the shed allocation of 1934 included one rail-motor, although it was most likely out of service and awaiting disposal.

Skem. Jazzer. Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2t at Ormskirk Station. c1949.

Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2t

Hughes 1P 2 4 2t at Rainford Junction station.

Hughes 1P 2 4 2t

(Below) Hughes 1P 2 4 2t approaching New Lane, Burscough. Heading towards Southport.

These locomotives operated on the line from c1932 until c1950. The Aspinall Type 5 locos were generally used on the passenger services between Ormskirk and Rainford Junction. Other loco types operated the goods and freight services. The Hughes type 1P locos seem to have been mainly used on the through passenger services between Ormskirk and St. Helens. Both types were fitted with the push-pull system. The Aspinall Type 5 locos were based and maintained at Aintree MPD. The Hughes type 1P locos were based and maintained at Sutton Oak (Peasley Cross). Both were also known as radial tanks.

They were used throughout the wartime years and my late father remembered them very well.

As a young man and before joining the R.A.F. in 1942 he served with the Local Defence Volunteers (the precursor to the Home Guard) guarding Ormskirk Station from the might of Hitler. He told me how quiet and scary it was wandering around during the night. The lads used to spend the nights when off duty in a camping type coach, which was situated in the sidings adjacent to the Jazzer bay.

It has proved difficult to obtain definitive information on how and when the Jazzer got its name. Most of my research is based on hearsay. Information from an elderly family member has clarified the mystery.

During the WW11 years and for some time after, dances where held in Skelmersdale. Local people, including many American soldiers who were billeted in Maghull, made the journey from Ormskirk using the train. Extra coaches were added to accommodate the increase in passengers on Friday and Saturday nights. The place where the dances were held was the old Cooperative Hall (pictured below). This venue (there may well have been others) along with the dances held there, adopted the combined name of “Skem. Jazzers”.

Today, if you were to ask young people what they were doing on a Saturday night, the answer would probably be “Clubbing”. In those days, a similar question would be answered with “Jazzing”.

In those wartime years dancing was extremely popular, with dances such as the Jitterbug being a favourite. During those difficult and austere times, railway maintenance was at a minimum, the rolling stock in use was also well passed its sell by date. The trains would have been crowded, with many passengers standing. Travelling on the line was known to “jolt” or “jazz” passengers around, particularly when passing over points, level crossings and on the long curve in the line approaching and leaving Ormskirk.

The Co-operative Hall. Skelmersdale. Home of the “Skem. Jazzers”

From c1950 the old radial tank engines were withdrawn and replaced by the more familiar Ivatt tank engines. (At this time, the line between Rainford Junction and St. Helens was closed). The Ivatt Tanks remained in service until the closure of the line to passengers in 1956. The locomotives used on the line were numbers 41283 and 41284, still utilising the push-pull system. Both were based and maintained at Aintree MPD.

My conclusion is that the name “Jazzer” came about in the mid to late 1920s based on the jolts and rickety journey experienced, particularly by those standing and the comparison with the Jazz dance styles and craze of the era.

The Jazzer name and local tales of the train journey would have been very well known in the area, as well as to those in later WW11 times travelling to the dances.

The dances and venues in Skelmersdale simply adopted and used the name “Jazzers” which was a part of everyday conversation in those days.

Photos above and below show Ivatt Tank Engines, the last locos to carry the Jazzer name (Ormskirk Station.

Early morning photo of The Jazzer. Travelling light engine from Aintree MPD to Ormskirk, passing through Town Green Station. (Photo below)

The Skem Jazzer in its final form. Ivatt Tank Engine at Ormskirk Station.

It does appear that the answer to this local legend has been clarified or solved, but as previously mentioned, there is no definitive evidence. The Skem.Jazzer remains an important part of our local history.

The chance of the old branch line between Ormskirk and Skelmersdale ever reopening is unlikely. Current railway plans for the area, suggest a new station for Skelmersdale, which will be connected to the present-day line at Upholland. Other options include electrification to Burscough.

Modern thinking for the railways, is what is known as “rail heading”. New stations are built or in some cases reopened, to where people can drive and park their cars. The journeys are then continued by rail into the cities.

The old train is still fondly remembered, and we can only imagine the difference it would now make to the area if you could still catch a train to Skelmersdale, Rainford or St. Helens with onward connections to Wigan, Manchester and other places. Not forgetting the much-missed service between Ormskirk and Southport.

Below, The Jazzer near Westhead, heading towards Ormskirk. The loco is a Hughes type 1P 2 4 2t. c1949 Note, the large chimney.

Below, The Skem Jazzer at Westhead Halt. c1949. The loco is an Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2 t.

Jazzer at Westhead Halt. (Hughes Rail motor) c1930. Note the steps to the top right of photograph. Used for getting on and off the train.

Below, Jazzer at Crank Halt, Rainford Junction to St. Helens line. Hughes Type 1P 2 4 2t.

Crank Halt, showing remains of the platform

Skelmersdale Station(below) showing a goods train operated by an Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2t

Skelmersdale station(below) after closure. Limited freight traffic along with some rolling stock movements continued to use the line until the tracks were finally lifted.

Skelmersdale Station. Now abandoned. One of the final goods services passing through.

The line in the past also served the many coal mines and pits that were in the area. In the Ormskirk direction a mineral railway branched off and served Lord Skelmersdale’s Blaguegate pit, then Brookfield pit and finally Tawd Vale (later Glenburn) colliery.

The mineral railway at Lord Skelmersdale’s Blaguegate Pit.

Photo below shows the Sandwash (top blue marker on the map above) and lines to the pits and collieries.

A mineral railway also ran from White Moss Crossing. This served White Moss and Mossfield collieries.

And another ran to Bickerstaffe Colliery, to the south of White Moss Crossing.

In WW1, a military railway ran from Skelmersdale Station into the Lathom Park Remount Depot. Its purpose was to transport warhorses. Standard gauge from Skelmersdale but became narrow gauge on entering the depot. (of the same type that was used in the trenches)

Below, horses at Ormskirk Station awaiting movement to the remount depot at Lathom Park.

Ormskirk Station showing the Rainford Branch, centre right. Lower right corner, tracks to Jazzer and Coal Sidings.

Photographs below shows the approaches to Ormskirk Station. The points and curves were the most likely source of the “jolts” experienced by passengers.

Aerial view of Ormskirk Station (below) showing the Rainford Branch top left.

Above, Hughes type 1P 2 4 2t. For me, the iconic locomotive type that operated on the line and the engine I most remember from my childhood.

What remains today?…

Photos above and below courtesy of Orion Aerial Images. Track bed from Ormskirk and Westhead Village shown.

Some of the former track bed between Ormskirk and Skelmersdale is extant but generally inaccessible and mainly on private land. Between Skelmersdale and Rainford, the old route can be traced using “Satellite” in Google Maps.

This section of the former line, however, has generally been obliterated by White Moss Landfill but some of the route remains as farm track. It is mainly on private land.

From the former Rainford Junction Station (now Rainford) towards St. Helens, a long section of the old track bed remains. This has become a cycle/walkway. Starting near The Junction Public House. It is known as Rainford Linear Park.

The final few miles from where the Linear Park ends at Mill Lane, near Crank and onwards into St. Helens is generally inaccessible and has all but disappeared under roads and development. This section of the old line can also be traced using “Satellite” in Google Maps.

(More information can be found on the excellent “Disused Stations” webpage…http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/)

Photos of the Jazzer or in some example’s identical locos, included with very many thanks to the unknown original photographers of these and some other photographs contained in this article.…….

Footnote…. To some the trains were also known by the name “Skem. Joey”. But that’s another story!

My thanks to Mike for allowing me to blog about his excellent reasearch. My thanks also to Keith Page for this help with my befuddlement over technical aspects of sorting out computer stuff.

Click on the photos and graphics to enlarge them where that is possible

How not to take the House with you – A guest posting by Bob Robinson

I read “Conservative Home” – for as the axiom hath it. “If you read only one newspaper, read the one published by the opposition”. A Fanzine, written by Tories – for Tories, “Conservative Home” often has me spluttering my cornflakes. But Andrew Gimpson’s piece following Prime Minister’s questions on the 9th September was remarkable – not only was he calling a spade, a spade but also he was calling a charlatan, a charlatan.

www.conservativehome.com/thetorydiary/2020/09/andrew-gimsons-pmqs-sketch-johnson-starts-to-sound-like-the-boss-of-a-tractor-plant-in-minsk.html

“At the end of PMQs, Sir Desmond Swayne had asked the Speaker, on a point of order: “What remedy is there for those of us who enthusiastically support the Prime Minister but nevertheless want to restrain the Government’s ability to govern by order without debate?

Boris Johnson was sitting on the Treasury bench, smiled and nodded gently as the Speaker exploded with fury at the absent (Matt) Hancock. The Prime Minister’s demeanour was that of a schoolboy who finds it amusing that one of his chums is being given six of the best.

Johnson might have done better to look grave. For one of the problems from which he himself suffers just now is an inability to take the House into his confidence, and thereby carry MPs with him. He naturally expected Sir Keir Starmer would challenge him on the shocking admission the day before by Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, when asked about the Internal Market Bill: “Yes this does break international law in a very specific and limited way.

I suppose one might say Lewis was taking the House into his confidence, but not in such a way as to carry MPs with him. The Prime Minister seized the chance before facing Starmer to make a bald statement: “We expect everybody in this country to obey the law.

Starmer then ducked the argument about the rule of law. This was an odd decision, for it is a necessary argument. However preposterous the PM’s attempts to extricate himself from the appalling statement made by Lewis might have been, we wanted to know what they were.

This is something the Commons can do extremely well: expose ministers when they are talking nonsense”.

Andrew Gimson concluded:

“This is a Government that puts its arms round the people of this country,” Johnson said at a later stage of PMQs. Again, this sounded like a strange, faintly totalitarian, even creepy remark for a Tory Prime Minister to be making. We don’t want the Government to put its arms round us. We just want it to do various things reasonably well”.

Alex Ferguson was famed for scorching criticism of poor performance even by the Galactico’s in his team as David Beckham recalls. It was known as “hair-drying”

www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2057556/David-Beckham-Alex-Fergusons-hairdryer-secret-success.html

Boris would be well advised to ask not for whom the hair-dryer blows. It blows,,,,,,

For those who missed PMQ’s you catch up on the BBC’s “Match of the Day” Channel – BBC Parliament.

NI report shines religion in a poor educational light

I’ve come to regard religion as something that individuals should choose to either follow or not. It’s not something to be handed down from one generation to another just as it should not be the norm to follow the same politics as your parents. Individuals can grow into much more rounded citizens if they make such choices themselves.

The report, linked below, on the effect of religious governance of schools therefore interested me:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-54063908

I was brought up in my Dad’s religion, baptised and confirmed into his religion and I went along with it not thinking or knowing of any alternatives until I was about 15. Around that time I recall looking at my religious world which, whilst not being a big part of my life, did mean I was in a church choir and I wondered why I was doing it. I talked to a friend who was to a lesser degree following his parents religion and we both wondered why we were following a similar path.

Me sat in my old choir stall at Sefton Church. I recall sitting in this very seat – if memory serves me well of course – it was 47 years ago!

This thinking led us both to walk away from religion as being something which was not for us, although we removed religion from our lives politely and certainly not in away to offend others who held strong religious beliefs.*

I can’t say I’ve ever looked back and regretted that move indeed the older I get the more I feel I did the right thing for me.

I got married in a church, of my (former) and my wife’s religion, because that was what my wife wanted and we had our daughter baptised for a similar reason. However, that’s where any religious direction for our youngster ceased. The religious, political and pretty much everything else direction she then took in her life has been her decision and hers alone. As far as I’m concerned such is her business and not mine.

Having read this far you won’t be surprised to hear that I’m not at all keen on religious schools** being used by parents to reinforce their own religious beliefs upon their children. Education is all about bringing well rounded citizens to adulthood with the skills to be able to be a part of society and the knowledge to be able to gain and hold onto jobs, it’s not about religion. Having said that I’ve no problem whatsoever with youngsters being taught about world religions, what they each believe in and why some people choose to follow them, indeed to understand how society works such knowledge is vital.

All these thoughts came to me having read the article linked above about how schools are governed in Northern Ireland. Whilst the situation there is unique in the UK due to historic religious/political intolerance it’s nice to see that calm and sober assessment of how the mainly religious NI schools are run will probably lead to change for the better, although such change will sadly take far too long to come about.

* Ludovic Kennedy’s book published in 1999 ‘All in the mind – A Farewell to God’ is an excellent read about losing your religion.

** I think my first primary school may have been a religious one although it may well have been chosen because it was within easy walking distance of our family home. I was only there about 18 months though and the 2 subsequent primary schools I attended were not religious based, neither was the high school I went to.

Museum of Liverpool – Covid 19 Mind Maps

Below you’ll find a link to a short Museum of Liverpool video on You Tube showing mind maps detailing the experiences of participants:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljTg1Sf6FF8&feature=emb_logo&fbclid=IwAR1WLyy_quCGIjhDZWF1ymXP479zspjHjSaE0FCL8E9QkOU7uDv8gDaSFAw

Our daughter Jen is one such participant and her mind map is at about 1.30mins into the video and it’s also at the head of this posting.

Click on the mind map grapic to enlarge for reading

How will you help make our roads safer?

Government is working on changes to the Highway Code to make road use safer for cyclists and pedestrians so whether you’re a pedestrian, horse rider, cyclist or driver (I wonder how many of you are all 4?) have a go at this quiz on the proposed changes to the Highway Code which is on the BBC website:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-54027461

Meccano – An introduction & a visit too if you wish

The Frank Hornby Heritage Centre within Maghull’s Meadows Leisure Centre.

As a Trustee of the Maghull based charitable group the Frank Hornby Trust I found the introductory video – linked below – from Sharon Brown (National Museums Liverpool’s Land Transport Curator) very useful.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bmwqnENVdA

As a 60+ year old I can of course remember Meccano, Dinky Toys & Hornby Railways very well but younger folk may not, so the video may help connect younger generations with a huge piece of both Liverpool’s history and the toys of previous generations of their own family too.

Another view of the Frank Hornby Heritage Centre.

The Frank Hornby Heritage Centre, which is within Maghull’s Meadows Leisure Centre, is presently open to visit each Tuesday and Friday (10am to 4pm) but only with a previously made booking. This is of course due to Covid 19 restrictions. If you want to visit please e-mail t3robertson@gmail.com so that a visiting slot can be arranged.

Frank Hornby lived for most of his aldult life in Maghull on Merseyside. His 1st house (The Hollies) in Station Road has an English Heritage Blue Plaque on it and his 2nd house (Quarry Brook) which is now the 6th Form block of Maricourt High School a Maghull Town Council plaque.