Bristol Meeting

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group
The blue plaque unveiled on 8th September 2016. Photo. Mark Temple

The Ffestiniog Railway Society's origins can be traced back to a meeting called in Bristol by seventeen year old schoolboy Leonard Heath Humphrys.

The meeting[edit]

The meeting took place at at 2.30 pm on Saturday 8th September 1951 at the Bristol Railway Circle's rented club room in St Mary's House, 36 Tyndall Park Road, Clifton, Bristol 8 (according to Gerry Nicholls, President of the Bristol Railway Circle the full name was St Mary's Church House). The Bristol Railway Circle met in one of two rooms they occupied in the basement of St Mary's House. The other room was filled with an 'O' gauge layout.

Leonard's hand written invitation was to "those prepared to form a committee to forward the Festiniog Railway Preservation Scheme". He had first written to the Journal of the British Locomotive Society which in January 1951 published his letter and that produced two replies but it was picked up by Trains Illustrated with some short and inaccurate editorial comment in March 1951. This produced twenty two interested correspondents and because he knew he needed the help of professional engineers and railwaymen he then wrote to the editors of the Railway Gazette, The Engineer and Engineering. For a copy of the letter see Heritage Group Journal No 113, Spring 2013, page 32. Among the thirteen that attended the Bristol Meeting (and were somewhat surprised to discover that Leonard was only seventeen years old!) were Alan C Clothier, Tom King, Allan Garraway,J E C Fasyth, B Holyland, B.J. Loughlin, J B Lowe, Lt. Col. E. Woodhouse, John Bate, Fred Gilbert, Bill Winter, Harold Holcroft and Vic Mitchell. In those days most people travelled long distance by train and John Bate recalls that it was a long walk from the station so presumably he got off at Temple Meads rather than the nearer Clifton Down.[1] Leonard, with probably the shortest journey from Bath, arrived 20 minutes late to find this group of twelve seated in anticipation around an empty table. The room was later described by Vic Mitchell as "an empty cellar in reality". They had all travelled many miles to be there. Leonard, apologising for being late, launched straight away into some dissertations on the cost of concrete sleepers for track relaying and other various matters regarding restoring the railway with cost estimates running to five figures, but with little regard to how permission would be obtained to do it.[2] [3] According to Winton:

"The idea of restoring the Festiniog was discussed in general terms. Heath Humphrys rather damped the rest by talking of the five-figure sums he thought would be needed to bring the railway back to life. But others felt it could be done for much less."[4]

It is important to recognise that among the thirteen or so people at the meeting there were several other serious railway professionals in addition to Allan Garraway. Harold Holcroft (1882-1973) worked for the GWR, the SECR and the Southern Railway with an important role in designing locomotives. He finished working for the Chief Mechanical Engineer Oliver Bulleid and retired in 1946. Alan Clothier was 23 years old but had started as an apprentice at Swindon Works at the age of 13! He was a draughtsman and later had responsibility for the design of double chimneys for the King and Castle classes of locomotives. He ended a long career with BR in 1978 in Newcastle. He recently (2014) published a book about early wagonways near the Tyne.

Vic Mitchell recalls discussions including the legal and financial position of the Railway Company, the cost of providing 10,000 new sleepers (it was proposed in some detail that they could be cast in concrete at five shillings each), previous attempts to reopen the line, the value of Boston Lodge facilities to the Talyllyn Railway (a political comment as there were already screams of disapproval at Towyn) and the cost of repair of locomotives which had not been fully explored so £100 per locomotive should be allowed![5] The ad hoc committee they agreed to set up was for a short while, presumably because Leonard was to be the secretary and lived there, known as the "Bath Committee". Those present in Bristol agreed to hold a second meeting in Barnet, North London, on the Saturday afternoon of 8th October. However Leonard was was expecting shortly to be called up for National Service and arranged to hand over his papers to a Mr. Rear who was of Waunfawr. [6] Not a lot more happened until the second meeting on 8th October at the Old Bull Inn Barnett, in North London, when what Heath Humphrys called a "legal committee" was formed.[4]

The main thing was that the will to restore the Festiniog Railway had now been given some sort of corporate shape. There was now a core of people, a focus to which all enquiries could be directed.[4]

Later events[edit]

It was in the very same Bristol Railway Circle meeting room, that the Bristol Area Group of the Ffestiniog Railway Society was formed in 1963 and met for a number of years.

The 50th anniversary of the Bristol Meeting was celebrated 50 years to the day of when it happened with a dinner on the S.S. Great Britain attended by four of the original attendees - John Bate, Alan Clothier, Allan Garraway and Vic Mitchell. Alan Pegler was also at this celebration organized by the Bristol Group and the guest of honour was the Lord Mayor of Bristol. In all there were fifty guests.[7]

In 2016 the three people thought to be alive and who attended the 1951 Bristol Meeting were Alan Clothier, Vic Mitchell and John Bate. On 8th September 2016 a blue plaque to commemorate the meeting was unveiled by the Honourable Sir William McAlpine Bart. at the instigation of the Ffestiniog Railway Society, Bristol Civic Society and Bristol Railway Circle with the kind permission of Bristol University.

In 2023 it was established that one of the last survivors of the Bristol Meeting is Brian Holyland and indeed he is a member of FRS! [8]



  1. ^ Bate J in Davies, Michael; Vic Mitchell (April 2007). Festiniog 1946-1955 The Pioneers' Stories. Midhurst, Sussex, England: Middleton Press. ISBN 978-1-906008-01-7. OCLC 154783776. page 12
  2. ^ Garraway, Allan (1985). Garraway, Father and Son. Midhurst, West Sussex, England: Middleton Press. ISBN 0906520207. OCLC 17508087.
  3. ^ Garraway A G W in Davies, Michael; Vic Mitchell (April 2007). Festiniog 1946-1955 The Pioneers' Stories. Midhurst, Sussex, England: Middleton Press. ISBN 978-1-906008-01-7. OCLC 154783776. page 6
  4. ^ a b c Winton, John (1986) [1975]. The Little Wonder: The Story of The Festiniog Railway. London, England, W1: Festiniog Railway & Michael Joseph Ltd. ISBN 9780718109943. OCLC 1858833.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link) page 112
  5. ^ "The Rebirth of the Festiniog Railway", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 085, page(s): 030 - 031
  6. ^ Bate J in Davies, Michael; Vic Mitchell (April 2007). Festiniog 1946-1955 The Pioneers' Stories. Midhurst, Sussex, England: Middleton Press. ISBN 978-1-906008-01-7. OCLC 154783776. page 12
  7. ^ "The Bristol Meeting 50th Anniversary", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 174, page(s): 243
  8. ^ Letter from B. Holyland on 7/7/2023.

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