John Bate

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group

Chief Engineer of the Talyllyn Railway and author of the book: The Chronicles of Pendre Sidings.

He made a fairly thorough exploration of the FR and other railways in the area on a family holiday there in September 1950.[1] He poked his penknife into rotten sleepers and noted the almost complete absence of keys. Walking the line was difficult because of vegetation and impossible in places. He did not enter the buildings at Boston Lodge but another visitor to the premises showed him James Boyd's recently published "Narrow Gauge Rails to Portmadoc" and he ordered a copy once he was home.

He attended the Bristol Meeting in 1951 which led to the formation of the Festiniog Railway Society. He also attended two early FRS meetings (October 7th and December 16th 1951) at the "Old Bull" at Barnet called by Fred Gilbert. He kept no notes of the first meeting but did at the second. Work done by Gilbert's solicitor on the legalities of getting control of the FR showed it would be necessary to acquire a controlling interest in the shares of the FR Co.

At that meeting he was asked to prepare a covering estimate for the cost of essential work on the permanent way and buildings and Allan Garraway would likewise estimate the cost of work needed on locomotives and rolling stock. John's estimate was £13,100. If you adjust this for inflation using the Consumer Prices Index this is equivalent to about £400,000 in 2022. It was a huge sum of money then.

A trained civil engineer, for a time he was working at Sellafield. In the same month of 1950 that he explored the closed FR (September) he wrote to Railway World Ltd to say in response to a piece in 'Railways' mentioning a proposal to save 'one of the narrow gauge lines in Wales' that the Festiniog Railway would be a better proposition than the Talyllyn! He was a volunteer on the TR from 1951. He had a spell in the early 1950s working at Trawsfynydd and split his time volunteering between the FR and TR. At the time the FR was on its scrap drive and he negotiated the purchase of wagon wheel sets, wagons (now the TR's wagons no. 30 to 35.) and the running gear of old quarrymen's coaches for the TR. He later became Chief Engineer of the Talyllyn Railway (1963-1994).[2] Although trained as a civil engineer he became responsible for all aspects of engineering on the TR including mechanical engineering, buildings and the Nant Gwernol extension. He was in frequent touch with Alan Garraway sharing information on sourcing of supplies etc. Once the wheel lathe at Boston Lodge came back into working order he would take TR wheels there and machine them on it. He borrowed an article by E.S. Cox about bogie design from Alan Garraway when he was designing new bogies for TR carriages. At a later date the FR, when working on carriage bogie design, sent two staff to examine TR carriage bogies.

It was almost certainly John Bate that Paul Dukes negotiated with when he bought the cab for Moel Hebog. In 1974 that diesel was rebuilt with a normal profile cab acquired by Boston Lodge Works Manager Paul Dukes from Hunslet diesel No. 6292 ex Park Gate Steelworks which had previously been acquired by the Talyllyn Railway. [3]

For his account of early visits to the reviving FR see The Pioneers' Story. [4]

In 2015 John, Alan C Clothier and Vic Mitchell were thought to be the last three living people who were present at the 1951 Bristol Meeting and of these Vic & John attended the unveiling of a blue plaque to mark where the Bristol Meeting took place. By late 2021 John was thought by Bristol Group to be the last attender of the Bristol Meeting still with us.

In 2022 John wrote:[5]

"Apart from a few weeks early in 1956, when I was working in the district and was able to drop in at Boston Lodge on my way home to the digs in Llan Ffestiniog, I did not do much for the FR.
I certainly made much use of Boston Lodge Works for Talyllyn Railway tasks in later years, using the wheel lathe and the gas profile cutter and had frequent contact with Allan Garraway on mutual problems."

John is a modest man. When he was volunteering at Boston Lodge in February 1955 on holiday he worked with Morris Jones (1892) the old FR Co. Head Fitter who he knew because he was also employed at Pendre Works on the TR. John was given the task of drilling and tapping holes in the bottom of the foundation ring of Prince's new boiler so the ashpan could be fitted. He also cut down ex-mainline keys on a circular saw bench driven by the Crossley single cylinder oil engine so that they could be used on the FR. The engine had to be started by heating with a blow lamp a "hot bulb" which protruded from the cylinder head until it was red hot. Three people were required on the handle to turn the engine over to get it to start.

He reports interesting escapades driving Busta (it broke down at Penrhyn so he returned to Boston Lodge by gravity) and the Simplex between Boston Lodge and Minffordd.

On another occasion he was down in the pit and there was one of the Bug Boxes over it. Allan Garraway called down to him "have a look at the brakes while you are there". He had to call back "there are no brakes!".

Within a year or so his increasing involvement on the TR led to his volunteering on the FR coming to an end.

John was awarded the MBE in the King's Birthday Honours list in Summer 2023 for his services to the Talyllyn Railway.[6]


  1. ^ Bate J L H in Great Railway Eras, Festiniog: The Pioneers' Stories (2007) Davies M and Mitchell V, pages 12 - 13, Middleton Press, Midhurst, West Sussex, GU29 9AZ.
  2. ^ Garraway Father and Son, (1985) A G W Garraway, Middleton Press, Midhurst, West Sussex, GU29 9AZ.
  3. ^ Bate J.L.H. (2001) The Chronicles of Pendre Sidings, page 145, Rail Romances, Chester, CH4 9ZH, UK
  4. ^ Bate J L H in Great Railway Eras, Festiniog: The Pioneers' Stories (2007) Davies M and Mitchell V, pages 12 - 13, Middleton Press, Midhurst, West Sussex, GU29 9AZ.
  5. ^ Bate J L H (2022) Letter to M Temple dated 20/1/2022.
  6. ^ Railway Magazine July 2023 page 7.

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