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1st January 2023
Writing during the last week of December, it would be quite natural to look forward with some optimism to the year ahead; and especially so, when we have all had to endure three years of restrictions to our travel plans and hobby interests. In fact, New Year's Day 2023 should be a particular celebration for students of Britain's railway system and its place in recent history. For it will be 100 years since the introduction of the "Big Four" Grouping of Companies and also 75 years from the nationalization of British Railways in 1948.

With a current fashion amongst independent Operating Companies to resurrect vintage names and initials for marketing purposes, we can see once again LNER, Great Western and Southern trains - amongst others - being restored over their original routes. So, with modern rolling stock and various plans in the pipeline for the reopening of previously closed lines, everything should be positive for the rail industry in the future, shouldn't it? Well, not exactly. Not when you have strident unionism, which appears to nurture a death wish towards its own industrial survival.

I was a railway employee at the time of the much-vaunted Modernization Plans of the late 1950s - as an Engineering Apprentice at Swindon Locomotive Works. Having joined the service as a railway enthusiast, I have maintained that status ever since. But I have also collected Railwayana and memorabilia for well over 50 years. And that is another area of concern for the future, in that so many others of my generation, who collected material, supported preservation or organized auctions and fairs are reaching the end-of-the-line.

Recent correspondence with David Brindle provided some salient facts about the viability of running Events these days. His letter "Carnforth Railfair, An Obituary" (see copy attached) brings it into perspective. So there are no more "Brief Encounters" to be had there in 2023. And the well-known TOBAZ partnership (Tony Hillman and Barry Jones) has completed its final event, where once it had provided venues in Stafford, Burton, Bristol, Bracknell and Chiswick. Reports would also suggest that the Quorn Swapmeet might also be about to lose some of its steadfast clientele; its regular March date appears to be "unlikely" in 2023 - as the Great Central Railway will not be operating that month, due to major bridgeworks - and more negative comments have been noted, with regard to substitution of the less-convenient "Field" location, as a replacement for its well-established Quorn & Woodhouse "Station Yard" setting.

There may be willing new promoters out there prepared to take on the challenges but, as things stand, there is little for collectors and traders to be excited about in a post-COVID 2023. There is not even the likelihood that the major railwayana auctions could come to the rescue by reintroducing more "Live" auctions (with side tables), since they have discovered that online and telephone auctions have exceed all their expectations - and also offer significant cost savings for their business models.
DW

Carnforth Railfair, An Obituary

With great regret, after 18 years, the above railfair in my mind has reached its natural conclusion and will be discontinued.

The reason being that, in recent times (Covid hasn't helped), we have suffered a reduction in regular stallholders, who have attended on a regular basis for the last 15 years or more. We have come to a point where many stallholders (myself included) have reached an age and, coupled with ill health, they feel that they cannot guarantee to stand - and some have simply run out of items to sell.

Another Factor to affect us is that over the last 3 years some have tragically passed away; coupled with which, the points outlined above also apply to our buyers and visitors.

Our railfairs were originally the brainchild of the late Roy Hacking, a larger-than-life character, who will be remembered by many, who used to attend the auctions at Sheffield and Malton. Roy's first venture was to hold a railfair in 2002 on the platforms at the then refurbished Hellifield station.

After a couple of years, in 2004 he transferred the fairs to what became the Brief Encounter Exhibition & Visitor Centre (at Carnforth), which was set up in the derelict but now rebuilt centre island platform buildings, which at that time was an unstaffed halt but still a junction station for Barrow, Leeds and Lancaster. Within a couple of years, we had a capacity of around 35 stalls on the fenced-off platform area and the Great (f&m) Hall of the museum.

Over the years, many stallholders have travelled from far-flung places, such as Suffolk, Wiltshire, East Midlands, County Durham, Yorkshire and, not forgetting, the North West, comprising Cheshire, Cumbria and Lancashire.

The highlight of these years was the two-day event in August 2008, which coincided with the Open Days at Steamtown - commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the end of steam on British Rail - which sported many trade stands alongside our railfair on the station.

In March 2013, Roy Hacking after a long illness sadly passed away, leaving yours truly to carry the baton and continue his good work, which involved organising a railfair at short notice - and two days later moving house - lock, stock and barrel - to my present home near Otley in Yorkshire, which will always be remembered as a very stressful period.

By this time, stallholder numbers were slowly diminishing, and the Great Hall of the Museum ceased to be part of our trading area, which reduced us to 25 stalls on the platform, that we managed to fill until Covid struck.

In August 2021, between the two lockdowns, we held an event which, considering the circumstances, was reasonably successful but, as I mentioned earlier, regular stallholders were falling by the wayside, especially hardware sellers (loco items, lamps & signs). This downward spiral continued into our fairs in May and July this year, which highlighted - in these post-Covid days and troubled times - the position of Carnforth, with its small catchment area between the hills and the sea, involving traders and punters travelling some distance to visit us, usually at a greater cost due to the energy crisis.

Finally, I would like to thank everybody - buyers and sellers alike - who have been loyal to Roy and myself, which made Carnforth a must-go-to event - and the past success is down to you.

Anybody who would like to organise or take over the railfair - or reinvent it with a different theme or content, please don't hesitate to call me on 07796-184694 where I will give you as much help and advice as possible.   Thank you all again.   David Brindle

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