C. P. BOOCOCK Although volumes have been written about railways and the men who built them and who run them, the railway press has covered less than fully that other group which forms a prominent part of the scene railway enthusiasts, and in particular the clubs and societies that foster their interest. This article discusses the history of one successful provincial organisation. It highlights some of the keys to the club’s success, which have brought it to its thirtieth anniversary. “RAILWAY CLUB JUST GREW UP." So ran the headline in the local newspaper when the Bournemouth Railway Club celebrated its 2lst anniversary in 1964. The “growing up" had occurred in 1953 when the then Bournemouth Junior Railway Club had dropped the word Junior from its title its founder members had, after all, grown older. For its modest beginnings thirty years ago, we have to thank the club’s first President, the Reverend A. Cunningham-Burley. Aided by that able veteran of the railway photographic world, O. J. Morris, he held a series of afternoon meetings in a hall near Bournemouth Central Station. For us youngsters who attended, those were happy afternoons and, although not all of us had our minds on the prayers that marked each meeting’s end, there was a great spirit of loyalty within the club. So it was when, in I953, the President suddenly announced that for health reasons he could not continue to run the club, and we were faced with our first leadership crisis. Somewhat shaken, though with our loyalty still intact, a small group of us gathered gloomily around the fireside in the house of member Robin Stieber. Bereft of all formal leadership (national service had taken many from us temporarily) we decided to run the club entirely by ourselves, initially meeting in each other’s’ front rooms and providing our own subject material. Surprisingly the attendance at these meetings grew swiftly until many were too crowded for comfort. Continuing our civilised policy of not having it written a constitution (how many pedantic personality clashes has this enabled us to avoid, l wonder?) we introduced two new formalities, the reading of minutes at the start of a meeting, and the holding of an annual general meeting. Sidney Morris became Secretary during this period and authorised many memorable accounts of meetings, culminating in his classic description of one member's inevitable slide show as “a loquacious exhibition of colour slides". After four years, however. came the second crisis period. Under the Chairmanship of Alan Trickett, the club had begun to flourish. But some members appeared to believe that, because it was “our” clubs scant respect need be paid to the leaders we had elected. When in I957 the Chairman considered that behaviour at meetings and on outside tours had fallen below the standard he had a right to expect, he resigned. At this, the three remaining committee members called the only extraordinary general meeting in the club’s history, the outcome of which was a more formal approach to future meetings and the decision to hire a hall for the monthly meetings. As Secretary, I initiated some advertising and had reports of our activities printed free in the local press. Outside speakers came to address us, and schoolboy representatives noised the club’s activities in the principal local schools. Soon the meetings began to ring with the voices of members of an unprecedented range of ages, from 11 to over 70. As the spirit of, and attendance at, meetings improved we shed our adolescence and became a serious railway club. Alan Trickett resumed the Chairmanship and since then the club has not looked back. We were able to expand our meetings programme to include exciting debates, film shows, quizzes and the occasional slide show in which all members could participate. In 1958 0. J. Morris, who had moved to Norwood some years before agreed to become our second President and visited us for three years. His knowledgeable and entertaining narrative made this a delightful annual event. We missed him after his death in 1961. The post remained vacant until George Barlow accepted the Presidency this year. During the early 1960s, the club‘s activities were developed to satisfy an ever increasing membership. A Photographic Section was formed, meeting on occasional evenings in the homely atmosphere of a hotel writing room to specialise in railway photography. Photographic portfolios began to
circulate. A library scheme was started, and we contributed to exhibitions. Outside fixtures were extended to include weekend tours to Kent, Cornwall or the North. A section was formed to cater for those particularly interested in industrial and light railways. The annual dinner was introduced, at which railway quizzes and competitions provided pleasant after-dinner fare with which to end the year. A club magazine began publication, which Michael Hedges has edited for an unbroken twelve years. Celebrities well known in the railway press began to visit us as attendances at meetings averaged more than fifty. Riding on this success the club started overseas tours in 1961 and these have resulted in a highly successful Continental Section being formed by Ian Foot to accommodate this particular branch of interest. The end of steam on BR coincided with the club’s jubilee year, and in addressing the special dinner held to mark the event. Dr. Ransome Wallis outlined why he liked visiting the club he said speakers were always well treated. By ensuring that our guests arrive to a warm welcome, and leave for home well fed, the committee are satisfied that the right standard of attention has been set. The decline of steam and the need to encompass interest in modern traction has posed problems for Chairman T. V. Biddlecombe and Secretary Alan Wild who have borne the brunt of this changeover period during which a drop in membership has had to be arrested. It has been essential to temper nostalgia for the days of steam with recognition that diesel locomotives. for example, have their own peculiar fascination. By offering a wide variety of subjects for the main monthly meetings the club has, I believe. enabled all tastes to be satisfied. and some are being further developed by the occasional concentration on such items as the Advanced Passenger Train when some diehards would prefer to see slides of the Somerset & Dorset yet again! Perhaps I can conclude with some of the lessons to be learned from this one club‘s mixed experiences. experiences which have highlighted what are, in my view, some of the ingredients basic to the successful running of a railway society: Aim activities for all age groups; artificial age limits (for example “minimum age 16") can 45! Set-up specialist sections to avoid inflicting the majority with minority interests. Publicise continuously. Resting on one's success can, as BRC found in the later l960s. cause a gradual drift away. No opportunity to publicise should be missed. Even if it temporarily breaks the bank, get well-known personalities to speak at some meetings. Nothing succeeds like success. real or apparent (but still keep up the publicity). If any committee member wants to resign let him. Never persuade an unwilling worker to stay on. Without full commitment, results will soon disappoint. Do not insist on an annual subscription, The Bournemouth Railway Club has always only charged a very small fee at each meeting and fixture. This encourages the casual visitor who might otherwise be put off by a large lump sum payment. Make sure that the members elected to be Chairman and Secretary, in particular, are reliable hard-working folk. They are the key members. The Chairman guides the committee in policy and ensures its deliberations are fruitful. The Secretary must be trusted to take decisions on programming and meetings matters without having each move vetted by the committee. These ingredients for success have helped the Bournemouth Railway Club to reach its thirtieth year in 1973. It is, however. the members as a whole who are really the key to the success. They have worked together well, have supported each other. and the officers have shown considerable imagination in ensuring our varied interests are sustained. if other clubs can take heart at this record then their future, like ours, I believe, should be firm.
BOURNEMOUTH RAILWAY CLUB TRUST

The Railway Magazine September 1973