The Doncaster Plant Works Centenary 1853-1953 celebration held over the weekend of September 19-20 1953, was a show that had something for everyone.
You could climb the ladder into the cabin of the world record-beating Mallard and see the control system.
You could mount the steps into the glass-walled observation compartment of the royal train which, two weeks earlier, had brought the Queen to the St Leger.
On Sunday, queues stretched for well over 100 yards - through the Royal coach, out of the other side into the kitchen car and in and out through the rolling stock like a snake.
Over 100 years earlier, in June 1851, the directors of the Great Northern Railway Company announced their intention to establish an extensive Plant at Doncaster.
Doncaster was selected as the location for the new Works because of its proximity to large coalfields and centres of iron-founding, and also the fact there were good water communications.
The choice was not automatic, however; the claims of Peterborough and Retford as sites for the new Works were considered but Doncaster was strongly supported by Edmund Becket Denison, the chairman of the company and a Member of Parliament for the West Riding, and Robert Baxter, a well-known Parliamentary lawyer.
The Railway Company had been negotiating the purchase of land in Doncaster since 1847.
Difficulties had been experienced owing to the existence of grazing rights owned by the Freemen of Doncaster and certain other freeholders, but these were overcome by the payment of a sum of money to the Corporation as Lords of the Manor, for the benefit of the Common Right owners.
At that time Doncaster was a posting town for road carriages and traffic had been greatly reduced by the development of railways. The decision of the directors to build the Works at Doncaster naturally gave great satisfaction to the local authorities and townspeople; celebrations were organised and peals of bells were rung from the tower of the parish church.
Thereafter, the Works gained national significance with the repair and building of locomotives, carriages and wagons. Two of the world renowned steam locomotives, Mallard and Flying Scotsman were built and maintained at Doncaster.
The celebration of 100 years of railway history started on Saturday with the ringing of the old works bell at 11am and after its tones had died away silence fell. This was broken by the voice of the Rev. Gordon Hollis, the Plant chaplain who offered prayers for the Works and the men who worked there in the great loco shop.
The main speakers at the event were C.K. Bird (Chief Regional Officer of British Railways Eastern Region) and R.A. Riddles (Railway Executive) and the Mayor of Doncaster (Coun. A.E. Cammidge) who was an honoured guest of the executive.
Not surprisingly, the highest numbers of visitors on the Plant’s first open day were schoolboys. Notebooks gripped in sticky fingers, they swarmed over engines like a legion of ants and devoured all they saw as they passed through the refreshment tents. It was a train enthusiast’s paradise with engines ranging from the Patrick Stirling No. 1 built in 1870 to the latest type of diesel electric.
The fairground built by the railwaymen in their spare time was a big hit. Star draw was the crazy train built by Henry Leavey, a maintenance foreman. On Sunday alone, 14,000 people travelled between St Enery Junction and the station in the exhibition centre, pulled by a real Heath Robinson contraption that had a kettle for a whistle, washing hung from its sides, an egg timer to gauge the speed and a candle at the front in case it got dark before the queues went down.
There was also a crane ride, a treasure hunt and other sideshows. Organisers of the centenary celebrations were amazed by the attendance figures.
On Sunday, 27,000 people saw the exhibition and 13,000 on Saturday, making a total of 40,000 passing through the turnstiles at the entrances to the Works. Parties from Manchester, Liverpool, York Scarborough, Boston, Derby and Nottingham visited the show on Sunday.
At the peak time, 120 people a minute were passing through the West Laith-gate entrance to the Plant and when the staff tried to close the gates between 1pm and 3pm, a queue of 400 hundred formed in a quarter of an hour.
At the celebrations were Ivatt Atlantic locomotives No. 990 Henry Oakley and No. 251 both built at the Plant. For some years, they had been in retirement at York Railway Museum and their reappearance was by popular demand. The two locos hauled the 430-ton 11-coach Centenarian from King’s Cross in the excellent time of three hours 24 minutes. Stepping on board the train at King’s Cross were a peer of the realm, a knight, a group of women, 12 small boys, a coach load of Doncaster Press men and nearly 400 middle-aged businessmen. When the two locomotives arrived in Doncaster at 2.04pm they received a great reception.
The Silver Link, an express built at the Plant in the late 1930s, outpaced the veterans by taking the 400 rail enthusiasts on the Centenarian back to London (leaving Doncaster at 3.45pm) in two hours 27 minutes. An interesting feature of the open days was the number of elderly women talking with deep mechanical knowledge of the various machines in the Plant. The explanation given by a railway official was that the ladies were some who worked there during the two world wars.
As closing time approached on Sunday, there was no sign of the crowds abating and opening time was extended by an hour. Doncaster’s railwayman Mayor Coun. A.E. Cammidge proposed, as a distinguished visitor, the vote of thanks in the place in which he had worked for many years as a moulder.
Coun. Cammidge asked all those touring the 84 acres of the Plant to remember that the men who built the engines were just as important as those who designed them.
Proceeds from the centenary show went to the Railway Benevolent Societies and the amount - £1,005 12 3d -was substantial as all work was done by volunteers.
l Special thanks to Hugh Parkin for help with this piece.