Northumberland man reunited with locomotive

A MAN who drove a locomotive at a Northumberland colliery over 25 years ago has been reunited with it at a blossoming heritage railway.

Ken Middlemist
Ken Middlemist

A MAN who drove a locomotive at a Northumberland colliery over 25 years ago has been reunited with it at a blossoming heritage railway.

Ken Middlemist drove the small six-wheeled diesel shunter at Whittle Colliery, near Alnwick, in the 1980s.

He has now had an emotional reunion with the loco with it having been transported to the town for the Aln Valley Project, which he is heavily involved in bringing to fruition.

Ken is now readying his cherished loco for action once the line is up and running, and decades after he first took its wheel, is determined to drive it on the new project.

The 68-year-old was born and raised at Hipsburn Station Cottages beside the engine shed which is now car parking space at Alnmouth for Alnwick station, something he was invited to open with his grandsons last year.

Ken, who lives at South View, Hipsburn, worked for British Rail from 1962 to 1966 as a fireman on the old Alnwick to Alnmouth line, and is one of only two surviving former workers on the route before he was made redundant and it closed down.

He took a job at Whittle Colliery with the National Coal Board in 1969, spending the first six months as a fireman and then 16 years as a loco driver, following in the footsteps of his dad George who drove them for 42 years.

Five of those years were spent with number 615, which was built by the locomotive builders Andrew Barclay, at Kilmarnock, in 1977.

It first worked at Bates Pit at Blyth and after further employment near Sunderland, and periods of repair, it came to Whittle.

The loco worked there with Ken until the site closed in 1987 and was one of the last three employed at Whittle. When the colliery shut its doors, Ken asked to move to Ellington to continue driving the locos but took redundancy as his job could not be guaranteed.

Years later, in 1995, he was one of the founders of the Aln Valley project, and his dream to help re-establish the line he had worked on between Alnwick and Alnmouth.

He has been a leading figure in the project throughout its 17 years, being instrumental in obtaining the land and lease from the Duke of Northumberland, securing the necessary funding and planning permission, securing and preparing rolling stock, and recently starting work on site.

Ken was overwhelmed when he found out that 615 was coming to be part of the project.

Since leaving Whittle it had gone to the Selby coalfield before it achieved fame becoming the very last surface working locomotive owned by the National Coal Board. The loco has recently been in private ownership at the Tanfield railway, which Ken became aware of, moved to another railway and was latterly in London for a gala at the National Railway Museum.

Aln Valley bosses travelled to the capital and secured 615, which is in full working order, for their project.

Ken, who gives talks on his spells at both the Alnwick to Alnmouth line and at Whittle, admitted: “I had a big lump in my throat. I am quite adamant that I am going to look after this.”


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