Issue 6


Willie Yeadon, who died earlier this year, was and is a legend amongst railway historians, with a depth of knowledge of the London & North Eastern Railway which was probably second to none. His archive includes the largest collection of photographs ever left to the BJL. It is described here by Brian Dyson, the University Archivist.

Born in Yeadon in the West Riding of Yorkshire, Willie Brayshaw Yeadon first steamed into view on 28 June 1907. After his schooldays, he trained to become a mechanical engineer, and started work with Bradford Dyers, but was unfortunately made redundant in 1930 following the onset of terrible trading conditions. In 1931 he joined J H Fenner Ltd in Hull ('makers of improved beltings'), eventually becoming Sales Manager and then Marketing Manager, until his official retirement in 1972. He died at the age of 89 on 16 January 1997 in Hull Royal Infirmary after a short illness. By then he had become probably the country's leading authority on the London & North Eastern Railway and its locomotives. Indeed, Eric Fry, honorary editor of Locomotives of the LNER, writing in the Railway Observer in March 1997, described him as possibly 'the foremost locomotive historian of all time'.

Willie Yeadon's earliest railway interest had been the London & North Western Railway, with visits and family holidays to Shap summit and Tebay. On his removal to Hull, however, the London & North Eastern Railway became his main preoccupation, and he was particularly inspired by the development and progress of Sir Nigel Gresley's Pacific class locomotives during the 1930s. He began to collect railway photographs in 1933, and continued his interest after railway nationalisation in 1948. The British Railway modernisation programme undertaken from the mid-1950s prompted him to investigate and record the history of every LNER engine. This involved him in visits to engine sheds and railway engineering works throughout the old LNER territory from North-East Scotland to London. He was regularly successful at salvaging ledgers and other records discarded by railway staff, particularly at Doncaster and Darlington - a task facilitated by his travels on behalf of his employer.

[Advertisement]Advertisement from the Hull Daily Mail, October 1938

He was an active member of the Stepehenson Locomotive Society and the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society for decades, but it is perhaps for his publications that he will be best remembered. He was a major contributor to the RCTS's definitive Locomotives of the LNER published in 19 volumes between 1963 and 1994. Yeadon had joined the RCTS in 1936 and when in 1954 the Society decided to commence its history he was an obvious choice to join the panel of authors. He was made an honorary life member of the Society in 1984. His other publications included the equally valuable Yeadon's register of LNER locomotives (Irwell Press/Challenger Publications, 1990-1997), which he started when over 80 years old. Volume 12 of this monumental work was published shortly after his death and more (based on his projections) are planned.

[Paragon Station]A busy Saturday at Hull's Paragon Station, 4 October 1952

He produced two books identifying the exact location of every LNER locomotive at the beginning and end of the Company's existence: LNER locomotive allocations: the First Day, 1923 (Challenger Publications, 1996), and LNER locomotive allocations: 1947: the last day (Irwell Press, 1989). Two further books dealt with his adopted city's railway history: Illustrated history of Hull's railways, with M Nicholson (Irwell Press, 1993), and More illustrated history of the railways of Hull (Challenger Publications, 1995). In his final years he again returned to his first railway interest, publishing A compendium of LNWR locomotives, 2 volumes, (Challenger Publications, 1995-1996). Over the years he also wrote numerous journal articles for Railway World, Steam Railway, The Gresley Society Observer, The Stephenson Locomotive Society Journal and others, sometimes under the nom de plume 'No 9499'.

Mr Yeadon generously left the bulk of his collection to the Brynmor Jones Library in his will. It includes over 25,000 photographs, many with detailed descriptive notes. Apart from albums covering all classes of locomotive, there are special albums of 'LNER named trains', 'Royal parades', 'Grand parade' and 'On the drier side'. As all who knew him are aware, he was a thorough and meticulous researcher and he has left notes and records covering every conceivable aspect of LNER railway locomotive history, including tenders, repairs, boilers, re-numbering, and shedding allocations.

His detailed files of notes include statistical and other information about shed boiler registers from Darlington, Doncaster, Gorton, Inverurie and elsewhere, plus tender numbers and allocations. There are, too, some original LNER records. These include individual locomotive repair records from Darlington and Doncaster from the 1920s and 1930s, notices regarding re-numbering of engines, some locomotive plans, several drivers' logbooks, and one particularly interesting notebook by driver P.N. Townend which logs all his rail journeys between 1941 and 1945.

Willie Yeadon with a model of A4 class locomotive Silver Fox [Willie Yeadon]

Willie Yeadon was an extremely kindly man, generous with his time (and patience), even when dealing with an archivist who then did not even know the difference between a class A1 and A3 locomotive! He was married to Annie for 64 years and regularly visited their daughter Jean in Canada, where his rail enthusiasm continues to be spread by, amongst others, her husband, Simon Taylor. Mr Yeadon opened the Great British Train Show in Toronto on behalf of the Platelayers' Society in 1994.

The Yeadon Collection has already attracted much interest. It is hoped that it will be available to scholars and enthusiasts fairly early in 1998, once cataloguing has been completed.

Brian Dyson

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Maintained by the Archives and Special Collections Team, Brynmor Jones Library
Created: March 1998