This painting is for my mother's side of the family, who grew up in Sutton Spring Wood, which is close to Chesterfield in Derbyshire.  It is based on a photograph that took over 30 years to find.  A steam railway photograph of the city of Chesterfield with the "Crooked Spire" in the background is extremely rare.  The spire dates from the 1200s and really is crooked.  It can still be seen in the center of Chesterfield today.

The photograph:  As I collected steam railway books and magazines from Britain in my years of living in Atlanta, I never found a photograph of a steam train with the crooked spire in the background.  In 2008, my Aunt Lily moved out of her home in Sutton Spring Wood, and came across old boxes full of railway books and magazines from my childhood stored in her attic.  They had been left there since my family moved to the USA in 1976.  My aunts packed them up and my father paid for them all to be shipped to me in Atlanta.  I was surprised to see them!  After all that effort, I owed it to the family to look at every page of every publication that they sent.  I was glad that I did, because the only photograph with the city of Chesterfield with the crooked spire in the background and a steam train in the foreground was found in  the December 1960 issue of "Trains Illustrated" magazine.  Taken by D.J. Lane in 1959, it shows an improved Director locomotive hauling a passenger train on the ex-Great Central line out of Chesterfield.

The painting:  I decided to paint the view set in the late 1930s, renamed the locomotive "Somme", replaced most of the coaches with standard Gresley LNER teak coaches and painted the locomotive in LNER lined black livery.  I painted in private owner wagons in the left background to reflect those that would have been owned by local Chesterfield businesses, and gave the goods shed some signage that was typical of LNER goods sheds between the wards.  The locomotive "Somme" was built just after the First World War and was name in memory of the British soldiers that died on the Somme battlefield in the "Great War".

When my Uncle Wilf first saw the painting, he did not think that the scene had really existed.  I had to show him the magazine picture before he believed that this scene once really existed.  For several days after that, he sat for hours looking at the painting, reminding himself of a view of Chesterfield that is now long gone.  The ex-Great Central railway line was closed in the 1960s, the rails lifted and the land sold for redevelopment.  Nothing depicted in the painting except for the city center with the "Crooked Spire" in the background exists today. 

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Tags: historic, steam, railways, painting