John Eccles 1941-2020

Posted by Robert Hampton on 4th February 2020 at 9:03 pm

All of us at the Friends of the 502 Group were deeply saddened by the news that one of our members, John Eccles, passed away on 24th January 2020. Our treasurer, Tony Kuivala, pays tribute:

Photo of John Eccles

John lived in Formby/Southport all of his life. His active interest in the London Midland & Scottish Railway Electric Multiple Units (now known as Class 502 Units) that ran from Liverpool Exchange Station to Southport Chapel Street Station commenced (as he told me recently) from when he was in his pram. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s John kept considerable records of their workings as he travelled to and from Liverpool.

The 502 Units were designed and built in-house at Derby Works under Sir William A Stanier from 1938 to 1940. Jig welded body sides, two pairs of air operated doors each coach side, comfortable well proportioned seating with circulation areas and full air braking set a standard that remains to this day.

John’s enthusiasm and knowledge were well known and respected in official local Railway Circles and beyond. John worked tirelessly with the National Railway Museum and British Rail Management in Liverpool to acquire for preservation the best available Unit during 1979 and 1980. Originally the National Railway Museum’s intention was to take on a just a single Motor Coach. Under John’s persuasive influence they accepted that a two car Unit including a Driving Trailer was ideal. The original Unit earmarked is not the one we have today. Thanks to John who knew their individual characteristics, and the support and respect of local BR operational staff who recommended that the latest date through Horwich Works did not mean a Unit was the better quality, it was locally accepted that – and subsequently agreed by National Railway Museum – that the best vehicles were Motor Coach M28361 and Driving Trailer M29896.

Steamport Transport Museum in Southport became the Unit’s new home, on loan from NRM after release from BR traffic in 1980. John was appointed as Custodian. Steamport Transport Museum evolved into Steamport 1984 Ltd. of which John was a Director and Trustee. Under his leadership a two year period of restoration (1981 to 1983) was undertaken using spares obtained from another three car unit, which John had persuaded BR to move to Southport to be stripped before it was cut up. From Spring 1984 the Unit was repainted into maroon London Midland Scottish livery akin to late post war years. After examination by BR engineers the Unit was passed to operate again on BR metals, seeing considerable use on Special Services between 1986 and 1988.

None of this could have been achieved without John, whose quiet yet intense knowledge, experience, enthusiasm and personal qualities of persuasion overcame the obstacles.

John’s direct involvement ceased in 1998 when the NRM moved the Unit to Kineton Army Camp for storage, following the closure to the public of Steamport in 1997. When Steamport moved to Preston to become Ribble Steam Railway John retired from his roles as a Director and Trustee. But he did not lose not his lifelong interest in the unit. A group of enthusiastic preservationists formed the Friends of 502 Group in mid 2000’s and, through them, John supported the pressure on the NRM to allow the unit to move to Tebay for commencement of conservation in 2009. The NRM’s donation of the Unit to the Friends of 502 Group in 2011, followed by the transfer to Burscough in early 2012 for under cover restoration allowed John to once again play an active part in its preservation.

As John’s health slowly deteriorated we saw less of him at Burscough, although he remained a regular visitor, enthusiastic supporter and most importantly an invaluable source of practical advice and guidance. Every time we had an issue, and no immediate solution, a visit to see John in Birkdale usually put us on the right path. I have known John for over 35 years. He was a source of powerful support and inner strength, of knowledge freely shared, of experience to be put to good use. And most of all he was a friend to us all.

John’s funeral will take place at Southport Crematorium at 1.20pm on Thursday 6th February

1 Comment

  1. Comment by Carrie Bray
    15th February 2020 at 2:52 pm

    A lovely tribute to my uncle. Thank you.

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