On the evening of Saturday 3 August 1968, people arriving at Preston station to catch the 20.48 to Blackpool North or the 21.25 to Liverpool Exchange, must have wondered just what was going on.

There were hundreds of people milling about – many carrying cameras and recording equipment. Anyone not in the know could have been forgiven for thinking that these people were awaiting something special. The Queen? The Beatles? No.

They were railway enthusiasts, local historians, or just those with a passing interest. They were there to witness the last scheduled passenger services on BR booked to be worked by steam locomotives.

Some of the locos based at Lostock Hall that were available for special trains. August 1968.

Some of the locos based at Lostock Hall that were available for special trains. August 1968.

When BR came into existence on 1 January 1948, it had inherited more than 20,000 steam locomotives, and built a further 2500, ending in March 1960 when the freight locomotive Evening Star was completed at Swindon Works.

Now only a handful remained, spread between the last three sheds open to steam, Carnforth, Lostock Hall and Rose Grove.

At around 20.15, locomotive 45212 arrived from Lostock Hall. It would take the rear portion of the 17.05 from Euston on to Blackpool North. The front portion would carry on to Carlisle hauled by a diesel-electric.

48476 and 73069 double head a tour from Manchester Victoria to Blackburn via Rochdale, Bury and Bolton. Sunday 4 August 1968.

48476 and 73069 double head a tour from Manchester Victoria to Blackburn via Rochdale, Bury and Bolton. Sunday 4 August 1968.

Just over an hour later, hundreds gathered on platform 6 to record the arrival of the train from Glasgow, its diesel-electric come off and steam locomotive 45318 go on.

Before it left for Liverpool Exchange, someone had climbed on the front 45318 and attached a headboard “The End of LMS Steam.”

So many people travelled on the 21.25 that anyone wanting to spend a penny would have to cross their legs as many of the toilets were crammed with passengers.

70013 Oliver Cromwell and 44781 at Manchester Victoria on Sunday 4 August 1968 with a special to Carnforth.

70013 Oliver Cromwell and 44781 at Manchester Victoria on Sunday 4 August 1968 with a special to Carnforth.

Hundreds turned up at Liverpool Exchange, crowd control in the hands of a lone policeman and his dog. After a bit of a sing-along, that was it. Steam traction on BR had come to an end.

On Sunday 4 August, various railway societies operated six there-and-back steam hauled specials. These included Manchester Victoria to Southport, St Pancras to Carnforth via Manchester and Stockport to Carnforth.

Thousands of enthusiasts lined the routes; it was their last but one chance to photograph or film working mainline steam locomotives in action.

At 1106 on 11 August 1968, Henry Crossland blows for 1T57 to depart Manchester Victoria for Carlisle.

At 1106 on 11 August 1968, Henry Crossland blows for 1T57 to depart Manchester Victoria for Carlisle.

From Monday 5 August, BR was steam free, apart from the three engines it operated on the narrow-gauge Vale of Rheidol line between Aberystwyth and Devils Bridge.

The following Sunday, BR put on its own commemorative special. Limited to 470 passengers, paying 15 guineas each – £272.39 at 2018 prices, it ran from Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester Victoria and then on to Carlisle and back.

The first leg hauled by 45110 left Lime Street at 09.10, pausing at Rainhill to mark the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830.

Hundreds of people were at Carlisle to see 1T57 arrive 33 minutes late from Manchester Victoria.

Hundreds of people were at Carlisle to see 1T57 arrive 33 minutes late from Manchester Victoria.

From Manchester Victoria, the train was hauled by 70013 Oliver Cromwell, the last steam locomotive overhauled for use by BR. The return leg Carlisle to Manchester

Victoria was hauled by two engines 44781 and 44871 arriving nineteen minutes late. At Manchester, 45110 took over for the final leg back to Liverpool Lime Street.

Locomotive 45110 rolled in to Lime Street nine minutes late though no one cared.

BR’s first week without steam locomotives apart from the three they used on the narrow-gauge Vale of Rheidol Railway.

BR’s first week without steam locomotives apart from the three they used on the narrow-gauge Vale of Rheidol Railway.

Even this was not quite the end. Locomotive 70013 ran light engine from Carlisle back to Lostock Hall and then ran overnight to Norwich on its way to Diss for preservation.

Once 70013 had arrived at Norwich, BR imposed a total ban on the use of its serviceable steam locomotives. There was one exception. Alan Pegler, the owner of the preserved express loco Flying Scotsman, had a contract with BR allowing his engine to haul special trains on main lines.

And as for the railway enthusiasts? There was still a large number of steam locomotives operating in the UK but they were in industry, working at collieries, quarries, in steelworks, shipyards, engineering plants and so on – even the army still owned one or two.

Taken three months after the end of steam. 48646 waits at Bolton for a tow to the scrapyard.

Taken three months after the end of steam. 48646 waits at Bolton for a tow to the scrapyard.

From August 1968, the only steam loco allowed on the main line was Flying Scotsman.

From August 1968, the only steam loco allowed on the main line was Flying Scotsman.