Derek Billings

Derek Billings
18th May 1937 – 13th July 2021

Derek Billings was one of the founder members of WIAS, and had been one of its most loyal supporters ever since. His knowledge and photographic collection of Warwickshire’s industrial heritage was unrivalled. After a working career in the printing industry he was happy to embrace changing technologies in the photographic world, and his work was always of the highest quality.

Derek travelled near and far to pursue his interest in – or should I say passion for – transport and industrial heritage, and in the company of the ‘Tuesday Night Gang’ met regularly with fellow enthusiasts, many of whom were later to become members of WIAS. He was ever willing to add to the knowledge of others, and to relay a story of his experiences over many years of exploring Warwickshire (and beyond).

More than this, he was at all times courteous, helpful, and positive, and he always made a point of greeting me personally at every WIAS meeting with a smile on his face. In short, he was a lovely man with a passionate interest that he really wanted to share. 

Our sincere condolences go out to Pat, his wife, and family.

From Martin Green, Chairman, WIAS

There follows two personal tributes from close friends of Derek

“I first met Derek some 47 years ago when he was encouraged by the late John Gaskins to join the now defunct Warwickshire Steam Engine Society because of his interest in all aspects of railways, steam power and industrial archaeology. Shortly after joining Derek was able to make a valued contribution to the Society by having the Society’s newsletter printed rather than produced from a Gestetner skin, his trade being that of a printer. We instantly struck up an enduring friendship with Derek and family so much so that our holidays in the Tywyn area of Wales coincided to be near the Talyllyn Railway, other railways and the slate industry heritage sites.

Often Derek would be the driver for days out to visit railways such as the East Lancashire Railway or a run down to Porthmadog to record a special event or Gala. Encouraged by John Gaskins, Derek purchased a video camera which was certainly put to good used as I seem to recall he wore out two if not three recording heads before he upgraded to another camera. All of our excursions were duly recorded not only in film but in diaries which he kept to the last. I recall on one of our holidays to Norfolk and Bressingham Gardens I was riding on the gallopers with my wife Janet, Derek and his wife Pat, when a gust of wind removed his flat cap last seen drifting underneath the riding platform to become inaccessible for instant retrieval. He was reassured by the operator that if found it would be retained for collection. A subsequent visit by Janet and I was fruitless – no cap for Derek. He was well read and had the ability to recall the location of unusual items of interest when out and about necessitating minor diversions from a planned route to photograph such things.

Left – In front of the WIAS stall at a Leamington History Day with a plaque from the Leamington Gasworks

Over the years I have amassed a collection of postcards from Derek and Pat, as it was our custom to send postcards to each other on every occasion when on holiday or out for the day visiting somewhere of interest. I shall miss the postcards, the emails with photo attachments and the telephone calls discussing where we had been”.
Peter Coulls

“I first became acquainted with Derek Billings in the early 1970s when, like myself, he had been “inducted” into the “Tuesday Night Gang”. The “Tuesday Night Gang” was an informal group of like-minded individuals with, initially, railway orientated interests, who met on Tuesday evenings to further their knowledge of railways and other allied topics. I was not too deeply interested in railways, but Derek like the others certainly was! Perhaps I ought to explain who the “others” were. Some of the names will be very familiar to WIAS members. They were, Tom Charman, Peter Chater, Monty Coop, Dick Coup, Bryan Hicks, John Gaskins, Stanley Ledger, Hillary Phillips, Derek and myself.

Right – Derek at the site of the old Cherry Orchard brickworks, Kenilworth, the history of which was celebrated in a booklet written by Derek

The Tuesday night excursions took the group to many different locations, including Leamington GWR North Signal Box just before its impending closure, a trip organised through the good offices of Peter Chater, and to Wellesbourne Airfield to examine a C47 “Dakota” that just happened to be based there at the time. At a later date, at the instigation of Peter Chater, several of us including Derek visited the Cotswolds in search of the remains of the infamous Stone Pipe Company of Guiting Power. Similarly, members of the group helped Derek in documenting the Cherry Orchard Brickworks at Kenilworth. Derek eventually wrote and published a booklet on this brickworks. All these excursions and investigations were immense fun, to which Derek contributed greatly.

I well remember the Leamington Signal Box evening, being “dared” by the others, as the second youngest member of the group, to  “pull off” a few levers in a still very much functioning box. I suspect Derek was doing a fair bit of the “daring”. Fortunately Don Ward, the signalman on duty that evening, was present to carefully monitor my actions and thus prevent another Quintinshill  disaster! With the passing of time the “Tuesday Night Gang” inevitably dwindled in numbers, due to deaths, etc. However, Peter Chater and Derek kept up the Tuesday night traditions for many years, visiting places of interest together until relatively recently.

It is no mere coincidence that several members of the “Tuesday Night Gang” became founder members of the embryonic Warwickshire Industrial Archaeology Society. These included Tom Charman, Peter Chater, John Gaskins and Derek. Each of these individuals brought their own particular skills and inputs to WIAS. Derek was particularly knowledgable on railways, canals and buses.

Derek was a very accomplished photographer of all aspects of Industrial Archaeology: railways, canals, architecture, buses and aviation. All these subjects were captured with imagination, flair and skill by Derek. I believe his photographs will be an enduring legacy to the Warwickshire Industrial Archaeology Society. Having known Derek for very nearly fifty years I will miss him greatly”.
John Willock

A visit to the Leamington GWR North Signal Box by ‘The Tuesday Night Gang’

(Left to right) John Gaskins, Don Ward (Signalman), John Bryan Hicks, John F Willock, Stanley Ledger, Derek W Billings, Peter Chater, Peter J Coulls, Thomas Charman. 

A Tribute to Derek from LHG

A Tribute to Derek Billings
A Tribute to Derek Billings

A tribute to Derek Billings from the Leamington History Group of which Derek was an active member.
Enjoy a collection of some of Derek’s photographs in and around Royal Leamington Spa. (With thanks to LHG).