Alec’s love of steam began in 1929, at the age of 3 in Leicester cemetery, adjacent to the Great Western Railway, where his mother tended the grave of his infant sister and he wandered to the perimeter, pressing his face to the railings to marvel at the powerful engines roaring past, puffing out billows of steam to his delight.
Alec was born on 22 June 1926 in Leicester to his headmaster father, George Thomas Ford, born in Eye, Suffolk and his mother Alice Ann (nee Agar), also a teacher, born at Beck Hole, adjacent to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. He was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School, joining the Leicester Railway Club at a young age. He acquired a bicycle which, as he grew older, he used to travel throughout Leicestershire, taking photographs of steam railways, and, in due course, ventured into adjoining counties. He started with a basic camera but, as he grew older, he managed to afford somewhat better cameras to pursue his hobby.
However, in 1943, he was called into the forces and he joined the Royal Artillery, serving in Italy, Greece and, later, in Palestine, where he was able to photograph some of the engines, from various sources, employed out there. By that time he had acquired more sophisticated cameras including, at one stage, a Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta (I believe).
Alec was eventually demobbed in late autumn 1945, taking up his deferred scholarship at Wadham College, Oxford, where he graduated with a First Class degree in PPE, moving on to take up a further scholarship at Nuffield College to read for his doctorate in Economics. During the years at Oxford he took further railway photographs when time and studies allowed, including trips to Ireland and North Yorkshire.
After taking up a post at Leicester University in the early 1950s, he was still able to enjoy a certain amount of railway photography, often travelling by bicycle or with a friend from the original Railway Club days, who by then owned a car. However, this was severely curtailed by the advent of marriage and a family, apart from on the occasional family holiday trip. In the meantime, colour photography was now available and Alec became first a Reader and then Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick. The family were growing up but, sadly, his wife died in 1972. However, later in the 1970s and now having his own car, he was able to resume his love of railway photography, visiting the Great Central Railway, Severn Valley, Dart Valley, Ffestiniog, North Yorkshire Moors, South Devon, Talyllyn, Welshpool and Llanfair, Swanage, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire, Vale of Rheidol and the Watercress line, and others as they began to open, a number of which he supported by becoming a donor and/or shareholder. Once I became his wife in 1983, the majority of our weekends were spent photographing lineside on many of the preserved railways where we had permits. Happy days! So now I have about 700 wallets of colour negatives and prints from 1981 to 2006 for which I shall also have to find an appropriate home.
Angela Ford, 2021