Last Monday we held a Station Stories story-gathering event at the Jubilee Refreshment Rooms in Sowerby Bridge. The refreshment rooms are housed in the north wing of the original 1876-built station building. Former station workers dropped into the Jubilee Refreshment Rooms to share their stories with our staff.
The event was also attended by a year four class from Bolton Brow Primary school in Sowerby Bridge. The pupils were given the opportunity to interview former railway station workers to find out about their experiences of working on the railways. The station workers included former firemen, signal box men and a local station master.
I thought I’d share a few pictures from the day with you, along with some of the tales the station workers told the school children about working on the railways.
I was taken on as a signal box lad at sixteen. You booked trains, noted down the passage of trains and answered the phone, but you were also a cleaner, and a bit of a skivvie. Weekly tasks included polishing all the signal lever handles, washing and mopping the floor, cleaning the windows inside and outside the box. And, while you were doing all this, if you had a good signal man, they unofficially taught you how to work the box.
When I was young and fancied a bit of extra brass, I’d ask if there was any overtime going on the parcel vans. If I couldn’t get that work, I’d do a few hours of portering. That involved cleaning out third class coaches. There were indescribable clouds of muck. Just occasionally the ordinary porters would let you attend a train with them.
One Saturday I was portering at Sowerby Bridge. The morning was an endless procession of trains to Blackpool and Southport. I was opening doors for the passengers. I learnt a lesson that day. Someone asked me, “Is this the train for Blackpool?” I hesitated, another porter saw this and said, “You were about to say yes: well, no it isn’t, it’s for Llandudno. Don’t answer unless you know!” Ever after I would always say, “I’m sorry I don’t know, ask another porter”.
I used to peel potatoes in the signal box for my guest house in Blackpool. I had a red bucket and a white one for my tatties. I was about to go across to the car to put my buckets in when the bell went from the crossing. It was the Sheffield-Blackpool train. I thought, “I’ll take the buckets across after he’s gone to Blackpool North”. Anyway, the train started coming round the corner and all of a sudden sparks are flying out the chimney. I thought something had gone wrong with the engine. The train came to a stop and the driver said to me “Don’t ever do that again! Look at that!” and he pointed to my red bucket on the veranda of the signal box. He thought it was a red signal from the box. I said, “So are you saying ought?” he said, “Well no, we’re in front of time, actually. Just don’t ever do it again mate”.
As a young man I used to go trainsspotting with friends. One day we went up to Copley Hill in Leeds. We were walking round the shed and there was an A1 Pacific in. Well, I’d got a brand new fawn coloured coat on. We asked to go on the footplate and when we came down this coat was all covered in oil. I got grounded off my parents for god knows how long.
In Hull the strawberry special trains came when they were in season. They’d come into the big goods depot and the strawberries were auctioned on the goods decks. I was there as a clerk, I’d always come away with some to take home to mum.
At Greetland station the main passengers were pigeons. The pigeon fanciers used the railway to train their pigeons. They would come down to the station and say, “I want this to go to Doncaster” or wherever it was. We’d made up a label and put the basket on the next train. When it got to Doncaster the station staff let the pigeons out and put the empty baskets on the next train back.
We’re still looking for station stories. If you have a story to share, you can tell us it by filling in our online form, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have any questions, call 01904 685762 to speak to Sally from the Station Hall team about Station Stories.