History moves on. Those of us of a certain age have to come to terms with the fact that events of our life time, that still seem like "News" or "the way things are", are already History for the younger generations. When Celia Hall offered to contribute more of her work about life on Glemsford's station during the 1940s, we were delighted to accept.
A Child's Eye View by Celia Hall
I was five years old when I arrived at the station with my parents, Charles and Mary Turner, and my brother Peter, who was 15. It was an icy February day and we found that the inside of the station house was colder than outside. It took days for the one kitchen range to warm the house enough for us to take off our outdoor coats. This coldness was probably partly caused by a crack down one wall in my brother’s bedroom through which we could see daylight. Later we were told this was the result of a bomb being dropped behind the house. It was not a good start.
However, things began to improve for me once I could begin to explore the station and surroundings. My first surprise was to find that we had a signalwoman rather than a man. The staff at our previous station, Worstead, in Norfolk, were all male, so I was pleased to see a young woman here. She had taken the place of a man who had been called up into the army. Her name was Lily Farrance and she was a war widow, which I found terribly sad. We took to each other immediately and I spent a lot of time with her in the signal box over the next two years. Then the war ended and she had to leave to allow a man to take the job.
The signal box was fascinating – bells rang, levers were pulled and I could look down on the passengers waiting on the platform and watch the tiny branch trains pull in and stop just outside. The drivers and firemen soon got to know me and Lily would hand me the tablet (giving right of way to the train on the single track) to hand to the firemen. She told me to say ‘Right o’way to Clare’ as I did so, though I had no idea what it meant and just repeated it parrot-fashion. This always caused amusement for some reason.
On winter evenings, Lily cooked cheese on toast for my tea on the black stove at the end of the signal box and I enjoyed eating it at the table overlooking the platform where I could watch what was going on.
The Stationmaster's Office
My father’s office was not such a friendly place. If a train were late there was much bell-ringing and urgent telephone calls on a large black wind-up telephone and messages tapped out in morse code. I kept in a corner while this was happening. My father took great pride in all ‘his’ trains being punctual, constantly taking his gold watch out of his waistcoat pocket to check the incoming train times and ensure that the outgoing trains left to the second. He was formidable if anything went wrong. His clerk must have found him difficult to work for
Gangers and Shunters
There were, of course, other staff on the station. A group of gangers ‘lived’ beside the track in a hut made from sleepers, with a thin chimney poking out of the roof to take the smoke from their stove inside. Their job was to inspect the rails and track for faults and remedy them. They had a long distance of track to look after and to travel to the farthest points they used an ingenious type of trolley. This consisted of a wooden platform on wheels. Poles could be attached to two of the wheels and by moving these poles up and down all the wheels could be made to move. The faster they worked the poles, the faster the trolley would move. I longed to travel with them, but it was considered too dangerous. I could only watch them working close to the station. They moved along the track tapping the rails to determine by the sounds given whether anything was wrong.
The shunters, who arranged the goods trucks into the required formation for a particular train, were highly skilled in the way they went about doing this. They would alter the points to enable trucks to be moved from one track to another, then the shunting engine would ‘nudge’ a truck down the track towards a second one. A shunter would stand by this truck and calculate the exact moment to lift its coupling chain and drop it over the hook on the first truck. They continued until the whole arrangement was complete. I’d watch this for hours.
All kinds of goods travelled to and from the station – grain, sugar beet, coal and livestock. On one occasion a pony arrived and the farmer who had come to collect it put me on its back and sent it off down the lane and over the bridge with me clutching its mane and trying not to fall off. I’d always loved horses but it was the first and last time I rode one without a saddle and bridle.
Porters and Carman
The porters, who had a tiny room on the platform, were kept busy all day. They opened and closed the crossing gates, carried passengers’ luggage to and from the trains and kept the coal fires going in the ticket office and waiting room. It was their job to paint the edge of the platform with the right-angle shaped brush and maintain the station’s gardens. This was deemed very important because all the stations on the line competed each year for the ‘Best-kept station’ prize.
The last member of staff was the carman who drove the station lorry carrying goods to and from the station. I regularly had lifts to the village with him.
Travel by Train
Trips on the train were always fun in the single carriages with their leather straps to open and close the windows, landscape pictures on the walls above the seats and a mirror in which passengers would check their appearances before leaving the train.
Less comfortable, but exciting, were the times I was taken onto the footplate of the goods engines working in the goods yard. The cold of the wind coming in contrasted with the intense heat from the firebox as the fireman stoked it up. I bounced around clinging to anything I could find to stop myself falling out. (No health and safety rules then.)
I knew a great many people because of living at the station. Besides the staff I became friendly with all the passengers and each year my father arranged for me to sell flags for the railway benevolent fund because he knew that no one would refuse to buy a flag from me!
In the village I was known as the ‘stationmaster’s daughter’, which meant that I had to behave myself because my father would have been informed quickly had I not done so….