The Blue Light Beneath The Station Clocks.
It was well said; that if you started off from the Tap Room of the Swan Hotel next to The Railway Station at Bacup you could reach anywhere in the world, and to be sure many of the Steam Engine Drivers who had received their weekly pay packet at the Bacup Station Booking Office did actually travel quite a distance well tanked up, the driver who fell asleep on an express passenger train at top speed in a previous story, while double heading the Ten Eight York express being a prime example.
It was often suggested that if you waited patiently in a certain world famous place, you would be certain to see someone of celebrity status. Yet the one small area most likely to guarantee such favoured contacts in the wild days of the 1960’s was The Book Stall on The Concourse of the ancient London Road Station, and over the next few years this is where I was going to meet many of them at very close range.
Yet on deep reflection of previous events and times, it was actually the path and twin tracks from The Swan Hotel that revealed a clear glimpse of the future and the corruption of the Rail Management who were already exploiting our National Legacy and its financial assets. And to be as accurate as possible in the blurred history of the years immediately following World War Two, it is a very strange fact that while the new Labour Government only came into to power in 1945 and the all embracing Transport Act came into force in 1947, the destruction of our railways and the selling of its enormous assets had already begun; impossible? No it is a grim fact, but who was responsible for it is not clear, perhaps not the redundant army officers who were now forming the new Railway Management? Yet on further reflection the returning ex Intelligence Officer soon to be Chairman of The British Transport Commission Sir Brian Robertson does actually provide a most probable line of enquiry.
The most positive question to ask would be; exactly who were the power forces that recruited Robertson to the all powerful, profitable position of Chairman of the Railway’s Board, and what was their contribution if any to later National Transport Disasters; including the loss of our great steel works, and coal mines, and also the multiple deaths of both rail employees and passengers, that were due to the easily avoidable rail accidents; such as those caused by the brittle railways lines purchased abroad.
Dr Richard Beeching is the person credited with the evil fiasco, but most definitely he was not, he was not even remotely known to the railway men of the day, as the plot began to unfold with the closing down of the first local Branch Line and the swift demolition sales of its valuable land, buildings and materials. In addition, clever as the man may have been, he would never did have the experience and specialist knowledge required to carry out the detailed very complicated methods finally used.
The closing of the Bacup-Rochdale Branch Line was an experiment that eventually formed a template for the whole of British Rail. The first move would always be to make a branch-line or a Locomotive Depot as unprofitable as possible. In one instance it was noticed that over a period of six months a gang of imported workers methodically replaced and reset every single cobble stone in Whitworth Coal Yard. Expensive, new coal burning stoves, sinks, wash basins and toilets were supplied and fitted, to all station buildings and signal boxes were repainted, but above all the track from Wardleworth to Whitworth was completely renewed, with hind sight the greedy reasoning is quite clear, “new railway lines bring top prices abroad, and there are no prizes for guessing where those lines are now.”
Enginemen on their swiftly depleting daily journeys, observed, reported and discussed the strange events as they occurred, usually over the long, pine mess room tables; situated not only at Bacup Loco Shed itself; but at other Sheds still being visited every working day. In particular it was noted by several enginemen myself included, that it was not unusual to see a Station being demolished at one end while still being painted at the other.
Engine driver Harry Smith disturbed the workers routine card game one morning to ask the foreman of the work force engaged in slowly pulling up and refitting the cobble stones in Whitworth Coal Yard, “What the Hell are you lot supposed to be doing? The very honest reply was, “We have been told that this job has to last six months, and that is exactly how long it will take.” Soon after the job finished, the Branch line was closed and the enginemen were deliberately cut off from direct main line access to Yorkshire and Liverpool via Rochdale and Todmorden; where they generally relieved the crews of the coal trains bound for the Docks and the most profitable world wide export trade.
This is when the medicine really became very bitter indeed for the proud enginemen of Bacup Loco Shed, they now had to travel to Rochdale and Todmorden by bus, temporarily to be sure because the shed itself was about to be closed; and the same enginemen who had heroically transported men and materials for the very recent war effort were made redundant, abandoned in the haste to turn L.M.S assets into easy accessible cash, backed of course by the uncountable grants and ever lasting subsidies.
Just before the Loco Shed actually closed, a few of the Enginemen transferred to other sheds and other departments, I chose to be a Goods Guard working from Bacup Station, but taking advantage of the system I soon took the option of going on loan to Lawley Street Goods Yard, Birmingham and from there learned not only the local routes and sidings but deep into the West Country itself.
It was here that history dramatically repeated itself and I was soon reminded of the day when Driver Harry Taylor jumped off the engine to retrieve his pipe as we were approaching the top of Broadfield Bank and I at only sixteen years of age was left in charge of a runaway train consisting of an engine and fifty wagons of coal, six hundred and twenty tons in weight running loose at very high speed.
This time I was at the back end of the train, and there was not only a driver on the footplate, but a fireman as well. Just like the previous episode; the train should have stopped at the top of the bank and the fireman should have got off the footplate and pinned down sufficient side brakes to ensure efficient braking, I should also have done the same at the rear end of the train. When the train slowed at the top of the bank, I jumped off the brake van and began to pin down the side brakes, but the train did not stop and I just managed to jump back onto the brake van as it was going past me at quite a fast speed.
With the handbrake on as tight as possible, I stood on the veranda at the front of the brake van with a clear view of the line ahead, but ready once again to jump off if there was an obstruction ahead. Once again we went through the station at the bottom of the bank like a rocket, and fortunately once again the Station, this time Bromsgrove was clear of traffic.
The gradient had leveled out and about four miles beyond Bromsgrove, control was regained by the driver and he stopped the train, he immediately ran back to me his face as white as a sheet, and obviously he was very concerned about my health. But on seeing him dashing towards the brake van, I decided to generate a bit of fun out of the exceedingly dangerous situation that had actually ended quite well.
His face was a picture and he never said a single word, even though his mouth was moving as he tried to speak, because I was sitting with my feet up on the handbrake, apparently reading a newspaper when he climbed up into the Guard’s van. “Don’t worry about it,” I said, “I have done it before.” He just turned round shaking his head, and then he walked back to the engine to join his fireman.
The full range of short stories on C.D. are now available via the website, “Middletonia.co.uk” Including the brand new copy of “Beautiful Britain” celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of 2012.