On the Railway
ON THE RAILWAY
MEMORIES OF MY FIRST JOB.
On leaving school in 1958 I obtained employment as a clerk on the North Eastern Region of British Railways at a salary of £203 per annum. At that time British Railways employed around 575,000 people and had 5410 stations. Dr Richard Beeching had not yet been asked to produce his controversial report "The Re-shaping of British Railways". Railways were then still being run as a public service rather than as a commercially profitable undertaking. The 'Fifties Modernisation Plan was well under way and steam locomotion was rapidly being replaced by diesel power.
I had attended an interview at the old North Eastern Railway headquarters in York, which had become British Railways HQ for the North Eastern Region. Given a free railway travel pass I arrived one morning for my interview, which took place in the very imposing former North Eastern Railway boardroom. There were large pictures of old NER Directors around the walls and with a big table, at one side of which sat the three middle-aged men who were to interview me. I sat opposite and the interview began. I was asked some routine questions about school and what I did in my spare time, told a little about railway employment and after about ten minutes the interview was over and I was informed that I would hear the result in due course. Just a few weeks later I had a letter telling me when and where to start work and so I saw my headmaster and asked if it was possible to leave school in the middle of a term and shortly afterwards my life as a railway clerk began.
In 1958 there were still many rural lines in existence and the Alnmouth to Alnwick, the Monkseaton to Blyth, Ashington and Newbiggin, the Haltwhistle to Alston, the Sunderland to Durham, Bishop Auckland, Barnard Castle and the, Darlington to Barnard Castle and Middleton in Teesdale branches all had passenger services. There were goods stations on the Consett (via both Rowlands Gill and Stanley) lines. There were also goods services on the Alnwick to Wooler and Coldstream, the Chevington to Amble, and the Hexham to Redesmouth, Bellingham, Scotsgap, Rothbury and Morpeth, routes. Large numbers of colliery railways existed and various industries had their own sidings.
From Newcastle Central main line trains ran to the same destinations they do now but also with a daily train to Colchester (a throwback from the war years), to Cardiff, and, in summer, to popular West Country holiday destinations, and also to Blackpool via Barnard Castle, across Stainmore summit and Tebay. The boat trains from Kings Cross still ran to the Tyne Commission quay from London, reversing at Percy Main to reach the riverside where they connected with the Norwegian steamers.
I was initially sent to Wylam for training in passenger station work and accounts This station was generally used to train new clerks and as there was another station, North Wylam, across the road bridge over the Tyne we covered both stations. At midday we would walk over the bridge, sell tickets to any North Wylam passengers, and do the accounts. The rest of the day the porter sold the tickets. North Wylam station was nearer the village and thus handier for passengers, but as fewer trains ran on this line the other station was far busier. North Wylam was reached by a line which diverged from the main Newcastle to Carlisle line at Scotswood, and ran through Lemington, Newburn and Heddon on the Wall, (though these last 3 stations closed soon after I left Wylam), and on via North Wylam over the arched bridge at Hagg Bank to West Wylam junction where it re-joined the main line near the colliery. The main line ran from Newcastle through Elswick, crossed the river at Scotswood, and ran through Blaydon and Ryton to reach Wylam.
There was a considerable commuter traffic to Newcastle from Wylam and on Wednesday's only there was a 'hospital train' which ran from Newcastle to Wylam only, bringing visitors to the RVI Convalescent Home, which had a convenient linking flight of stairs from the end of the platform directly to the hospital. I learned about the various types of tickets, how to deal with parcels, and was shown how to do daily accounts, or ' balances', and how to find my way around the various books of instructions' of which there were several. One large book gave details of every station, passenger and goods, in Britain, including every siding to colliery, factory, dock or other commercial premises, and there were regular amendments to be done. In the afternoon the days takings would be put in to a leather bag which was sealed with sealing wax and with the station stamp embossed on the hot wax (done with a lighted taper) then sent by train to the bank at Blaydon. When anything of value or importance was sent by train on railway business it was known as a value, and a book had to be signed by the guard on handing over into his keeping. Meals were taken in a little cabin near the station entrance used by the track workers or gangers and the vanman who delivered parcels sent by rail would come too and there would be discussions about this and that aspect of railway work and gossip which was sometimes quite heated.
While at Wylam I sometimes visited the tall signal box spanning the tracks and was allowed to try pulling off the yellow distant signal situated some considerable distance up the line towards West Wylam, which meant puling not only the weight of the signal but also a considerable length of wire between it and the signal cabin There was a knack to it, success not merely being due to brute force. There were level crossing gates too and they were controlled by means of a wheel not unlike a wheel used to steer a ship. All the signals, and points were interlocked so that the signalman could not set the signals to show line clear if the points were set incorrectly. There were some goods sidings at the station and a pick-up goods train called regularly to collect any goods wagons there. The signalman communicated with his colleagues at the signal boxes on each side of his own by means of the block instruments and used a system of bell codes to keep the other signalmen advised of the passage of trains through the section of line he controlled. This was done in conjunction with the block instruments which looked something like large clocks but instead of figures had three panels to which the single pointer moved, either right or left. The block instrument pointer initially showed line blocked (no trains in the section), then line clear (when clear to accept a train from the previous signal box), then train on line (when the train has entered his section and back to line blocked (when the train has left his section) and so the train was passed safely down the line from one signal box to another. Only one train on a section controlled by a signal box at any one time was allowed. A couple of years later I was to take a course in the theory of signalling at evening classes but with no practical, hands-on signal box experience, theory only.
After about eight weeks training I was sent as holiday relief to Riding Mill for two weeks and then to Rowlands Gill for a week (which lost its passenger service in 1953 but retained a freight and parcels service until 1962), before being moved to the District Passenger Superintendent's office at Newcastle Central, where I was placed in the Accounts Department. Here all the accounts' statistics were collated from stations in the Newcastle area, which was bounded by Wetheral in the west, Berwick to the north, and Ferryhill and Blackhall Colliery to the south. The other north-eastern areas were controlled from Middlesbrough, Leeds, Hull and York
The Accounts Section also dealt with fare dodging and Ticket Collectors referred details of people caught travelling without tickets both at the barrier and on the trains for a decision on whether to prosecute. Usually a letter was sent to the offender first in an attempt to collect the fare. There were some pitiful stories about lost tickets, and sometimes they were true. Occasionally the culprit would turn up in person to plead their case. One man who regularly and genuinely lost his ticket even suggested that he be issued with a special letter to produce to ticket collectors whenever he lost his ticket, but as it was considered likely that he would lose this letter too, his suggestion was not taken up. Sometimes a prosecution was made but this was expensive and time consuming so was only done as a last resort in the more blatant cases or where the fare lost to the railway was substantial. Refunds on unused tickets were-also made, albeit with a small handling charge, about which some passengers were highly indignant. It is interesting that despite the barriers manned by Ticket Collectors and the presence of Travelling Ticket Inspectors on trains there were still many instances of fare evasion and ticket fraud. Barriers were removed in the 1980s but have now been re-introduced at some main line stations, though almost all other European railways have open stations without barriers.
All stations sent in weekly returns on passenger and parcel numbers and money receipts, and a much more detailed monthly return was made. These were used to give an indication of the current usage and financial state of each line. There were separate accounts made by the District Goods Superintendent's Office situated at Irving House near the Literary and Philosophical Society in Westgate Road, and each area's statistics would go to North Eastern Regional Headquarters at York. Written requests for train times were also dealt with and of course these had to be absolutely spot on as the passenger had written proof of the information given in the event a mistake was made. I learnt about the intricacies of railway timetables- and their numerous amendments -and the various trunk routes on Britain's rail network, together with it's cross country and branch lines, steamer services to Ireland and the Continent and the many summer only services for holiday-makers.
There was also an office dealing with party travel and excursions, of which there were a lot in the summer, as the large numbers of carriages lying in the sidings during the winter months testified. There were popular trips from Tyneside to the races at York, Carlisle, Stockton and Redcar and to places like Knaresborough, Bellingham Show, the Lake District, Scarborough and the Motor Show at Earl's Court. Football excursions were also run of course, and summer evening tours of stations to view the colourful station gardens on the Newcastle - Hexham line, returning via Redesdale, Scotsgap and Morpeth were quite popular. The withdrawal of staff at the smaller stations and branch closures eventually put paid to this.
There were social events for the staff too. Near Christmas there was the Annual Ball, held at the Old Assembly Rooms in Newcastle and all the senior managers and their wives attended. In the early summer there was a midweek staff rail excursion to Keswick, half the staff going one week and the other half the next. Diesel Multiple Units (DMU's) had recently been introduced on the Newcastle, Hexham, Carlisle line and we used these trains, which of course were still very new. Steam hauled trains still handled some of the Newcastle to Carlisle traffic but the Hexham trains were all DMUs. British Railway Staff Association provided sport and leisure facilities for all employees and there was a small membership payment deducted from pay. Down Forth Lane at the side of the Central Station near Marlborough Crescent there was a BRSA club and you could play snooker or have a drink.
My hours were 8.30 to 5.30 with an hour for lunch and I usually travelled home from Newcastle to Blaydon on the 5.20pm Carlisle train, being allowed to leave 10 minutes early. This train called at Elswick where a number of workers from the huge Scotswood Road Vickers factories situated nearby boarded. It was while at Central Station that I joined the appropriate Trade Union for my grade, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, then led by the formidable Ray Gunter who was then very active in Labour Party affairs.
After some months at Newcastle I was transferred to Manors station, sometimes called The Manors, just half a mile east of the Central Station and on the North Tyneside electric loop line. Here I returned to the passenger station duties I had learned at Wylam, but on a much bigger scale. The North and South Tyneside lines were still electrified in those days. There were tickets to be issued and replacements to be requisitioned and parcels to be weighed and charged for. Also, there were the accounts to be done twice daily, with a comprehensive summary at the end of each month. Additionally there were the weekly and monthly returns for the District Passenger Superintendents office. Teams of auditors who travelled from station to station audited all these accounts annually. Manors was a big and busy station with nine platforms, platform numbers1 & 2 were for Newcastle to the Coast via Jesmond, 3,4 & 5 for Ashington, Newbiggin trains, 6 & 7 for the North Main line to Edinburgh where the trains for Alnwick or Berwick stopped, and 8 & 9 for the Coast via Wallsend and via the Riverside line. This last was a loop diverging at Byker and passing through St Anthony's, Carrville and Willington Quay close to the river, rejoining the main line near Percy Main. This line had a limited peak period service serving the shipyards. I always regret I never mad a journey on the line which is now a cycleway and footpath. All platforms except 3,4,5 and 5 used the electrified third rail system. Diesel Multiple Units operated the Blyth, Ashington and Newbiggin service although the first train at 5.33am was still steam hauled, Diesel locomotives were gradually replacing steam on the North main line services to Berwick and Edinburgh and south to London and elsewhere.
Manors was a very large and complicated station occupying a position between City Road and Trafalgar Street a little to the east of the city centre. The main entrance was in Trafalgar Street which diverged from City Road, going uphill under a big arch under the railway and used by buses after crossing the Tyne Bridge to gain access to Worswick Street bus station. Here there was a station yard and the main buildings; booking office, station master's office, waiting rooms and porter's rooms. etc. On entering the station you bought your ticket and after passing the W H Smith bookstall and Findlays tobacco/confectionery stalls showed your ticket and went through the ticket collector's barrier which gave access to the platforms. Platform 1 was for stations to the coast via Jesmond. To get to the opposite platorm 2 for trains to Newcastle you went down stairs next to the ticket collector's barrier and along a subway under the lines, and up more stairs to the platform. Platfroms 3, 4 and 5 (all bay platforms) were also reached by this route for trains to Blyth, Bedlington, Ashington and Newbiggin.
At the west end of platform 1, a long wood and iron footbridge ran across all the main through lines with stairs leading down to platforms 6 and 7 half way across. These were the platforms on the east coast main line used by stopping trains to Alnwick and Berwick calling at Manors. Continuing across the footbridge there were more stairs for platforms 8 (trains to the coast via Wallsend) and platform 9 (trains to Newcastle). Platforms 1 to 5 were part of Manors North while platforms 6 to 9 were Manors East.
The other entrances to the station led up to these last platforms, 8 and 9. Long precipitous stairs led up from City Road, with a flight branching off at the bottom going up to platfrom 9 where there was another ticket collector's barrier. The main stairs continued up to Croft Street and to Carliol Square. At the point where the stairs ended and Croft Street began yet another flight led to platform 7 where you had to pass the other (Manors East) booking office and a barrier to reach platform 8. There were no ticket collectors here, the booking office clerks doing that job. Finally, connecting the two flights to platforms 9 and 8 going off from the main staircase up to Croft Street, was a subway halfway between street and platform level linking the two stairways, and thus giving a short cut for passengers getting off at platform 9 and heading for Croft Street, who otherwise would have needed to go right down to street level at City Road and then have a long climb up again on the main staircase.
I began at Manors East, on platform 8 reached by a precipitous climb up several flights of stairs from the City Road or via a lane and pedestrian tunnel from Carliol Square. This office opened from 5.50 am to 7.50 pm and saw a brief period of activity in early morning from shipyard workers using the coast via Wallsend or via the Riverside lines. Midday saw another active period and again at 5 pm when several workers in the New Bridge Street area of the city used the Manors East entrance in returning home. The clerk was also responsible for collecting the many tickets from the very many passengers alighting from trains on platform 8 in the morning rush hour. Twice a month on days notified only to the staff every season ticket was subject to a special check and this always slowed up the queue of passengers exiting the barrier as many held weekly and monthly season tickets from the Coast. Only very occasionally would you find an out of date ticket.
The ticket office was about eight feet long by six with drawers around three sides, a stool and a chair being the only furniture and so was very cramped. There was a till drawer under the ticket window and racks on which the tickets were held. and a ticket stamping machine. Heating was by means of an electric fire. The office was positioned so as to form part of the barrier so that passengers had to pass between the office and the iron railings to enter or exit the station. The only other local examples of this system were at Darlington and Berwick. Normally there would be a sliding gate type barrier controlled by a ticket collector. All the collected tickets were retained, bundled up and sent to the Revenue Accountant's office at the west of the Central Station.
On platforms 7/8 were waiting rooms, toilets and the rest of the buildings were occupied by Carriage and Wagon Works department's offices. There was also a signal box at the west end of the platform, but this had closed shortly before I began working at Manors.
To fill in the gaps between the busy periods, the Manors East clerks, one per shift, had to do clerical work in connection with coal traffic sent by goods train and this was a particularly boring task and involved making carbon copies of weighbills and adding up the weights of each consignment of coal in tons and hundredweights, carrying the total forward to the next page. There were also the accounts to be done on each 7 hour, 6 day a week shift and the monthly balance to be done at the months end and replacement tickets had to be ordered from time to time.
I travelled to work on the early shift by bike, which took 40 minutes or so from Swalwell and involved riding back through Newcastle city centre during the busy midday period. I found out that I could improve on this by riding to Blaydon locomotive sheds on Chain Bridge Road, leaving the bike there, and catching an early empty train into Newcastle Central at 5.15 am walking to Manors from there. Or if I was lucky I just caught the first train to Newbiggin from the Central which got me to work about 5.35 am. But coming back I had a long walk from Blaydon station to the Loco sheds before riding home and I could not use this method on the late shift so I just used the bus. One frosty winter morning at the sheds I climbed up from the track expecting to find the guards van door unlocked as usual but I couldn't open it. The train suddenly moved of and clinging to the outside I had visions of a nightmare journey in the cold to Newcastle nearly four miles away. Fortunately as the train reached the end of the shed sidings it stopped at the signal controlling access to the main line and I was able to climb down. I was late for work that day but was given a carriage key by one of the ticket collectors at Manors who had been a guard, so I could open any doors in future. Another morning when my bike had some fault I had to walk to Blaydon and the shortest route was via the railway line from Swalwell, so, clambering up the embankment at the bottom of Whickham Bank, I walked along the line past Swalwell cricket ground and over the Derwent bridge and on towards Blaydon. There were no trains that early in the morning so I just walked along the tracks. I began to run in order to get to the sheds on time and in the pitch dark could see very little when I suddenly tripped over a signal wire and fell full length cutting my hands on the ballast between the tracks. However in spite of this I still managed to catch the train. Later on I bought a motorbike and this was much quicker but no fun in bad weather. Returning home on the Triumph after midnight during my time at Manors North, people would occasionally thumb lifts, and once I took someone who had missed the last train home back to Whitley Bay.
After 7 or 8 months at this office, I was transferred to the main booking office at Manors North adjacent to Platform 1 at the station's main entrance on Trafalgar Street. This office was very much busier and in addition to selling tickets handled parcels and calculated and paid out the clerical staff's weekly pay, together with the wages of all the other station staff including the signalmen at the Argyll Street, Manors North and Jesmond signal boxes which were under the command of the Station Master at Manors.
As Manors North was quite near Worswick Street bus station we had the custom of many passengers arriving by bus from south and east Durham, especially on fine summer days when families went to the beach for the day at Tynemouth, Cullercoats or Whitley Bay. On really busy days we would open an additional ticket window with a clerk at each to deal with the long queues that built up from about 10am, and Messrs Findlay's kiosk which sold cigarettes and confectionery and W H Smith's newsagents would do extra business on these days too.
Several local firms sent parcels almost daily, often to coast stations, where they would be put on the next train and the sender would advise the addressee by phone to collect them. Parcel rates were calculated by weight and distance on a sliding scale and could be quite expensive if heavy. Incoming parcels occasionally contained live bait from Wells Next the Sea in Norfolk; a long way to send for your fishing bait. Sometimes more substantial livestock parcels arrived containing day old chicks and once a pigeon in a cardboard box came with some holes punched in the top. There were often large baskets of racing pigeons on the platforms being sent south for liberation, or returned empty for collection afterwards, a common sight at stations in those days.
As the railway in those days was designated a common carrier and was obliged by law to carry virtually any traffic offered it, the rules governing the conveyance of parcels by passenger train were very complicated. and amendments to the rules were received weekly and the rules books had to be kept up to date. Although most parcels were relatively straightforward you never knew what you were going to get and it was usually at the most inconvenient time when the most unusual parcel with complicated conditions attached to it would be handed in. All charges had to be calculated before despatch. Some firms had an account with British Railways, while others paid cash. You could send your luggage in advance, either bringing/collecting it yourself or having it picked up/delivered or any combination you chose and this cost a few shillings. There were also of course personal and telephone enquiries requiring use of the timetables of which there were six - one for each of the BR regions. Three clerks worked in the office. One was permanent day shift 8.30 am to 5.30 pm plus Saturday morning, and 2 clerks worked alternate shifts. I was one of these, the hours being 7 am to 1.30 pm (2.30 pm on a Saturday) and 4.45pm to 11.55 pm (2.30 pm to midnight on a Saturday, a forty two hour week.). There was no meal break, meals had to be taken in a quiet period during the shift. The clerks also worked alternate Sundays, 6.45 am to 3 pm and 3 pm to 11 pm two weeks later. This meant only one day off in fourteen. Every month I would finish work on the Saturday at midnight and start at 6.45 am that Sunday morning again which meant very little sleep. So one summer weekend I arranged to sleep at the station, in the Ambulance Room where all the first aid equipment and stretchers were kept. I just stretched out on a table with a stretcher under me and a blanket on top and it was the most uncomfortable night I ever spent. Trains kept me awake half the night and when I got up I felt like I had never rested, and of course I got no breakfast, just a cup of tea and then it was time to start work again. By the time 3 pm came I was very hungry despite a few sandwiches and I felt I needed a shave and a good sleep. Never again.
The two Manors East clerks worked alternate Sunday mornings at the neighbouring station of Jesmond, but only in summer when it was expected to be busy. On Saturdays we unofficially changed shifts at 1.30 pm giving the morning shift clerk the chance to do something with his Saturday afternoon off. During holidays and sickness we were relieved by permanent Relief Clerks who spent their working lives at different stations, a day here, a week there and they must have become very experienced in time, handling all sorts of different situations not encountered at every station. They got a lodging allowance if they were deemed unable to get to and from work in one day and this was a big attraction to anyone wanting to make a bit of extra money and who didn't mind the inconvenience. Usually Relief Clerks would find some way to travel to work and back home in a day, and still claim the lodging allowance where applicable, so that the inconvenience was compensated for. Appropriate relief staff would relieve other grades.
Trains ran 365 days a year on the coast loop as elsewhere and so Easter, Christmas and New Year and the other Bank Holidays were worked. These were paid at time and three quarters, as were Sundays, with a day off in lieu for the statutory holidays. Time worked between 10pm and 6am was at time and a quarter. Annual holidays were 2 weeks, organised on a roster list containing staff from a large number of stations, the more service you had the better the month of your holidays, mine were taken in May or October as I had only 18 months or so service on the railway at that time. Take home pay was not much, about £5 or £6 per week or maybe £8 with your time and a quarter payments and a Sunday in.
In addition to the booking office clerks there was a station master (also supervising Jesmond) with his own clerk dealing with staffing and administrative matters, There were also two Station Inspectors who were responsible for the platform staff and any operational matters concerning trains, seven porters who kept the station clean, (the offices were cleaned by two cleaning ladies). The porters saw the trains out safely giving the guard the "right away" and other general duties. There were also five ticket collectors and several signalmen who we usually only saw on pay- day as there was normally no need for them to come to the station. All these staff worked shifts, the station opening its doors at 5 in the morning and closing about 12.30 am, with reduced hours on Sundays. Trains to the coast ran every 20 minutes in each direction and every 30 minutes in the evenings A few Newbiggin trains ran direct to and from Manors but most ran from Monkseaton, except on Saturdays when many people came into town either shopping or for a night out and trains ran via Seghill to Manors There were also a small number of stopping trains to and from Alnwick calling at Manors at peak periods.
Weekends were very busy and late night revellers would arrive for the last trains after a night at the nearby Oxford Galleries, the pictures, or at one or more of the many pubs. Often the night out would be rounded off with a visit to the local fish and chip shop and ticket money would be offered coated in fish skin and batter. Drunks could be abusive, sometimes not only the drunks. Attempts were made by one man to snatch the pile of money we kept out of the till for handiness in giving change, but my colleague dealt his hand a blow with a heavy wooden ruler one evening and this cured him. After an unsuccessful break-in at the station one night on 4 March 1961, the would-be thieves, disgruntled at being unable to open the safe, tipped out the drawers containing many thousands of unused tickets, all consecutively numbered, onto the floor, mixed them up and emptied the condensed milk and sugar we kept for making tea, followed by some water, onto the lot. We were issuing sugar-coated tickets to all stations for several days although the worst examples were cancelled after the tedious operation of re-sorting all the tickets into numerical order. I was on early shift that day but asked to stay on until late afternoon to help. The would be thieves also broke into the New Railway, a pub opposite, and again finding no cash pulled off the beer pumps and flooded the floor with beer. At least our tickets could still be sold; the beer, alas, was gone forever. Another incident was the big fire at an electrical goods warehouse adjoining the station that began during the night and was not extinguished for several hours. There were lots of smoke blackened electric razors and other things salvaged from the ruins afterwards, though I don't know if any of them actually worked.
In winter I remember snow and ice having to be cleared from the platforms and ashes put down to help the passengers and staff keep their feet. The station had coal fires in most of the offices and the waiting rooms and the porters and ticket collectors rooms had coal fires which had to be kept going from early morning to late night. One job of the porters was to keep the white line marking the edge of each platform clean and white and repainted when necessary. Everyone except the office staff wore uniforms of course, and were provided with a thick coat for winter use and a cap. Clerks wore their ordinary clothes although the union had been fighting for years for a protective jacket to be issued. They finally got these many years after I had left.
One winter evening Tyneside was enveloped in a dense fog and it was so bad that all the buses, including the trolley buses stopped running. We had a lot of extra passengers that night as many people,on finding themselves stranded, turned to the trains. Even if they had a long walk after they got off it would be a great help to be taken most of the way. People groped their way to Manors North and enquired tentatively if any trains were running and they would be a little surprised to find that we were runing an almost normal service, subject to minor delays. The railway signals were supplemented by detonators placed on the line nearby so that the train drivers would know whether it was safe to proceed. Fog signalmen would be called out to perform this task. Takings were greatly up on an ordinary winter evening that day.
There was an accident book at each station and details of any mishaps were duly recorded. I heard all the accounts of the serious accidents that had happened locally over the years, a porter hit by an electric train while crossing the line to get to the other platform at Jesmond, and men being killed when they touched the electrified third rail. The only trouble I had was a piece of grit from a steam locomotive in my eye necessitating a visit to the General Hospital the following day to have it removed.
There were many kinds of tickets, usually pre-printed, with blanks for seldom-requested destinations. There was the standard ticket, the Ordinary single or Return, and the Cheap Day Return for relatively short journeys. Cheaper were the mid -week 'holiday returns' held at the main line stations and, if you travelled locally before 8am, you could buy an Early Morning Return. There were also many Excursion fares and Holiday Runabout tickets giving unlimited travel between stations in a specified area.
The railway provided pocket timetables for passengers and a comprehensive timetable book giving full details of all passenger services in each of the six BR regions was available to buy for one shilling. There was also a publication called Holiday Haunts with suggested holiday destinations and accommodation addresses. details of Camping Coaches and Camping Cottages were given in a leaflet, these offered holiday accommodation in the country in converted railway coaches and station buildings.
Shortly before I went to Manors higher Sunday fares were introduced on the electrified suburban lines to the coast, the justification being that railways were more expensive to run on Sundays as overtime was paid at a rate of time and three quarters. Thus, for example, the fare from Newcastle to the coast stations at West Monkseaton, Monkseaton, Whitley Bay, Cullercoats and Tynemouth increased from 1/10d to 2/2d on a Sunday. This simply resulted in more people travelling by bus on that day rather than pay the 18% increased fare. A further consequence of this was that special tickets had to be printed for Sundays, so that ticket stocks were doubled for the affected services, and space had to be found in the ticket rack to accomodate the new tickets, while booking clerks had to remember to issue the appropriate ticket and charge the correct fare depending on what day it was. These fares only survived for a few years.
Children travelled at half fare between ages 3 and 14 and there were special children's tickets where there was steady demand, otherwise the adult ticket would be cut in half diagonally before issue, according to the rules. and issued to the passenger who was usually extremely dubious as to its validity. Sometimes the remaining half would remain unsold for years. Dogs, bikes and prams had their own fares and tickets. There were weekly, monthly and annual season tickets. Railway Staff were entitled to Privilege tickets offering cheap travel, but a form had to be completed and signed by the stationmaster before travel, which made impromptu journeys difficult. Before issue, each ticket was date-stamped using an ancient but effective date-press machine, painted green. There is an example in the railway station office at Beamish museum. The ticket was inserted into a slot half way down and, the front being hinged, it moved inwards and the date was stamped onto the end of the ticket. Both ends required stamping for returns as each half of the ticket covered one portion of the journey. To stamp each end tickets had to be turned through 180 degrees and if there was a long queue for tickets you had to be able to do it fast, using one hand, some clerks were exceptionally quick. At the end of the late shift the clerk would change the type in the machine to show tomorrows' date Tickets were held in large racks and stored vertically in rows with each station having its own row of tickets, consecutively numbered. Singles were arranged separately from returns, also adult and children's tickets. As a ticket was pulled from the bottom of the rack for issue the next dropped into place, ready for issue, a simple but effective system. After each balance the ticket at the bottom or each row was marked with a pen to show that row had been checked. The serial number of each series of tickets would be recorded and by deducting the serial number recorded at the previous balance we would know how many of each ticket had been sold in the intervening period and so could work out how much money we should have taken. Sometimes we were a few pence out if incorrect change had been given and we could be in debit or credit, if any credit the money was kept for when a debit occurred and it usually balance out. If you were a lot out in your balance you would look for a mistake in your calculations.
Entry to the public toilets cost one penny and the money passed through a coin in the slot mechanism to open the door and it had to be collected every week. There were three ladies' and three gents' toilets; each with several machines and it took quite a while to retrieve the pennies from them all. Our lady clerk did the ladies' of course. I remember in the winter the pennies were always damp and cold. It was surprising how many pennies we collected. There was graffiti in the toilets, even in those days, some of it quite entertaining.
Sometimes lost property would be handed in by passengers or staff and was recorded in a book, unclaimed property being sent to York after a specified time, where it was eventually sold. A handbag containing over £50 was once found and as I had to empty out the contents for recording I was astounded at the amazing variety and number of objects present in a ladies handbag. The bag was claimed quite soon and the finder got a reward as the sum of £50 was about four weeks' wages in 1960.
Every week a man would come round and post advertising bills on the many billboards on the premises, the most interesting for me being the cinema ones with posters advertising the films being shown at the big cinemas in Newcastle. I went to the pictures whenever possible and liked looking at the bills, which have become very collectible and valuable in recent years, though I never managed to obtain any. While I was at Manors an interesting diversion occurred in the summer of 1960 when a film production company came to Newcastle to shoot location scenes for a film called Payroll. This starred Michael Craig and also featured Kenneth Griffith, Tom Bell and Billie Whitelaw The story concerned a payroll-van robbery which went wrong, resulting in the murder of a guard, whose wife eventually tracks down the killers. Although none of the cast managed a Tyneside accent there were many locally filmed scenes. One of the locations was the Granary Lane Warehouse just off Trafalgar Street near the station where the gang had their hideout There were the big lamps set up and lots of people rushing around getting things ready for a take. There were several shots in the back lane and one of Michael Craig driving a sports car along City Road and turning left into Trafalgar Street. The film was released in 1961 and sometimes turns up on TV. There are many other local locations, the old Redheugh Bridge, Grey'Street, the Monument, several Newcastle City centre streets and a house at Tynemouth where one of the villains lived.
Interruptions to train services were infrequent but troublesome when they did occur. At times interruptions to the DC electricity supply would bring the electric train services to a halt until it was restored. Once there was a serious derailment when one of the many coal trains passing through Manors was derailed at the junction of the line from the coast via Jesmond and the main line from Edinburgh, blocking four lines and leaving only the 2 lines normally used by trains from the coast via Wallsend open. This allowed trains to and from Edinburgh to continue running but created severe congestion for over 12 hours until all lines were re opened following re-railing of the derailed wagons by a crane and removal of all the spilt coal from the tracks.
We were kept advised of developments during these incidents by the primitive but efficient railway telephone system used to communicate with the other stations and signal boxes. To call someone you pressed a buzzer using the appropriate combination of dots and dashes or shorts and longs in Morse code style, and the recipient would recognise his station's code and answer the phone. The GPO lines were not used much for internal rail communication. For longer distance calls there was an internal railway system using the line side wires and ordinary but separate telephones. All internal railway mail went by train in special re-usable envelopes. There was also a railway telegraph system and the big main line stations had a telegraph office.
Connecting the platforms 1 and 2 there were two subways under the line, one with steps and used by passengers and the other formerly used for hauling parcels on the big, four-wheeled barrows when the station had been much busier with fruit and vegetable traffic. An electric hoist from both platforms 1 and 2 went down to subway level, one at each end. The younger members of staff had taken to using this subway to play football in, kicking the ball from one end to the other. One of the station inspectors had told them to stop on several occasions without success so he decided on drastic action. One lunchtime when the football match was in full swing he removed the fuses from both hoists and the footballers were trapped in the subway. After a considerable period the Station Master noticed their absence and began enquiries, which eventually led to the subway. The station inspector then surreptitiously re-placed the fuses and the stationmaster descended to find the shamefaced miscreants with their football. There were no excuses possible and the subterranean football matches were never resumed.
There was a considerable uphill gradient between Manors and Jesmond and this was sometimes utilised to transfer a parcels van by gravity into the bay platform number 5. A shunting engine would bring a parcels van up the line beyond platform 1, with the station inspector aboard and the train would ascend 100 yards up the slope and stop, the van would be uncoupled and the station inspector would release the brake, a wheel on a vertical shaft, allowing the van to run down the gradient, over the points diverting the van into platform 5, applying the brake just in time to bring it to a halt as near to the buffers as possible. With practice this could be done very accurately, any slip up and the van would either hit the buffers with a crash or stop well away from where it was required preventing any trains from using the platform. I was friendly with one of the station inspectors and was once allowed to try my hand at the brake, performing commendably well, though it was an unnerving experience running a heavy railway van downhill with only a primitive brake between you and disaster. The inspector, Harry Holt, once took me to the signal box at Little Benton where his brother worked after our shift ended, and I was able to see how signalling worked in practice for I was by then going regularly to the evening classes mentioned earlier to study railway signalling, something you had to know for certain routes of advancement on the railway, such as to station master. The box was very busy with electric and goods trains passing frequently and the signal bells were rung so often that even the Hunchback of Notre Dame would have felt at home. The other station inspector was Jimmy Weir who had at one time been a guard and used to tell me of his experiences on the Border Counties line running up from Hexham to Kielder and over the Scottish border. There were few passengers and Kielder was a remote station with Deadwater, almost on the border, being even more remote. The line could be very desolate in winter beyond Bellingham.
I also did evening classes in passenger station work and accounts but they were less interesting. Staff were always encouraged to attend evening classes and many did. Promotion was by interview for the salaried grades. Lists of vacancies in the region came out monthly and you could apply for any job you thought you were qualified for and if selected you went for an interview. I never applied for any jobs, as I didn't consider I had enough experience yet. Harry Holt had a motorcycle combination and he once let me have a ride in the station yard. I found it very strange having to steer a motorcycle with a sidecar after being used to just the two wheeled version. Once when my own bike had been losing power and Harry decided it was the carburettor, one winter evening we had the bike in the booking office, the petrol tank off and all the petrol stored in milk bottles on the parcels office floor next door, a fire hazard if ever there was one. However the bike was repaired and put safely back together. Early one fine summer Sunday when we could expect lots of passengers for the coast I stepped just outside the office and the wind caught the door which slammed shut and being a Yale lock I couldn't get back in as my keys were inside. I was in a dilemma as in a couple of hours we would be busy, and the only spare key was in a locked glass case in the station master's office. One of the porters, however, came to my rescue, telling me to take a walk to the end of the platform. I was mystified, but when I returned the door was open, how he did it I never knew, but I was very grateful and relieved.
At fairly long intervals the station would receive a fresh coat of paint. The colours for the North Eastern region stations were blue and white and the interiors, waiting rooms, staff rooms, etc including the booking office had to be painted too. This would be done during the night to ensure minimum disruption and one of the clerks would work a nightshift, as the painters were not allowed to be left alone in the office. I never stayed overnight myself, but I do remember the strong smell of paint the following morning. Part of Tynemouth Metro station is still painted in the old colours.
I had also visited several railway sites of interest including the various signal boxes at other stations where I worked, the locomotive shed at Blaydon, still with many steam locos, and the parcels office at Newcastle Central. This was on Westgate Road and was a cavernous wooden building full of barrows piled high with parcels of all shapes and sizes, and many staff coming and going with more barrows. That is one reason why trains had such large guards vans, and why they often have no vans now, as parcels traffic is relatively small in comparison to 40 years ago
Eventually after 2 years I was again transferred to the Central Station at Newcastle, this time to the Station Masters Office. On my first day I was taken on a tour of the station by one of the experienced clerks who was to train me, being shown all the places not open to the public. These included the guards' rooms, the areas used by the Post Office to carry parcels going by Royal Mail, the signal box (-the 3 boxes at Newcastle had recently been replaced by a modern new one), the station announcers' booth and most interesting of all, the Traffic Control room. This was a large room up on the first floor in the area above the portico where a labyrinth of offices existed. Here the train movements on all lines within Newcastle's area were controlled. Traffic Control staff were in communication with all stations and signal boxes as required, and kept the traffic moving whenever problems occurred which was frequently. For example if a locomotive failed (broke down) at, say Killingworth, it was Control's responsibility to locate a suitable replacement locomotive capable of hauling the train, from one of the many motive power depots and to get it to the breakdown site and remove the failed loco for repairs while keeping the traffic moving meantime, possibly by a diversion via Backworth, Choppington and Morpeth or by means of single line working. Train scheduling would have to be adjusted on affected lines as necessary, everyone kept advised what was happening, and the whole operation would need to be completed in the least possible time to keep disruption to a minimum. It was said that if you worked in train control, whatever problem you were dealing with at the end of your shift would have been resolved by the time you began work again the following day, which must have been nice. Trains are scheduled not according to the public timetable but to the railway's own Working Timetable which details not only arrival and departure times at stations but also to and from engine sheds, with passing times at selected junctions, signal boxes and other locations. These timetables were frequently amended and train crews had to read the amendments when signing on every day, which also detailed any temporary speed restrictions. The times in the Working timetable could be slightly different to those shown in the public timetable.
The new Central Station signal box was very impressive with a large illuminated diagram showing all the lines, platforms and sidings it controlled and coloured lights which moved in accordance with a trains progress. The Station Announcers also had their own small booth here and following advice from the signalmen (there were no signalwomen) would make their announcements about train arrivals and departures. Newcastle Central public address system was reputed to be one of the best acoustically, but those who remember the station in those days may not agree. Visits to the Seat Reservation office, the Booking Office and the Telegraph Office completed my tour, which lasted all morning.
The 'Central' was a very exciting and fairly noisy place to work and the platforms were often full of barrows piled high with mail sacks and these would be hauled about by small motorised units. There was a particular knack to loading a barrow with those mail sacks containing parcels and the secret was to place them with the tied openings inward, facing the centre of the barrow. These were usually dealt with at night and loading or unloading a railway mail van was a frenzied operation. Porters got a small addition to their wages for handling the mails. Hoists existed to move the barrows from the platform to a lower level where they would be dealt with by Post Office employees. There were busy refreshment rooms, a ticket office at each end of the station, with the North Tyneside electrics having the east end booking office, plus a seat reservation office, an enquiry office, a telegraph office, several toilets and a big washroom where you could also get a bath. Then there was a left luggage office, waiting rooms, and a police office. The trains themselves had exciting names like The Queen of Scots Pullman, The Tyne Tees Pullman, The Talisman, The Heart of Midlothian, The Northumbrian and the North Briton and a sleeping car express, The Tynesider. The arrival and departure of the sleeping car trains kept the station busy late at night and early in the morning. Finally the Royal Station Hotel was railway owned and was one of several hotels serving the big cities.
When I worked at Newcastle the ordinary single fare to London was fifty-one shillings 2nd class and seventy-six shillings first or £2 55 and £3.80 respectively. The Cheap day Return fare to Whitley Bay was two and twopence, or 11p. In the centre of the station concourse there was a large indicator showing arrivals and departures which were printed on a roller which was turned by a member of staff as the day progressed so that it showed train times for the next few hours. There was a separate indicator at the east end of the station. Various vending machines were placed around the station selling chocolate and also a printing machine where you could print your name onto a narrow strip of aluminium, one letter at a time, by turning a pointer to face the required letter of the alphabet. There were two Findlay's kiosks selling confectionery and flowers and two W H Smith stalls with all the newspapers, magazines and comics laid out on top of a counter with books on shelves, and two or more assistants would take your money, no queuing at tills like today. A barber operated from the east end of the station and outside under the portico a man sold newspapers just as today. On Sundays-only newspapers would be laid out for sale on the steps of the Revenue Accountants office in Neville Street just across from Marlborough Crescent. Presumably no one worked there on Sundays. In the next few months I learned something about guards' rosters, correcting and paying out after errors made in the pay of weekly paid staff, and many other aspects of work in the Station Master's Office, but shortly after my transfer there in summer I had decided I wanted to go into the Merchant Navy and I left the Railway immediately after the New Year in 1962 to start the new term at South Shields Marine and Technical College. to take a course in marine radio to enable me to go to sea as a Radio Officer. Thus I swapped one mode of transport for another and that was the end of my four-year railway career, which had lasted from 19 May 1958 to January 2 1962.
Copyright M Makepeace January 2004, 2009.
I was brought up on this part of the railway, my father was relief stationmaster at these stations and I went to work in the Parcels Office on Westgate Road I will tke my time and read you article - but at first glance it brings back an lot of good memories - if you have time drop me a line perhaps we can swop anecdotes and names
Posted by: roger fairlie at February 20, 2007 7:44 PM
Just happened upon your writing. A very interesting account of a different era. I was in Newcastle Central a fortnight ago, changed so much even since my last visit in the late 70's.
I think of Deltics, 37's on coal trains and looking for the 03 shunters.
As a young lad in the mid 60's I used to go to my local station in Merseyside, the parcels traffic, plants, chicks, pidgeons, remember helping the station staff to load those into the guards compartment. Very well written.
Posted by: John Illingworth at October 14, 2007 8:49 PM
Thanks for your comment John, re On The Railway. Certainly things have changed at Newcastle Central Station as elsewhere.
Posted by: Whickham Web Wanderers at October 15, 2007 8:44 PM
What a fascinating four years you were lucky to see that.
I was brought up with the scrap of steam in the midlands and saw many steam engines go to the grave.
You have filled in the gaps cheers and thank you.
Posted by: p.maddison at December 4, 2007 8:30 PM
Having read your article, I would be very grateful if you could advise the location of Little Benton signalbox, which side of line it was situated, roads near to and how it looked. Your help would be very much appreciated.
Posted by: B Robinson at May 1, 2008 7:58 PM
Thanks B Robinson. There were two signal boxes: Little Benton North and Little Benton South at each end of sidings. They were located on the East Coast Main Line north of Newcastle, approximate Ordnance Survey map reference NZ 282 688. North box was next to the down line (west of line), South box next to up line (east of line). See a map for nearby roads. A book 'Tickets Not Transferable' by Les Turnbull published by Ergo Press, Northumberland has several pictures and you can get it from Amazon on the Internet, or in bookshops locally.
Posted by: Whickham Web Wanderers at May 2, 2008 11:05 AM
Thanks for advice. Could you advise whether the respective signal boxes wer of a different style? I am intersted in one which appears to be of a relatively modern style, possibly 1930's - 50's
Posted by: B. Robinson at May 5, 2008 4:59 PM
Little Benton South box was built in a traditional North Eastern Railway style, brick with pitched roof, wooden window frames and glazed on three sides. A fairly low box, 2 'stories'.
Little Benton North box was more 'modern', probably 1930s or later, all brick, flat roof, glazed on two sides, probably metal frames, also a low box, 2 'stories'.
Both boxes were pretty small.
Posted by: http://Whickham Web Wanderers at May 11, 2008 11:31 AM
Further to Little Benton Signal Boxes, does anyone have a picture of the Little Benton North Signal Box?
Posted by: B. Robinson at June 5, 2008 12:36 PM
Over what period of time were you at Blaydon Locomotive Sheds. My grandfather was a steam train driver who worked out of Blaydon Sheds in the 1940/50s and I have been searching for anyone who may have known him. He would have been known as Theo Simm and he lived in Elswick.
Posted by: John Simm at March 14, 2009 3:38 PM
John, The author never worked at Blaydon Loco sheds so didn't know anyone who worked there, he only caught an empty train from there to Newcastle in the early mornings. The period was about 1959.
Posted by: Whickham Web Wanderers at March 15, 2009 6:40 PM
Hi. I orginally came from a Newcastle Railway Family... I worked on the Railway Police (Newcastle Central Station) and in March 2010, I had an article successfully Published in the Naional BACKTRACK Railway Magazine (March 2010 Edition), entitled 'Constable on the Track' relating some experieces( both Hairy and Humerous) as a young Railway Copper in the 196Os. I am writing a second and Final article with similar title Constable at the **Freight Yard outling further Railway Police experiences during a hard winter, again in the 196Os at the TYNESIDE CENTRAL FREIGHT DEPOT.......after any Photos and or literature Re TCFD. Any monies made will be donated to Cancer Research. Thank you for your time and patience. David Paul Armstrong.
Posted by: David Armstrong at May 1, 2012 12:26 PM
Thanks for your comments about being in the Railway Police. We don't have any photos of the Tyneside Central Freight Depot unfortunately; it's a little way outside our area for collecting photographs or information.
Posted by: Whickham Web Wanderers at May 2, 2012 10:47 AM