A Boy on the Railway
At the age of 15 I worked for British Railways as a Messenger Boy reporting to the main office, next to the Staiths at Dunston. I picked up all the mail and used to deliver to all signal boxes from Dunston to Blaydon, bringing mail back to Dunston, then picking up the mail for delivery up the line to Marley Hill. I used to hitch a lift on the coal trucks cable set up to Lobley Hill top.
I sometimes sat on the front with the Onsetter, the man responsible for detaching the cable. We jumped off as the set ran on to bump into the other empties. The empties ran up from Dunston to Lobley Hill, an engine took them along to Watergate where the cable took them up to Pennyfine. If my luck was in I hitched a lift all the way up on the empty sets and all the way back down on the full sets. An engine from Marley Hill pit brought the coal trucks down to the bank top at Pennyfine and took the empties back to the pit. The engine drivers often let me drive the engine up, through Pennyfine gates and into the pit. I used to enjoy blowing the hooter and if I helped the fireman throw coal onto the fire he sometimes made me a bacon sandwich, cooking the bacon on a shovel held above the coals.
I was sometimes out of luck and had to walk all the way up from Dunston to Marley Hill and back again. On route I used to help the railway workers fill the signal lamps with oil and climb up to replace them. I became quite an
expert hammering nails into the sleepers to keep the rails in.
It was a great job in good weather but horrendous in bad weather. We often trudged miles during the blizzards, fighting our way through giant snow drifts. We had to deliver and collect the mail regardless of the elements. Because of my route I knew every worker on the line, the Brakes-man who slowed the sets down with a huge wheel in his box, the Gate-keepers who opened and shut the road gates, the Signalmen , the Linesmen, the Guards. I have happy memories of the way they all treat me as a young lad, with great friendliness, good
humoured banter, and sharing their food with me. I must have been the best fed lad in Sunniside in the 1950`s, such a kind hearted lot of men.
In later years when I worked at Marley Hill pit on the screens filling the trucks with stone free coal I used to watch the trucks coming and going with a different perspective. I think I was the only one who knew exactly how the coal
reached the Staiths and onto the ships at Dunston. For a month or two I had worked as a switch lad on top of the Staiths guiding the trucks to the bays where the coal dropped into the chutes sliding down into the ship`s hold.
Again, when I think of the On/Off Setters sitting on the front of the sets moving at about 60m.p.h. with a hammer in their hand ready to knock the washer off the hawser at the top/bottom of the banks, I shudder to think that they wore no safety harness and could have met an instant but horrific death. Even when they detached the hawser they had to climb on the truck side and jump clear, often falling down, especially in icy weather.
As a lad of 14/15 I used to hang around watching the shunters pulling the wagons from Lobley Hill along to Watergate Colliery. Along with a mate we were asked if we would like a ride on the engine. We did!! On several occasions I believe the name of the man who asked us was Mr Perkins (his job was to hitch/unhitch the waggons and I think the engine No. was something like 997)
This kind of thing would not even be considered to-day
Posted by: dave Kerridge at April 22, 2008 10:11 PM