Will Harrison's reflection of a job on the railway
Will Harrison-Reflections of a job on the Railway
I was born on the 28th. March 1904 in a pit house at High Row, Marley Hill. When the houses were being altered we were offered a house in the "hole" but my mother wouldn't go because her sister had lived there in one which had been washed away, so an exchange was made with Mr. Prinn and we moved into a house in Thirlaway Terrace, through the chapel opening. There were 6 of us :- mother father grandmother and 3 children all in a one -bedroomed house. (My sister used to say "how did we all get in? Where did we all sleep Will?" I said "I don't know, but we managed" )
I had a dangerous job on the incline. When I got the job my father was a pitman earning 38s.0d per week and my mother was having hard pickings. I was earning a lot less. When the job on the incline came up the boss came to me one day and asked why I had not sent in the application form. I said I had been applying but I hadn't heard anything. He said, I want your letter on the Monday morning. So I sent my application in and he came back at the weekend and told me I had the job. My wages went from 35s.0d. per week to £3.15s 0d. My mother was over the moon. I had that job from 1923 and I closed the line on the 7th. September 1962, I was the last brakesman, and Norman Christer was the Bank-rider.. They closed the old railway and that was the oldest railway in the world.
We used to get visits from the Ravensworths at the castle, the Lord and Lady Ravensworth. Lord Ravensworth often used to come over and have a ride up on the incline. He was a single lad, just a bit older than me and he often used to come across regular to ride on the incline and then at about half eleven you would hear the bell at the castle and that was his time to get away. He set away off home, there was no colliery there then, no Watergate there was just the wood at each side.
loved my job and I made a friend there, a little robin, I used to come in in the morning and open my lunch bag and feed him right away, I used to shout Dick! Dick! and he would come straight out of the trees in the wood on to my seat in the cabin and he would have his lunch and he would have his feed and he would just sit there,. He came regular for two years and then the next time he came he sat on the hard floor and he only had a stump as it had been frozen in the winter and I christened him Peg Leg.
An interesting story. I was a boy of 15 year old and you can imagine at 15 what size you were. And the tool vans, there was three engines and a large crane and the big van and the long fat wagon and they would go up to Tanfield and it took three engines to get them up the incline.
So one time they got them up the incline and I was a switch lad at the bottom of the bank and everybody went home and left me, a little lad, to look after this runaway switch which was supposed to run them into a field . They came down the incline and took the outside lane passed my Cabin where I was and passed my runaway switch onto the flat on towards the top of Lobley Hill . The switch was in the cabin, and I closed it down and fastened it down and went along and put chocks in the blades so that they kept shut. I was there till two lads come down from Sunniside to keep me company. The two lads liked the idea of being on the railway and I had already sanded the road and we were just waiting when the chap who minded the gates and signal box at Lobley Hill, come along and he said they were a long time coming. He said "have you heard anything?"
I said "no I have been phoning but I cannot get no word where they are" And it was about half past eight or nine o'clock at night . There was a lamp coming down the incline and some men walking. You could see where they were. When he came back he said, "ring the bell son, give them four rings on the bell." This was an electric bell in the cabin which rang at the top of the incline and when I rang, the driver, who was sitting on the step outside the cabin at the top, heard the bell ring, so he knew then that we were ready for him.
They set away to go down the incline. They got to about the Marquis. The Driver was Jenny Jackson's father and he reversed his engine and the lever flew back and hit him in the jaw and he fractured his jaw. The fireman got on the step to jump off but he dare not jump off because it was going that fast. So they were worried about what I was going to do with it a runaway train , But it went straight on passed the runaway switch so I was pleased when it went passed, I had saved the runaway train.
That railway was important to Sunniside and Street Gate it gave people a lot of jobs. Everybody had an interest in the railway. Holmeside Terrace was built by the Inspector. There was a cottage at the top of Alexandra Terrace The name of the cottage was Bracken House, and I can remember the two old people who lived in it. They had a family of two boys and they both were railway guards and a sister May Dobson. She was in the first world war as a Police Woman. I can remember the old man sitting outside the door of Bracken House when I used to come home from the Chapel.
There is no sign of the railway there now only the Tanfield Railway.
Will Harrison on his 90th birthday in 1994
Sadly Will Harrison died in 1998 aged 94 after what he described as a "marvellous life".