I started my railway career, rather late in life, just before my thirtieth birthday, on the LNWR main line, in the Euston District, trained as a signalman at Tring and Berkhampstead. Almost within days of starting work on the railway, it became common knowledge, the introduction of colour light signalling would close all the signal boxes in that District. I was at the time signalman at Tring two. The Station Master Percy Smith, suggested that I had sufficient education to train as a Station Master.
I spent many hours of my own time (not paid overtime), in the booking office parcel office and in the Station Masters Office, and goods yard. I owe a great deal to those who took the time to instruct me. Percy came from the Dore and Totley line, to Tring. Percy arranged, an interview with Joseph Greenwood District Operating Superintendent Euston, who granted permission to start training.
I was chosen to attend the British Rail College, Derby. It was first class training. But first of all where to start, and secondly if I was to qualify for a decent pension, to retire at sixty, I would need to get as high a grade I could.
After a couple of applications in the Euston District, which came to nothing. Whatstandwell came up on the list. Percy had come from Derbyshire, he advised me to apply. A good place to start a career as a British Rail Station Master. it had all the facilities i.e. Passenger Parcels and Freight. I was responsible for the Station accounts, playbill, tax and staff conditions of service – no mean task. There were two signal boxes and it was on the main line St, Pancras to Manchester. The level of work was such that as what one might term “A Good Starter Station”. It enabled one to get used to all the duties a Station Master in those days could expect without being overwhelmed, .
Leaving Tring at 6.20am, in the morning I travelled to Derby via Euston, then on the 7.55am Palatine from St, Pancras, caught the 10.35am slow train to Manchester spent an hour looking round Whatstandwell Station with the Relief Station Master, attended an interview at the District Operating Superintendent’s office Derby in the afternoon. Arriving back in Tring late evening. A couple of days later Percy came up to me in Tring two signal box. "Get your self packed you have been appointed Station Master Whatstandwell."
Our furniture was loaded in a railway container on its way to Whatstandwell. My family and I travelled up from Tring on my motorcycle and sidecar. Even to this day I remember that road, when we travel up the A6, and the day I wondered what on earth had I let my family in for. I took over from Jack Gay, his predecessor was a Mr Parker a one armed gent, not very popular with the staff, (but I suppose for a Station Master to be successful in those days, he didn’t need to be popular) I am quite sure there were those who did not take too kindly to my way of management (I did believe and had been taught a days pay for a days work full stop).
The relief Station Master that spent the first week with me at Whatstandwell was David Winkle.
The District Operating Superintendent Derby was, F. J. Burge, the Derby District Freight manager was a Mr Capstick, the staff man at Derby was a Mr Cook. (I met Freddie Burge when he became Regional Operating Officer Eastern Region York, many years later)..
I was told at one time that Gordon Brewel a relief Station Master who lived in a cottage at Matlock Bath, was offered Whatstandwell but turned it down his wife refused to live in the house. No electric, Calor Gas lighting and a coal fired oven. Ken Hall was another Relief Station Master I met many years later, when he was Area Manager Bristol Temple Meads.
Whatstandwell Station was lit by oil lamps some were pressure other were just an oil-well and wick, Arthur Richards one of the porters, did not at all like his turn at doing lamp duty, (see the oil painting by Colin Wright – Arthur is carrying a lamp) otherwise a great guy fantastic hand writing I wish I still had the copy of the station handbook all amendments were written in by Arthur in copper plate writing.
Roy Walker was junior clerk, Jack Gay took him on from school. I had the job of confirming him as permanent staff after his initial training time, (I am not sure if he was ever aware of this, I do remember talking to Roy some twenty eight years ago in the Area managers office Derby he was still convinced Jack Gay was responsible for him still being on the railway.) He was a bit of a lad at times.
David, surname escapes me, the booking clerk came from Brassington, used to cycle down to Cromford and catch the train. There was another porter who spent most, if not all of his time on relief at Ambergate doing the signal lamps. By this time the station had been downgraded. Arthur did an alternate early and late shift. I covered the time he wasn’t there. Summer Sunday trains we did on two shifts. (I did not get paid overtime for the extra hours that I did. My salary was £650 per annum.) We did get free coal and light – that was if you had electric, we didn’t.
Alan was the parcel van driver on loan from Matlock. I recall an Invacar (very early three wheel invalid car) arriving for an ex-miner up at Crich, who had suffered an accident. No one had a licence to drive one, having both HGV and a Coach Licence, (prior to my Railway Career I was fitter foreman for a coach company) I found I was the only one who could legally drive it, so I delivered it to Crich. I was told the chap it was for never ever, did pass a driving test... in fact I am not sure he ever used it.
Apart from the Roy Butcher and his brother Harold, both signalmen, the third signalman at Whatstandwell (Belper Bill) rode an AJS/Matchless motorcycle.
Bill Bowmer farmer and coal merchant had a small pub in the village great little place. Although my father when he came to stop with us, preferred the Derwent. Mr Cook the Staff Officer at Derby Midland (DOS) loved to visit to Whatstandwell and together we often had a pub lunch in the Derwent.
The village blacksmith long forgotten his name was a very good man to know, he could do almost anything in his workshop – which was at the bottom of the hill by the Derwent Hotel. The village had a Post Office come village shop. The owner, a Mr Lichfield, had most of his goods come by rail. The school Mistress at Crich Carr was a Miss Owtram, (hope I spelt it right) my daughter passed her eleven plus there. There was also a Mr Gee in Crich Carr I believe he was a grandson or great-grandson, or so of an LMS Founder. He used to catch the 8.20 into Derby. Had a job for the boys after nationalisation. On winter mornings would come in the office, sit by the fire with his cigar and hip flask,
The first train out was the 6.20 am Darley Dale to Derby. There was a one-leg man used to catch that train you could hear his peg-leg coming up the road from the Derwent Hotel direction.
High Peak Junction signalman was Cliff Sheldon lived up on the hill at Crich Carr. He missed his turn one morning (the control at Derby was going frantic) as an ex-signalman I went up with the local freight which had traffic for the High Peak. Much to everyone’s amazement I opened the box did the necessary shunting with the guard waited until the train came back from the Cromford wharf sent him on his way to Cromford and closed the box. The goods agent at Cromford Wharf was a George Oates he had a quill pen in his office and could still use it.
On another occasion a freight train had engine failure, on down line just about enter the tunnel. Whilst the fitters came from Derby I opened single line working between Whatstandwell, and Ambergate West on the up road, (there being a tunnel in the section every train has to be accompanied) I acted as Pilotman with the up Buxton Nottingham Express. Next down train the Palatine, the driver was not amused he was running on time until he got to Ambergate. Bernard Gower the Station Master at Ambergate was gob-smacked, that a country Station Master could do that. My training as a signalman on LNWR in Euston DOS got me out of trouble more than once.
Whilst I was there the little office in the yard the other side of the tunnel, which was the original station, had been put out of use and empty many years ago. The goods paper work was done in the Station Master/Booking Office at the station. Talking to a chap on the up platform, who lived in Crich Carr worked in the carriage and wagon at Derby (if I remember a cabinet maker). Arthur had previously spoken to him that we were always looking for firewood so he promised me he would arrange for some off cuts to be sent down. The next thing I know was a wagon arrived from Derby full of off-cuts so we filled that old Station Office (now a storage shed) with enough firewood to last a lifetime.
Harry Huntington, Station Master at Cromford was a confirmed rose-grower. Cromford Station was an absolute picture. When he was promoted to Wennington, Lancs. I was transferred to Cromford. My time there was short lived, I took over Cromford in the Autumn of 1957 and moved into the station house when Harry Huntington moved out just after Christmas.
Early Spring 1958 I was sent for from Birmingham on interview for Pelsall the Leighswood branch and Norton Junction. Took over Pelsall a week after Easter 1958. Moved house to Pelsall in July 1958. I was followed at Cromford by an old friend of LNWR days – Alf Armitage. He took over when I left. Alf was the signalman on duty at the disaster at Harrow in the early fifties. It played on his mind so much he left the railway and became a pub-owner down on the A5 Watling Street Road. We visited Whatstandwell a few times after that on holidays or with my wife’s brother and family, who lived in Derby. Until calling on Arthur’s home we were told by neighbours Arthur has died his wife, we understood, had moved out.
On the occasion that we were cut off by snow, BR, staff that lived in Whatstandwell and worked in Derby C & W or Loco Works, would sign the attendance book and help clear the snow, this guaranteed they got paid.
(Below)- Whatstandwell Station Master at work. Taken about 1956. Note the oil lamp, the station was lit by oil lamps even in the 1950’s. Note the Telephone, with cable from the ceiling. (telephone number: Ambergate 58). The other phone was the Railway Circuit Phone with connections to Derby Control and signal boxes and the Station Masters house, so he could be called in case of problems.
Due to the Triangle at Ambergate, which allowed passengers to change there for Chesterfield Sheffield and the north, Whatstandwell office held ticket, Passenger Rate books for not only the main line and many other stations via Derby and Manchester, but a rate book via Ambergate, which would be lower. The time my family and I spent there was probably the best years of our life, despite the lack of electric and modern facilities, or the promotion that followed. I finally retired from Liverpool Street London. ￼
Station Masters House before the driveway was built. My young son having got out of the house, was rescued by a policeman off the A6 road who thought it was a bit of a joke. My wife was not amused. The Police Sergeant at Ambergate reported it to Derby District Office, who closed that entrance and built a drive.
I have been asked many times, what sort of traffic did a small country station handle.
Basically anything and almost everything needed by a village community.
Mail where there was a post office (not sub post office) which did their own sorting.
Papers, in a small village like Whatstandwell would probably come from Derby where there were wholesale newspaper agents, in small bundle, for Lichfield’s shop on the hill in Crich. Mr Lichfield would have numerous parcels arrive on a daily basis from wholesalers for his shop.
General parcels for an area around Whatstandwell and Crich. Alderwasley and to Homesford Cottage and Cromford Wharf, which was the boundary for Whatstandwell Station Master. Cromford was responsible from there on up the A6.
The passenger traffic was mainly stations to and from Derby and Matlock, with a cheap-day tickets for families to shop in Belper, Derby, Nottingham, Matlock, and Manchester.
A workman’s ticket cheaper than ordinary fares up to the 8.20 train. There was a special ticket rate for a perambulator and gramophone attachment used on markets for begging money. There was also a market-day ticket which allowed villagers to travel to Derby or Belper Market at a low rate.
Summer Sundays were busy with hiker specials from Derby Nottingham, etc.
Before computers were introduced, the office would complete daily a number of account books; train book of all tickets and passenger traffic (completed by clerk on duty). A clerk settlement book which the clerk completed at end of his shift, before handing over to next clerk on duty. At the end of month the Station Master would complete the account current for District Office.
Yard traffic out –
mainly stone from the Derbyshire Stone Co.
the Foundry which was down a lane by the river behind the Signalbox.
a waste product from the Water Works which I understand went to make talcum powder Manchester way.
coal in and all the farmers requirements.
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