Forgive the appalling pun, but railways run in the family. At the start of World War Two my father was an apprentice at Beyer Peacock locomotive works in Gorton, Manchester. He told me his first job was cleaning up the brass nameplates of locomotives as they came out of the foundry. In the early days of the war, Beyer Peacock turned over to tank production, but Dad’s start was in railways.
My maternal grandfather, Wilfred Bradley, worked on the railways all his life, except during the First World War, when he was in the Royal Navy. Apart from a brief spell working in Nottinghamshire, Wilfred worked in the Manchester area. He started as a railway porter but progressed to become a signalman.
Mum told me as a child they lived in various railway houses along the line from Manchester to Glossop. This was part of the famous Woodhead line, that ran under the Pennines to Sheffield. By the late 1930’s the family were living in the village of Charlesworth close to where Wilfred worked.
In those days the Woodhead line carried huge loads of goods under the Pennines. To help manage the traffic, an extensive marshalling yard, called Mottram Sidings, was built. Here wagons were stored and formed into trains before the journey through Woodhead Tunnel. The name Mottram Sidings is a bit of a misnomer, because the large yard lay between the villages of Broadbottom and Gamesley, close to where I lived as a small child.
Wilfred was one of the signalmen in the yard, and this photograph is of him in his signal box.
Being a signalman was probably the most responsible job on the railways. Engine drivers might drive the trains, but it was the signalmen who told them where to go. In its heyday, the yard at Mottram was a large complex of interconnected sidings, which dealt with thousands of wagons every week. Storing the wagons on the right lines and forming them into trains was a complicated puzzle, that required real skill. I barely remember my grandfather, but he must have been very good at his job.
Mottram sidings was in a deep cutting and to get to the signal box you had to climb down a long stairway from the road above. My sister remembers going down there at lunch time to take Wilfred his sandwiches. If you look in the background of the photograph you can see the railings which mark the stairs down in to the cutting. Wilfred died in the early 1960’s, and the last good trains used Mottram Sidings in the 1970’s. A trail now runs through the site, and very little remains of the place Wilfred worked.
As I said at the start of this post railways run in the family. This might help to explain why I’m building a model one. In a strange way running steam engines up and down my modest layout makes me feel just a bit closer to Dad and Wilfred!